Why We Care More About the Marvel Universe Than the WWE Universe
It has been a busy week in the world of pro wrestling. I’m going to end this week by talking about Avengers: Infinity War. There’s going to be no spoilers in case you’ve yet to see the movie. But let me explain why I’m bringing up this huge movie in the context of WWE wrestling.
While I was watching the movie, the thing that shocked me most was how much I cared about the characters. After all not only are these superheroes that I’ve never met but are not even real people. It got me thinking about entertainment in 2018 and how TV shows and movies are so well written and really grab the viewers by both the mind and most importantly by the heart. When a character is so well written that you genuinely care about good things happening to them you get a real connection and when you see a character grow over the course of a story arc you really understand that’s persons motivations. Take Iron Man for example, at the beginning of the recent Marvel universe he was a selfish prick who only cared about making money and bedding as many women as he could. Through the course of the standalone movies all the way through to the recent Avengers we saw him go from this selfish playboy to a one woman caring guy who started to put other people and the ramifications of his actions before himself. Spiderman is another example, from the brief-ish introduction in Civil War through the stand alone movie we learnt that he was a kid that wanted to impress, to show Mr. Stark, who he looked up to, that he deserves to be called a hero. We went through the ups and downs of him realizing what it means to be a hero in Spiderman Homecoming and we therefore we know his motivations for his role in Avengers: Infinity War.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at WWE. I’ll be the first to admit that in a wrestling universe you can’t have the in-depth storytelling or fleshing out of characters that you can in a movie universe, but you can still give people a reason to care about someone and understand their motivations. Let’s have a look at everyone’s favorite punching bag, Roman Reigns. After five plus years of being on the main roster and the fast track to the top, what do we actually know about him? In those five years has he developed from the big, mean guy who says “believe that” a lot and tells everyone he’s better than them? I submit to you that he has not. In five years, has Dolph Ziggler developed from a guy who thinks he’s being punished for people liking him? Again, I would argue no. Bray Wyatt was in the hold of Sister Abigail five years ago and until recently was still talking about her wishes and his apparent obsession with buzzards he wants people to follow. Up and down the roster, there are talented athletes that are crying out for a writer with a free reign to note that a character is currently at Position A in his storyline life and then determine how to take him or her along with the audience from A all the way through to Z.
There feels that there is such a disconnect between fans and wrestlers that although the action is still exciting in much the same way that the movie 2012 had some great action scenes, ultimately the fans are not emotionally invested because the stories being told are so generic or flat and don’t grab the fans by the heart or the head. The exception that proves the rule is Daniel Bryan, who despite of the way WWE booked him in his initial hot run was beloved by the majority of fans because he was essentially them – he was somebody that the fans understood and enjoyed being taken on the rollercoaster journey up to the point that he reached the apex at WrestleMania 30.
NXT is the perfect example of the way that stories can really grab the heart strings and tug on them in a wrestling context and then have that accompanied by some truly outstanding matches in the ring. Take the recent Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa feud. We can all unfortunately relate to a close friend that stabs us in the back and when the story is told as well and as detailed as it has been it really draws the sympathy of the crowd. It gets fans invested not only mentally with great action but with the heart. The stories don’t even have to be that in-depth to really get the fans invested. Take Velveteen Dream and his recent match against Aleistar Black. Despite losing the match, Dream came out of that match with the fans understanding and being more emotionally invested in him because he got what he truly wanted, professional respect by a peer simply saying his name. This isn’t a recent phenomenon either on NXT TV. Who can forget the number of times Sami Zayn tried and failed to reach the top of NXT by winning the championship, and that feeling of elation for the character when he finally did it? Bayley is another example. This quiet, unassuming woman who wanted to be a wrestler her whole life but didn’t have the confidence to believe she would ever make it finally finding the belief in herself to become a true champion to not only her fans but to herself.
It’s clear to me that standing in the way of real stories and real emotions being felt by the fans is Vince McMahon. I know this is not a ground shaking argument, but given everything I’ve said it’s clear with his “I don’t remember it so the fans won’t remember it” attitude that he doesn’t feel a well-defined story arc is the right way to get the fans immersed in the product. Hey, it’s his company and he can do as he wants, but “The Greatest Royal Rumble” was symbolic to me of a product that is entertaining to watch but is more fast food than fine dining I enjoyed the show, but at points during the show I just felt that I was watching exhibition matches that didn’t matter, so I didn’t feel the need to give it my full attention, nor did it leave me anxious to watch the next episode of Raw or Smackdown. The only two matches that really felt like they had any steam behind them was AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, which felt like a warmup match for the match that actually matters at Backlash, and Brock Lesner vs. Roman Reigns with the storyline being so illogical it actually took away from the match because the viewer didn’t really understand why this match was happening. Like any movie or TV show, when the main “hero” of the piece comes across as unlikeable, the movie or TV show suffers.
I’m hoping more than ever that Vince steps aside and lets the people behind NXT start to put their mark on the product. It’s clear to me that he still lives in a world of throwaway movies and badly written sitcoms that never reference things that happened in the past and continually contradict a storyline from seasons past. He does not live in the age of well written and well-rounded stories that play out over a sequence of television shows in a series or multiple movies. Will this happen? Probably not, but while watching Avenges this week it left me yearning for the day when we finally do get a wrestling universe with well-rounded characters to go with the great action that it produces.