Marvel Event: Filmmaking as an Afterthought


marvel event

Meeting the unveiling of Marvel’s Phase 3 with cynicism and snark is by now a tired take and in an online world where backlash meets backlash meets backlash (meets backlash?), there isn’t an immediate answer to the question “is this good for cinema?” Most likely, there never will be as the camps of Marvel supporters and those who question the artistic or formal value the franchise adds to the movie industry may never meet halfway. But while speculating about single Marvel releases as they begin production is rather nit-picky, it’s not heresy to question the potential outcomes of making a colossal display unveiling the mere idea of a multitude of films operating in the same universe (especially a universe which has been met with lukewarm criticism in the past).

There is no cinematic reason to unveil nine titles so far in advance.

The Marvel Event was akin to handing a 15-year-old the keys to a brand new Ferrari. That kid won’t be able to drive the car for a year and in the meantime, all he can think about is getting behind the wheel and rushing down the highway at speeds that mock posted limits. There is no cinematic reason to unveil nine titles so far in advance. At best, it serves to turn industry journalists into extensions of the Marvel PR team, empowering the studio to take advantage of immense social media publicity by merely dropping insignificant details along the way (details which don’t even have to be correct, mind you, as we saw with the title of Captain America 3). At worst, publicizing a plan such as Phase 3 can have a lasting impact on the creation and eventual perception of the films themselves.

Matt Patches TwitterFirst and foremost, there is the chance of failure. While Jim Emerson described movies like The Avengers as critic-proof (a notion that the box office results of recent Marvel forays have confirmed), this leaves them entirely on their own publicity campaigns and a tidal wave of fans. Box office numbers suggest that while the core group of Marvel fans is indeed immense, there are likely a large number of marginally attached fans who cannot be banked on regardless of the quality of the entertainment (look at the gap between The Avengers and Thor). If these movies are cheapened in any way, whether from a storytelling, visual, or societal point of view, what does a poor May release for Doctor Strange mean for the films coming in 2017?

Even if we concede that American dollars are not worth as much as the international box office anymore, and perhaps the chance of any sort of sizeable box office dips is miniscule, there is still a creative depth which Marvel studios may not have even hit yet. Even if you have the means to give a kid a Ferrari they can’t drive, you still have a problem on your hands; eventually the kid turns 16 and you have a new driver in a very crash-able Ferrari.

By the time a director steps onto set, the major roles of the film will already be cast, the important plot points may already be set [...]and most importantly, the film will need to begin and end at preset moments in time within the overall narrative…

I don’t mean to suggest that the director of Thor: Ragnarok will have the cinematic capabilities (or driving abilities) of a 16-year-old. For all I know, Kevin Feige will recruit Joss Whedon to direct every remaining Marvel movie – but that isn’t really the point. By the time a director steps onto set, the major roles of the film will already be cast, the important plot points may already be set (a large ship will crash into earth and an orb of some sort must be returned, etc.), and most importantly, the film will need to begin and end at preset moments in time within the overall narrative (to fit with the rest of the cinematic universe). With all of these elements already in place, there’s hardly anything left to direct, save the likely-witty dialogue and whatever the general aura of the film will be.

Marvel releaseAnd herein lies the problem – it doesn’t matter. That the director, cinematographer, or even the whole of the production design team will hardly influence the success of nine blockbusters over the next five years is creatively maddening. Worse still is the fact that these films will be the standard for blockbusters until at least 2019, setting the benchmark for cinematic entertainment during increasingly crowded summer release schedules, and may be two to three of the 5.9 movies Americans go to every year. If these films were formally or creatively innovative, this would be a non-issue. I hope they surprise me and we all get a collective, serialized universe unlike any other we’ve ever had before. I’m not so optimistic.


About Author

I am a film enthusiast and critic in Grand Rapids, Michigan who started writing on my film blog, RJG Film Analysis, and co-hosting The Cinema Breakdown podcast. One day, I'll watch the perfect movie while drinking the perfect beer...until then, I'll have to settle by watching "Lost in Translation" with a Rochefort 10.

  • Patrick Campbell

    I’d have to counter a lot of this. Marvel announcing a full slate is no different than any other studio that announces a lot of the movies they’re making, sometimes five or six years down the road, much like Marvel did yesterday. With so many reporting the rumors about what Marvel was up to, they had to finally unveil their plan before it was all completely taken away from them and their would be no surprise left. The directors and screenwriters definitely matter, and it’s clear they’ve let all the directors add their own flavor to the films, but every movie since the first Iron Man has certain beats that they have to meet. As long as the directors and screenwriters work the beats in, they’re free to do whatever else they want. Guardians was clearly a James Gunn film, Winter Soldier was clearly the Russo Bros., Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a Shane Black film, etc., etc. None of those films felt similar or cookie cutter, at least in my opinion. The only film that has had any real sort of problems is Thor: The Dark World, it just didn’t seem to pack the punch of the other Marvel films.

    But this studio needs a long term plan, because clearly they want to get to the end of this road, which they’ve been building to for a long while, and unveiling the road ahead isn’t a bad thing. It wets the appetites of fans and moviegoers about what we can expect. It’s good to see a plan in place, something that WB came under fire for a lot when they said they’d doing their own DC universe on film. Marvel has been smart, making films that please audiences and critics, and has been making a universe that is fun to be a part of, and it’s fun to get caught up in it. Really, as Marvel Studios, they can only continue making comic based films, so I don’t see them unveiling their next nine films as a bad thing, because this is all they can focus on, and it’s good to see them letting fans and audiences in on what’s going on behind closed doors. The announcements got a lot of people buzzing, so clearly they did their job. I understand the hesitation, but in my opinion at least, Marvel has earned our trust and I look forward to seeing what they do now through 2019.