“You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”

So the Iron Man 3 trailer came out and that’s exciting! If you didn’t know, I’m a wannabe comics nerd and a huge fan of the Marvel movies.

It looks fun! There are ‘splosions! And a new villain!

But what really struck me about it was the line Nothing’s been the same since New York. That establishes the movie without a doubt as being post-Avengers, in direct continuity. There’s a shot at about 0:30 that appears to be some kind of memorial, which I’m guessing is for the victims of the invasion in New York.

And it occurred to me that what’s really cool about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they’re actually almost recreating the experience of reading comic books in an entirely different medium. These aren’t just a bunch of disparate action flicks under the same company’s logo (X-Men aside). They’re carefully intertwined; each sub-franchise uses events in other movies and sub-franchises to tell its stories. They may have different writers and directors and producers, but they’re all making up the same tapestry of stories.

And that, I think, is incredibly cool, and something no other current movie franchise seems to be doing. I have an inkling that old-school film serials used to do something similar with crossover characters, but my film history isn’t as up to snuff as it should be so I’m not sure of any specific examples. Certainly in my lifetime, those kinds of crossovers in movies have faded away. Our most popular and enduring action movie franchise is James Bond, and there’s not been a hell of a lot of continuing storyline in those. My impression of the Jason Bourne series, the new James Bond, is that the Jeremy Renner incarnation is closer to a reboot or a spinoff.* Marvel is doing something unique.

It’s no small feat of storytelling to do this, either. Action movies get big budgets because they’re expected to do well internationally, and they’re expected to do well internationally because explosions and fights scenes and car chases need no translation. This is why Michael Bay continues to have a career. So the writers for the MCU have to make sure that their movies are straightforward enough to do well internationally, are self-explanatory enough that people who haven’t seen the other movies will still want to see them and be able to enjoy them, and are contributing to the larger story of the MCU as a whole.

How freaking amazing is that?

I just find the whole thing very, very exciting. Serial storytelling is becoming part of our cultural zeitgeist again — witness the ever-increasing complexity and sophistication and envelope-pushing of TV shows — and I think that’s just awesome.

*I think? Maybe? Am I completely off the mark? If there are people out there who know more about these franchises than I do, please let me know!

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