Is Mar­vel film col­lapse im­mi­nent?

Sunday Tribune - - FILM -

and Joss Whe­don’s The Avengers (2012).

The for­mer ran on Robert Downey jr’s jit­tery riffs on his post-ad­dic­tion per­sona, rou­tines we’ve now been hear­ing for nearly a decade; Whe­don in­ge­niously ex­pressed his love for The Avengers, made an­ar­chic sparks fly from Tom Hid­dle­ston’s Loki, and pow­ered it all with a hu­mane vi­sion.

Whe­don, though, was part of the prob­lem.

“You don’t want to feel like episode two of any­thing. That’s a bad feel­ing,” he con­fided to Wired when Avengers: Age of Ul­tron (2015) was re­leased.

But this was a se­quel which be­gan in the mid­dle, and didn’t re­ally end (a feel­ing the MCU’S teas­ing post-cred­its se­quences per­pet­u­ate).

More­over, Whe­don had al­ready in­tro­duced TV au­di­ences to the comics con­cepts of con­nected uni­verses and angst-rid­den sto­r­yarcs with Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer 20 years ago.

Rus­sell T Davies’s 2005 Doc­tor Who re­boot was among the shows which closely fol­lowed this ex­am­ple, gain­ing spin-off se­ries and the tone of an end­less, por­ten­tous saga.

The doc­tor was lost in the “Whoni­verse” (James Bond was an­other vet­eran who’d soon be sad­dled with a leaden mythol­ogy in the oth­er­wise ex­cel­lent Skyfall).

Whe­don quit Mar­vel last year, burnt out. But he has since bit­ten the bul­let to co-write and di­rect re-shoots for Justice League, the stut­ter­ing DC Ex­tended Uni­verse’s at­tempt to repli­cate The Avengers’ suc­cess. Justice League hit cin­e­mas on Fri­day.

Twelve bil­lion dol­lars buys plenty of im­i­ta­tors. Mar­vel’s pre­dis­ney dis­trib­u­tors, Paramount, have com­mis­sioned writer

Akiva Golds­man to cre­ate a Trans­form­ers Cin­e­matic Uni­verse around an al­ready wit­lessly de­riv­a­tive fran­chise.

Univer­sal res­ur­rected its

1930s hor­ror prop­er­ties for a

Dark Uni­verse which has al­ready failed twice with Dracula Un­told (2014) and Tom Cruise calamity The Mummy (2017). Bride of Franken­stein is next up for des­e­cra­tion.

Dis­ney, mean­while, owns not just Mar­vel Stu­dios, but Star

Wars, and has sched­uled the Star Wars an­thol­ogy to run in the fal­low years be­tween the orig­i­nal se­ries.

The first re­lease, Rogue One, was the most thrilling and ro­man­tic Star Wars film since The Em­pire Strikes Back. Co-di­rec­tors Phil Lord and Christo­pher

Miller’s re­moval from next year’s re­lease Solo, though, shows the lim­i­ta­tions of films made to make bil­lions.

These other floun­der­ing “uni­verses” demon­strate the achieve­ment of the MCU and its vi­sion­ary in­sti­ga­tor, Mar­vel Stu­dios pres­i­dent and life­long Mar­vel fan Kevin Feige.

The nim­ble scripts and char­ac­ter act­ing which re­ally an­i­mate its CGI, and its in­ter­con­nec­tions’ in­ge­nu­ity, also vastly im­prove on the old Rocky, Rambo and Lethal Weapon fran­chises. They would never have let Lethal Weapon cre­ator Shane Black get away with the wild tonal swerves of Ben Kings­ley’s ico­nun­der­min­ing Man­darin in Iron Man 3.

Black’s fe­male char­ac­ters were scaled back be­cause Dis­ney doubted their mer­chan­dise po­ten­tial. As Edgar Wright dis­cov­ered when his longcher­ished Ant-man vi­sion was nixed, these films are art up to a point.

Tech­nol­ogy in the 21st cen­tury has let su­per­heroes fly grace­fully from the comic-book page. But the cin­ema econ­omy they dom­i­nate re­sem­bles the 1950s, when a des­per­ate in­dus­try used bib­li­cal epics and 3D to lure au­di­ences to spec­ta­cles they couldn’t see on TV.

That ef­fort was so hol­low that Hollywood was on the point of col­lapse by the end of the 1960s.

To­day’s cin­ema-go­ing feels equally un­healthy. Dis­ney/mar­vel and Warner/dc are plan­ning their uni­verses into 2019. Plans for when we’ve had enough of su­per­heroes and star war­riors seem con­sid­er­ably less ad­vanced. Even cow­boys bit the box of­fice dust in the end. And au­di­ences aren’t be­ing catered for in great num­bers with any­thing else.

“We’re all try­ing to work out how we can con­nect God’s Own Coun­try to the Mar­vel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse,” art-house dis­trib­u­tor Ar­ti­fi­cial Eye’s head of the­atri­cal sales James King wryly states.

“The way things are is put­ting all of our in­dus­trial eggs in one bas­ket, and it’s not a safe bas­ket. It’s not very healthy or in­ter­est­ing. Once fa­tigue sets in and au­di­ences have a bad ex­pe­ri­ence watch­ing Sui­cide Squad or what­ever, that’s po­ten­tially some­one who won’t go to the cin­ema next week or year.”

Though he blames Brexit’s tem­po­rary ef­fect more than Bat­man, King has no­ticed a nar­row­ing of au­di­ence tastes.

“We’ve seen a change in the mar­ket this year. The types of films peo­ple are will­ing to see are less chal­leng­ing. Even in the main­stream, Blade Run­ner 2049 is un­der­per­form­ing.

“It’s not the sort of easy es­capism peo­ple are looking for. Au­di­ences and in­de­pen­dent cin­e­mas are be­com­ing more con­ser­va­tive. They’re no longer taste-mak­ers. They’re show­ing La La Land (and Rogue One) when it al­ready has mul­ti­mil­lion-pound mar­ket­ing.” – The In­de­pen­dent

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