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The Crisis in Confidence at Marvel

The article is very polite, throws praise on Kevin Feige, but it does look inside the process of making the sausage and sees a very real level of outright delusion inside of the company, no longer able to keep a grip on even who and what the characters are...

Article at Variety

This past September, a group of Marvel creatives, including studio chief Kevin Feige, assembled in Palm Springs for the studio’s annual retreat. Most years, the vibe would have been confident — even cocky — given how the premier superhero brand, owned by Disney since 2009, has remade the entertainment business in its image.  

But this occasion was angst-ridden — everyone at Marvel was reeling from a series of disappointments on-screen, a legal scandal involving one of its biggest stars and questions about the viability of the studio’s ambitious strategy to extend the brand beyond movies into streaming. The most pressing issue to be discussed at the retreat was what to do about Jonathan Majors, the actor who had been poised to carry the next phase of the Marvel

The article puts a lot of the burden of Marvel cinema/TV's grim future on the back of Jonathan Majors, more or less creating an unintended (or maybe intended) corollary that brings to mind DC's troubles with Ezra Miller.

But Marvel's troubles predates Majors and the stodgy box office of Ant-Man III Quantumania. The accumulating baggage of mundane (or flat out mediocre) "product" (as its called in the article) combined with Disney's bad vibes in the marketplace is enough to knock down any previously profitable franchise, especially when just being lousy is enough to bring the gravy train to a halt, let alone warfare among the fans becoming pro-and-very, very-negative against the company and people producing the "product."

The article is very polite, throws praise on Kevin Feige, but it does look inside the process of making the sausage and sees a very real level of outright delusion inside of the company, no longer able to keep a grip on even who and what the characters are:

As public criticism mounts, Feige is pulling the plug on scripts and projects that aren’t working. Case in point: the “Blade” reboot. With Mahershala Ali signed on for the eponymous role of a vampire, things looked promising for a 2023 release date. But the project has gone through at least five writers, two directors and one shutdown six weeks before production. One person familiar with the script permutations says the story at one point morphed into a narrative led by women and filled with life lessons. Blade was relegated to the fourth lead, a bizarre idea considering that the studio had two-time Oscar winner Ali on board.

Comic book fans have for decades (and decades) had a basic complaint about many live action productions using comic book characters: the productions don't understand the characters nor how to tell the stories featuring the characters. Hollywood has a long history of adapting novels, plays and smaller-budget movies into big-budget movies and during that process getting the idea of improving these "proven properties" with their own new and improved ideas, often leading to disaster or alienation of the core fan base. To show how this virus has spread, superhero films and TV from both Marvel and DC have begun to feature primary characters invented ad hoc with no prior comic book basis, showing how the productions were intent upon moving beyond the comic book source material and.... well, here we are.

Sources say there have been talks to bring back the original gang for an “Avengers” movie. This would include reviving Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, both of whom were killed off in “Endgame.” (That shouldn’t be a stumbling block — in comic books, beloved characters are often killed off, only to be resurrected thanks to the power of things like the multiverse.)

This reads like off-the-wall speculation. It would cost a lot of money to overcome the bad relationship developed between Disney/Marvel and some of the actors who have departed, and throwing money at that problem would just be a reflection of throwing money at all the other problems (bad VX is specifically examined in the Variety article at length).

But beyond that is a different issue: the success of Marvel films pulling in gigantic box office overcome the inclinations of many Hollywood people who would otherwise not be caught dead in a "spandex movie." Now that box office is faltering, there's going to be plenty of actors who quietly side with Martin Scorsese in his war on "comic book culture." Because big box office is no longer assured (in fact, its starting to look like the opposite with everyone predicting a ticket disaster with The Marvels just a week away from starting, and the predictions about December's Aquaman 2 is just as poor) a lot of talent simply won't want to be listed in the cast of productions that are likely to bomb right out of the gate, no matter how much Mickey Mouse money is thrown at them or the film making.

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Original page November 16, 2023