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As we enter the wild time of year known as Comic Con, where movies, TV shows and games are sold to us through every possible shameless means, it became apparent to me that nearly all of the content on offer for the next few years, rely on one very important thing. Continuity.
Each blockbuster franchise, such as the DCCU, MCU, Dark Universe, Star Trek, Star Wars Godzillaverse and so on, all rely on continuity to tell their stories. Fans are drawn to this continuation of themes, character arcs, world building and consistent easter eggs, which bind these films together. The same can of course be said about TV shows, with the CW endlessly linking together their programming, Game of Thrones telling a huge arced narrative with many moving pieces, Doctor Who dealing with generations of lore and Better Call Saul building on the Breaking Bad world. But, why do we care so much about continuity? Could it not be argued that a standalone film with no other ties has more potential for creative freedom and therefore greater quality? Or, is continuity the last piece of the puzzle that entices audiences to keep coming back?
The Benefits of Continuity
Continuity has a lot of perks it has to be said. Used in the right way, it can produce a continuation of a narrative thread, creating a world that feels a little more three-dimensional and real. This sort of thread can be used across singular films, multiple movies or across seasons of a TV show. Continuity can be used as a great call back to a joke, like the slapping bet in How I Met Your Mother, or just as a nice little nod to the hardcore fans; seen in pretty much any comic book movie.
But for me the biggest benefit of continuity is based within story. Continuity allows you to understand a characters growth and understand the lore of the world they are living in. It creates a connection between fictional character and audience that may not have been there before. Continuity allows for real stakes to be had in all situations and shows a characters development. There is a point to each and every decision they make and this continuity continues throughout the rest of the show or film series. For instance, take the development of Tony Stark in the MCU. From movie to movie he has made many mistakes culminating in Captain America: Civil War, where those mistakes must be owned and can no longer be justified. That movie therefore gains more emotional weight for that particular character; their journey to that point can only truly be understood by the multiple films before.
The same can be said with a TV show such as Game of Thrones, whose character continuity has been impressive throughout its 6 seasons. It has continuously had to juggle with an increasing roster of characters, giving them suitable air time and allowing each of their own individual stories to feel complete. They do this for every major and minor character, bringing back obscurer people in order to create a larger world and wrap up the story for the fans who cared for that individual. This has been done for characters such as Rickon and Osha and fans are hoping the same can be said for Gendry in series 7.
The Drawbacks of Continuity
Continuity sometimes limits the story being told however. It puts a writer into a box; not allowing them to write anything that contradicts the lore of the universe they are writing in. This is a problem James Gunn recently came across for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3, claiming that he would have to break continuity from his first film in order to create the newest edition of the beloved series. Doctor Who has experienced the same problem for many years, although often getting away with ret-conning various details through the wibbly wobbly timey wimey nature of the show.
It also creates the risk of a character becoming stale. Perhaps a writer wants them to move in a certain direction but cannot due to the contradictions it would create within the characters overall journey. This may mean that the longevity of a character is weakened although good writing can often get around this particular flaw. A James Bond type character for instance though, has very little room to manoeuvre. Everyone knows how the British Spy would react in certain situations, giving no room to allow the story to play out differently. It has been speculated recently that Bond 25 will play more upon 007’s childhood and journey to becoming the man we find in the other entries to the franchise. This is one such clever way of writing around the limitations of the character, creating an entirely new sandbox to play in, with a younger and perhaps altered version of the character.
Is it worth it?
Despite its limitations and bonuses, there is one thing that matters to many of these Comic Con marketers and that is money. Continuity allows for sequels and spin offs and world building for fans to continually invest into. It leads to merchandise and connections to unique heroes and villains. Therefore, for them continuity is worth it, as it has proven to be a financial and often critical success time and again, leading to the universe building era we have entered today.