Michael C. here.
I'm feeling left out because I couldn't share in the excitement over the Avengers teaser which played during the Super Bowl Sunday night. In fact, if I’m being honest, it bummed me out. I never want to be that guy yelling, “Sell out!” when the performer I love hits the big time, but seeing the likes of Downey, Ruffalo, and Renner headlining the comics franchise to top all comics franchises, it’s hard to get pumped about how kick-ass it’s all going to be when all I can think about are the more interesting films these guys passed over to shoot this one.
Now I have no intention of dismissing a movie before it’s released, or to turn up my nose at big budget blockbusters. A franchise with Joss Whedon at the helm is a great bet to have the intelligence and wit the genre so often lacks. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to ask:
Are franchise films monopolizing the talent?
Take the case of Mr. Renner. It feels like no sooner had we been given a taste of just what he was capable of then he was carted off to shoulder no less than three major franchises – Mission Impossible, Avengers and Bourne. On top of which, he dropped out of his most promising project, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. I don’t deny that all those films have the potential to be good or even great entertainments, but let’s be honest here. It is a rare role in such a mass appeal product that is not broadly simplified with any rough edges sanded off. We are going to be waiting a long time before we get to see Renner tackle another role as riveting as Sgt. William James.
Of course, the accepted practice has been for movie stars to adopt the “one for them, one for me” approach where they knock out an Ocean’s 11 every few years and then cash in that bankability on a riskier project. When that strategy works everybody’s happy, but I fear the balance has been tipping in recent years. Franchises so dominate the landscape that it seems the only way for invaluable actors like Angela Bassett to appear in a major studio film is by playing second banana in Green Lantern. And then there are the actors like Liam Neeson who one imagines has accumulated the credit to get a more challenging feature made but whose upcoming roster is crowded with titles like Battleship and Taken 2 (Okay, The Grey was not bad at all, but when’s the last time he had a Kinsey-level challenge?)
Maybe this is all because I’m still sore over Downey’s recent comments about preferring big budget crowd-pleasers to “indie films that everyone says is fantastic but kinda sucks and is boring.” It’s one thing if he is referring to Charlie Bartlett or Fur. Might as well go for big and flashy over self-serious and drab. But I fear he was talking about ditching projects like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang or Good Night and Good Luck all for the privilege of dressing up like Tony Stark and telling Loki where to stick it.
I’m aware that bankable movie star is a rare level to reach and even harder thing to maintain. I’m further aware that it is just plain fun and thrilling to be cast in a superhero blockbuster. I don’t intend sit back and pass judgment on somebody living the dream. Not every actor needs to be Daniel Day Lewis wandering off to the Italy to cobble shoes while waiting for worthy projects. But it’s worth remembering that it’s often the small, unexpected roles that are remembered over the big budget event film. I know I’m going to treasure Robert Downey’s Jr.’s work in Zodiac or Wonder Boys long after the Avengers hype has faded.
So I just learn to stop worrying and love the franchises? Or am I soft-pedaling the problem? I'm curious to hear your take in the comments. You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film.