Marveling At What They've Done Dept.

Another argument that keeps coming up re: the Marvel movies (yeah, that tired canard again, but bear with me) is that they're not in fact "all the same film". This is something other people have defended pretty vociferously. Winter Soldier is a spy thriller; Guardians of the Galaxy is comic space opera; Thor is cross-universe mythmaking; etc.

But in the end, all of them are the same kind of movie: an action-beat-driven tentpole Hollywood blockbuster with tons of cash and digital effects thrown at the screen. There's no room in that garage for anything that's not part of that paradigm. Would the Marvel stable have ever produced something like Under the Skin, for instance? No, because something that nervy and difficult wouldn't put asses in chairs, so they don't do it; they know they have tickets and DVDs to sell, and that's the only thing that really matters when all the heated rhetoric evaporates out of the air.

Despite the fact that they make money hand over fist, there's no room in what they do for experiments. I briefly thought Guardians was going to be something along those lines, but in the end it turned out to be just as formulaic as anything else they'd made. Fun, but formulaic. Colorful, lively, etc., but still — formulaic. They know what works and they're not messing with success if they can help it.

Most of the reactions I get to this counter-argument are aw-c'mon-lighten-up scoffing or squirming on the hook of one kind or another. But the problem remains. The Marvel style isn't really anything new, no matter how they try to dress it up. It's just a retrofitting of existing source material onto a proven system for making tons of money. Big, fast-moving, noisy movies make bank, even if they are manifestly terrible, and the fact that the in-house Marvel productions are now a cut or two above the norm doesn't mean that anything really transformative is happening.

By themselves, the Marvel films are not bad. They're watchable, entertaining, competently made. But as a whole, they are a symptom of something terrible, of how to play it completely safe. The more of them there are, the less there's going to be of anything else, and you know what they say about monocultures.

The irony is that at least two other studios are experimenting with smaller budgets — both for the productions themselves and for their advertising/promotion — and nailing it: Universal and Lionsgate. The latter has the Hunger Games franchise, which for all of its mainstream success has an edge to it. (They also have Divergent, but whatever.) The former has uncorked a slew of reasonably inexpensive movies — mostly comedies, but a few action vehicles (e.g., the thriftily made John Wick [$20M in, $66.8m out]) — that showed you didn't have to spend a ton to make a ton. Granted, about the only really maverick thing on their slate was Lucy, but it shows that it's still possible to play against type as a company and come up smiling.

In the end, I don't look to the mainstream for anything really innovative or daring; the mainstream is a follower, not a leader. But for them to show even a little innovation or daring in their thinking is a big deal. It's just that I don't think the way Marvel is being praised for allegedly doing it amounts to much of anything.

Tags: Hollywood Marvel Comics creativity movies

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2015/01/02 15:30.

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