Will the Marvel Cinematic Universe Survive 2020?

Money!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the great experiment in “must-see moviemaking” funded by Disney®©™, has had to hit a pause button at a strangely critical inflection point due to the cascading social reactions due to COVID.

Their projected release schedule has been disrupted and their next phase has been delayed. Black Widow, their first female-led superhero movie, won’t be in theaters til well past its anticipated launch date.

I’m beginning to wonder if that will be fatal to their ongoing box office dominance.

Not An Expert

Of course, this is just a random musing from me based on my own guesswork. As people have felt compelled to point out when I say something with which they disagree, I’m not an expert.

I have a simple counterpoint to that, based on years of podcasting and news observation. “Experts” are far from infallible, and often engaged in just as much guesswork and bloviating as anyone else. Let me give you an example.

Kevin Smith is regarded with a great respect in the nerd community, and known as an “expert” within that arena. But he and Mark Bernardin did a commentary for The Empire Strikes Back wherein they insisted the Emperor wasn’t even referenced before that film. That’s hideously incorrect. The Emperor is mentioned by name in Star Wars (A New Hope), and in the novelization. But now that Smith and Bernardin have said it, it will worm its way into certain circles that simply accept their “expert” analysis without question. This is how untrue things become “accepted” facts and wisdom.

Just imagine what that means for speculation and analysis. There are a lot of examples of that particular cascading effect, from Mel Kuyper’s NFL draft projections to public policy impacts and motivations, but that’s not the point of this entry.

Mel Kuyper Jr is often wrong | Craigula
I have nothing against this guy. I think he’s pretty fun to watch on TV. He’s just wrong an awful lot.

The MCU’s Tipping Point

With the tremendous success of Disney™©®’s Marvel®©™’s Avengers: Endgame, it was already a dangerous moment for that series in terms of momentum. Disney©™®’s Marvel™®©’s Avengers: Endgame was the climax of ten years of high-budget serial moviemaking. It was the final point on a long journey, and the anticipation for it was off the charts.

Whether it was satisfying or not is a subjective matter, of course. I think that it was very well made, but suffered a few thematic flaws. I’ve been lightly chastised for my apostasy, and that’s fine.

But I think it’s indisputable that, after revving the hype engine to the red line, the next steps to maintain box office dominance were key. They took the opportunity to have a denouement of sorts with Disney©™®’s Sony™®©’s Spider-Man: Talking About Iron Man (admission: I didn’t bother seeing it), but then it was supposed to leap into the “next phase” with Black Widow, a prequel about a character who jumped out of the series in Disney®©™’s Marvel©™®’s Avengers: Endgame.

Then Along Came Shutdowns

The mandatory shutdowns in many areas forced studios to rethink their release schedules. Swept up in that insanity was, of course, Disney®™©’s Marvel®©™’s Black Widow. This throws the MCU release schedule out of whack, and shifts the window of enthusiasm in such a way that the average moviegoer’s enthusiasm for the series will cool.

The devoted, of course, will never surrender their focus. Like devoted Disney®™©’s Marvel®©™’s Star Wars and Maybe Paramount, Maybe CBS®©™’s Star Trek fans, all that really matters is that their preferred product continues to be produced. The general quality is less important than its presence.

But the expanded audience that needs to be present in order to elevate the box office receipts into the billion-dollar range will lose their enthusiasm. Further, with people realizing that the economic impact is just beginning, the discretionary moments for big-budget escapism will lessen. I think movie chains themselves are going to see a lasting and unfortunate impact on a scale that forces an industry shift they didn’t expect for another five or ten years.

After all, after being told repeatedly that “going out” is not only unnecessary but discouraged (or forbidden), people may decide that they’re just fine sitting at home.And going through tight economic times, $15 or $20 movie tickets become a substantially less appealing expense.

Of course, at that point we’re talking more about large scale industry impacts. The MCU may wind up at the top of that heap by default, like a WalMart-style chain that weathers lean times better than small businesses. But that analogy doesn’t really work, because it all depends on whether people still really care about spending money on the perceived high-end product.

The essential question is, will there be the taste for the MCU that encourages theaters to run every single entry on 50-75% of their screens?

That’s the interesting thing to ponder. I think that everything happening is likely to collapse the market for the MCU.

If I’m wrong, then I’m wrong. If I’m right, then I’m right.

It’ll be interesting to see either way.

Black Widow Is Going to be a Lame Movie Probably | Craigula
To be clear, I’m saying that the results will be interesting to see. I can’t guarantee that will be true about the movie.

The Most Meaningless Nerd Insult

Just a brief musing today.

As I was rewatching Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace today for a special podcast episode that will be revealed soon, I had reason to think about what’s become the most meaningless nerd insult.

“Fanboy”

20 years ago, as I was in the odd position of having to defend a Star Wars film, I was called “fanboy.” It was a word meant to degrade someone’s reaction as less objective than others. A “fanboy” is someone so steeped in the culture of their preferred franchise(s), they’re incapable of honest reaction.

I’m aware that calling someone a “fanboy” now isn’t inclusive enough of the ladies, but I mean no offense. Whatever current form it’s now taken (fanperson? fanbeing?), the traditional insult is “fanboy.” If there’s an updated form, feel free to let me know.

You could say that Marvel movie fans are in this camp right about now, as each release is immediately categorized and cataloged purely within the context of its relation to the other releases. I call it “Grading on a Curve.”

Either way, the term took an odd twist and became truly versatile in the short span between the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Those who were critical of The Last Jedi were called “fanboys.” Those who loved Solo were called “fanboys.” It came to mean someone who was both excessively critical and excessively forgiving of a franchise release.

It’s made the term “fanboy” truly versatile. Unfortunately, it’s also made it so versatile as to have broken it. Now it’s as weak an insult as calling someone an “idiot.” It’s so relative as to be useless as a universal measure.

When people insulted me for liking The Phantom Menace, the term “fanboy” was something mean and dismissive. When vicious assaults were launched from places like Ain’t It Cool News the term was the signal flare of sneering distaste from the self-appointed tastemakers of nerd culture.

What a weird time to live through a term’s most vicious cycle and the moment during which it lost meaning. It’s got to be some sort of record.

And to think it all seems to have happened within the same franchise lifespan!

 

 

#AvengersEndgame’s Mixed-Up Messages on Loss & Death

This is the one obligatory “Spoiler Warning” you get. Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s trailer for their mildly-interesting Spider-Man™ sequel felt free to dive into Avengers®: Endgame© spoilers™ barely two weeks beyond the release of their latest Avengers® box office behemoth, so I feel free to do the same.

If you want to enjoy these thoughts, know that I’ll be discussing Avengers®: Endgame© and all the other Marvel©®™ properties relevant to the discussion.

If you proceed, it’s not on me. Also, as fair warning, you might hate what I’m about to say.

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man in Avengers Endgame, which is an Avengers movie called Avengers Endgame with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man.
“This helmet is recording a ton of spoilers, though its existence isn’t supported by the way my  armor worked in Infinity War.”

Everything About This Franchise Exposes How We’re Unwilling to Let Go

One of the most important lessons that a human being can learn is to “let go.” The past is behind us, the present is fleeting, and the future is upon us.

Popular entertainment used to support this lesson. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is all about letting go of the past and embracing what we still have. Anakin’s fatal downfall in Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is his inability to release his attachments and understand that, however painful it is, we have to accept that we can’t control the change.

Heck, Shmi herself imparts this lesson to Anakin as he prepares to leave Tatooine in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It’s one of the most powerful moments in the saga, truth be told.

(Of course I’m setting aside religious debates about an afterlife. That’s a different conversation. What we’re discussing here has to do with how those of us left behind deal with death as it affects us.)

Have We Regressed?

A mere 20 years later, the lesson of our most popular franchise movie hit is that our ultimate goal is to undo tragedy. This seems to work against the theme at play in the earlier part of the movie. It drives me nuts, actually.

They “undid” Thor’s lost eye in Infinity War, and then they “undid” the loss of Mjolnir in Endgame. They “undid” his maturity and actually regressed him to a point where he abdicated his hard-earned growth into leadership.

They gave Hulk a fascinating inner conflict in Infinity War, and then got rid of it with a (wait for it) snap in Endgame. Captain America is able to undo not just the removal of the Infinity Stones from the timeline(s), but the entire tragic sacrifice that defined his character since Captain America: The First Avenger.

Gamorra gets replaced with an alternate version of Gamorra. This undoes the sacrifice that “couldn’t be” undone, albeit in a unique way.

I’m completely aware that the death of Iron Man and Black Widow are supposedly  irreversible per this story. The twist is that since they’ve introduced time-travel-at-whim, and shown a willingness to bring Gamorra back from the past to use her character again despite her own “irreversible” death, I’m not willing to accept it as permanent.

As Avengers®: Endgame© winds down, it seems the ultimate goal was…stasis.

This captures a seeming cultural obsession with “death denial” that drives people to all sorts of measures to undo the aging process. It’s fascinating to me.

Fans on the one hand seem to be obsessed with progress, but only so far as that’s defined as “story beats.” Avengers®: Endgame© reveals that as a story arc, the most important thing in a modern franchise is to control life to the point where pain and death not just minimized, but surmountable and erasable.

To prove I’m not just picking on Marvel, I’ll also call out the last moment in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Extended Cuts which telegraphs that Superman isn’t staying dead. The heroic sacrifice in that movie is promised to be undone before the end credits even roll. Infinity War at least had the decency to self-contain as a story.

AVENGERS-EndCraig
I admit I’d be distraught about losing that face, too, though.

Even The Transformers: The Movie Had the Courage to Wipe Out Old Characters

The Transformers: The Movie (1986) was a virtual bloodbath (oilsport?) that slaughtered so many old characters in the first half of the movie that the remaining cast was almost unrecognizable at the end. Kids were traumatized by the death of Optimus Prime (spoilers!) and disoriented by the transformation of Megatron into Galvatron. Everything was the same, but never the same again.

That is, until the outcry from kids and parents was so great they brought Optimus Prime back from the dead in the television series (spoilers!). Kids couldn’t handle the idea that their heroes were gone forever.

Naturally, terrified of losing their viewer base of children, they felt they had to bring him back. Far be it from them to teach kids that the farewell of death, as painful as it is, is something that we have to accept. Far be it from the parents to teach their kids that, as much as they cried at the death of Optimus Prime, it was a lesson to learn about treasuring life and legacy.

Optimus Prime teaches the same lesson that our elders always have. That we die is not the important part of this material world; it’s what we leave behind. Hot Rod became Rodimus Prime when he realized it wasn’t anyone’s duty but his own to accept these things and move forward.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears that when comparing Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©, it seems that Transformers: The Movie had a healthier approach to the themes of death and farewell.

I remind you that I liked Disney®©™’s Marvel©®™’s Avengers®: Endgame©. I’m just pointing something out.

If you think I’m wrong, feel free to leave a comment.

‘Til all are one!

Optimus Prime dying in The Transformers The Movie a Transformers movie with Optimus Prime in 1986 that's a Transformers movie called The Transformers The Movie which was released in 1986 with Optimus Prime.
Spoilers.

A Question About How It Was Determined Who Lived and Died in #InfinityWar as I Prepare to Watch #AvengersEndgame

This post is timed to launch on the first day that normal people can see #AvengersEndgame, because I figure why not try to do something like that to ride the #Marvel wave of #Disney marketing that commands we pay attention.

As a warning, I’m attempting to hashtag everything that might be worthy of a hashtag on #Twitter in the coming days, as regards #AvengersEndgame. If you’re wondering why, it’s because I do this to entertain myself. It entertains me. Everyone else leans into hashtag culture, so I will, too.

My own growing apathy about the #Marvel franchise as a whole is well-documented. It’s been a long time, I’m tired, and I’m ready to get off this ride. It’s not them, it’s me. They’re who they’ve always been, I think that I’m just in a different place. It happens.

Yes, I admit that I’ll likely change my tune for #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy Vol. 3, but those have always been outliers in my opinion. However, I have to admit that by the time it’s released, I won’t even care about that.

movie theater screen in a movie theater which has a screen which is what movie theaters have, which is movie theater screens.
They could release an #Avengers movie that was just this blank screen for three hours, and at least 48% of #Marvel fans would tear apart the first critics.

Why Were Specifically Half the #Avengers Wiped Out at the End of #InfinityWar?

When #Thanos snapped his fingers, an event “cleverly” referred to by #Marvel fans as the #Snappening, why were specifically half of the #Avengers wiped out? Couldn’t the mathematical probabilities have impacted them disproportionately in some fashion?

To be clear, I’m not fuzzy on the storytelling decision-making that spared them. I understand the marketing reasons that certain #Avengers had to survive as well. I mean, heck, they couldn’t even fit all of them into one movie last time. They had to be expected to thin the ranks after hitting critical mass.

It just seems that #Thanos constructed a very specific mathematical formula in his brain to wipe out half of each population down to each subset affected. This is opposed to a flat half, which would have left open the potential for the #Avengers to be reduced by any variable from zero to one hundred percent.

I understand #Thanos had all six #InfinityStones at his command, and was able to see myriad possibilities. I guess above all else I’m impressed with #Thanos’ presence of mind to “tell” the stones, specifically, to wipe out the half the #Avengers, then half the remaining population of the each country on each planet on the universe.

Maybe it’s the lazy side of me, which is an admittedly dominant side, that just would have told the stones to wipe out half and leave it at that. I wouldn’t care if all the #Avengers survived, or if all of them were destroyed completely. If I’m #Thanos, “my goal” is simply a gross reduction of 50%. If one planet survives and another remains untouched…it shouldn’t really matter.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s too precise. I’m also saying that these are the sorts of reasons I’d be even more dangerous if I were #Thanos. I’m just kidding, of course. I’d be less dangerous, because I’d use the #InfinityGauntlet to ensure endless resources and mitigate damage…instead of seeing mass murder as a viable option.

Crazy me!

It’s a Reasonable Question Leading into #AvengersEndgame

This is a reasonable question about #AvengersInfinityWar. I don’t think it’s even that nerdy. It’s a little bit nerdy, but not as bad as some of the other things I’ve written.

I’m graciously setting aside the entire idea that #CaptainMarvel would be guaranteed to survive, too. I’m completely ignoring the fact that somehow #NickFury knew in his core being that there was a zero percent chance that #CaptainMarvel was going to be turned into toxic ash.

For that matter, I’m ignoring the fact that #Thanos the “environmentalist” turned half of everyone into nothing in an instant. From an environmental standpoint, this would almost guarantee cataclysmic results on industrialized planets! People working nuclear power plants would disappear, guaranteeing at least one Fukushima-style catastrophe. Airplanes would plummet from the sky, unless he further delineated that only one of any set of pilots disappear from an aircraft unless there was only one pilot, in which case an extra passenger would disappear, unless there was…

…and so forth. I mean, I’m just sayin’.

#Thanos in #InfinityWar which is a #marvel movie with the #avengers in the #mcu which is a prelude to #AvengersEndgame and filled with enough #hashtags to make the sanest man #mad.
Turns out, he’s not as good a planner as people thought.

I’m Already Tired of #AvengersEndgame

I’m sure that headline is going to get as much attention as it can, given that I don’t put much effort into pimping this blog. It’s not as evocative and troubling as Naked Yoda, and not as potentially problem-causing as the republishing of my letterboxd review of Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

Despite my self-imposed absence on social media right now, there’s still something that’s made it through the veil of silence. Advertising and hype for Avengers: Endgame. Or, as seems mandatory to type it now, #AvengersEndgame.

That spins me off in a different tangent, but I’ll save that for another time. I’m still trying to maintain my streak and make it to 30 unbroken days of blogging, and I have to squirrel away as many topics as I can.

Don’t Worry, I Still Want to See #AvengersEndgame

Let’s be perfectly clear here. I am looking forward to seeing it, but largely because I think I’m ready to close the Marvel®™© franchise chapter of my life.

I am a fan of Marvel®™© movies. I’ve seen the majority of them in theaters. I have seen all but three of them, even Iron Man 2, which…was Iron Man 2. I’m a fan of certain movies more than others, and downright dislike a few, but I’ve been a casual fan.

I know I am openly critical of the way people approach their “reviews” of Marvel®™© movies. It’s with good reason: people who are fans of the franchise view the movies through distorted lenses. Their perceptions are colored by each entry’s place in the larger narrative. Excuses are made.

Being off social media for the time being, I’m largely unaware of how hard the push is for #AvengersEndgame. I know that it was quieter than expected because of various speculated reasons, as they gamed their SEO strategies to funnel all the curious questions into site traffic.

Yet I’m tired of all the hype already. It’s partly residual burnout from the run up to Avengers: Infinity War. But this marketing behemoth is so unstoppable, it reached me during my social media sabbatical. I saw each poster, got links about when tickets were going on sale, got updates until I didn’t want any more.

Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark who is Iron Man in Iron Man 3 where Tony Stark is talking about Iron Man in Iron Man 3.
“To be fair, most of my dialogue is simply a bunch of one-liners like an Arnold Schwarzenegger role.”

The End of a Marathon

What complicates it all is that I’ve been with the Marvel®™© machine as long as everyone else. I got hyped for early releases. As boring as it is to recite now, I still think Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a magnificent work with important things to say.

I also think that the intended audience doesn’t care half as much about what the movies have to say as the simple segment of the larger arc they represent. That’s one thing that really jumped out about Black Panther; it had something interesting to say.

To its credit, Avengers: Infinity War also had something interesting to say, but everyone was so caught up in sharing their emotional turmoil from the end of the movie that it seems lost by the wayside. That’s not the movie’s fault, though, so no points deducted there.

#AvengersEndgame is known to be the closing chapter to an enormously well-managed larger story arc. Each piece has been hand-crafted with the sole purpose of coming together like a big puzzle. This is the final piece in that puzzle.

This is the reward for sticking with it. Then new movies will come along. But for at least one set of these characters, this is the end of a long, long race.

It’s the end of a marathon for those of us who’ve watched since the beginning.

man running at marathon event
“Loser has to buy everyone’s tickets!” Photo by Lukasz Dziegel on Pexels.com

The Sun Also Sets

It’s just that I’m ready to stop caring. Whatever happens will happen, and this “era” in Marvel®™© movies will end. The next “phase” will begin and I’ve given over so much attention and money that I’m coming to realize how much other quality film gets lost in the wayside.

I’m legitimately curious to see how things play out in #AvengersEndgame. I want to see them work their way out of the corner, and if my guesses – or anyone’s – are right about what the solution is.

Then, once I’ve seen it, I’ll gladly ride off into the sunset as a fan. I’m sure I’ll catch the ones that intrigue me more than others, whether in the theater or on home video.

There’s been some real entertainment along the way. But as far as hype machines, advanced ticket sales, and other things…I’m out.

brown and green grass field during sunset
Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

P.S. This is not an invitation to try to have me transfer excitement to the DC movie universe. That’s not how this works.