Last Saturday I went and saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier for my birthday. Good film. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'm not here to give you a review because that position at the Houston Press is held in the iron grip of Dutch supervillainy. Instead, let's talk about what has become a kind of pointless institution; the post credit scene.
As a feature in film post-credit scenes are a fairly new phenomenon. Just a couple of years older than myself, actually. The first real example of one as we know it happens at the end of The Muppet Movie in 1979, and for much of the '80s they were more or less the domain of the comedic world. It was all fourth wall breaks like Ferris Bueller, blooper reels, or sometimes just jokes that didn't really fit in the framework of the movie proper.
Now the trend is to use them as a kind of mini-trailer for upcoming entries in the in-film universe. The first one of real significance I remember is 2006's X-Men: The Last Stand, when it's revealed that Professor X managed to survive his disintegration at the hands of the Dark Phoenix. Since they're touting Days of Future's Past as a direct sequel to both First Class and Last Stand, I hope we actually do see the payoff for that next month when it's released.
Still, just as the post-credit has come fully mainstream with comic book movies, it's starting to feel decidedly pointless in many ways.
From a purely practical standpoint, I'm sure it's become a pain in the ass for the folks that work at the movie theaters. Having done that job myself for more than five years, I can tell you that the opportunity to clean up when most of the audience gets up to leave when the reading starts can be a blessing in a big seller on a bust weekend night.
There's also a sort of hipsterish snobbery I feel these days. I'm a credit watcher from a long line of credit watchers, and for me the lull after the ending is a time to sit, reflect on, and discuss the film. Yes, me and the movie geeks I used to run with were always on the look out for a hidden piece of movie that might roll after the credits, but more than that we were using this space to appreciate the film and celebrate the people who made it.
Post-credit scenes were a bonus, but now they're treated as a part of the movie that no one bothered to place correctly in the narrative.
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Movies still have trailers in the theaters because when you've got a captive audience you'd be a fool not to use it. And I think we can all agree that the trailer is an art form in and of itself more akin to a short film than just a marketing technique these days. I still love trailers before the movie, even if I've seen them on YouTube before.
These superhero mid and post credits scenes are not trailers. They're mostly devoid of helpful information. My wife is a long-time comic geek responsible for getting me back into the medium, and I found myself having to explain who the cameos in the mid credit scene were. All we see are a set of superpowers and some vaguely Nazi-ish pontificating. To someone that isn't intimately familiar with the Marvel universe these scenes come across as baffling.
Look, fellow geeks, I am as glad as anyone that you can make a movie that will do $300 million on opening weekend and have Falcon and Batroc the Leaper have major roles. That still just doesn't seem possible.
The fact is that these films do this kind of business because Marvel Studios has found the sweet spot between pleasing comic fans and seeking out the movie crowd that's never really gotten into comics in the first place. One of the ways you do that is by not relying on being able to recognize every single person and their personal backstory immediately. That's not how film works, and it's also a big reason for the major universe reboots in the books over the last several years.
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By making these "only comic fans will know" teasers not only common but now obligatory, Marvel may be trying to open a dialogue between the two geek camps, but if that's the plan then it's failing. My wife wasn't terribly interested in delving deeper into the Captain America mythos by the mid-credit scene. She did seem a bit more interested in The Winter Soldier himself, though, which is awesome because that's a great book right now.
Part of the reason for that was that he actually does have a post-credit scene that is a proper one. It deals with an established character making a final bit of closure in the shadows when all the heroes are done taking their bows. More importantly, that scene simply could not fit anywhere else in the movie, which was already a two hour plus long monster. It was the post credit scene done right.
Most of the rest since Iron Man got this ball rolling? Not so much.