5 Reasons It's Impossible To Recreate Marvel's Movie Success
You may have noticed that Avengers: Age Of Ultron completely and utterly pile-drived the box office despite the conspicuous absence of such crowd-pleasing Avengers as Doctor Druid, Gilgamesh, and Tony Stark's fabled "NASCAR" armor, which is tattooed with a giant, crude, airbrushed caricature of the Gorton's Fisherman.
And the Marvel Cinematic Universe's oodles of lucre haven't gone unnoticed. In fact, basically every other studio on the damn planet is trying to cobble together their own intertwined universes, ranging from Ghostbusters to Valiant Comics -- whose biggest claim to fame was publishing Turok: Dinosaur Hunter 20 years ago -- to goddamned Robin Hood, because who hasn't dreamed of Friar Tuck: Origins?
Yup, it's unclear if anybody in Hollywood's examining whether or not funding an endless series of interlocking films is quite possibly a disastrous idea, given that ...
We Can Watch Only So Many Movies
Before Iron Man, superhero films were already seven years into gaining the public's goodwill with flicks like Spider-Man, X-Men, and that inexplicably successful Ben Affleck Daredevil movie with playground grappling foreplay. So, when it came time for Marvel to bring us a swank gentlebeard quipping in an exoskeleton, audiences were DTF Y2K.
"OMG!! *****!1" -My review on LiveJournal
But something seems to be forgotten with the creation of upcoming franchises like Universal Monsters (no, seriously): The Marvel films didn't succeed because of the expanded universe model; they succeeded because they're awesome and everyone loves superhero films. That said, even with the popularity of Batman and X-Men on their side, Warner Bros. and Fox will always play second fiddle to Disney's Avengers because audiences simply don't have the stamina to see that many goddamn movies.
According to the MPAA, your standard schmo sees an average of four theatrical movies per year. And with at least eight major comic book adaptations set for 2017 alone, general audiences will always be choosing one franchise over the other. And let's face it, we all know who the sad loser is in that race. "Sad" being the operative word.
That's not rain; it's tears.
And this isn't even accounting for all the other shambled-together universes lumbering down the pike. Suddenly, the idea of Lucasfilm limiting themselves to only one Star Wars per year makes a ton of sense. Except even Star Wars can last only so long as it expands endlessly like Jabba The Hutt at a Sizzler, because ...
The Bigger The Universe, The More Impossible It Is To Write
Cinematic universes are like crossword puzzles in that each individual piece has to intersect with another. And as the narrative expands, it becomes harder and harder to make everything fit, until you give up and play Sudoku like a stupid failure.
Joss Whedon described teasing out the structure for the first Avengers as "brutal" because of how many characters he had to cram in. By Age Of Ultron, the number of superpowered people alone jumped from the original seven to 12 characters blasting about the screen like cocaine-powered cats. Whedon called it the hardest work he'd ever done, and the resulting film burst at the seams, like Hulk in the fuchsia Members Only jacket that Bruce Banner wears all the time (to remind himself that he alone must carry his burden).
Half of those Ultron sentries are getting their own movies.
It might sound soul-crushingly mathematical, but most films out there are structured in the same basic way to make them accessible to audiences. This usually involves three acts with eight different plot points.
The first act sets the plot into motion (see: Loki sliding into our world, Nick Fury assembling the Avengers). The second and largest act establishes each character's struggle and contains the intriguing midpoint followed by the movie's lowest moment (Coulson's death and/or Loki's archaic profanity). Finally, the third act is that final push where the stakes are crazy high and the protagonists resolve their problems (the Avengers overcome their insecurities and, uh, beat Racist Jock Prep in the Southwest Regional Spelling Bee? Come on, Avengers came out in 2012, that was like 10 years ago).
I remember these three leaving for the dance-off to save the rec center,
but after that it's a little hazy.
This structure can be seen in everything from Disney to David Lynch because of how aptly it avoids pissing off the audience. And in Age Of Ultron, you start to see that structure groan under the weight of all the subplots setting up future Civil and Infinity Wars while simultaneously attempting to tell a complete story arc with 12 main and secondary characters. And now that Captain America: Civil War will apparently have 16 fucking characters, it's impossible to imagine a scenario in which the movie won't continue for the rest of your life and Don Cheadle is your new dad.
And we haven't even begun to talk about the TV shows ...
Related: We Want to Pay You to Write for Us
TV Shows Make Everything Confusing As Hell
Age Of Ultron was Joss Whedon's last contractual Marvel film, and he's generally assuming the role of the belligerent ex at Marvel's open bar wedding. Along with venting his franchise fatigue, Whedon recently revealed that Agent Coulson's resurrection on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. pissed off folks on the film side of the universe.
"What, so Nick Fury can come back to life like eight times, but I'm not allowed
even one measly resurrection?"
Yes, when it comes to television, we're not dealing with just Marvel anymore; ABC and Netflix are sticking their grubby fingers in the cogs of this money machine. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently constantly fighting the good fight between entertaining an audience and not stepping on the films' toes. The arduous process is a back-and-forth where they pitch ideas to Marvel while trying to ration the amount of superheroes they can introduce.
After all, what good are the Avengers if the TV show is up to its balls in people who can save the day instead? But the real stinger is Netflix's Daredevil, which both recognizes the world of The Avengers films and the harsh mortality of superheroism that Hawkeye and Black Widow are blessed to ignore.
The only mortality they know involves contract lengths.
For comic book fans, this kind of loosey-goosey continuity is commonplace, but the moment studios start dabbling in other genres is when the problem starts becoming laughably noticeable. For DC, the issue is actually the opposite. They have both Gotham and Batman V Superman -- two properties they've had to explain as separate worlds. But of course that's not nearly the biggest problem the Justice League films are facing ...
Not Every Studio Has A Kevin Feige
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige's unwavering micromanagement skills might prevent us from ever seeing a Devil Dinosaur movie directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky and starring Nick Nolte as Armless Tiger Man, but he does wonders for keeping the tone of the films consistent. Think about it: Every Marvel flick promises the same crowd-pleasing bon mots and bloodless action sequences that are safe and fun for the whole family. Now, let's look at what DC is up to ...
Oh, right. Skull drowning!
But love it or hate it, the biggest problem with DC's gloomy Justice League universe isn't the strong thematic tone; it's that no single person is in charge of it. By building on Zack Snyder's Silent Hill-cutscene directing style, the studio has locked themselves into an even tighter creative box than Marvel's -- which is no doubt why they've already burned through five different writers attempting to give Wonder Woman and her invisible jet and boomerang tiara their own movie after Dour Billionaire V Sourpuss Demigod: Enter The Frown Brigade.
"What if the tiara was black and rained blood?"
It's like if Clive Barker did a successful Garfield movie and the studio expected every other sequel to match the tone of the first, which saw Jon Arbuckle get crucified upside-down on a giant mountain of lasagna on a Monday. This is why DC's scripting process has so far been described by sources close to the projects as "throwing shit against the wall to see what stuck."
Unless a studio's willing to rigorously streamline the process like Marvel has, then they're left with the catch-22 of giving directors and writers creative latitude and simultaneously making them toe the party line. Which explains why ...
Creative Conflicts Will Inevitably Bubble Over
The job of director is basically God cosplay -- and so the most popular and respected ones tend to be control-freak sadists like Stanley Kubrick and David Fincher, constantly fighting against studio influence and actor egos. It's why a hyper-stylized director like Edgar Wright wasn't able to mesh with Marvel's ultra-involved meddling, and why two Avengers films choked the soul from Joss Whedon.
Regardless of shaving, his beard is locked into permanent "two-Week depression" length.
Directors don't like being told how to make their movies, especially when the demands are "maximum audience appeal." Whedon has called Wright's shit-canned Ant-Man script "the best Marvel ever had" -- making this new film (directed by the guy who did Bring It On) seem like a consolation prize to something awesome we'll never get. It's a statement you can't imagine Marvel liked hearing from the guy who just directed their prize pony -- but it's also not surprising considering that said pony almost had all its organs stolen.
MINOR AGE OF ULTRON SPOILERS: Remember Thor's exposition soak? Turns out that even Joss Whedon thought it was a clown balls scene, but he was forced to keep it in when Marvel threatened to ax the farmhouse and dream sequences if he didn't. In other words, Marvel was willing to cut the scenes that actually developed the characters and story in order to plug future projects in what they clearly just considered a two-hour advertisement for Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok.
As we've mentioned before, the surefire way to foretell the imminent collapse of a cinematic craze is when the studios invest enough money that they feel like they can call all the artistic shots. A cinematic universe might be a neat idea for certain franchises, but when all the studios start daisy-chaining every film together, they turn into those Nova Corps star blasters from Guardians Of The Galaxy. And we all know what happens to those brave, brave jackasses.
Dave can communicate with horses and once threw a chair so hard it caused an evacuation. You can reach him on Twitter.
Also be sure to check out 5 Sad Truths You Learn Watching All The Marvel Films At Once and 5 Marvel Characters Who Totally Dropped The Ball.