As I’m sure you’ve heard, Sony finally decided to split custody of Spider-Man, and it looks like he’ll be visiting mom on some very important weekends in the future. After a few personal conversations, I’ve come to the conclusion that most people are pretty excited. I feel that.
A few people are worried, though. Or maybe tired is a better word. News of another “Spider-Man reboot” induces cringing for these peeps, and this is my response to them. There are certain detractors that I’m not going to convince, and to those people I say that perhaps the next decade of big-budget movies should be something that they avoid, because franchising and multi-part plots aren’t going away. That’s great news, though!
Movies are getting heavily influenced by their neighbors these days, namely television and video games, both of which typically feature narratives lasting into the dozens of running hours, as well as spin-offs and years of “sequelizations”. The demand for these kinds of longer-form narratives in visual media has created the environment in which Marvel Studios is currently printing money, and that’s due to a few unique circumstances:
- Comics have maintained the longest-running continuous universe of events and characters in pop culture
- They’ve made enough mistakes doing it to be both self-aware and to (mostly) avoid the pitfalls that come with those longer stories
- They’ve moved that creative assemblage over to a collaborative movie-making process that features in-built checks and balances
That last point is critical. In thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that the “auteur” era of popcorn movies is coming to a close. Production teams have come up against a particular trend in big-name directors’ career progression (that trend will be heretofore referred to as “Lucasing”, as in, “Man, I couldn’t wait to see Ridley Scott’s new movie, and then I realized that he Lucased it. Again.”) and they’ve figured out a way to safeguard these longer-running franchises from the brand power that comes with a well-known director–namely by kicking them out once they’ve done their part.
Many have written about the great cultural tragedy that was The Prequels, and as exhaustive as those writings are, I’ve no doubt that there’s more to come. I’ll spare you (today) from my thoughts on that era of suffering, and suffice it to point out that in nearly all cases wherein Hollywood grants a “visionary” director the god-like power to create a universe with no power-checks in place, that film will fall flat. It’s like gravity, somehow.
Ideas work best when they’ve been tested, tempered, de-and-re-constructed. Edits, cuts, and trash bins of paper are the bastions of creativity. So while a lot of people lament the rigorous scheduling, planning, and pre-meditative construction of this-beast-called-Marvel, I’d like to point out that the greatest “original” creators of our generation have nearly all, one by one, grown far too big for their britches: Ridley Scott, the Wachowskis, Spielberg, Jackson, Lucas, Cameron, and so on. They’ve all made great movies. But in every case, their earlier films surpass their successors, as they were forced to collaborate more closely with other smart people to get the film made.
Lucasing can be avoided, though, and I think Marvel has cracked the formula. By bringing together a collaboration of creative people, some of whom have staked their entire career solely on the preservation of the MCU, Marvel is looking to deliver interesting and varied films inside that universe, while hedging against vats of electric eels and Topher Grace’s dumb face. Snowboarding Goblin. Swarms of lizards for some (read: no) reason. I digress.
Joss Whedon took his dialogue format from Firefly and made The Avengers. The Russo brothers made a great spy-thriller in Winter Soldier. There’s lots to be seen in the MCU, and Marvel Studios is doing it well. True, we might get the occasional Iron Man 3 or Thor 2: The Forgettable. But even with those cases in mind the trend is so good that it has a lot of people standing around saying, “This has to fail.” Not me, though. I’m with this ‘til the end of the line.