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Burning Questions: Are Marvel films Interchangeable?

Amir here and I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore. There is no Marvel movie in theatres at the moment but the world is anticipating Guardians of the Galaxy very soon, as has been the case every few months for the past several years. Like Michael Bay films, discussed in the box office column, Marvel films are entities I have vowed not to ever see again, especially after news came out that Edgar Wright was taken off Ant-Man. I was marginally interested in Guardians after seeing the kooky trailer, but who are we kidding? The off-kilter humor of the short preview is going to give way to explosions and “things crashing into other things” and the experience will be like every single other Marvel film.

Which brings me to this frustrating news: Marvel has announced release dates for (hopefully all) their future films until the end of the decade, with the catch being the absence of... film titles? Yes, that’s correct. The studio has planned its visual assault all the way for the next five years, without even bothering with the names in the announcement this time.

Have they now realized that their output is completely interchangeable? I’m not exactly sure if I’d be less upset if these dates had titles attached to them, but what stings about the news is Marvel’s acute awareness that the audience will get excited about it and mark their calendars even without characters or stories to get excited about in the first place, like zombies feeding on chiseled heroes. The studio has become the brand, fully overshadowing the content of its films; and its sibling comics business moves like turning Thor into a woman do little to conceal the studio's lack of creative force. This announcement of release dates of unnamed product reeks of what's desperately rotten with today’s film culture: That a distinctly original, unique (and admittedly problematic) vision like Snowpiercer, fails to crack double digits at the box office, at a time when a studio with no regard for originality or qualitative progress can correctly expect people to rush to their wallets five years in advance.

Something is broken and it needs serious fixing, otherwise what we're offered on screen will continue to become less versatile and more depressing by the week. If you don't believe me, look no further than this weekend's wide release box office, where a meaningless sequel stayed at the top spot; a terrible sequel came second; an even more terrible sequel came third; and the most terrible of all sequels came fifth. I’m fucking angry about everything.

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Reader Comments (27)

I wouldn't say they're entirely interchangeable (and they're still some of the best work in the genre), but they MIGHT be heading there.


Easiest is May 2019. That's pretty clearly Avengers: The Infinity Gauntlet. (Interesting. People were expecting it for 2018, not 2019. It's not like Sony's Spider-Man franchise is, at this point, strong enough to really stand against The Avengers. As far as bizarre hopes: I kind of want Stark to antagonize Rocket by constantly calling him, depending on contempt level, Cartman (if he wants to make it really obvious) or Eric (if he wants to play it half subtle).)
May 2017 Untitled: Thor 3.
July 2017 Untitled: Carol Danvers Movie. (I know people want Black Widow, but the non-superpowered probably have to be viewed as less important.)
November 2017 Untitled: Blade/Luke Cage. (Why them over Black Panther? Because they're African-AMERICAN not AFRICAN. Marvel has to know that if there's any sort of progressive "order", the order dictates that you don't just skip to Africa. For both of them? First movie not tied into the whole Avengers house of cards, first movie that could slide with an R rating because of that. For the former? It's close to Halloween and a couple weeks pushed forward rarely hurt anybody. For the latter? It's a TV series expansion, and you know they're going to want to make one of those.)
July 2018 Untitled: Guardians of the Galaxy: Planet Hulk. (I've seen people guess that they're going to fuse the cinematic Guardians INTO Planet Hulk and I agree that's probably the best option. Gives the Hulk stronger personalities to play around with than the pieces of cardboard the actual 12 part book did.)
November 2018 Untitled: Marvel Flashback: The Death of Captain Marvel. (The Carol Danvers origin is so quick it's almost meaningless. Best to leave it as background element in her first movie and have it be a denouement scene in this. One of the closest things in this genre to a concerted Oscar bid if they keep the cause of death (cancer) the same, plus it gives people a lower action breather before crap goes freaking apocalyptic.)

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

whining about Hollywood doing lots of sequels and brave little original movie getting overlooked is soooooooo 1989. Embrace the now, Amir.

and Gunn confirmed that GotG/Planet Hulk thing was complete bullshit rumors

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Johnny: Okay. That last part was a bad guess, but I'm trying to figure it out.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Pixar announces release dates for "untitled Pixar movie" all the time. Marvel's just staking out release dates, and not ready to reveal their titles. Relax, dude.

Marvel's track record is a mixed, the Edgar Wright thing was embarrassing, and the fact that every other studio is shamelessly chasing their business model without doing half the hard work is troubling, but holding up Marvel as the whipping boy for the problems of studio blockbuster filmmaking seems really misguided.

I get your frustration in general,and share it largely, but you know what the real problem is? It's not studios claiming release dates for anonymous movies years in advance.

It's the explosion of international box office over the last five years. It bails out terrible movies that under-perform at the US box office, provides cover for executives making bad creative decisions, and provides zero incentive for change.

Ten years ago, Transformers 4 making $100m+ less than the last one in the US would've been a wake up call. In 2014, it's about to cross $300m in China alone, well over $1b worldwide, and the sequel has already been announced for 2016.

That is way more depressing to me, and cause for much more concern, than whatever Marvel is doing with their release dates.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Oh come on. I am way too particular to see any of those films in this week's top 5 (including Apes), but Marvel is the last studio to use for this argument. Their last film was terrific, and Guardians and the female Thor at least show some vestige of creativity.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Roark- "Pixar announces release dates for "untitled Pixar movie" all the time."
That's correct, but the only film in Pixar's repertoire that is comparable in quality with even the best Marvel film is Cars 2. And Pixar might announce films without titles, but everyone of them (with the exception of their recent forays into sequel fare) is well thought out years in advance, if you follow the news leaks.

I totally agree with you on the toxicity of the international box office though, which I've been meaning to write about for quite a while (since I started doing weekly box office columns here). Presumably the only type of film that appeals to a worldwide audience is the one that is completely mindless and devoid of any cultural specificity. (And examples work in both directions: a box office hit like Snowpiercer in South Korea failing to register in the US despite featuring Captain America, while an American blockbuster with an American identity (say, The Help, irrespective of quality) can't sell anywhere else. Once you start catering to an international audience of hundreds of cultures and languages as a studio, the only way to go qualitatively is down. Exceptions to that rule barely exceed a dozen films.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I couldn't answer the question because I have no interest in these movies (I'm a male 34 years old) and whenever I see an article about them here, I skip them and wonder why a website that offers so much intelligent insight when it comes to female performances and independent/foreign/arthouse movies needs to focus so much on the aggrandizing male-centric phenomenon that is the superhero genre. I don't care for their journey and there is nothing in these movies that challenge or change/expand anyone's minds, which is the most noble purpose of art, in my opinion. These movies are not art, but entertainment and while I understand the appeal that being entertained has, the ratio should really be the opposite in order for humanity to evolve consciousness (80% of exposure to art and 20% to entertainment). Maybe that's unrealistic to wish, but as an artist myself it is a fight I'm willing to fight.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMr. Goodbar

Amir - yes, to everything you said about international box office. When you make movies for everyone, you make movies for no one. Chasing international dollars has reduced blockbuster filmmaking to pure McDonalds franchise building, and the people who get assigned to direct the big blockbusters are now rarely people who might bring any kind of distinctive personal voice to the process, but the person who will most effectively deliver what the studio wants for their international McAudience. And even when they do hire someone with a distinctive POV - say, Gareth Edwards on Godzilla - they so obviously smother him in studio notes that the result is severely compromised anyway.

That said, I still think you're being a bit unfair to Marvel, but let's just agree to disagree on that. :)

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Amir: So even the Winter Soldier doesn't charm you? (I've watched a lot of superhero movies. I get the formula and I'm onboard and my view: The worst of this genre is the DC adaptations aside from Batman.) Why? They released a Superman adaptation that, among it's many failings, the COLOUR PALATE ITSELF is the most obvious and, somehow, least minded. This is Superman. The guy is POWERED BY THE SUN. A movie about him, then, should look as bright as a network sitcom, right? Well, tell that to Bryan Singer (who somehow decided to keep narrative continuity while flat-out throwing out aesthetic continuity and repeating the plot of Superman: The Movie) and the Goyer/Snyder crew, because they both get that flat WRONG. They made the Halle Berry Catwoman. Gotham. Arrow. Steel. Green Lantern. THOSE are the people on the level of Cars 2. Monsters University on the other hand? Okay, that's probably at least a close to accurate qualitative analogy for most of the Marvel fare.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Was going to comment, but Roark pretty much summed it up nicely:

"The fact that every other studio is shamelessly chasing their business model without doing half the hard work is troubling, but holding up Marvel as the whipping boy for the problems of studio blockbuster filmmaking seems really misguided."

Almost like, I don't know... blaming Pixar on the decline of hand-drawn animation and the proliferation of CGI.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I'm tired of this chicken little/death of cinema shit just because God forbid two Marvel superhero movies a year come out. There are literally THOUSANDS of movies released every year. Maybe half a dozen of them are superhero movies. Heck, some of them might be pretty good, too!

I mean its just...who gives a shit? Why be so mad about this? Is Guardians of the Galaxy stopping new films from David Fincher, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson, Werner Herzog, and Mike Leigh coming out this year? Did Dawn of the Planet of the Apes somehow make Boyhood and Begin Again not exist? You think Von Trier and Wes Anderson had to fight against making a superhero movie to make their respective films this year? How about instead of being upset that an intelligent, original, esoteric movie with zero marketing in limited release like Snowpiercer didn't light up the box office, be happy it exist in the first fuckin' place, and is doing very well on VOD.

Its not like if Transformers or HTTYD2 didn't exist, audiences would be lining up for your favorite little Sundance movies instead. Michael Bay wouldn't be making domestic chamber dramas right now. There would just be less movies. Luckily, we live in a time where there are more movies being made than EVER BEFORE, and if you don't like one movie, there's a dozen others you can choose from at any moment.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJeremy

Volvagia- Regarding Winter Soldier, no. Charmed is as far away from what I felt about that film as possible. Personal taste I guess, but their films are really not my cup of tea. With the exception of X2 and Lee's Hulk, I've actively disliked all their other works, and 11 years of mediocrity is awfully long.

Ryan T.- Re: why I hold up Marvel as the poster boy for bad studio filmmaking... see answer to Volvagia.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

"Things crashing into other things." Yep.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

A friend of mine made a more generous analogy than "zombies feeding on chiseled heroes" about how Marvel movies (and other movies of its ilk) are like seeing old friends from high school or college at a funky bar you all love, while other movies are like a blind date or a party where you only sort of know one person. All of the latter scenarios could end up in you having a fantastic, life-changing time, but there's always that risk of really loathing the entire experience as well, which is less likely the case for meeting up with old friends even if you do end up always talking about the same things. Not a novel thought by any stretch, but the time and circumstance around it really made that sink this time in a way it hadn't in others. It's something Marvel has pounced on, and I can't really resent them for it as much as I may want to. It makes it dire for moviegoers who want a different experience, but it's nirvana for a lot of other people, and as my friend pointed out, I'm not the only one whose happiness in movie fare counts.

"Besides," my friend said, "you have the holiday and award season to talk about the movies you like, the ones that take risks. Then it will be the summer movie fans time to complain about how the stuff you like is pretentious and obscure and dull and boring and have the same formula of uncomfortable closeups of people suffering awful things while other people are unkind to them in a cluttered house, grassy meadow, or dirty factory."

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterF

Superheroes have been a popular genre in comics and animated media consistently for the last half-century, and that's because those were the media that could do them properly at the time. Now Hollywood has the technology to deliver the product in live action, more or less. What Marvel Studios is doing is logical, and I've been pleased at the degree of consistency and professionalism, not to mention planning, they've brought to it.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

Jeremy- You're missing the point though.
I'm not arguing that there aren't good films being made - though I disagree with you that if the lazy franchise options weren't there, people still wouldn't give Snowpiercer a shot.

But my point is that Marvel has reached a position where they can now get by with sheer laziness and without creatively progressing their films and still make billions of dollars off their films. I'm not upset because they're taking someone else's place. I'm upset because I think studios that are consistently at the top of the box office charts should strive to make better films.

In this decade, only five films have made the year's top ten highest grossers list without being part of a franchise. Four of those (Tangled, Frozen, Inception and Gravity) are better (or at least more ambitious, adventurous and satisfying) than almost all the other 35 films with the exception of maybe Skyfall? I don't think it's unreasonable to be upset about popular films setting themselves lazily low bars.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

I am beginning to tire of them so nice to have DOTPOTA to look to for style,substance and spectacle.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermark

"But my point is that Marvel has reached a position where they can now get by with sheer laziness and without creatively progressing their films and still make billions of dollars off their films. I'm not upset because they're taking someone else's place. I'm upset because I think studios that are consistently at the top of the box office charts should strive to make better films."

I think that's where you're losing a lot of us. You think all of Marvel's output (not including Sony/FOX/etc properties) is mediocre/bad while most of us think they're one of the better studios in terms of superhero films and progressing the franchise as a whole. They're not perfect (Iron Man 2, Thor 2, etc.) but I don't think they're currently/actively being lazy.

That said, the Ant Man debacle is just that and I haven't seen GotG yet and Age of Ultron inexplicably cast Aaron Johnson so things can take a nosedive surely. But for now, I see them trying. The release date announcements seem like good planning to me more than anything else.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

I'm honestly starting to get bored with them. I hated Iron Man 3 and I didn't think Captain America 2 was all that. Thor 2 was disposable. But I am anticipating Guardians, it looks different than the rest. Like a breath of fresh air.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I agree with everything you said Amir, until you called Dawn of the Planet of the Apes meaningless. I know it's sad when we have to look to sci-fi sequels for the best that Hollywood has to offer, but, like The Dark Knight six years ago, Dawn transcends the shitty movies Hollywood is churning out. It certainly isn't meaningless if the movie is one of the five best to come out in 2014 thus far.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean Troutman

<I>But my point is that Marvel has reached a position where they can now get by with sheer laziness and without creatively progressing their films and still make billions of dollars off their films.

That's the point of disagreement, as I think Marvel is doing exactly that. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was their best movie yet, in my opinion, and an excellent translation of Ed Brubaker's brilliant comic story for the screen. With the exception of Iron Man 2, Marvel Studios' output ranges from reliably competent to outstanding. They certainly have a house style, much like the comics used to, but we're seeing greater variation, and the newer projects being announced suggest that will continue.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

Sean C.: It's probably between the Ed Norton Hulk movie and Iron Man 2 as their biggest stumble. I lean on Ed Norton Hulk, if only because it's their dullest movie on an acting level.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Oh, yes in case of doubt blame the foreign... Ugh.
The foreign markets are saturated of big studios crap that open in as many screens as possible, because studios have been imposing and controlling for decades the number of screens for their movies. Now, they're just harvesting the crops. No matter if it's a dud with Eddie Murphy, if it opens in every multiplex in 3 screens out of 10 each, it'll be considered a success, even if the screenings aren't full. People still connect number of cinemas or screens where a movie is playing, with a movie they must see. It's as absurd as thinking that as there are so many Starbucks, there must be something good about them. There's nothing remarkable at Starbucks, so there's nothing remarkable in.... (fill the blank with the blockbuster you want) . But that's how it works.

Back to topic, ehhh. I haven't seen many Marvel movies, but I was really disappointed with the sequel to Captain America. Yes, it had a lot of Scarlett Johansson. Buit it also had a lot of exposition ( 1 hour? it felt like that) specially for a sequel, and NO resolution because it was blatantly left for the next. It was so blatant it was embarrasing to see Mackie and Evans calling for the next episode. They could've looked at the camera and winked. That would've been more honest. If I want to see a movie with no resolution I don't watch a blockbuster. So that was my last Captain America.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

iggy -- it's a pity that more countries don't support their own films politically. That's how the country's with vibrant film cultures still do it. Legislation. Otherwise the Americans take over.

July 21, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

^ Absolutely right, legislation. That's the key word, we could learn one thing or two from the French.
But I dont't want to get (re-) started :) See comment on the other thread.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

When I sat there watching the last Iron Man movie I had the feeling that I had seen it already.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

and SEX TAPE came at fourth.
American watchers at their best.

July 21, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercraver

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