Is Marvel film collapse imminent?
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