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Inspired by this quotation from :iconaspergerian-mind:

'Marvel films no matter how fun I would enjoy them never amount to anything timeless because they never challenge themselves to things too difficult for the heroes or resolutions can't be permanent. Everything is a passive transition to the next film which would also be foregone inclusion because we have to keep everyone the same and must neuter the opposition and concepts down to their execution to preserve that iconography.'

---

First off let me say this much: Cinematic universes and super heroes DON'T MIX.

Even as a kid the surefire way to get me to ignore a comic and move to the next would be a splash page of hundreds of heroes blasting hundreds of baddies with a light show worth of lasers and beams. Why? Shouldn't that promise of excitement and scope get me interested? Well...no. To me a far more interesting and promising introduction to a comic would be to randomly turn to a page and see two of less characters talking. Maybe an image of one character in the aftermath of a battle or preparing for one. The less pyrotechnics and largely superfluous cast members the better; smaller, more intimate scenes with real focus on direction and emotion.
That way I'd get the impression that the comic had CHARACTERS not just SPECTACLE. 
To me a guy wearing a cape or a mask wasn't 'cool' all by himself. They needed a story to tell, a personality.
They needed to be a 'hero' not just a 'super hero'.

People credit Marvel for the invention of The Cinematic Universe quite a lot, but the truth is that the concept has existed long before they even started making films, back perhaps to the classic film serials in which hundreds of films created an unbroken chain of cliffhanger endings before the feature presentation so that in addition to seeing the latest movie you also got a continuation of The Undersea Kingdom, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Phantom Creeps, Batman, and even before sound and color you had the adventures of Zorro. The idea is not new. Every syndicated television show is practically a cinematic universe if the only criteria we're going by is the same actors interacting as the same characters. In fact I'd argue, and I think surprisingly few people would dispute with me, that television shows work BETTER than film based cinematic universes. The stories have more of an intimacy to them and feel more directly connected, partially because television can have episodes filmed back to back. A smaller budget means the action scenes need to be doled out between sequences of people talking and NOT just explaining the plot which gives every show ever made a leg up on the Marvel films. 
Likewise Marvel has struggled to keep continuity with a handful of films do to big stars, huge budgets, massive effects work and marketing campaigns and such. Television shows now and in the past have successfully branched into parallel storylines with the same characters after HUNDREDS of episodes. Consider the successful show Frasier which is the further adventures of a character originally established as a bit part in the show Cheers. The show based on Stargate had three spinoffs and multiple made for television movies. Star Trek ran for decades and had many different series with different casts but they kept to the same general ideas and universe. Heck, Power Rangers not only had many MANY episodes based on borrowing footage from previously aired Japanese Sentai shows but had the same cast members show up again and again throughout it's run to interact with the next generation and sometimes the continuity stretched back for years and between shows!

But why is television more successful at the cinematic universe than films?

Marvel is rolling is cash; no one can deny that, so the cinematic universe concept has been 'successful' for them, but as aspergerian-mind above points out they had great success at the cost of relatively mediocre movies. From the beginning the Marvel films have been generally entertaining but not very inspiring or powerful works. Certainly they don't HAVE to be, but fans and non-fans alike I think can agree that the potential is there for a Marvel film which makes you feel something other than generally thrilled and leaves you with more than an only passing sense of fun. Video games can do more than entertain, they can genuinely move people. So can art in general. The fact that Marvel films promise so much and deliver so comparatively little I think falls squarely on the concept they believe has led to their success: everything needs to 'tie together'. Everything needs to promise the next thing to hype up future films. Everything needs to be resolved at the close of the movie except for dangling sequel pleas that barely play into the film proper at all. The failed experiment called The Amazing Spiderman cinematic universe shows what happens when you try this with something other than a massively well known brand name attached. Everyone loves Spiderman, sure, but not everyone knows or cares about his rouges gallery so making a film based on Black Cat just so Sony could have their own cinematic universe was ludicrous, and focusing so much on films to come instead of each movie one at a time caused The Amazing Spiderman 2 to underperform over-budget and lead to yet another reboot to fix the dangling threads. 
I fear that Disney has delusions of their own cinematic universe since Star Wars now has at least seven...SEVEN...spinoffs planned. It doesn't seem too unlikely unfortunately that these movies aren't being written so much as planned and left on the back burner until a director and writer is found to sketch them out and splash them all over the movie screens. These are not labors of love; these are haphazard efforts of a production line which feels the only way to be relevant is to be CONSTANTLY IN YOUR FACE.

Do you want to know what my favorite cinematic universe is?
The Blair Witch Project.

I'm willing to suppose a lot of people didn't even know Blair Witch HAD a cinematic universe. After all it only had two movies, so how can THAT be a 'cinematic universe'? Simple. The Blair Witch had three spin off games, books, comics, and two pseudo documentaries AND a webpage.
And the best part? ALL of these took place in the same universe but NONE of them took place at the same time.
The video games Rustin Parr,  The Legend of Coffin Rock and The Elly Kedward Tale all take place in different eras, from 'modern times' to the civil war. The thread that ties them together is the titular Blair Witch or whatever dark legacy she represented in her own time so literally ANY story could be told using that connecting branch without the necessity being for famous characters to show up for a cameo or earlier events to be even all that integral to the current story being told. In Rustin Parr for instance you're a research scientist looking into a mysterious series of murders and abductions. In Legend of Coffin Rock you're an amnesiac union soldier dubbed Lazarus by the family that finds him who tries to recover a lost girl in the woods and in The Elly Kedward Tale you are Jonathan Prye, a witch hunter searching for a women who may or may not be a witch. In each instance, I think ingeniously, the stories are based off of legends ALLUDED to in the original Blair Witch film, but they do not feature the filmmakers from that movie, no characters from any of these games encounter each other, and their actions are important to THEM and may play into what happens in the grander narrative, but they are not dependent. Unlike, say, The Avengers: Age of Ultron which requires the story to begin with the events established in the first Avengers film and end up in a way leading to later Avengers movies, the Blair Witch games and indeed every piece of The Blair Witch lore (including books, games, movies...etc) can have surprises and tell self contained stories. The ending to the tale of Jonathan Prye isn't revealed in the Blair Witch movies so how the game ends is a mystery until the player reaches the conclusion. Does he die or live? He isn't required to do either by the universe because he's a PART of the universe, not a slave to it's ebbs and flows.
Confession time: the games weren't all that good, but I did appreciate that the developers and the people who owned the intellectual property didn't just make a game where you played as the filmmakers or something.  

In the documentaries Curse of The Blair Witch, The Burkittsville 7 and Shadow of the Blair Witch all detail events surrounding the film The Blair Witch but flash forward and backwards to reveal what we didn't see in the movie rather than obsessing over the same events and characters. Even the sequel Book of Shadows was written specifically to distance itself from the original film rather than retread old ground...which is was ironically forced to by studio intervention, but that's another instance of forcing a cinematic universe on a series and destroying a stand alone product. The reason I consider these additions to The Blair Witch to be a true cinematic universe as opposed to Thor and Captain America and so forth is because those films barely function outside of being additions to a greater whole. Thor is not a very good movie but is required watching to understand the plot of The Avengers, and likewise Captain America's plot point about the mystical tesseract makes little sense without retroactively watching The Avengers. But Curse of The Blair Witch is an enjoyable and self contained mockumentary that tells a story apart from just leeching off constant call backs and call forwards to The Blair Witch. Even The Burkittsville 7 about the filmmakers focuses on their lives before the film so although it isn't 'required' by any means it enriches the story rather than just adding one more annoying expansion to it.
The dossier of The Blair Witch I find especially enjoyable because it's written like collections of documents for a police procedural complete with stationary marks for imaginary companies and organizations, 'torn out' pages from newspapers and magazines, and 'reproductions' of the journals of the filmmakers along with a text translation for parts where the ink has run on the pages or passages are indecipherable. 
It all feels remarkably real because everyone put in the effort to make it feel that way. 
Every new piece of The Blair Witch feels like an addition that takes it in a new direction and fleshes out the mysteries. Even the much derided Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (with a subtitle the studio added which has nothing to do with the movie at all!) was painstakingly written and designed to expand the ideas of the first movie complete with hidden messages, an ambiguous ending, and VERY subtle indications that it takes place in the same location as the original movie that only someone with a pause button would pick up (such as grave markers and signs in the background).

And consider too that a lot of the 'cinematic universe' of the Marvel world is DEEP under wraps. The guy who fights Captain America on the boat during the hostage mission in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is according to hardcore fans some mercenary guy who kicks supernaturally well, which explains why he stands up against a super soldier and why he wears a silly uniform. His name IS stated once to be Georges Bartock, but I suppose I missed it or it just didn't mean anything to me personally (I was corrected below by an attentive watcher!). I guess that's subtle, but it's also nonsensical. Someone, like say ME, who had no idea who this guy was would ask themselves 'why is cap getting his butt kicked by some random ordinary guy when he had no trouble with hundreds like him earlier?' Maybe it would make us look him up, but if we have to it's not that friendly to an audience who either wants to watch a movie OR read a comic, not have to do both.
In Blair Witch there's no real instance of mythology you NEED to know in order to understand something, and what you do need to know is all but stated very carefully in each self-regulated source. In the original movie you can understand every strange occurrence if you relate it back to the opening scenes where the filmmakers talk about the legend of The Blair Witch and the accusations of murderer Rustin Parr. There's some unanswered questions on purpose but nothing overtly logically nonsensical. In each game too the weirder elements are given some kind of explanation, even if its shadowy and strange. You are never left just wondering 'who is that guy and why am I supposed to know him?' like a lot of people were with Nick Fury's first appearance. 

The best kind of cinematic universe is one in which the investigations into the lore or following the adventures of characters are INTERDEPENDENT. Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek The Next Generation all share ideas, names, places and characters and sometimes they cross between the shows, but none of them is entirely dependent on you watching all the previous episodes. Voyager is about Janeway getting her crew home from The Delta Quadrant. Deep Space Nine is about a space station and a galactic war surrounding it. The Original Series and Next Generation are about separate crews traveling around the universe looking for new civilizations. They all use phasers and tricorders, answer to Star Fleet, meet with Klingons and Romulans, and sometimes hear about each other but you don't need to know about Kirk to enjoy the adventures of Sisco or Picard. These were all set in the same universe, yes.
BUT THE UNIVERSE IS A BIG PLACE.

The problem with the Marvel Universe is that its really really small.
Nothing happens unless its happening directly to the characters on screen. The Earth is usually in danger because if it was anything less the heroes would probably not care that much. They're too strong to do something as pedestrian as stopping a crime. Heroes have to fight other heroes or...I dunno...it will all seem silly? Places seem so inconsequential to what's going on in them. One city looks like another if it's just going to play the battlefield of the heroes mowing down scads of bad guys. One country looks like another if all the heroes do there is discuss the plot. Even outer space isn't all that interesting if every single event occurs so close to one another. Lord of the Rings is criticized for having too many walking situations, but at least that made Middle Earth feel like it was larger than a series of interconnecting rooms. In The Avengers our heroes travel to German from New York in MINUTES via jet plane. It made it feel like nothing existed of importance between point A and point B.

Same problem I have with the J.J Abrams version of Star Trek, and I'm apprehensive this mentality will leak into Star Wars now that he's in charge of that too. The 'heroes' in Star Trek were never super human. Kirk is a faliable guy who is always learning new things, even as he grows older in later films like Wrath of Khan. Picard is not an 'action hero' so much as a thinker and a leader and Sisco is not superior in strength, it's his will that sets him apart. The J.J Abrams Star Trek universe has EVERY character of the original crew portrayed as some kind of superior genius. And by virtue of their intelligence they are also elevated into super heroic status; able to jump impossible distances, survive ridiculous odds unscathed, and waltz consequence free through a mass scale threat to the galaxy. Like the Marvel heroes, by embellishing the crew this way they've become 'too good' for something as provincial as 'exploring strange new worlds'. Now all they do is shoot the bad guys because they have the most powerful weapons and most intelligent minds and most agile bodies of anyone else. They aren't notable for rising against adversity because the world has to do it's very best to MATCH their own superiority.
You never fear for them and you never really believe they're in danger. 
And if this moves to Star Wars we can expect the new movie The Force Awakens and future installments in Disney's 'cinematic universe' to feature our larger than life heroes being invincible and incorruptible as they stare down one minor (if highly destructive) annoyance after another or shoot it until it stops moving. 

There cannot be any intimacy, any interactions, any kind of quieter moments of doubt and danger and sacrifice if every hero we have on display is so incredible they only care about world shattering events that take hours to explain properly and go up against bad guys that need to be ridiculously overpowered to come anyway near them AND STILL end up getting utterly destroyed by the end of the story just to make way for the next unimpressive non-challenge. 

Thor isn't going to die, and if by chance Marvel decided to kill him off you can bet you'd know about it in advance. The reason is that Thor isn't a story: he's a franchise. Nobody cares that much about Asgard or The Frost Giants or any of his world because it doesn't ultimately matter so much as Thor himself. Same with Iron Man, Captain America, and any other Marvel character they decide to give their own films. The hero isn't going to die, the world isn't going to change, the bad guy isn't going to win, and nothing can happen that means that much because the next Avengers movie will ignore everything except the bare minimum which will mostly be jokes and call backs. Marvel had the audacity to state that in Age of Ultron 'an Avenger will die'.
SPOILERS.
Quicksilver getting killed was utterly pointless. He isn't the same Quicksilver from other Marvel movies and he's barely introduced as a largely silent antagonist until he turns a new leaf and almost immediately is killed. He wasn't an Avenger in any real sense and he had no arc, no real friends, nothing to care about where he was concerned. You can't claim that his death was supposed to motivate anything or come as that much of a surprise.
Marvel is grasping at straws; trying to make even the most mundane things seem amazing because they defy the conventions they themselves have put into place which hopelessly gridlock their movies.

So how would I make a better cinematic universe personally?

1: If At All Possible, Tell a Story With Suspense and Surprises.

Super heroes, with a couple of rare exceptions, are seldom in any real danger. Watchmen twisted the narrative by pitting the heroes against society and each other rather than a strict villain so as different story could be told, but by and large I'd suggest a story with mortal characters who if they did possess extraordinary powers had limitations to these. Even Ironman is practically a god so I'd find it much more interesting if the story focused on someone more like John McClain (before Die Hard 4) who rarely emerged from a fight without a serious injury. In order to engender suspense there must be the possibility of at least two eventualities happening. Indiana Jones might not 'lose' exactly, but he's sure not going to fight through ALL the Nazis by himself. His plans to circumvent his situation is where the excitement and uncertainty comes from. Same with James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes, Burt Gummer and other 'mortal' heroes who have limitations that are clearly indicated. A self imposed limitation like Batman's 'no killing' decision is a nice way to make a hero vulnerable without making them 'weak'. Batman chooses to fight without becoming what he does battle with. The same is true of the nigh invincible Neo from The Matrix films who managed to remain interesting because for all his powers he kept getting into situations he couldn't use them to win the day. 
Lets see a hero off kilter, learning from their MISTAKES perhaps, relying on others, learning about what they stand for through trial and error, discovering that the world doesn't even revolve around their success or failure.
Each character is PART of a larger story, not the whole. 
That way their part may END, even abruptly...but the STORY will go on.
That's suspense. 

2: Make Each Installment Self Contained

Batman Sub Zero is a made-for-tv movie based on Batman: The Animated Series. Every element of Batman's mythos is laid out with beautiful simplicity in a matter of moments from the very beginning of the film and the majority of the rest of it actually focuses more on the story of the villain Mr. Freeze than on Batman himself. If you hadn't seen a single episode of the animated series or even another Batman related movie you could still understand what was going on moment by moment. Sub Zero is it's own story, and its a great one.
Same with the Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm which weaves into the regular mystery plot a story simultaneously about Batman dealing with a relationship till now the audience didn't know about and also the backstory and pain of the events leading up to him becoming Batman: in essence telling a new story and an abbreviated origin story at the same time, alongside the Phantasm plot as well!
Recent animated spinoff movies have fallen into the trap of leaning on existing materials to make sense (Batman: Red Hood and Justice League: Doom for instance) and of course origin stories are pretty self contained like the Wonder Women and Dr. Strange animated movies, but what's notable about Mask of the Phantasm and Sub Zero is that they tell new stories in the same universe as the animated series but they are not beholden to it. When Mr. Freeze shows up in the animated series his backstory is alluded to but not really defined. To discover his backstory you can see Sub Zero which lays it out neatly, but it's NOT REQUIRED to enjoy any later instances of Mr. Freeze or the show. 
Consider something like The Empire Strikes Back as well. It seems odd but it's remarkably self contained. There's no elements that are that inexplicable (except for Ben Kenobi's ghost but that happens pretty late in the beginning of the film) so anyone with a passing knowledge of science fiction could point out quickly that The Empire were the bad guys, that the rebels were the good guys hiding from them, that Leia was a princess, Han was a smuggler and so forth. Compare this to Age of Ultron which has an introduction so jarring I actually had to google it when I got back home to understand it and it only makes full sense if you've seen both the original Avengers film AND Captain America 2. That's not a friendly cinematic universe. That's closer to...well...a Marvel comic book series in which stories are divided among other issues that have nothing to do with each other just so you buy all the books to understand the story. 
I much prefer installments to be experiences unto themselves. There doesn't need to be NO continuity, but continuity for the sake of continuity is just annoying. In Empire Strikes Back there's a big flash forward from the original Star Wars: A New Hope film. That ended with the rebellion celebrating the destruction of the Death Star on a forest planet. Now their own a snow planet and The Death Star is being rebuilt and characters are discussing plans for the future. The story has continued but it's skipped ahead a bit; right to the point that the STORY starts up again. Tying the creation of Ultron to the infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D by Hydra was just unnecessarily convoluted. It didn't make the 'cinematic universe' more rich, it just made it more dependent. 
So cut the ties! Pick up the story when the story gets going. Gloss over things if they don't play immediately into the plot. I rag on Joss Whedon a lot and on Firefly but I'll admit that you can easily see the movie Serenity without watching any episodes of Firefly and still understand the plot, the characters and what's at stake.
I think it gives Serenity legs where something like Age of Ultron will flounder in the future without someone marathoning Marvel movies to get to it in order to understand whose where, why they're fighting who, and why things are happening at all.

3: Try Different Times, Different Characters, Different Events

Age of Ultron wraps up with all the heroes played by major actors all but stating 'we're going away now because our actors need to do other things'. I couldn't help but chuckle at the worst exists of major characters in a film since the original group of Power Rangers left on a 'good will tour' at the end of their show to make way for the next team. But Ultron introduces new second string heroes and believes this will keep up the momentum of the cinematic universe by promising later movies to involve the likes of Scarlet Witch and Warmachine and Falcon. The problem? None of these people are interesting. Unlike, say, characters from The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars who were secondary we don't know anything about these new heroes except that they are side kicks. Does Warmachine have a deep backstory? Not really: he's just Tony Stark's friend who found an Ironman suit and put a gun on it. The Falcon's 'power' is he has mechanical wings. That's it.
Compare this to Lando Calrision who at least has some kind of history to him and a set of skills. You could make an interesting movie about Lando's exploits as a smuggler in the old days or his political struggles as administrator of Cloud City. You can't make a movie about Falcon without cramming him together with other B-List heroes. He doesn't have that much of a defined character or identity.
But with different time periods, different characters, different events he could!
Imagine if Falcon wasn't just a hastily tacked on addition to the Captain America movies.  According to the comics Falcon was originally outfitted by Black Panther, shows sophisticated interest in science and even fought The X-Men. Lets see that! As stands Falcon is just that guy who shows up in Captain America's movie. So lets have a film that lets The Falcon spread his wings (sorry) by himself, perhaps even in a time period before or after The Captain even becomes a factor so he can get a moment to show what makes him interesting.
Better still I like the additions to a cinematic universe which go WAY forward or WAY backwards.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favorite video games. The developers wanted to tell a story in the Star Wars universe but without becoming entangled in either the trilogy that existed or the prequel trilogy which was in the works as they began their game. Their solution? Set the game hundreds of years in the past!
It's brilliant. Some things remain the same but some things have changed and every adventure you have in the game is immediate: not directly dependent upon the films or any other form of media. You could meet new characters who might all be dead by the time the original trilogy rolled around, but that didn't mean their lives weren't meaningful. You got the sense through the stories being told that Star Wars wasn't just movies, it was millions of stories told by millions of people throughout decades of history, with more than enough room for fans to carve out their own niches as well.

Naturally J.J declared all of the expanded universe of Star Wars, from games to comics, defunct because the only thing that matters nowadays is movies and their bloody cinematic universes...but I digress...

Basically do ANYTHING but a direct sequel, and if it IS a direct sequel HAVE IT FOLLOW THE SAME LINE OF FILMS. You didn't have to watch the 'Han Solo Frozen in Carbonite' movie to discover how he wound up in Jabba's palace. The Return of the Jedi follows after Empire Strikes Back but not DIRECTLY afterwards. Time has passed. Some loose ends weren't necessarily tied up in a neat bow. Because it didn't follow directly on the heels of previous films it didn't feel like nothing at all happened between the times the first movie stopped and the next movie began. 
More importantly, what about a sequel/prequel/spinoff that's about what we don't know and didn't get to see?
Everyone wanted a Magneto movie for awhile. Why? Nothing from his childhood to his adulthood is really a mystery about Magneto: any movie about him would be a one-shot lackluster adventure designed specifically to sell a movie and the character, not to tell a story. 
In the expanded Star Wars universe there were stories just about Wookies. Just about Ewoks. Just about droids. 
Marvel has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D the television series but even that is slavishly shackled to the immediate cinematic universe.

It doesn't need to be that way and being so makes each new production less valuable in my eyes, not more.

It's been a winning formula for some time and many fans are pleased, but there's a general sense of settling for less. Was Iron Man 2 really ground breaking cinematic entertainment, or would it even be considered tolerable at all except for being tied to the MCU? Is Avengers 2 everything the trailer promised? Or did it completely ignore the deeper implications of the vengeful super-intelligence of Ultron and instead fashion him into yet another easily defeated and ignored baddie for the length of the movie only?

I want to see stories that lead to more stories. Who cares about characters when they become icons? Icons are meant to represent characters, not the other way around! You can't make a movie about Batman as an 'icon' because then he isn't a person anymore. Even Superman at his best was portrayed as an alien first and a super hero second because him being an alien among earthlings was the interesting aspect of his character, not just being able to fly and throw things. EVERY super hero can do that nowadays. 
Focus on the people, not the irons. Focus on the stories, not the plots.

To make a 'cinematic universe' I want each new stepping stone to reveal new places to see and new pieces to the puzzle, not retconned mini-plots that start from nothing and end nowhere. 

And most of all if you can't make a 'cinematic universe' AND tell good stories and make interesting characters...DON'T TRY. You don't need a cinematic universe. You don't need icons and epics and nonsense.

Just tell a story we can enjoy with characters we can care about. 
Inspired by this quotation from :iconaspergerian-mind:

'Marvel films no matter how fun I would enjoy them never amount to anything timeless because they never challenge themselves to things too difficult for the heroes or resolutions can't be permanent. Everything is a passive transition to the next film which would also be foregone conclusion because we have to keep everyone the same and must neuter the opposition and concepts down to their execution to preserve that iconography.'

---

First off let me say this much: Cinematic universes and super heroes DON'T MIX.

Even as a kid the surefire way to get me to ignore a comic and move to the next would be a splash page of hundreds of heroes blasting hundreds of baddies with a light show worth of lasers and beams. Why? Shouldn't that promise of excitement and scope get me interested? Well...no. To me a far more interesting and promising introduction to a comic would be to randomly turn to a page and see two of less characters talking. Maybe an image of one character in the aftermath of a battle or preparing for one. The less pyrotechnics and largely superfluous cast members the better; smaller, more intimate scenes with real focus on direction and emotion.
That way I'd get the impression that the comic had CHARACTERS not just SPECTACLE. 
To me a guy wearing a cape or a mask wasn't 'cool' all by himself. They needed a story to tell, a personality.
They needed to be a 'hero' not just a 'super hero'.

People credit Marvel for the invention of The Cinematic Universe quite a lot, but the truth is that the concept has existed long before they even started making films, back perhaps to the classic film serials in which hundreds of films created an unbroken chain of cliffhanger endings before the feature presentation so that in addition to seeing the latest movie you also got a continuation of The Undersea Kingdom, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Phantom Creeps, Batman, and even before sound and color you had the adventures of Zorro. The idea is not new. Every syndicated television show is practically a cinematic universe if the only criteria we're going by is the same actors interacting as the same characters. In fact I'd argue, and I think surprisingly few people would dispute with me, that television shows work BETTER than film based cinematic universes. The stories have more of an intimacy to them and feel more directly connected, partially because television can have episodes filmed back to back. A smaller budget means the action scenes need to be doled out between sequences of people talking and NOT just explaining the plot which gives every show ever made a leg up on the Marvel films. 
Likewise Marvel has struggled to keep continuity with a handful of films do to big stars, huge budgets, massive effects work and marketing campaigns and such. Television shows now and in the past have successfully branched into parallel storylines with the same characters after HUNDREDS of episodes. Consider the successful show Frasier which is the further adventures of a character originally established as a bit part in the show Cheers. The show based on Stargate had three spinoffs and multiple made for television movies. Star Trek ran for decades and had many different series with different casts but they kept to the same general ideas and universe. Heck, Power Rangers not only had many MANY episodes based on borrowing footage from previously aired Japanese Sentai shows but had the same cast members show up again and again throughout it's run to interact with the next generation and sometimes the continuity stretched back for years and between shows!

But why is television more successful at the cinematic universe than films?

Marvel is rolling is cash; no one can deny that, so the cinematic universe concept has been 'successful' for them, but as aspergerian-mind above points out they had great success at the cost of relatively mediocre movies. From the beginning the Marvel films have been generally entertaining but not very inspiring or powerful works. Certainly they don't HAVE to be, but fans and non-fans alike I think can agree that the potential is there for a Marvel film which makes you feel something other than generally thrilled and leaves you with more than an only passing sense of fun. Video games can do more than entertain, they can genuinely move people. So can art in general. The fact that Marvel films promise so much and deliver so comparatively little I think falls squarely on the concept they believe has led to their success: everything needs to 'tie together'. Everything needs to promise the next thing to hype up future films. Everything needs to be resolved at the close of the movie except for dangling sequel pleas that barely play into the film proper at all. The failed experiment called The Amazing Spiderman cinematic universe shows what happens when you try this with something other than a massively well known brand name attached. Everyone loves Spiderman, sure, but not everyone knows or cares about his rouges gallery so making a film based on Black Cat just so Sony could have their own cinematic universe was ludicrous, and focusing so much on films to come instead of each movie one at a time caused The Amazing Spiderman 2 to underperform over-budget and lead to yet another reboot to fix the dangling threads. 
I fear that Disney has delusions of their own cinematic universe since Star Wars now has at least seven...SEVEN...spinoffs planned. It doesn't seem too unlikely unfortunately that these movies aren't being written so much as planned and left on the back burner until a director and writer is found to sketch them out and splash them all over the movie screens. These are not labors of love; these are haphazard efforts of a production line which feels the only way to be relevant is to be CONSTANTLY IN YOUR FACE.

Do you want to know what my favorite cinematic universe is?
The Blair Witch Project.

I'm willing to suppose a lot of people didn't even know Blair Witch HAD a cinematic universe. After all it only had two movies, so how can THAT be a 'cinematic universe'? Simple. The Blair Witch had three spin off games, books, comics, and two pseudo documentaries AND a webpage.
And the best part? ALL of these took place in the same universe but NONE of them took place at the same time.
The video games Rustin Parr,  The Legend of Coffin Rock and The Elly Kedward Tale all take place in different eras, from 'modern times' to the civil war. The thread that ties them together is the titular Blair Witch or whatever dark legacy she represented in her own time so literally ANY story could be told using that connecting branch without the necessity being for famous characters to show up for a cameo or earlier events to be even all that integral to the current story being told. In Rustin Parr for instance you're a research scientist looking into a mysterious series of murders and abductions. In Legend of Coffin Rock you're an amnesiac union soldier dubbed Lazarus by the family that finds him who tries to recover a lost girl in the woods and in The Elly Kedward Tale you are Jonathan Prye, a witch hunter searching for a women who may or may not be a witch. In each instance, I think ingeniously, the stories are based off of legends ALLUDED to in the original Blair Witch film, but they do not feature the filmmakers from that movie, no characters from any of these games encounter each other, and their actions are important to THEM and may play into what happens in the grander narrative, but they are not dependent. Unlike, say, The Avengers: Age of Ultron which requires the story to begin with the events established in the first Avengers film and end up in a way leading to later Avengers movies, the Blair Witch games and indeed every piece of The Blair Witch lore (including books, games, movies...etc) can have surprises and tell self contained stories. The ending to the tale of Jonathan Prye isn't revealed in the Blair Witch movies so how the game ends is a mystery until the player reaches the conclusion. Does he die or live? He isn't required to do either by the universe because he's a PART of the universe, not a slave to it's ebbs and flows.
Confession time: the games weren't all that good, but I did appreciate that the developers and the people who owned the intellectual property didn't just make a game where you played as the filmmakers or something.  

In the documentaries Curse of The Blair Witch, The Burkittsville 7 and Shadow of the Blair Witch all detail events surrounding the film The Blair Witch but flash forward and backwards to reveal what we didn't see in the movie rather than obsessing over the same events and characters. Even the sequel Book of Shadows was written specifically to distance itself from the original film rather than retread old ground...which is was ironically forced to by studio intervention, but that's another instance of forcing a cinematic universe on a series and destroying a stand alone product. The reason I consider these additions to The Blair Witch to be a true cinematic universe as opposed to Thor and Captain America and so forth is because those films barely function outside of being additions to a greater whole. Thor is not a very good movie but is required watching to understand the plot of The Avengers, and likewise Captain America's plot point about the mystical tesseract makes little sense without retroactively watching The Avengers. But Curse of The Blair Witch is an enjoyable and self contained mockumentary that tells a story apart from just leeching off constant call backs and call forwards to The Blair Witch. Even The Burkittsville 7 about the filmmakers focuses on their lives before the film so although it isn't 'required' by any means it enriches the story rather than just adding one more annoying expansion to it.
The dossier of The Blair Witch I find especially enjoyable because it's written like collections of documents for a police procedural complete with stationary marks for imaginary companies and organizations, 'torn out' pages from newspapers and magazines, and 'reproductions' of the journals of the filmmakers along with a text translation for parts where the ink has run on the pages or passages are indecipherable. 
It all feels remarkably real because everyone put in the effort to make it feel that way. 
Every new piece of The Blair Witch feels like an addition that takes it in a new direction and fleshes out the mysteries. Even the much derided Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (with a subtitle the studio added which has nothing to do with the movie at all!) was painstakingly written and designed to expand the ideas of the first movie complete with hidden messages, an ambiguous ending, and VERY subtle indications that it takes place in the same location as the original movie that only someone with a pause button would pick up (such as grave markers and signs in the background).

And consider too that a lot of the 'cinematic universe' of the Marvel world is DEEP under wraps. The guy who fights Captain America on the boat during the hostage mission in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is according to hardcore fans some mercenary guy who kicks supernaturally well, which explains why he stands up against a super soldier and why he wears a silly uniform. But his name is never stated in the film itself. I guess that's subtle, but it's also nonsensical. Someone, like say ME, who had no idea who this guy was would ask themselves 'why is cap getting his butt kicked by some random ordinary guy when he had no trouble with hundreds like him earlier?' Maybe it would make us look him up, but if we have to it's not that friendly to an audience who either wants to watch a movie OR read a comic, not have to do both.
In Blair Witch there's no real instance of mythology you NEED to know in order to understand something, and what you do need to know is all but stated very carefully in each self-regulated source. In the original movie you can understand every strange occurrence if you relate it back to the opening scenes where the filmmakers talk about the legend of The Blair Witch and the accusations of murderer Rustin Parr. There's some unanswered questions on purpose but nothing overtly logically nonsensical. In each game too the weirder elements are given some kind of explanation, even if its shadowy and strange. You are never left just wondering 'who is that guy and why am I supposed to know him?' like a lot of people were with Nick Fury's first appearance. 

The best kind of cinematic universe is one in which the investigations into the lore or following the adventures of characters are INTERDEPENDENT. Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek The Next Generation all share ideas, names, places and characters and sometimes they cross between the shows, but none of them is entirely dependent on you watching all the previous episodes. Voyager is about Janeway getting her crew home from The Delta Quadrant. Deep Space Nine is about a space station and a galactic war surrounding it. The Original Series and Next Generation are about separate crews traveling around the universe looking for new civilizations. They all use phasers and tricorders, answer to Star Fleet, meet with Klingons and Romulans, and sometimes hear about each other but you don't need to know about Kirk to enjoy the adventures of Sisco or Picard. These were all set in the same universe, yes.
BUT THE UNIVERSE IS A BIG PLACE.

The problem with the Marvel Universe is that its really really small.
Nothing happens unless its happening directly to the characters on screen. The Earth is usually in danger because if it was anything less the heroes would probably not care that much. They're too strong to do something as pedestrian as stopping a crime. Heroes have to fight other heroes or...I dunno...it will all seem silly? Places seem so inconsequential to what's going on in them. One city looks like another if it's just going to play the battlefield of the heroes mowing down scads of bad guys. One country looks like another if all the heroes do there is discuss the plot. Even outer space isn't all that interesting if every single event occurs so close to one another. Lord of the Rings is criticized for having too many walking situations, but at least that made Middle Earth feel like it was larger than a series of interconnecting rooms. In The Avengers our heroes travel to German from New York in MINUTES via jet plane. It made it feel like nothing existed of importance between point A and point B.

Same problem I have with the J.J Abrams version of Star Trek, and I'm apprehensive this mentality will leak into Star Wars now that he's in charge of that too. The 'heroes' in Star Trek were never super human. Kirk is a faliable guy who is always learning new things, even as he grows older in later films like Wrath of Khan. Picard is not an 'action hero' so much as a thinker and a leader and Sisco is not superior in strength, it's his will that sets him apart. The J.J Abrams Star Trek universe has EVERY character of the original crew portrayed as some kind of superior genius. And by virtue of their intelligence they are also elevated into super heroic status; able to jump impossible distances, survive ridiculous odds unscathed, and waltz consequence free through a mass scale threat to the galaxy. Like the Marvel heroes, by embellishing the crew this way they've become 'too good' for something as provincial as 'exploring strange new worlds'. Now all they do is shoot the bad guys because they have the most powerful weapons and most intelligent minds and most agile bodies of anyone else. They aren't notable for rising against adversity because the world has to do it's very best to MATCH their own superiority.
You never fear for them and you never really believe they're in danger. 
And if this moves to Star Wars we can expect the new movie The Force Awakens and future installments in Disney's 'cinematic universe' to feature our larger than life heroes being invincible and incorruptible as they stare down one minor (if highly destructive) annoyance after another or shoot it until it stops moving. 

There cannot be any intimacy, any interactions, any kind of quieter moments of doubt and danger and sacrifice if every hero we have on display is so incredible they only care about world shattering events that take hours to explain properly and go up against bad guys that need to be ridiculously overpowered to come anyway near them AND STILL end up getting utterly destroyed by the end of the story just to make way for the next unimpressive non-challenge. 

Thor isn't going to die, and if by chance Marvel decided to kill him off you can bet you'd know about it in advance. The reason is that Thor isn't a story: he's a franchise. Nobody cares that much about Asgard or The Frost Giants or any of his world because it doesn't ultimately matter so much as Thor himself. Same with Iron Man, Captain America, and any other Marvel character they decide to give their own films. The hero isn't going to die, the world isn't going to change, the bad guy isn't going to win, and nothing can happen that means that much because the next Avengers movie will ignore everything except the bare minimum which will mostly be jokes and call backs. Marvel had the audacity to state that in Age of Ultron 'an Avenger will die'.
SPOILERS.
Quicksilver getting killed was utterly pointless. He isn't the same Quicksilver from other Marvel movies and he's barely introduced as a largely silent antagonist until he turns a new leaf and almost immediately is killed. He wasn't an Avenger in any real sense and he had no arc, no real friends, nothing to care about where he was concerned. You can't claim that his death was supposed to motivate anything or come as that much of a surprise.
Marvel is grasping at straws; trying to make even the most mundane things seem amazing because they defy the conventions they themselves have put into place which hopelessly gridlock their movies.

So how would I make a better cinematic universe personally?

1: If At All Possible, Tell a Story With Suspense and Surprises.

Super heroes, with a couple of rare exceptions, are seldom in any real danger. Watchmen twisted the narrative by pitting the heroes against society and each other rather than a strict villain so as different story could be told, but by and large I'd suggest a story with mortal characters who if they did possess extraordinary powers had limitations to these. Even Ironman is practically a god so I'd find it much more interesting if the story focused on someone more like John McClain (before Die Hard 4) who rarely emerged from a fight without a serious injury. In order to engender suspense there must be the possibility of at least two eventualities happening. Indiana Jones might not 'lose' exactly, but he's sure not going to fight through ALL the Nazis by himself. His plans to circumvent his situation is where the excitement and uncertainty comes from. Same with James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes, Burt Gummer and other 'mortal' heroes who have limitations that are clearly indicated. A self imposed limitation like Batman's 'no killing' decision is a nice way to make a hero vulnerable without making them 'weak'. Batman chooses to fight without becoming what he does battle with. The same is true of the nigh invincible Neo from The Matrix films who managed to remain interesting because for all his powers he kept getting into situations he couldn't use them to win the day. 
Lets see a hero off kilter, learning from their MISTAKES perhaps, relying on others, learning about what they stand for through trial and error, discovering that the world doesn't even revolve around their success or failure.
Each character is PART of a larger story, not the whole. 
That way their part may END, even abruptly...but the STORY will go on.
That's suspense. 

2: Make Each Installment Self Contained

Batman Sub Zero is a made-for-tv movie based on Batman: The Animated Series. Every element of Batman's mythos is laid out with beautiful simplicity in a matter of moments from the very beginning of the film and the majority of the rest of it actually focuses more on the story of the villain Mr. Freeze than on Batman himself. If you hadn't seen a single episode of the animated series or even another Batman related movie you could still understand what was going on moment by moment. Sub Zero is it's own story, and its a great one.
Same with the Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm which weaves into the regular mystery plot a story simultaneously about Batman dealing with a relationship till now the audience didn't know about and also the backstory and pain of the events leading up to him becoming Batman: in essence telling a new story and an abbreviated origin story at the same time, alongside the Phantasm plot as well!
Recent animated spinoff movies have fallen into the trap of leaning on existing materials to make sense (Batman: Red Hood and Justice League: Doom for instance) and of course origin stories are pretty self contained like the Wonder Women and Dr. Strange animated movies, but what's notable about Mask of the Phantasm and Sub Zero is that they tell new stories in the same universe as the animated series but they are not beholden to it. When Mr. Freeze shows up in the animated series his backstory is alluded to but not really defined. To discover his backstory you can see Sub Zero which lays it out neatly, but it's NOT REQUIRED to enjoy any later instances of Mr. Freeze or the show. 
Consider something like The Empire Strikes Back as well. It seems odd but it's remarkably self contained. There's no elements that are that inexplicable (except for Ben Kenobi's ghost but that happens pretty late in the beginning of the film) so anyone with a passing knowledge of science fiction could point out quickly that The Empire were the bad guys, that the rebels were the good guys hiding from them, that Leia was a princess, Han was a smuggler and so forth. Compare this to Age of Ultron which has an introduction so jarring I actually had to google it when I got back home to understand it and it only makes full sense if you've seen both the original Avengers film AND Captain America 2. That's not a friendly cinematic universe. That's closer to...well...a Marvel comic book series in which stories are divided among other issues that have nothing to do with each other just so you buy all the books to understand the story. 
I much prefer installments to be experiences unto themselves. There doesn't need to be NO continuity, but continuity for the sake of continuity is just annoying. In Empire Strikes Back there's a big flash forward from the original Star Wars: A New Hope film. That ended with the rebellion celebrating the destruction of the Death Star on a forest planet. Now their own a snow planet and The Death Star is being rebuilt and characters are discussing plans for the future. The story has continued but it's skipped ahead a bit; right to the point that the STORY starts up again. Tying the creation of Ultron to the infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D by Hydra was just unnecessarily convoluted. It didn't make the 'cinematic universe' more rich, it just made it more dependent. 
So cut the ties! Pick up the story when the story gets going. Gloss over things if they don't play immediately into the plot. I rag on Joss Whedon a lot and on Firefly but I'll admit that you can easily see the movie Serenity without watching any episodes of Firefly and still understand the plot, the characters and what's at stake.
I think it gives Serenity legs where something like Age of Ultron will flounder in the future without someone marathoning Marvel movies to get to it in order to understand whose where, why they're fighting who, and why things are happening at all.

3: Try Different Times, Different Characters, Different Events

Age of Ultron wraps up with all the heroes played by major actors all but stating 'we're going away now because our actors need to do other things'. I couldn't help but chuckle at the worst exists of major characters in a film since the original group of Power Rangers left on a 'good will tour' at the end of their show to make way for the next team. But Ultron introduces new second string heroes and believes this will keep up the momentum of the cinematic universe by promising later movies to involve the likes of Scarlet Witch and Warmachine and Falcon. The problem? None of these people are interesting. Unlike, say, characters from The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars who were secondary we don't know anything about these new heroes except that they are side kicks. Does Warmachine have a deep backstory? Not really: he's just Tony Stark's friend who found an Ironman suit and put a gun on it. The Falcon's 'power' is he has mechanical wings. That's it.
Compare this to Lando Calrision who at least has some kind of history to him and a set of skills. You could make an interesting movie about Lando's exploits as a smuggler in the old days or his political struggles as administrator of Cloud City. You can't make a movie about Falcon without cramming him together with other B-List heroes. He doesn't have that much of a defined character or identity.
But with different time periods, different characters, different events he could!
Imagine if Falcon wasn't just a hastily tacked on addition to the Captain America movies.  According to the comics Falcon was originally outfitted by Black Panther, shows sophisticated interest in science and even fought The X-Men. Lets see that! As stands Falcon is just that guy who shows up in Captain America's movie. So lets have a film that lets The Falcon spread his wings (sorry) by himself, perhaps even in a time period before or after The Captain even becomes a factor so he can get a moment to show what makes him interesting.
Better still I like the additions to a cinematic universe which go WAY forward or WAY backwards.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favorite video games. The developers wanted to tell a story in the Star Wars universe but without becoming entangled in either the trilogy that existed or the prequel trilogy which was in the works as they began their game. Their solution? Set the game hundreds of years in the past!
It's brilliant. Some things remain the same but some things have changed and every adventure you have in the game is immediate: not directly dependent upon the films or any other form of media. You could meet new characters who might all be dead by the time the original trilogy rolled around, but that didn't mean their lives weren't meaningful. You got the sense through the stories being told that Star Wars wasn't just movies, it was millions of stories told by millions of people throughout decades of history, with more than enough room for fans to carve out their own niches as well.

Naturally J.J declared all of the expanded universe of Star Wars, from games to comics, defunct because the only thing that matters nowadays is movies and their bloody cinematic universes...but I digress...

Basically do ANYTHING but a direct sequel, and if it IS a direct sequel HAVE IT FOLLOW THE SAME LINE OF FILMS. You didn't have to watch the 'Han Solo Frozen in Carbonite' movie to discover how he wound up in Jabba's palace. The Return of the Jedi follows after Empire Strikes Back but not DIRECTLY afterwards. Time has passed. Some loose ends weren't necessarily tied up in a neat bow. Because it didn't follow directly on the heels of previous films it didn't feel like nothing at all happened between the times the first movie stopped and the next movie began. 
More importantly, what about a sequel/prequel/spinoff that's about what we don't know and didn't get to see?
Everyone wanted a Magneto movie for awhile. Why? Nothing from his childhood to his adulthood is really a mystery about Magneto: any movie about him would be a one-shot lackluster adventure designed specifically to sell a movie and the character, not to tell a story. 
In the expanded Star Wars universe there were stories just about Wookies. Just about Ewoks. Just about droids. 
Marvel has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D the television series but even that is slavishly shackled to the immediate cinematic universe.

It doesn't need to be that way and being so makes each new production less valuable in my eyes, not more.

It's been a winning formula for some time and many fans are pleased, but there's a general sense of settling for less. Was Iron Man 2 really ground breaking cinematic entertainment, or would it even be considered tolerable at all except for being tied to the MCU? Is Avengers 2 everything the trailer promised? Or did it completely ignore the deeper implications of the vengeful super-intelligence of Ultron and instead fashion him into yet another easily defeated and ignored baddie for the length of the movie only?

I want to see stories that lead to more stories. Who cares about characters when they become icons? Icons are meant to represent characters, not the other way around! You can't make a movie about Batman as an 'icon' because then he isn't a person anymore. Even Superman at his best was portrayed as an alien first and a super hero second because him being an alien among earthlings was the interesting aspect of his character, not just being able to fly and throw things. EVERY super hero can do that nowadays. 
Focus on the people, not the irons. Focus on the stories, not the plots.

To make a 'cinematic universe' I want each new stepping stone to reveal new places to see and new pieces to the puzzle, not retconned mini-plots that start from nothing and end nowhere. 

And most of all if you can't make a 'cinematic universe' AND tell good stories and make interesting characters...DON'T TRY. You don't need a cinematic universe. You don't need icons and epics and nonsense.

Just tell a story we can enjoy with characters we can care about. 
Just thinking about storytelling again. Seems like a lot of films are stagnating under the misunderstanding that stories must be told one way, especially according to genres. All superhero movies are one way, all horror movies one way, all fantasy and science fiction movies all one way. There are shakeups in general aesthetics, in ideas, in characters, but very seldom are their attempts to revitalize the stories at the source; the structure of the story itself.
Here's my attempt anyway.

1: Segmented Storytelling 

Stories, especially in films, tend to be told linearly even despite flashbacks and flash forwards. Events follow one on the other, characters meet in scenes previous to their combining forces, villains and heroes are introduced with scenes that are tailor made to introduce THEM specifically and do little else. It's serviceable but it's more than a little dull if you watch more than one movie in your life and see the same sequence of events follow the same path: heroes and villains posing for no reason, people talking about events and then those events happening directly afterwards...etc.
But I like the approach of the early works of director Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. These maverick filmmakers told stories in a way I seldom see: as if they had already been told. George Lucas stumbled across this in the fourth Star Wars film as well: beginning 'in media rez' or 'from the middle. Tarantino when interviewed and asked why his productions were told out of order made an interesting comparison.
'If my movie was a book and you were reading it chapter by chapter you wouldn't even notice.'
Films like Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs are told out of order with scenes following scenes when chronologically they take place in the story long before or long afterwards, but there is method to the madness. Each 'segment' of time is purposefully placed to establish where characters go even when the plot itself is left somewhat ambiguous. Reservoir Dogs for instances follows a botched heist from the perspective of multiple characters and so each character's lives become the subject of each segment of the film. Each character 'began' their events at different points so when the story switches focus to another character it can suddenly flash backwards or forwards in time to follow their story as they saw it. Same with the infamous Pulp Fiction in which dead characters seem to come back to life but only because events are being told out of order. In El Mariachi, Desperado, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Robert Rodriguez films these stories as if HE the entire history and was sharing only what the characters in the films discover or experience. In the space of a movie between El Mariachi and Desperado a LOT happens, but it's only briefly investigated because to the characters it didn't matter much. Why is The Mariachi hanging out with a new friend? Why does he want revenge on a character who wasn't in the first movie? We're eventually told about it, but nothing in the film goes out of it's way to exposit. 
Details are shared ORGANICALLY. 
Another nice touch in the Mariachi trilogy and Pulp Fiction is the notion of characters who meet but don't recognize each other, effectively introducing characters without focusing on them. In Desperado The Mariachi encounters a character we will see later played by Danny Trejo but it's so quick you'd miss it on the first viewing with Danny driving a car past him while he hitchhikes. In the Sin City movies as well there are characters shown in transition (attending a bar or wandering past each other in the streets) when other stories are being told even if their own stories end with them dying or going elsewhere. The impression created is that the story being told is a snapshot of a larger whole: that a living world exists around the framework of the movie being experienced through the lens of the camera. Characters encounter each other but don't always recognize each other and the camera doesn't even focus on them. Events occur but not always in sequence. We experience the stories but not always at the same time in the same way.
It's a risk, but I think when this style is on display it makes the film more interesting to see once and then see again and again trying to pick up all the interconnections that were going on at a near subconscious level. Also segmented stories give the impression that even when nothing is 'happening' that things are still moving and living and breathing around what is in the narrow window we view the fictional world through.

2: Unreliable Narrator

In Troy Duffy's The Boondocks Saints the detective character played by Willem Dafoe has amazing deductive reasoning as he pieces together crime scenes and in the film almost seems to participate in them even though they happened in the past. The fascinating aspect of this idea however is that he often gets the details WRONG. In one scene The Saints come under fire by an assassin who is armed with several pistols strapped to a body harness, and when each run out of bullets he drops them and draws two more. Willem Dafoe after the fact declares that the gunfight must have involved at least six other shooters because of the amount of bullets, casings and guns left at the scene.
Even as he exposits what happened he describes something other than what actually occurred! 
The first Mission Impossible movie has a sequence in which Ethan Hunt is being told what to believe by someone but in his own flashback he envisions what ACTUALLY happened which is the exact opposite of what he's being told to believe. It makes a potentially dry scene of one character telling another character what happened intriguing because of the incongruous nature of what we hear versus what we see. 
I'd like to see this done more often. Bad guys (and good guys sometimes too) lie, but in films we are usually told in as many words when they are lying. If a good guy lies the audience is told about it and a big deal is made about it as well...but what if a white lie was told so well that even the audience was fooled?
I like to go back to the major missed opportunity of Tron: Legacy. Sam Flynn is confronted by the villain Clu who looks exactly like his father so naturally he assumes that Clu is in fact Kevin Flynn. Clu tells him bluntly 'I'm not your father, Sam'.
WHY?
Clu should have told Sam that he WAS his father. Sam has no reason not to believe him and with Sam fooled Clu could easily have sent Sam after the real Flynn which is what he wanted anyway. Instead of making Clu an obvious bad guy from the first which makes him kind of boring, make his initial gambit a long game in which he convinces Sam, and perhaps the audience too, that he is really what Kevin Flynn appears like in the virtual world. Whose to say he's wrong? The real Kevin Flynn could be referred to as Clu so instead of Sam going to find his father which is a done deal, make it more complex. Clu could even treat Sam better than Kevin ever did making him hesitate in determining who is his real father and making the audience wonder which he'd be better off with. 
Going back to the Mariachi trilogy, there's an interesting difference between the scenes in which action is being described in the form of well worn stories and real time scenes in which The Mariachi is battling drug dealers and the like. In scenes which are recreations of rumors about The Mariachi there's a lot of effort to make the battles look over the top on purpose. Guns shoot fountains of sparks. Bad guys literally get blasted into the air. The Mariachi's guitar fires rockets and a machine gun and he can seemingly kill an entire room of guys without having to reload once.
Now compare to real time action scenes. The Mariachi has to reload A LOT. He gets hurt. He misses. His guitar isn't equipped with extra weapons. Bad guys get shoot and bleed and limp but don't fly through the air. The rumor sequences are NOT the way reality is; it's the way the legend of The Mariachi is seen. 
The comparison makes even the wackiest action scenes in the trilogy seem somewhat grounded seen side by side with the unreliable depictions of cartoony action in the rumor scenes. 
So I say don't be afraid to have people talking but not telling the truth. Don't be afraid to show things that didn't actually happen because someone is lying about them. There are books that do this well too and keep even just reading them an adventure, like the Five Children and It series in which the narrator constantly says they will never tell us who they really are...until there are scenes where the narrator forget to omit lines like 'I was the first one over the wall'. 
Mix it up! Film is a visual medium, but it's still a form of storytelling and stories first and foremost are meant to tell a story by any means! If you're being bored you're not listening. Liven things up. Keep us on our toes.

3: A Small Scale Goal

The Avengers always have to save The World. Not just a city. Not just themselves. It's all very noble, but like anything in repetition it becomes a little wan after it becomes predicable. Not to mention that the bigger the goal the more ludicrous is becomes that more people aren't involved. So The Army decided to sit out that one time aliens invaded New York? There's a few guys in fatigues we see and some planes but we have more than that available for Fourth of July airshows. I know the focus should be on the heroes, but it wouldn't have to seem like the world was putting up such a token effort of defense if the goal was smaller than the entire city of New York being under attack. In Age of Ultron the venue is basically a small village, but with the added threat of it becoming a meteor to destroy all life. Again, the army isn't interested in this turn of events? How about the police? NONE of these can take down any Ultron robots? Black Widow and her guns and Hawkeye with ARROWS doesn't seem to be having any problems, even if they are super science arrows.
Back on point, the issue is that the larger the goal the more convoluted the situation becomes and the more questions are raised that the story has to either ignore or address very briefly to avoid getting sucked into a vortex of confusion which obscures the plot. In Kick Ass 2 the notion of real life super heroes versus villains is interesting on paper but in practice the battle is barely seen and seems to have no real effect. Some people die but when they do so they seem to disappear and none of the heroes seem to have suffered any losses. The stakes are TOO big to get a focused story out of. When it comes to armies it's impressive for awhile but it quickly degenerates into so many blurry shapes crashing into each other.
So SCALE BACK THE GOAL.
One of my favorite movies is The Godfather and the main character's goal is intriguing in how personal and isolated it is. Michael wants to keep his family safe and his business secure and growing. That's it. He doesn't want to save the city or take over the world. He basically wants to not die and keep everyone he knows from dying while staying rich. The intrigue stems from how these two desires conflict. Keeping the business going means deadly enemies which means more attacks which means more danger. He has to balance the two issues with his actions, and both he comes to resent for the things he's had to do to keep them upright.
And the rest of the world DOESN'T CARE.
Nobody except maybe his enemies and his immediate allies care about The Godfather's goals. Some people drift in and out of his life who are in power but he's largely his own self-contained universe. Same with the events of movies like Scarface in which the main character's goals are entirely personal and fairly small scale. We care because we come to care about the people involved.
We are not made to care presumably by the magnitude of the situation.
And without the world caring the heroes have to care doubly so. Unlike Luke Skywalker who has The Alliance at his back or Gandalf who has the entire nation of Gondor alongside him, Tony Montana is basically by himself except for some hired hands. 
For a more heroic example, Dredd follows Judge Dredd as he tries to bust a drug dealing gang in one high rise building. That's it. The gang isn't planning on ruling the city; not really. The gang isn't planning on blowing up the world and time is not of the essence. Dredd, as a Street Judge, is driven by a sense of duty to remove a criminal element and fights to do so. He's not saving the world: he's doing his job. 
I'd love to see an Avengers or new Star Trek style movie in which the heroes weren't blowing up cities or trying to stop doomsday weapons but were instead dealing with a small area which had come under attack; perhaps even to the complete apathy of the rest of the world. When they do a Black Panther movie it would be nifty to see something like the animated version of his story in which he serves as guardian of a hidden city in the jungle. His goal is personal but heroic and has the advantage of having a narrowed focus. If The Avengers don't stop the bad guys then the world is doomed, so they can effectively never feasibly lose.
But if Black Panther fails the world is out one hidden city. That might actually happen!
So pare down the goals, narrow the focus if you can. Keep the heroes heroic and the villains diabolical; fine.
But when you're fighting for your home instead of something as nebulous as THE WORLD it seems more intimate a battle being waged.
And it's certainly a heck of a lot less expensive! 

4: More Focus on Heroes Than Villains

Kick Ass 2 as I mentioned suffered from a bit of power creep in terms of raising the stakes, but it did have one aspect I found fairly unique and facilitating. Lets face it: the popular notion of super hero stories especially is that the villains are more interesting than the heroes. I think this is partially because the villains are usually DOING something while the heroes are sitting around TALKING about things. Also villains have more flamboyant and wacky personalities as compared to the largely interchangeable heroes whose motives usually boil down to an amorphous sense of justice.
But Kick Ass 2, probably unwittingly, turned this notion on it's head in a way I looked at and wondered 'Why don't we see this more often?' In the movie the heroes are the ones who get the most personality, the most development, and are always DOING something. By contrast ironically the villains are the ones we barely see, barely understand except for an amorphous sense of injustice and are usually seen sitting around.
And with this switch up came a very different kind of movie. The heroes are vibrant and different and fun to be around with characters that prove much more than one-note declarations of fighting for justice. We see them in and out of their costumes, doing things like working at a soup kitchen as well as fighting evil, we watch them making their suits and their lair and training and hanging out. The lion's share of screen time is devoted to developing our protagonists while the antagonists remain largely mysterious and only lightly sketched. This actually makes them a little more menacing as we never quite know what they're doing, where they'll go and what they'll do next. 
The focus is on the heroes (whom we don't really need to be kept in suspense about because they're the main characters) and the off-focus is devoted to the bad guys so they remain a little in the shadows; unknown and somewhat defined as a singular entity of villainous purpose. The Mother F**ker is given some backstory and development, but he's by no means the principal threat of the movie as he's treated more like the instigator of the villainy and a joke but never quite a real menace. We do however see villains like Mother Russian wantonly slaughter people so we know what they're capable of.
Imagine if The Age of Ultron had real guts. We almost never get to see Ultron except glimpses of his development with most of the movie focused on The Avengers in their day to day lives. What do heroes do when they aren't saving the world? The party scene was a great idea in that movie and people generally all say the same thing about it. We wanted to see more scenes of The Avengers hanging out!
Imagine if in The Hobbit we didn't see endless spinning scenes of the heroes walking around in New Zealand and had more camping scenes like in The Lord of the Rings. In Fellowship of the Rings Frodo and Sam bond over a quiet, genuine moment while making camp with Sam complaining about sleeping on tree roots. It sketches out Sam struggling to come to grips with being away from home subtly and tells us when Frodo smiles that not only does Sam amuse him but he genuinely has affection for his companion.
The Hobbit and other movies feel they need to leap bodily from action scene of action scene and it's just not true. We want to know more about the people we're following around. We want to know about why would should care about them. In Kingsmen there's parallel scenes depicting the villain and the heroes and the heroes are always shown training or discussing things while the villain is cracking jokes and doing stuff. Why are we interested in the heroes if all they do is train and exposit? The villain is going to kill people, but at least he's funny and his action seem to have an effect on the world around him.
Lets see the heroes do that! Imagine in a Terminator if our characters stopped long enough to catch their breath and did something genuinely good to make out themselves as heroes by nature not just because the plot calls them that. Nothing even all that major. Kyle Reese drops a coin in a beggar's cup. It's cheesy but if that beggar never comes back and especially if Kyle does it without even thinking we know that Kyle is the kind of guy who cares deep inside. Maybe The Terminator blocks Sarah Conner from crossing the street into incoming traffic. A funny scene, sure, but also a quiet way to indicate The Terminator is programmed to defend her.
I want to see more heroes being heroic. Heroic I say doesn't just mean how much of a city you can blow up.
It means what you feel, what you do, what you intend and what you're willing to sacrifice.
It can make a hero just as interesting, even more so, then the most amusing villain. 

5: Parallel Stories

What if a dinosaur from Jurassic Park made it to the mainland and was found by a family?
What if in Star Wars a smuggler wound up with the blueprints for a secret imperial weapon?
What if in Star Trek a disgraced Klingon had to clear his family's name to restore his honor?
What if a Predator crash landed on an alien hive world and had to survive long enough to be recovered?
Ever since The Animatrix introduced me the idea of stories nested inside of other stories I've always enjoyed the idea, and I think a great way to fresh up storytelling is to investigate these possibilities. The Animatrix didn't just look at events directly tied into the movies at all, it looked into stories being told at the same time, before, even after the events of The Matrix and its sequels. The Matrix is only one such story possible in the world of The Matrix, just as with very few exceptions every movie is only one such possible story in any given fictional world.
The key is to stray off the beaten path in search of a good story, not just one with recognizable characters.
Consider the first example. It could almost be a bit like E.T with a dinosaur being kept by a family as a pet but eventually growing out of control and being difficult to hide and being investigated by regular police and agents of N-Gen who want to recover their property. Is the dinosaur trained or can you really train something out of time and wild? Does N-Gen have the right to recover what it can conceivably deal with better, even if the family cares for the dinosaur as a member of the family as opposed to an asset? What happens when the dinosaur begins to feel primal urges and becomes a real danger to pets and eventually to people?
You can tell an entire parallel story which is meaningful in it's own way using the same universe, but it is not beholden to the films before or after it except by general continuity. You don't need the same actors to show up for cameos or jokey references to the movies or try and forcibly tie the story into the other movies. It could be a self contained and interesting movie by itself: parallel to the other tales.
The movie Predators tried this but ultimately failed I feel because it didn't tell any kind of interesting story. To tell a story you need characters that bring their own experiences and outlooks to the table whose choices change the events around them.
And because that's all you need stories can exist at any time in any place. The movie practically demands that your story follow a three act structure (at least out of courtesy) but whose to say when things begin and end? We're staring down the barrel of several expanded universe stories to come in the Marvel, DC, and now Star Wars universes, but the problem I see with these is their slavish devotion to an undercurrent of singular narrative. That is to say The Incredible Hulk movies will never just be about The Incredible Hulk. They have to be stories directly associated with the bigger movies, and in doing so they need the same actors, the same callbacks, the same events at the same times. It's an idea with potential but it comes across as restrictive, and in movies like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Iron Man 3 it runs into the issue of the continuity of the side film conflicting with the cinematic universe (Wolverine's amnesia doesn't make any sense but has to happen and in Iron Man 3 Tony destroys all his suits...just to rebuild them again).
So I say head into the deeper brush to find new possibilities.
A story told parallel, not adjacent but parallel, to a cinematic universe would be great: a self-contained tale focusing on telling a good and solid story by itself.
A tale of Klingons in the J.J Abrams Star Trek continuity wouldn't need any direct continuity ties to the whole Earth and Enterprise storyline. Maybe the story is being told as a legend which took place hundreds of years ago. Maybe at the very end it drops hints at a sequel, but the intention should be in the situation in my opinion focused firmly on telling a good story which feels complete. In the Star Wars example there could be vague mentions of The Alliance and The Empire being at war, but the universe is a big place. Not everyone would care. How somewhat realistic would it be if to a smuggler the mentions of the rebellion was confined to a few chattering news reporters on a radio which the smuggler then switches the channel for to some kind of music they like? The events of their story could tie into the films in some way but they never need to meet Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader. They don't need to wield a lightsaber or see The Millennium Falcon or run away from a Rancor anything of the sort. People don't seem to realize that the appeal of The Star Wars films in the first place was how radically different each movie was from one another. A New Hope takes place on a desert and then goes to a space station. Empire Strikes Back has an ice planet and a swamp world. Return of the Jedi has a forest world and although it returns to the desert it's a side we've never seen with a crime lord's palace and floating pleasure skiff. 
The new Star Wars on the other hands shows us...more desert. 
That's not new. That's a callback and that's fine, but it's by no means advancing anything. 
To avoid cannibalizing a universe, move to another point in it. Show us more stories. Show us other perspectives. Show us parallel lives. 

6: Implied Action

John Carpenter's The Thing opens with a very creepy investigation of a snowbound base which has been long abandoned. One point out of place is a fire axe lodged in the wall for no reason anyone can guess at. Something happened here and something violent and fast. 
In Fellowship of the Ring we see dwarven skeletons scattered across the ground imbedded with arrows and Gandalf finds a book detailing the final moments of the last defenders. Even before the goblins arrive the film, and Tolkien's novel, expertly lays out what the eventual fates of our heroes might be as well. In the book without knowing it Legolas even repeats lines from the book such as 'They are coming' and 'We cannot get out!' heightening the tension.
The point is that all this action took place at some point AND WE DIDN'T GET TO SEE IT.
This can come across as cheap if the capacity for showing the action was possible and there's no reason not to see what happened, but in other cases (especially compared to LONG scenes of slow motion fighting) it's downright refreshing to come across a moment where action occurred but only the aftermath is scene, not the occurrence. We're allowed, even encouraged, to use our imaginations. 
It works especially well for horror too. We never see what terrible events occur in The Thing when the alien attacks and absorbs people, we only witness what The Thing does when it is threatened and breaks out of it's human disguise to attack. The prequel/reboot went out of it's way to show exactly what happened at the base and how The Thing absorbs people, but in doing so it disappointed people and missed the point.
We LIKED not knowing. The horror was in the uncertainty: in painting the picture for ourselves. 
In Old Boy there's a famous and drawn out battle scene in which the hero struggles down a hall way filled with goons wielding only a hammer. After this grueling fight scene he enters an elevator filled with bad guys...
And the next scene the elevator reaches the top floor and all the bad guys are dead, the hero now armed with a knife instead of his hammer.
We don't get to see the fight and we don't have to. We already saw a lengthy battle so we know how the hero can fight. The implied violence of slaughtering an elevator of bad guys is made all the more visceral in that we didn't get to see it happen. More violence after the long fight would just be extravagance. The fight serves then not just as an 'action' scene but as a character moment. We see our hero fight, get beat up, fall, and then get back up. He won't be beaten no matter how much damage he takes. 
And since the next fight scene is implied we're clued in that fights are not just here for our amusement. They're telling and story and when the story can be told better by not showing the fights the fights ARE NOT SHOWN.
Close to the last panel of the comic version of The Crow shows the vengeful Painted Face approaching the final living gangster who killed his love and took his life. The man is managed but still breathing after a car wreck. Painted Face murmurs a grim joke, brandishes a hammer.
And then the panel cuts to black.
What Painted Face does for his final revenge is left unexplored. We don't need to see the horrible things because we're more than capable of envisioning them. Also they're not important. The fact that the last gangster is dead is more important. It fits into the theme of the comic as well: that Painted Face is meting out divine retribution as much as avenging his death. The deaths aren't the point, it's righting the balance that is the reason behind his actions. So we don't always see what happens, and the movie follows this too to a certain extent, especially evident in the deaths of Funboy and T-Bone both of whom Painted Face incapacitates...and then we cut to their bodies. We don't linger. We don't need to.
A great action scene is fun. Nine action scenes on top of one another no matter how exciting become very draining, especially if we're relatively certain the hero is going to win anyway and the encounter will become largely pointless. Indiana Jones made history when he brought a gun to a sword fight. The point was made with a bullet: I don't have time for this. I've already HAD an action scene, I don't need another one.
So if you don't need an action scene, don't have one. If you have had a bunch of action scenes and another one is necessary to the plot, get creative! Have the characters find the aftermath like Sam Gamgee finding the deserted town of Orthank in which all the orcs killed each other over Frodo's mail coat, or just cut to the next important scene and forgo the action entirely.
Action implied can be just as compelling as action we witness, and it's a nice change of pace too. 

7: Secondary Set Pieces 

Picture a scene in a Jurassic Park movie. We see a giant CGI dinosaur behind a wall stomping around. Cool. The director/writing will probably insist on making THAT the focus of the scene. Why not? It's an expensive effect. It's what the audience wants to see, right? So shove it in their faces. Linger on it. Show it from lots of angles. The more you show something the more people like looking at it.
Right?
Well...no. 
The scenes in movies that always annoy me are establishing shots. In no possible reality can I come to grips with the notion of a sweeping camera going across the landscape and settling on our action, especially when the landscape is mostly CGI. It's all very impressive to focus on your expensive CGI monsters or towering CGI castles, but if NOTHING is happening in the scene then what you have is a glorified matte painting. 
It's not real to me no matter how good it looks. We zoom into a CGI place and move to a real location and I'm taken out of the movie right there. We focus on a big CGI monster with no live action elements anywhere to be seen and it might as well be a cartoon.
Now, second option.
Two characters are having a moment. Maybe they're having a discussion which is becoming tense or they're having a relaxing and joyful time and are just enjoying each other's company. We like these people. They're well rounded characters. We can see them on screen. What they're talking about has an impact on the plot and the dialogue is crisp and catchy. Our focus is primarily on them.
Oh, and behind there somewhere, not always seen, a big expensive CGI monster is hanging out in an enclosure.
Why does everyone say the CGI is better in Jurassic Park rather than Jurassic World? Nostalgia, granted, but there's another reason. We don't see it very much. The T-Rex is almost always in the dark, in the rain, and sometimes not even around at all even when the characters are looking for it. When characters see the raptors it's only because they aren't running fast enough to get away from them. The heart swelling moment of seeing the brontosaurs for the first time stomping through the trees is fascinating in retrospect. Why? Because we don't see them that clearly! For all the amazing CGI effects work and ground breaking effects we see the brontosaurs only a little bit because they're so tall they barely fit into frame AND they're walking through tall palm trees. The best and most realistic moments of CGI in the first Jurassic Park movie remain those in which we only see a little CGI at a time.
In Jurassic World it's in your face and always visible so it's fake qualities become more and more noticeable
(I haven't seen Jurassic World yet but I can tell from the trailers that this is the case).
But lets think of a real park, and the writer/director actually did when they made the first movie. The dinosaurs just aren't always there to see. They don't feel the obligation to pose for the people watching them. Sometimes they're hiding in their enclosures, even including the star attraction the T-Rex who doesn't show until night fall (maybe they're nocturnal?).
Even non-CGI effects benefit from being scene in the periphery, not dead on. In the original King Kong you rarely see a full on exposure of the ape. In the beginning he's cloaked in shadows and in later scenes we see close ups of his giant eyes and hands. He does show up bodily in a few instances but he doesn't parade himself quite as much as Peter Jackson's CGI version. In the original Day the Earth Stood Still the special effects were used sparingly (perhaps for budgetary reasons) but in doing so it made even dated effects all the more impressive because of how rare they were. In the remake effects are on screen constantly to the point it becomes old hat.
I'd love to see a scene in which some kind of giant monster was in the background of a regular scene and sometimes it wasn't even in focus. In the Alien movies as well as movies like Naked Lunch there are giant prosthetic monsters that clearly took lots of money, time, and effort to make but they are BARELY on screen. In Naked Lunch there's a moment in which the main character witnesses a giant centipede eating someone they know and the makeup work and animatronics are amazing and horrific...and it's on screen for less then five minutes. In Alien and Aliens of course we rarely see all of a Xenomorph at any one time despite all the details put into the costumes. And in both instances this is entirely purposeful, not only to mask the artificiality of the effects, but to impress upon the audience the grandeur and horror of the creatures by showing us only a flash of them. All that detail and effort doesn't go to waste because if we wanted we could go back into those few frames to see it in it's glory, but a flash is all we need to see to get the shock and wonder into our minds.
Anything more is just asking for us to see the seams.  

8: To Win is Not to be Right

In a movie I wish I could remember the name of set in wartime there's a moment that's stayed with me.
A Nazi officer has a resistance fighter on his knees in some deserted train yard and is aiming a gun at him.
The officer sneers 'No one will ever remember what you did or what you stood for.'
And then shoots the man in the head. The officer walks away leaving the man unburied and unmourned.
To my remembrance this scene is never really followed up on. For all we know the officer was right.
But because the officer 'won' his encounter, does that make him a moral winner as well?
A friend of mine asked 'What happens when you have to break the rules in order for the heroes to win'?
My answer back would be 'What if the heroes don't always win'?
Oftentimes in films the heroes win. Good for them and it is entertaining and even inspiring when they do.
But the issue is, like with superheroes, the notion is subconsciously implanted at times that only winners are righteous. Only superheroes can be heroes because they win.
In the movie The Giver I was impressed by how faithful the production stuck to the book's fairly ambiguous conclusion. One of the themes of the book and film is that righteousness does not always mean an advantage. You can be peaceful and still morally bankrupt. You can be prosperous and still be morally wrong.
And most interestingly, you can die and still be successful.
To avoid spoilers I'll just say the ending can be taken in many different ways, including a tragic one.
Like Inception's infamous conclusion with the spinning top however The Giver also asks a question that echoes in the mind.
No matter what ending is true...does it matter?
Does it matter if everyone lived or everyone died? Does it matter if it was all a dream, or if it was real?
Is something deeper at work? Was something being told regardless? Did something get accomplished? 
In the movie Secondhand Lions a rather controversial statement is made by a wisdom figure.

'Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.'

In other words, even if life says different, there are some things worth believing in anyway.
To be right isn't always to win. To be wrong is not always to lose. But in the end there are important things worth preserving, worth fighting for, even if the fight is lost or the world is against it.
I appreciate the unique aspect of the animated and comic book series of Sonic the Hedgehog because of it's impressive and risky proposal: what if the beginning of the story had the villain win?
Dr. Robotnik is completely in charge in both continuities. Sonic and his friends aren't just battling against evil, they're running and hiding because their cause is hanging by a thread. 
In the book Fahrenheit 451 the conclusion is that the government is still in charge and a major character is killed for reasons completely unrelated to the main plot. Just being a good guy doesn't give you a suit of plot armor in stories that dare to take this route. 
Again avoiding spoilers, but the movie Soylent Green and Invasion of the Body Snatcher have the strong indication that the end of our hero's journey is not a happy one and indeed the world itself is likely to be changed forever. Bad systems, bad people remain. Heroes suffer and die.
Like in The Princess Bride we may ask like the kid listening to the story why the bad guy doesn't die in the end. Does the bad guy not dying mean that he's wins?
Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this story for!
But that's the point. The story doesn't always have to go the same way. Inigo Montoya may get his revenge...but now what does he do with his life? The hero doesn't have to kill the bad guy if he defeat him in another way. True love triumphs anyway, but the world doesn't have to change around it. 
We claim our smaller victories in life. In fiction we too can see small victories rather than massive ones won, and in doing so we feel like they are more plausible even in a fantastic context. More meaningful.
In the movie Enemy Mine there's a story about an interstellar war which eventually focuses on two characters: one a human and one an enemy alien. The two eventually come to an accord and the human in the conclusion returns to the planet of the aliens with the child birthed by his companion, but there's no mention of how or when the war concluded. The hero doesn't bring about peace between the races or really accomplish much beyond rescuing the child from a group of rogue miners. He doesn't defeat an evil empire or save The Earth or even defeat the humans and save the aliens. All he does is live out his own life's story, change things in his own context. He improves the lives of those around himself because that's how far his reach can go. He sacrifices, he fights like any other hero, but his accomplishments are smaller and more meaningful than 'saving the world' or killing a bad guy who wants to blow up the universe. 
He's still a hero because he does right by the events in his own life. It has ripples, it has effects, but it's not the most important thing in the history of ever and in accomplishing his goals he doesn't get the girl or a million dollars or save the kingdom. In the end he gets his name in an alien chant. 
Not much? I'd personally take that over a handful of impersonal cash, and that's what makes Enemy Mine compelling to me as a film. 
Imagine if in Avengers the heroes defeated Ultron BUT NO ONE WOULD EVER KNOW ABOUT IT. Maybe they travel back in time and stop him before he happens or they confront him in an isolated location. Maybe they even lose friends or people to his rampage but they likewise go unmourned in the forgotten place the battle takes place. They save the world but in such a quiet way they go unremarked. The heroes are heroic, but they lose their glory in the process. In the end they celebrate their victory but remember their losses. 
It would seem different, seem more potent than just a rehash of the original Avengers film. 
In The Dark Knight one of the reasons I think the movie was groundbreaking and interesting is that Batman 'wins' by losing. He breaks his one rule however unintentionally, killing Harvey Dent. He becomes known across the city he defends as a villain who kills policemen whom he has bled to defend. The Joker lives, the White Knight dies. In the end Batman 'wins' but to do so he lies, he kills, and he lives on the run. 
He is righteous, but he is also not the winner, not even the hero of the story. 
I would take off my hat to someone if they concluded a superhero movie with the heroes having sacrificed their public image for the sake of saving lives, or even outright becoming hated for doing the right thing. They are vindicated to themselves but not to the public at large. They stop the bad guy but they don't end him, and maybe to the villain he has won by accomplishing his goal.
Imagine a situation where the heroes failed to save the world, or in doing so they had to give up being heroes.
I think that would be a solid kick in the teeth to stories, and I'd like to see more people crazy enough to try! 
Sonic FF - Worlds Apart Prt 1 by jarredspekter
Sonic FF - Worlds Apart Prt 1
An attempt to bring back Sonic: Freedom Fighters!
This story was suggested by a friend of mine way back when but he felt my take on it was too dark. I'll try and honor the concept as much as I can, although Sonic FF was basically created to let my reconcile some darkness into the Sonic idea, which I feel is perfectly in line for the vision of the Archie and Fleetway comics as well as the SATAM cartoon.

In this episode we're playing with alternate timelines! What would happen if an event in Tails' past had led to a very different future, for not only himself by all of Mobius? Knuckles' search for an artifact of great power will lead to the discovery of what an enormous outcome a little bad luck can have...

Another Place, Another Time: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJufJ2…
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The human mind comprehends things with mental shorthand. To behold and comprehend an object is to implant in our brain's database a basic notion of that object so in the future we can catch the mildest glimpse and register a response. This is an incredibly useful adaptation.
But it can lead us to over simplifying things. We can make broad assumptions based on our snapshots of people, places and things which are called stereotypes. We oftentimes in our stories use a lazy form of this mnemonic simplification to build our plots quickly and without finesse. 
This is called a trope or a cliche.

Cliches are not always bad things at all. The concept of a protagonist is older than the hills but it's an enjoyable addition to a production, and breaking the mould by making our 'hero' a jerk or killing him/her off before the ending credits is all very innovative but it's also very off-putting and leaves big holes in the story being told. The classic three act structure, logical reasoning and meaningful choices, intimidating villains and troubled but ultimately noble characters opposing them are all old hat, but it's the kind of universal comprehension of the way a story should be. When you go to an action film you expect at some point some action to break out. In a romantic comedy you want to laugh and see a budding relationship, in horror you want to be thrilled and frightened and so forth.

But a problem presents itself when the cliches and tropes begin to interfere with the all important immersion factor of a story.

My brother and I, in fact my entire family that I know of, found the movie Kingsmen: The Secret Service to be disappointing and dull. This is a movie with plenty of amusing lines and lot of semi-creative action sequences, but we just couldn't get over the fact that it all seemed so familiar and predictable and even a little sloppy in execution.
SPOILERS for those still interested in seeing this movie...
It's Men in Black. Kingsmen: The Secret Service is an inferior copy of the movie Men in Black down to key scenes, characters, and events. The major issue with this was that the film didn't do anything new with the formula, the ideas, or the personalities from Men in Black, it just borrowed them and in many cases made them flatter and less interesting. Men in Black nailed a consistent tone of dark humor and otherworldliness but Kingsmen veers wildly between outright slapstick violence and attempts to be very dramatic and meaningful. Neither worked well because it didn't feel honest or genuine. Every beat was telegraphed and, as mentioned, seemed too similar to what had come before. No twist was original, no action beat really that innovative.
It took wholesale the cliches of a story in its genre but because it did nothing new with them my family and I found even a scene with the main character bolting down a corridor and blasting hundreds of guards and taking down others with acrobatics to be un-engaging.  

Cliche is not a bad thing, but when all there is to see is cliches then it's difficult to take seriously and even more so comes across as an almost always less impressive clone. 

Sure you can subvert cliches but I find the best way to deal with them is to circumvent the little buggers: analyze what makes a trope so stubborn, why they exist, and how to avoid them or use them as an advantage to present a new idea or serve as a red herring to make something dull startling and surprising.

The general rule of thumb I follow is three parts of consideration.

1: Consider what the cliche is trying to accomplish.

2: Compare the cliche to real world logic.

3: If all else fails, treat the cliche with respect.

Lets take a cliche that really bugs me and see why it exists and how to circumvent it.

EVERYTHING EXPLODES

Description: Everything from space vehicles to cars to motorcycles to buildings blows up into a fiery display when they're struck hard by an object or fall down.

So lets take this cliche by the horns with the three rules.

1: What is 'everything explodes' trying to accomplish?
Cheap excitement. The supposition is that unless something is on fire or exploding then a majority of audience members won't be interested. We've also gotten so used to the idea that if a car runs into an pillar or another car or flips over that must mean it bursts into sheets of flame. Even if Superman hurls a bad guy through a building you can often see showers of sparks, billowing smoke, and yes flames if the director is so concerned that a moment requires more requisite 'action'.

2: Compare 'everything explodes' to real world logic.
Things don't just randomly explode. It detracts from the immersion of a situation if the slightest brush against something causes it to catch fire, and it feels a little insulting that we the audience are supposed to be enticed merely by something exploding. Even grenades do not send out clouds of fire so much as a blast of displaced air and shrapnel. When cars slam into each other in real life they crumple and stop dead by design. If every accident led to an explosion and a flipping vehicle the companies would be visited by lots of angry complaints from the survivors! 
So to circumvent this tired and predictable cliche, what about following the laws of reality as opposed to the laws of movie tropes?
If you have a spaceship riddled with bullets and you don't mind grim reality creeping in have the ship fall apart slowly, the life support compromised, the pilot within facing an even grimmer and protracted death in the void than being engulfed in random, impossible fire. Starships are not airplanes. 
When someone tosses a grenade into a room have there be a shock of impact and everyone struck by debris within instead of a cartoonish cavalcade of smoke and flames to follow. 
A realistic car wreck would indicate you actually care about your audience a little. You're not just showing them 'what they want to see' but you're showing them what might actually happen in a given situation...which is what a lot of audience members would like to see anyway since it aids their immersion into a story. You'd be surprised how 'gritty' you can make a film just by having a car smash into something and NOT explode nowadays, or have a building struck by an object and create smoke and debris but NOT fire. Less is more when it comes to convincing people that you care enough about your fantasy to make it seem like reality.

3: If all else fails, treat 'everything explodes' with respect.
How? 
Well, have a car that flips over and explode continue to exist after the 'action' beat. Have a scene after a fiery crash show the aftermath to establish that it wasn't a momentary excuse but had some kind of impact on the world at large. If you have to have fire, maybe go some way to explain the origins of it. Super heating structures can cause it. Loose wiring perhaps. Spilled gasoline. It's a bit of an excuse but it's better than just having something explode because...stuff explodes if you hit it hard enough. Lets have some meaning behind what happens. Does a fiery explosion perhaps cause a fire? Maybe the heat effects our characters as well as the shock of the explosion itself, blackening their faces and tearing up their clothing? 
Respect here is to say to the audience that your'e not just going through the motions. You care enough to think on their behalf: to make a world they can believe in. Even if it's impossible make it believable. Even if it's a cliche, make everyone in your world believe it and indicate that it affects them. 

Here's a few more cliches and solutions I found using my method...

REFERENCING CLICHES

Description: A character brazenly notes how a situation reminds them of a cliche.

1: What is 'referencing cliches' trying to accomplish?
It's a means of drawing attention to a cliche in the story itself to indicate that the writer is aware of the trope but included it on purpose. Sometimes it can be a means to make a turn of events seem more clever by blatantly stating that UNLIKE a movie cliche, this story took a different approach to some kind of idea. Also, and most often, it can be a joke which has no relation to the rest of the story at all.

2: Compare 'referencing cliches' to real world logic.
People do make comparisons between their lives and story tropes all the time, but they can only make these comparisons if the stories exist in their reality. When Spiderman remarks 'This is starting to sound like a bad comic book plot' it makes some sense even outside of simply being a joke because comic books exist in Spiderman's day to day life so he has a frame of reference.
When Washburn from the tv show Firefly references psychic abilities as 'science fiction' however the writer is ignoring the fact that science fiction isn't the same for every generation. To people living on spaceships day to day and who know others who do so too the notion of science fiction is no longer what it was to people in times before. In the same show when Zoe tells the crew that Malcolm Reynolds must 'do this for himself' referencing him fighting a large enemy and Mal insisting 'no I don't!' prompting the crew to shoot the enemy it doesn't make any sense outside of being an unassociated joke. The cliche of a hero 'doing something for himself' when fighting a bad guy is popular and a little silly at times, but in the moment why bring it up? Is there any indication that Zoe knows about stories where this is a cliche, and if she doesn't why phrase it the way she did? Same for Avatar in which the colonel references 'Not in Kansas' and 'Ju-ju-bees': both references impressively dated seeing as the movie supposedly takes place decades in the future.
So consider: is the frame of reference for this little joke available to the character making it? A medieval person, unless it's a straight up farce, will not make reference to modern day concepts they could never know in their time and science fiction characters will not casually reference twentieth century concepts popular NOW because they live years in the future. 
If you have to keep referencing cliches and that is your interest then the genre of your story should probably veer away from drama. It can be amusing to deconstruct cliches, but it doesn't lend itself to a serious story.

3: If all else fails, treat 'referencing cliches' with respect.
Show some love for what you're making fun of. If you reference something don't do it out of scorn unless the character is doing so. Someone grumbling about how there are no 'happy endings' could be doing so in character, but someone saying how lame other stories in the same genre as the story being told is in departs from being a character and becomes the mouthpiece of the author to a discouraging degree. Treat your references and your cliches with respect if you want the scene to be taken with any degree of solemnity. 

POST-APOCALYPTIC ATTIRE

Description: We know we're in the post apocalypse because everyone has mohawks, leather jackets, weird masks, tattoos, and wears armor and goggles. Always.

1: What is 'post-apocalytpic attire' trying to accomplish?
This all comes back to the granddaddy entry of post apocalyptic tales: The Road Warrior. 
George Miller envisioned a costume for his villains and heroes which suggested on a subconscious level the kind of people they were. The bad guys were literally feral animals with a strong tribal instinct. Their masks and goggles covered their human features. They wore feathers and skins so they closely resembled beasts and they had tattoos and mohawks to closer resemble classical tribesmen.
Meanwhile the good guys all wore white, groomed themselves, and did not have overt armor. Unlike the bandits they wanted to live in peace, not fight.
These costumes, specifically the iconic look of the bandits, were eventually picked up by fans of the film and the world it created, but very few people understood the thematic significance of the costumes and decisions for the characters attributes. To a new generation this was just the garb of someone living in a post apocalyptic environment with no other meaning attached. 
Now it's just visual shorthand for a time period and a state of living for the most part.

2: Compare 'post-apocalyptic' to real world logic.
We haven't had any truly post apocalyptic situations thankfully, but we have had people in the past and present living with limited means in the ruins of civilization. After a war or in a poverty stricken nation people tend to patch together what they can to suit their needs.
But very few of them attach random pieces of armor to themselves or wear masks. 
Following a big catastrophe the vast majority of people I'd imagine would look a lot like people living in third world countries. The remnants of clothing would be maintained so some would still wear business attire if they had nothing else or casual clothing heavily patched. Goggles only come in handy if there's dust to deal with so given the climate they could come in handy, however sunglasses would probably be more common or at least darkly tinted lenses. The problem with wearing a mask is it restrict visibility and they provide little protection so unless someone was trying to frighten someone they probably wouldn't be popular. Same with random pieces of hide or armor. A bullet or a knife blade will punch right through something flimsier than a piece of scrap metal and carrying around a heavy shoulder pad seems pretty worthless if someone can just shoot you in the brain. Clothing would probably be based on climate, on mobility, on purpose.
As for tribal things like tattoos and hairstyles, unless the story is set many years after an apocalypse these are a little pointless. The notion of a tribe in Mad Max made sense because it had been built up around a charismatic leader Lord Humungous, but in an ordinary society nobody would be driven to get tattooed following a mass scale destruction of the world they knew, let alone spend the time to style their hair. Style and fashion would take a firm backseat to survival and need so unfortunately for aficionados I don't see mohawks being too common in the world after a disaster. 

3: If all else fails, treat 'post apocalyptic attire' with respect.
Look no further than Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller didn't copy himself: he went five steps further than even he had done before and practically reinvented the concept of a post apocalypse while staying true to his idea of clothing and gear being indicative of character. The fanatical War Boys are nearly naked because of their warm climate and constant activity. They have tattooed on their bodies the images of car parts because of their religion which centers around riding into glorious death for their leader and they spray paint their mouths chrome to emphasis their desire to be 'shiny' when that moment comes. Immortan Joe resembles a lion with his wild hair and blood shot eyes, his armor peppered with military honors real and imagined, his face mask a permanent addition to his body because of how it regulates his sickly breathing. The idea that breathing quality denotes status is emphasized by Erectus, Joe's son, wearing a rubber facial piece that is preparing him for his own breathing mask and he carries a container of compressed air on his back. The mayor of Bullet Farm wears a false wig of bullet casings which is a little silly but gets the point across twofold of his status and his job. Every character, including Max himself and Furiosa, is designed to not only look interesting but also indicate who they are at a glance. Max's coat is heavily worn and is still has elements of his old police uniform. Furiosa's missing arm tells a story in itself and her habit of smearing motor oil on her face like warpaint reflexively says without words something about her upbringing and attitude. She may defy her master, but she hasn't forgotten the way he raised her or what her society told her to be.
So if you want to kit out your post apocalyptic citizen and real notions are less important than something memorable and striking, consider the reason for the costumes in the first place. Each part of the costume, each detail tells you something about who you are looking at from protagonist to antagonist to incidental bandit. Before you slap on a mask for the sake of something looking 'post-apocalytpic' please ask yourself. Where did the mask come from? Why is the person wearing it? And what does the mask tell us about the man or woman beneath it?

There's a few examples with more to come if anyone is interested.
In the mean time I hope these three suggested means present a new world beyond the tropes that can make an imposing stronghold on your work if you're not careful.
Cliches are not bad things, but they need to be seen as opportunities, not restrictions.
Inspired by this quotation from :iconaspergerian-mind:

'Marvel films no matter how fun I would enjoy them never amount to anything timeless because they never challenge themselves to things too difficult for the heroes or resolutions can't be permanent. Everything is a passive transition to the next film which would also be foregone inclusion because we have to keep everyone the same and must neuter the opposition and concepts down to their execution to preserve that iconography.'

---

First off let me say this much: Cinematic universes and super heroes DON'T MIX.

Even as a kid the surefire way to get me to ignore a comic and move to the next would be a splash page of hundreds of heroes blasting hundreds of baddies with a light show worth of lasers and beams. Why? Shouldn't that promise of excitement and scope get me interested? Well...no. To me a far more interesting and promising introduction to a comic would be to randomly turn to a page and see two of less characters talking. Maybe an image of one character in the aftermath of a battle or preparing for one. The less pyrotechnics and largely superfluous cast members the better; smaller, more intimate scenes with real focus on direction and emotion.
That way I'd get the impression that the comic had CHARACTERS not just SPECTACLE. 
To me a guy wearing a cape or a mask wasn't 'cool' all by himself. They needed a story to tell, a personality.
They needed to be a 'hero' not just a 'super hero'.

People credit Marvel for the invention of The Cinematic Universe quite a lot, but the truth is that the concept has existed long before they even started making films, back perhaps to the classic film serials in which hundreds of films created an unbroken chain of cliffhanger endings before the feature presentation so that in addition to seeing the latest movie you also got a continuation of The Undersea Kingdom, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, The Phantom Creeps, Batman, and even before sound and color you had the adventures of Zorro. The idea is not new. Every syndicated television show is practically a cinematic universe if the only criteria we're going by is the same actors interacting as the same characters. In fact I'd argue, and I think surprisingly few people would dispute with me, that television shows work BETTER than film based cinematic universes. The stories have more of an intimacy to them and feel more directly connected, partially because television can have episodes filmed back to back. A smaller budget means the action scenes need to be doled out between sequences of people talking and NOT just explaining the plot which gives every show ever made a leg up on the Marvel films. 
Likewise Marvel has struggled to keep continuity with a handful of films do to big stars, huge budgets, massive effects work and marketing campaigns and such. Television shows now and in the past have successfully branched into parallel storylines with the same characters after HUNDREDS of episodes. Consider the successful show Frasier which is the further adventures of a character originally established as a bit part in the show Cheers. The show based on Stargate had three spinoffs and multiple made for television movies. Star Trek ran for decades and had many different series with different casts but they kept to the same general ideas and universe. Heck, Power Rangers not only had many MANY episodes based on borrowing footage from previously aired Japanese Sentai shows but had the same cast members show up again and again throughout it's run to interact with the next generation and sometimes the continuity stretched back for years and between shows!

But why is television more successful at the cinematic universe than films?

Marvel is rolling is cash; no one can deny that, so the cinematic universe concept has been 'successful' for them, but as aspergerian-mind above points out they had great success at the cost of relatively mediocre movies. From the beginning the Marvel films have been generally entertaining but not very inspiring or powerful works. Certainly they don't HAVE to be, but fans and non-fans alike I think can agree that the potential is there for a Marvel film which makes you feel something other than generally thrilled and leaves you with more than an only passing sense of fun. Video games can do more than entertain, they can genuinely move people. So can art in general. The fact that Marvel films promise so much and deliver so comparatively little I think falls squarely on the concept they believe has led to their success: everything needs to 'tie together'. Everything needs to promise the next thing to hype up future films. Everything needs to be resolved at the close of the movie except for dangling sequel pleas that barely play into the film proper at all. The failed experiment called The Amazing Spiderman cinematic universe shows what happens when you try this with something other than a massively well known brand name attached. Everyone loves Spiderman, sure, but not everyone knows or cares about his rouges gallery so making a film based on Black Cat just so Sony could have their own cinematic universe was ludicrous, and focusing so much on films to come instead of each movie one at a time caused The Amazing Spiderman 2 to underperform over-budget and lead to yet another reboot to fix the dangling threads. 
I fear that Disney has delusions of their own cinematic universe since Star Wars now has at least seven...SEVEN...spinoffs planned. It doesn't seem too unlikely unfortunately that these movies aren't being written so much as planned and left on the back burner until a director and writer is found to sketch them out and splash them all over the movie screens. These are not labors of love; these are haphazard efforts of a production line which feels the only way to be relevant is to be CONSTANTLY IN YOUR FACE.

Do you want to know what my favorite cinematic universe is?
The Blair Witch Project.

I'm willing to suppose a lot of people didn't even know Blair Witch HAD a cinematic universe. After all it only had two movies, so how can THAT be a 'cinematic universe'? Simple. The Blair Witch had three spin off games, books, comics, and two pseudo documentaries AND a webpage.
And the best part? ALL of these took place in the same universe but NONE of them took place at the same time.
The video games Rustin Parr,  The Legend of Coffin Rock and The Elly Kedward Tale all take place in different eras, from 'modern times' to the civil war. The thread that ties them together is the titular Blair Witch or whatever dark legacy she represented in her own time so literally ANY story could be told using that connecting branch without the necessity being for famous characters to show up for a cameo or earlier events to be even all that integral to the current story being told. In Rustin Parr for instance you're a research scientist looking into a mysterious series of murders and abductions. In Legend of Coffin Rock you're an amnesiac union soldier dubbed Lazarus by the family that finds him who tries to recover a lost girl in the woods and in The Elly Kedward Tale you are Jonathan Prye, a witch hunter searching for a women who may or may not be a witch. In each instance, I think ingeniously, the stories are based off of legends ALLUDED to in the original Blair Witch film, but they do not feature the filmmakers from that movie, no characters from any of these games encounter each other, and their actions are important to THEM and may play into what happens in the grander narrative, but they are not dependent. Unlike, say, The Avengers: Age of Ultron which requires the story to begin with the events established in the first Avengers film and end up in a way leading to later Avengers movies, the Blair Witch games and indeed every piece of The Blair Witch lore (including books, games, movies...etc) can have surprises and tell self contained stories. The ending to the tale of Jonathan Prye isn't revealed in the Blair Witch movies so how the game ends is a mystery until the player reaches the conclusion. Does he die or live? He isn't required to do either by the universe because he's a PART of the universe, not a slave to it's ebbs and flows.
Confession time: the games weren't all that good, but I did appreciate that the developers and the people who owned the intellectual property didn't just make a game where you played as the filmmakers or something.  

In the documentaries Curse of The Blair Witch, The Burkittsville 7 and Shadow of the Blair Witch all detail events surrounding the film The Blair Witch but flash forward and backwards to reveal what we didn't see in the movie rather than obsessing over the same events and characters. Even the sequel Book of Shadows was written specifically to distance itself from the original film rather than retread old ground...which is was ironically forced to by studio intervention, but that's another instance of forcing a cinematic universe on a series and destroying a stand alone product. The reason I consider these additions to The Blair Witch to be a true cinematic universe as opposed to Thor and Captain America and so forth is because those films barely function outside of being additions to a greater whole. Thor is not a very good movie but is required watching to understand the plot of The Avengers, and likewise Captain America's plot point about the mystical tesseract makes little sense without retroactively watching The Avengers. But Curse of The Blair Witch is an enjoyable and self contained mockumentary that tells a story apart from just leeching off constant call backs and call forwards to The Blair Witch. Even The Burkittsville 7 about the filmmakers focuses on their lives before the film so although it isn't 'required' by any means it enriches the story rather than just adding one more annoying expansion to it.
The dossier of The Blair Witch I find especially enjoyable because it's written like collections of documents for a police procedural complete with stationary marks for imaginary companies and organizations, 'torn out' pages from newspapers and magazines, and 'reproductions' of the journals of the filmmakers along with a text translation for parts where the ink has run on the pages or passages are indecipherable. 
It all feels remarkably real because everyone put in the effort to make it feel that way. 
Every new piece of The Blair Witch feels like an addition that takes it in a new direction and fleshes out the mysteries. Even the much derided Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows (with a subtitle the studio added which has nothing to do with the movie at all!) was painstakingly written and designed to expand the ideas of the first movie complete with hidden messages, an ambiguous ending, and VERY subtle indications that it takes place in the same location as the original movie that only someone with a pause button would pick up (such as grave markers and signs in the background).

And consider too that a lot of the 'cinematic universe' of the Marvel world is DEEP under wraps. The guy who fights Captain America on the boat during the hostage mission in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is according to hardcore fans some mercenary guy who kicks supernaturally well, which explains why he stands up against a super soldier and why he wears a silly uniform. His name IS stated once to be Georges Bartock, but I suppose I missed it or it just didn't mean anything to me personally (I was corrected below by an attentive watcher!). I guess that's subtle, but it's also nonsensical. Someone, like say ME, who had no idea who this guy was would ask themselves 'why is cap getting his butt kicked by some random ordinary guy when he had no trouble with hundreds like him earlier?' Maybe it would make us look him up, but if we have to it's not that friendly to an audience who either wants to watch a movie OR read a comic, not have to do both.
In Blair Witch there's no real instance of mythology you NEED to know in order to understand something, and what you do need to know is all but stated very carefully in each self-regulated source. In the original movie you can understand every strange occurrence if you relate it back to the opening scenes where the filmmakers talk about the legend of The Blair Witch and the accusations of murderer Rustin Parr. There's some unanswered questions on purpose but nothing overtly logically nonsensical. In each game too the weirder elements are given some kind of explanation, even if its shadowy and strange. You are never left just wondering 'who is that guy and why am I supposed to know him?' like a lot of people were with Nick Fury's first appearance. 

The best kind of cinematic universe is one in which the investigations into the lore or following the adventures of characters are INTERDEPENDENT. Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek the Original Series and Star Trek The Next Generation all share ideas, names, places and characters and sometimes they cross between the shows, but none of them is entirely dependent on you watching all the previous episodes. Voyager is about Janeway getting her crew home from The Delta Quadrant. Deep Space Nine is about a space station and a galactic war surrounding it. The Original Series and Next Generation are about separate crews traveling around the universe looking for new civilizations. They all use phasers and tricorders, answer to Star Fleet, meet with Klingons and Romulans, and sometimes hear about each other but you don't need to know about Kirk to enjoy the adventures of Sisco or Picard. These were all set in the same universe, yes.
BUT THE UNIVERSE IS A BIG PLACE.

The problem with the Marvel Universe is that its really really small.
Nothing happens unless its happening directly to the characters on screen. The Earth is usually in danger because if it was anything less the heroes would probably not care that much. They're too strong to do something as pedestrian as stopping a crime. Heroes have to fight other heroes or...I dunno...it will all seem silly? Places seem so inconsequential to what's going on in them. One city looks like another if it's just going to play the battlefield of the heroes mowing down scads of bad guys. One country looks like another if all the heroes do there is discuss the plot. Even outer space isn't all that interesting if every single event occurs so close to one another. Lord of the Rings is criticized for having too many walking situations, but at least that made Middle Earth feel like it was larger than a series of interconnecting rooms. In The Avengers our heroes travel to German from New York in MINUTES via jet plane. It made it feel like nothing existed of importance between point A and point B.

Same problem I have with the J.J Abrams version of Star Trek, and I'm apprehensive this mentality will leak into Star Wars now that he's in charge of that too. The 'heroes' in Star Trek were never super human. Kirk is a faliable guy who is always learning new things, even as he grows older in later films like Wrath of Khan. Picard is not an 'action hero' so much as a thinker and a leader and Sisco is not superior in strength, it's his will that sets him apart. The J.J Abrams Star Trek universe has EVERY character of the original crew portrayed as some kind of superior genius. And by virtue of their intelligence they are also elevated into super heroic status; able to jump impossible distances, survive ridiculous odds unscathed, and waltz consequence free through a mass scale threat to the galaxy. Like the Marvel heroes, by embellishing the crew this way they've become 'too good' for something as provincial as 'exploring strange new worlds'. Now all they do is shoot the bad guys because they have the most powerful weapons and most intelligent minds and most agile bodies of anyone else. They aren't notable for rising against adversity because the world has to do it's very best to MATCH their own superiority.
You never fear for them and you never really believe they're in danger. 
And if this moves to Star Wars we can expect the new movie The Force Awakens and future installments in Disney's 'cinematic universe' to feature our larger than life heroes being invincible and incorruptible as they stare down one minor (if highly destructive) annoyance after another or shoot it until it stops moving. 

There cannot be any intimacy, any interactions, any kind of quieter moments of doubt and danger and sacrifice if every hero we have on display is so incredible they only care about world shattering events that take hours to explain properly and go up against bad guys that need to be ridiculously overpowered to come anyway near them AND STILL end up getting utterly destroyed by the end of the story just to make way for the next unimpressive non-challenge. 

Thor isn't going to die, and if by chance Marvel decided to kill him off you can bet you'd know about it in advance. The reason is that Thor isn't a story: he's a franchise. Nobody cares that much about Asgard or The Frost Giants or any of his world because it doesn't ultimately matter so much as Thor himself. Same with Iron Man, Captain America, and any other Marvel character they decide to give their own films. The hero isn't going to die, the world isn't going to change, the bad guy isn't going to win, and nothing can happen that means that much because the next Avengers movie will ignore everything except the bare minimum which will mostly be jokes and call backs. Marvel had the audacity to state that in Age of Ultron 'an Avenger will die'.
SPOILERS.
Quicksilver getting killed was utterly pointless. He isn't the same Quicksilver from other Marvel movies and he's barely introduced as a largely silent antagonist until he turns a new leaf and almost immediately is killed. He wasn't an Avenger in any real sense and he had no arc, no real friends, nothing to care about where he was concerned. You can't claim that his death was supposed to motivate anything or come as that much of a surprise.
Marvel is grasping at straws; trying to make even the most mundane things seem amazing because they defy the conventions they themselves have put into place which hopelessly gridlock their movies.

So how would I make a better cinematic universe personally?

1: If At All Possible, Tell a Story With Suspense and Surprises.

Super heroes, with a couple of rare exceptions, are seldom in any real danger. Watchmen twisted the narrative by pitting the heroes against society and each other rather than a strict villain so as different story could be told, but by and large I'd suggest a story with mortal characters who if they did possess extraordinary powers had limitations to these. Even Ironman is practically a god so I'd find it much more interesting if the story focused on someone more like John McClain (before Die Hard 4) who rarely emerged from a fight without a serious injury. In order to engender suspense there must be the possibility of at least two eventualities happening. Indiana Jones might not 'lose' exactly, but he's sure not going to fight through ALL the Nazis by himself. His plans to circumvent his situation is where the excitement and uncertainty comes from. Same with James Bond, Luke Skywalker, Sherlock Holmes, Burt Gummer and other 'mortal' heroes who have limitations that are clearly indicated. A self imposed limitation like Batman's 'no killing' decision is a nice way to make a hero vulnerable without making them 'weak'. Batman chooses to fight without becoming what he does battle with. The same is true of the nigh invincible Neo from The Matrix films who managed to remain interesting because for all his powers he kept getting into situations he couldn't use them to win the day. 
Lets see a hero off kilter, learning from their MISTAKES perhaps, relying on others, learning about what they stand for through trial and error, discovering that the world doesn't even revolve around their success or failure.
Each character is PART of a larger story, not the whole. 
That way their part may END, even abruptly...but the STORY will go on.
That's suspense. 

2: Make Each Installment Self Contained

Batman Sub Zero is a made-for-tv movie based on Batman: The Animated Series. Every element of Batman's mythos is laid out with beautiful simplicity in a matter of moments from the very beginning of the film and the majority of the rest of it actually focuses more on the story of the villain Mr. Freeze than on Batman himself. If you hadn't seen a single episode of the animated series or even another Batman related movie you could still understand what was going on moment by moment. Sub Zero is it's own story, and its a great one.
Same with the Batman animated movie Mask of the Phantasm which weaves into the regular mystery plot a story simultaneously about Batman dealing with a relationship till now the audience didn't know about and also the backstory and pain of the events leading up to him becoming Batman: in essence telling a new story and an abbreviated origin story at the same time, alongside the Phantasm plot as well!
Recent animated spinoff movies have fallen into the trap of leaning on existing materials to make sense (Batman: Red Hood and Justice League: Doom for instance) and of course origin stories are pretty self contained like the Wonder Women and Dr. Strange animated movies, but what's notable about Mask of the Phantasm and Sub Zero is that they tell new stories in the same universe as the animated series but they are not beholden to it. When Mr. Freeze shows up in the animated series his backstory is alluded to but not really defined. To discover his backstory you can see Sub Zero which lays it out neatly, but it's NOT REQUIRED to enjoy any later instances of Mr. Freeze or the show. 
Consider something like The Empire Strikes Back as well. It seems odd but it's remarkably self contained. There's no elements that are that inexplicable (except for Ben Kenobi's ghost but that happens pretty late in the beginning of the film) so anyone with a passing knowledge of science fiction could point out quickly that The Empire were the bad guys, that the rebels were the good guys hiding from them, that Leia was a princess, Han was a smuggler and so forth. Compare this to Age of Ultron which has an introduction so jarring I actually had to google it when I got back home to understand it and it only makes full sense if you've seen both the original Avengers film AND Captain America 2. That's not a friendly cinematic universe. That's closer to...well...a Marvel comic book series in which stories are divided among other issues that have nothing to do with each other just so you buy all the books to understand the story. 
I much prefer installments to be experiences unto themselves. There doesn't need to be NO continuity, but continuity for the sake of continuity is just annoying. In Empire Strikes Back there's a big flash forward from the original Star Wars: A New Hope film. That ended with the rebellion celebrating the destruction of the Death Star on a forest planet. Now their own a snow planet and The Death Star is being rebuilt and characters are discussing plans for the future. The story has continued but it's skipped ahead a bit; right to the point that the STORY starts up again. Tying the creation of Ultron to the infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D by Hydra was just unnecessarily convoluted. It didn't make the 'cinematic universe' more rich, it just made it more dependent. 
So cut the ties! Pick up the story when the story gets going. Gloss over things if they don't play immediately into the plot. I rag on Joss Whedon a lot and on Firefly but I'll admit that you can easily see the movie Serenity without watching any episodes of Firefly and still understand the plot, the characters and what's at stake.
I think it gives Serenity legs where something like Age of Ultron will flounder in the future without someone marathoning Marvel movies to get to it in order to understand whose where, why they're fighting who, and why things are happening at all.

3: Try Different Times, Different Characters, Different Events

Age of Ultron wraps up with all the heroes played by major actors all but stating 'we're going away now because our actors need to do other things'. I couldn't help but chuckle at the worst exists of major characters in a film since the original group of Power Rangers left on a 'good will tour' at the end of their show to make way for the next team. But Ultron introduces new second string heroes and believes this will keep up the momentum of the cinematic universe by promising later movies to involve the likes of Scarlet Witch and Warmachine and Falcon. The problem? None of these people are interesting. Unlike, say, characters from The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars who were secondary we don't know anything about these new heroes except that they are side kicks. Does Warmachine have a deep backstory? Not really: he's just Tony Stark's friend who found an Ironman suit and put a gun on it. The Falcon's 'power' is he has mechanical wings. That's it.
Compare this to Lando Calrision who at least has some kind of history to him and a set of skills. You could make an interesting movie about Lando's exploits as a smuggler in the old days or his political struggles as administrator of Cloud City. You can't make a movie about Falcon without cramming him together with other B-List heroes. He doesn't have that much of a defined character or identity.
But with different time periods, different characters, different events he could!
Imagine if Falcon wasn't just a hastily tacked on addition to the Captain America movies.  According to the comics Falcon was originally outfitted by Black Panther, shows sophisticated interest in science and even fought The X-Men. Lets see that! As stands Falcon is just that guy who shows up in Captain America's movie. So lets have a film that lets The Falcon spread his wings (sorry) by himself, perhaps even in a time period before or after The Captain even becomes a factor so he can get a moment to show what makes him interesting.
Better still I like the additions to a cinematic universe which go WAY forward or WAY backwards.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is one of my favorite video games. The developers wanted to tell a story in the Star Wars universe but without becoming entangled in either the trilogy that existed or the prequel trilogy which was in the works as they began their game. Their solution? Set the game hundreds of years in the past!
It's brilliant. Some things remain the same but some things have changed and every adventure you have in the game is immediate: not directly dependent upon the films or any other form of media. You could meet new characters who might all be dead by the time the original trilogy rolled around, but that didn't mean their lives weren't meaningful. You got the sense through the stories being told that Star Wars wasn't just movies, it was millions of stories told by millions of people throughout decades of history, with more than enough room for fans to carve out their own niches as well.

Naturally J.J declared all of the expanded universe of Star Wars, from games to comics, defunct because the only thing that matters nowadays is movies and their bloody cinematic universes...but I digress...

Basically do ANYTHING but a direct sequel, and if it IS a direct sequel HAVE IT FOLLOW THE SAME LINE OF FILMS. You didn't have to watch the 'Han Solo Frozen in Carbonite' movie to discover how he wound up in Jabba's palace. The Return of the Jedi follows after Empire Strikes Back but not DIRECTLY afterwards. Time has passed. Some loose ends weren't necessarily tied up in a neat bow. Because it didn't follow directly on the heels of previous films it didn't feel like nothing at all happened between the times the first movie stopped and the next movie began. 
More importantly, what about a sequel/prequel/spinoff that's about what we don't know and didn't get to see?
Everyone wanted a Magneto movie for awhile. Why? Nothing from his childhood to his adulthood is really a mystery about Magneto: any movie about him would be a one-shot lackluster adventure designed specifically to sell a movie and the character, not to tell a story. 
In the expanded Star Wars universe there were stories just about Wookies. Just about Ewoks. Just about droids. 
Marvel has Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D the television series but even that is slavishly shackled to the immediate cinematic universe.

It doesn't need to be that way and being so makes each new production less valuable in my eyes, not more.

It's been a winning formula for some time and many fans are pleased, but there's a general sense of settling for less. Was Iron Man 2 really ground breaking cinematic entertainment, or would it even be considered tolerable at all except for being tied to the MCU? Is Avengers 2 everything the trailer promised? Or did it completely ignore the deeper implications of the vengeful super-intelligence of Ultron and instead fashion him into yet another easily defeated and ignored baddie for the length of the movie only?

I want to see stories that lead to more stories. Who cares about characters when they become icons? Icons are meant to represent characters, not the other way around! You can't make a movie about Batman as an 'icon' because then he isn't a person anymore. Even Superman at his best was portrayed as an alien first and a super hero second because him being an alien among earthlings was the interesting aspect of his character, not just being able to fly and throw things. EVERY super hero can do that nowadays. 
Focus on the people, not the irons. Focus on the stories, not the plots.

To make a 'cinematic universe' I want each new stepping stone to reveal new places to see and new pieces to the puzzle, not retconned mini-plots that start from nothing and end nowhere. 

And most of all if you can't make a 'cinematic universe' AND tell good stories and make interesting characters...DON'T TRY. You don't need a cinematic universe. You don't need icons and epics and nonsense.

Just tell a story we can enjoy with characters we can care about. 

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jarredspekter
Dan
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Current Residence: Seattle
Favourite genre of music: Techno, Rock, Industrial, Alternate
Favourite style of art: Bold pencil
Operating System: Macintosh
Shell of choice: Moonsnail
Wallpaper of choice: Something epic :D
Favourite cartoon character: Dib, Samurai Jack, Darkwolf
Personal Quote: The Joker can't win.
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:iconsonicrocks57:
sonicrocks57 Featured By Owner 1 hour ago
Have you heard of the new game Horizon: Zero Dawn?
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:iconthatnerdwithglasses:
Thatnerdwithglasses Featured By Owner 10 hours ago  Student
How would you fill out this list
goo.gl/HNHJoA
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:iconthatnerdwithglasses:
Thatnerdwithglasses Featured By Owner 14 hours ago  Student
Would you play crusader kings 2 if I bought it for you on steam (with all the dlc)
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:iconjarredspekter:
jarredspekter Featured By Owner 7 hours ago  Hobbyist Writer
I'd be honored but I'm already playing Darkest Dungeon, Wasteland 2 and Pillars of Eternity so I could never ask for that XD
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:iconthatnerdwithglasses:
Thatnerdwithglasses Featured By Owner 6 hours ago  Student
okay
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:iconjarredspekter:
jarredspekter Featured By Owner 4 hours ago  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks though ^_^
Is there multiplayer?
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(1 Reply)
:iconedthesupersaiyan:
edthesupersaiyan Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Hobbyist Writer
so I'm having cobalt hawke (my DA 2 character) look through her mail and she comes across certain letters. One's talking about increasing "manhood", the other is about a prince from a far off land wanting access to my bank account

it was here I realized. Hawke was getting spam messages

and there was much laughter to follow XD
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:iconthatnerdwithglasses:
Thatnerdwithglasses Featured By Owner 15 hours ago  Student
Ab yes the good old Nigerian prince scam
I'm getting that daily :lol:
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:iconrgm2011:
RGM2011 Featured By Owner 1 day ago
Do you think you can talk about Playdom's Marvel: Avengers Alliance?
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:iconjarredspekter:
jarredspekter Featured By Owner 1 day ago  Hobbyist Writer
I'm not sure what that is ^^;
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