Kevin Feige, the President of Marvel Studios, in a recent talk stated that his company has movies planned out until 2021. It speaks to the confidence that they have in their business model of teasing the next film with the current that they are able to plan so far in advance. However, it also speaks to a lack of creative ambition when it comes to their films.
We've long passed the point where the only reason to watch one Marvel film is in preparation for the next one. They've become bland printing machines for money and crowds keep eating it up. For all the recent talk of the death of the modern studio system I am much less concerned about flops like The Lone Ranger and John Carter of Mars losing money than I am about Marvel's business model continuing to succeed.
I don't want them to fail commercially. I keep going into each one of their films hoping that this will finally be the one that breaks out of the mold of heroic people posing in uninteresting, flat arrangements while most of the action happens off-screen. The nadir was finally struck with Avengers when the climax of the movie involved the camera zooming from character to character while they stood around. This is the best that they could come up with after hiring a director known for being able to bring disparate character traits together to form a team.
But that implies that there were disparate elements to begin with. The only film in Marvel's Phase One that successfully showcased a unique personality in a fun way while simultaneously providing interesting contemporary commentary was Iron Man. Captain America comes very close, and only falters because it was crammed in with Thor, Iron Man 2, and The Incredible Hulk. Directors like Kenneth Branagh, whose Shakespearean ties should have made him a shoo-in for making Thor something special, instead got saddled with yet another bland action film with a lot of posing.
By 2021 we should be at Phase Four of whatever Marvel plans to release. Phase Two is already off to a fairly tepid start with Iron Man 3 recycling the plot wholesale from Iron Man 2 and The Wolverine providing a stinger for the next X-Men project that has been getting better reception than the film itself. Courtney Small of Big Thoughts From A Small Mind has an excellent write-up now about how this model is producing diminishing returns. It used to be that the stinger would come at the end of a great film and give the promise for more, now it's just an expected part of the advertising that is taking over the quality of each film itself as each movie becomes a glorified trailer. Looking at the Amazing Spider-Man quadrilogy now planned makes me even sadder after the dismal showing of the first film. It's not longer about making good movies, just making them good enough to make sure that the next roster of superheroes or villains can fill more screen time.
Man of Steel, one of my top films of the year, at least inspired a lot of conversation and varying opinions about what happens. It took risks, pushed Superman to a place many in the audience weren't expecting, and got people to think about what they were watching. But even DC is going the route of the assembly line soon with pre-planned sequels, spin-offs, team-ups, and whatever combination they can throw together to make sure another film hits the screen.
These films are coming, I just hope they develop a personality along with the budget.
In the meantime let's watch this trailer for Wings, the knockoff Planes, and know that one day it will be out on DVD and I'll be there. Waiting.
Expect new film reviews and our next In Appreciation piece up this weekend.