Thanks for stopping by.
Before we start, I’d like to answer some questions you might be asking right now.
Disclaimers and Assumed Viewer Questions
Why bother comparing these two things? Isn’t all media subjective?
Yes, art is subjective, and it’s pretty silly to act like media has to compete with other pieces of media. [cough for the Oscars]
But when I wrote about why the Marvel movies just never worked for me, I had a hard time coming up with alternative examples of good storytelling within the context of wacky, supernatural action.
Avatar is the perfect counterpoint, and I think it will help me explain my problems with the storytelling in the MCU.
Doesn’t your analysis tend to be based on personal feelings rather than objective talking points?
How does the cat feel about your Kucki Kopi nightlight?
[you’ll have to watch to video to see this part]
The Beef: Ways in Which Avatar’s Storytelling is Better
Here’s the simplest way I can put this: I don’t care about any of the Marvel characters, except maybe Korg, and I absolutely love all the characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender, except maybe Hama. Nah, she’s kinda great. =
And by the way, there’s no nostalgia factor here. I watched most of the Marvel movies for the first time last year, and I watched all of Avatar for the first time five months ago.
So what makes the Avatar characters that much better? Why do I care about them?
For one, every character has problems, like real problems that get in the way of what they need to do.
Sokka is arrogant and kinda dumb. Katara is overprotective and possessive. Toph is the best character but she also has serious anger issues and is not all that responsible and she’s the best character.
And Aang is the worst Avatar for most of the show. He lacks confidence and he just plain fails a lot of the time, even during some really important fights.
Flaws make characters relatable. Relatable characters are good characters.
The Marvel guys tried to have flaws. Tony and Cap, they uh, they got into an argument about like AI or something.
And they did indeed lose to literally the most powerful force in the universe, but one movie later, ohhhh look at that, it’s fixed now. Ok.
But don’t worry. They make quippy jokes so now they all just feel like Joss Whedon.
Plus, the characters in Avatar have arcs. Character arcs are also important to storytelling.
Over four seasons, we get to see our characters change pretty dramatically. Their failures, and even their successes, have permanent effects on who they are and how they get to live their lives.
So even though just about all the Avengers got their own standalone movies when they had plenty of time to change, the only change to speak of is, well …
Tony was just a guy but then he got a suit and he fights bad guys now.
Cap was just a guy, but then later, you see, he got a suit and he fights bad guys now.
Blackhawk, wing, blackwing, I looked him up and he was just a guy who shot arrows, but then he got an embarrassing haircut and he shoots arrows at bad guys now.
Thor was just a literal god, and he wore god-armor, but then later he wore different armor and he lost an eye, but it doesn’t seem like his depth perception is affected at all. Oh and then he got fat. That’s dramatic, right? Oh, I mean funny. Isn’t it funny that he got fat?
I believe that the Avatar characters are doing their best in difficult situations, like people who are currently alive. And when they’re in danger it’s actually tense because I don’t know if they’re gonna pull through.
I guess some people can enjoy watching perfect characters who are always going to do the right thing, no matter what, but for me, that’s not a story. That’s not what stories are.
So it’s gonna be tough to compare pacing between a TV show and a cinematic universe, right?
You might be saying, it’s not fair to say that Avatar has better pacing because it represents so much more screen time than superhero movies.
Yeah, I get that. I mean, after all, the Last Airbender is a whole 1464 minutes long, while the MCU movies added up are only 3,000 minutes.
So in that case, in less than half the time of the MCU combined, Avatar manages to pull off some really fantastic pacing that includes a significant amount of downtime.
There are long strings of episodes where nothing too action-y happens at all. The lead characters spend a lot of time just eating, or talking, or walking around looking for something.
Sounds pretty boring. But those lowkey moments are so important to establishing solid pacing for your story.
Hollywood movies are moving towards more frantic pacing all the time, not giving the audience even the slightest chance to be bored. [movie posters and groaning]
But when everything is constant action and people zoomin’ around through CG effects, it starts to not mean anything. It starts to feel same-y, because it is.
Ask a musician. Is it a good idea to have a song that maintains a static volume? Or maybe is it better to have some dynamic range?
When you sprinkle a lot of quiet parts into a piece, the loud parts mean a lot more. They’re more interesting because they’re different.
Marvel tried to give us moments when the characters were just hanging around, but during those moments, we don’t learn anything useful about them. They just reiterate each other’s most surface-level features.
Good pacing is helpful not only to character development but to the plot as well. It allows for tension and release, setup and payoff.
Avatar, as a whole, is more original than the MCU, and that’s just an objective fact.
The Marvel characters have all been around for decades, and the Avatar characters, and their world, and the politics of that world, are new. They take a lot of inspiration from different sources, but it was a new IP that stood on its own merits.
We get that so rarely now, and I think it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate that within the last twenty years we got a brand new media property that still holds up really well and is still incredibly popular.
The MCU still could have won some points in this category if, at any point, it had tried to do something new with these characters and this cinematic universe.
But it didn’t. It made a lot of money, I guess. So much money that now everything has to be a cinematic universe. Cool. Thanks, guys.
The MCU took old characters and put them on the big screen. Oh and those characters interact with each other now. The end.
If you love the MCU, I’m really happy for you. You are gonna get soooo many more movies, and they’re all going to be basically the same. You’re set for life.
And if you love Avatar, thanks for keeping the wikis nice and beefy long enough for me to be converted. I completely understand why your love for these characters and this universe has endured: because it’s actually good. It’s classic storytelling that makes me feel emotions.
If any of you get into media creation in the future, take the lessons of Avatar with you: make something original with solid characters and careful pacing.
And I hope no one’s too mad at me because, in the end, it’s entertainment. It’s really not that big a deal.