In late November director James Gunn took to his Facebook account to make a point about shared movie universes. And he made a great one.
As you all know (or maybe don’t), Marvel stepped out and took a risk when they produced the 2008 film, Iron Man. They were expecting something of a success, but had no clue exactly how much of a success the film would bring to the studio.
But it seems that as they were plotting and planning on the creation of the movie they also had an idea of a plan. A plan that if nothing came of it, it would have just faded into obscurity and we would still be stuck with more vampire and classic monster movies, or botched and rebotched relaunches of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and the like.
But instead, Iron Man made around $585M worldwide. And that set things in motion. They took the risk, ignored all the writers and directors that declined to accept an active part in creating the movie and moved forward, making Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau household names.
You have to wonder how many people are kicking themselves for declining the opportunity. But then again, had they not, maybe the film would not have been quite the same and Marvel’s entire film shared universe premise might have slid back into obscurity! (Kind of like, would Joss Whedon had landed the biggest gig ever had Fox actually not “foxed” with Firefly?)
But Marvel had this idea for their Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and it looked like they wanted to treat their movies much like they handled their comic titles, connecting one with the other, crossing titles and characters left and right through different realms. As movies were released and popular characters they still retained the rights to tested, other characters were introduced in one way or another via story lines or little micro-teases with the ever popular snippets in the credits scenes. Hence, the movie comic cross-over.
Yep, Marvel had a good idea that the movie-going audience was more than willing to accept. And then they took someone familiar to them, who was known for being able to handle character ensembles with great comedic timing in his writing and hired him to helm The Avengers and as the overlord of their cinematic universe. That “overlord” being Joss Whedon.
I loved how the naysayers stepped up about that move, hiring Joss, but then a billion dollars later… silence.
But this is all old news as the MCU is charging forward with lots of plans and having been then snatched up by Disney, well, the rest is becoming entertainment industry history. But I digress.
What got me going on this historical reminiscence is how Marvel set the tone and pace for comic book movies and how they are the trend setting studio with their shared movie universe. They seem to have done it right, as the movie-going audience has proven.
But Gunn made an interesting point in his FB post, when he says that some studios are forcing the issue of shared universes and trying to replicate Marvel’s success. Or as he put it,
“Execs and producers and sometimes even directors are focused on the big picture, without perfecting the task directly in front of them – making a great movie. And studios are trying to grow franchises from non-existent films or middling successes. It’s like they aren’t taking audiences into account at all anymore.”
I swear, to me, it seems he is almost calling out Sony with that last Spider-Man movie that acted like a stepping stone for multiple characters and events. And they shoved some story writing in for good measure.
He ends his statement by saying that, “remember that we as an industry exist to serve the audiences, to communicate with them – they have a voice in what we create as well. We are not here to dictate what they want to see, mostly because that’s simply not possible.”
And that, my dear friends is the bottom line and what endears Gunn to my movie senses.
Sure, we might trespass to the movie theater to see a film because it touches on something we like seeing. But if it doesn’t resonate with the fan, word of mouth kills the momentum of the box office and possibly any sequel.
Then there’s the premise that if a film barely makes enough money to warrant a sequel, well, to me, that is almost a warning bell. A warning that the studio will barely invest enough to make another one out of fear of losing profit and thus, possibly killing the franchise altogether with a crap second chapter.
Over the last few years I’ve watched WB and DC struggle to pull together their Justice League movie. They finally have a direction but with rumors of “no humor” allowed in their movies and no Christopher Nolan anywhere around to stamp his fingerprint on the production, well, we will have to wait and see. I understand trying to carry a serious tune, but to be honest, it sounds like they’re making their film in any way that is not like Marvel.
Then there’s the hacked Sony studio and their Sinister Six and another rebooted film in the Fantastic Four from Fox… I just don’t have the anticipation for these titles. Cripes, Sony had Sinister Six planes for Spider-Man 2, and then teased their presence in a quick scene with their equipment or gear in display cases.
I like what Gunn said… It is OK to have plans, but sincerely, focus on the film at hand and make it good first. Focus on what the fans will like. Not just digest, but truly like. Look at how Gunn pulled together an obscure Marvel franchise and made it a blockbuster. That’s what he meant.