Many entertainment industry observers love to focus on simple pawns, one move at a time. Disney, on the other hand, is playing multidimensional chess not only across films, but also across decades.
So if you're overly consumed with how a big picture like Disney/Marvel's Captain America: Civil War opens, and whether that's a fitting metric to try to measure "superhero fatigue" vs. audience enthusiasm, you're missing the true big picture, which is this:
Disney is thinking so far beyond sequels first with its Marvel Cinematic Universe, next with its Star Wars galaxies that it is now fully, successfully engaging viewers across interlocking narratives.
Each time a film like
can land with audiences building upon and/or introducing a dozen key characters the universe can move not just linearly, but also multilaterally.
That also means that Marvel unlike other studios with superhero properties has moved well beyond caring about the relative success of any single film. This is a latticework of storytelling that only gets stronger as it branches out.
"That's what I think is so fascinating about where we are now in the Marvel Universe," Joe Russo, co-director (with brother Anthony) of the two most recent Captain America films, tells The Washington Post. "I think we're reaching uncharted territory in regards to serialisation.
"Of course we've seen sequelised movies since (at least) the early 1980s," continues Russo, referring to the era that saw the progression of such mega-franchises as Star Wars, Star Trek, Rocky and Jaws. "What we haven't seen (before) is a bunch of really healthy franchises interweaving into one unified narrative."
And in such an unprecedented cinematic game of 3-D chess, the filmmakers are looking not only at the diagonal moves, but also moves across multiple boards at once.
"We understood movies to be closed-end (two-hour) experiences for a hundred years, right?" Russo tells The Post. "Granted, there is sequelisation, but it's very linear thinking.
What Marvel is doing is making it a dimensionalising of storytelling in a way. There's something very adventurous about that."
And the creative benefits to that, simply film to film, are manifold.
"That allows us to skip a lot of backstory and get into the meat of the character and deal with them in a way that, frankly, you can't do in other movies," Russo says, "because you're spending an hour in those films telling us who those characters are. And then you're spending an hour dealing with the problem.
"We can spend more time now allowing the audience to absorb the character relationships and sit in them and swim in them in a way that other movies don't allow," he continues. "I think that's really compelling. And I think that's what attracts us to Marvel, is that it's a new model of storytelling.
The current Marvel Cinematic Universe was truly launched with 2008's Iron Man, which soon attracted Disney's interest and its $4-billion buy of Marvel characters a purchase that now looks like a relative steal, though the films have depended on Disney's own savvy, too.
The creative and commercial synergy has allowed for Marvel films to be planned and scheduled many years out.
Next up for the Russo brothers, as directors, is the two-part Avengers: Infinity War endeavor.
movies are going to be a culmination of the most complex, insane amount of characters in this really, really complicated mosaic that we get to play with over two films ...," Russo says.
"We're trying to find templates for if to inspire us," he notes. "The only thing we can point to are Robert Altman movies, dealing with really multiperspective storytelling. And that's exciting, because you're pioneering a different mode of storytelling."