The future of movies is absolutely Marvellous
With new superhero sequels and blockbusters in the pipeline, Marvel and Disney are still in control of Hollywood — at least for now
On Saturday in Hall H of the Comic Con gathering in San Diego, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige triumphantly arrived to tell a packed audience of fanboys, comic geeks and schlock-lovers that the future of the blockbuster is still firmly in the hands of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
Feige’s announcement of phase four of the Disney-owned behemoth’s planned films for the coming two years featured appearances by Oscar winners Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie and left most fans assured that, while the rest of Hollywood searches for uncertain sure things to keep shareholders happy, Disney and Marvel are still firmly in control of the future of the movies for the next few years.
The announcement arrived on the back of the news that Marvel’s decision to rerelease its huge hit and conclusion to several narrative strings of the MCU — Avengers: Endgame — has paid off, pushing the film to the top-grossing spot of all time, overtaking James Cameron’s Avatar.
Since 2007, when he took over the top job at Marvel, Feige has successfully appealed to the comic book giant’s obsessive fan base with a series of films that have featured interconnected characters from the universe created by Stan Lee and others in print to create the biggest and best-selling franchise in the history of the movies.
He’s done this by appearing as just another fanboy — dressed in his baseball cap, blazer and jeans and using the power of online chat groups and websites that devote inordinate amounts of time to speculation about what to expect from each of the films following trailer and teaser releases that ensure record-breaking pre-sale ticket sales for most of the films.
Comic Con, which used to be a niche event for Trekkies, Star Wars enthusiasts and cosplay lovers is now one of the biggest events on the Disney calendar where first look trailers and shorts are revealed to gauge audience response to the MCU and other big industry players’ planned projects.
This year, Feige has smartly sidestepped expectations by placing new projects based on lesser-known MCU characters at the top of the slate instead of the expected sequels to smash hits such as Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel.
New sequels championed by Feige include a sequel to the 2016 Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch due for release next year, a new Thor film, which will star Natalie Portman as the hammer-wielding heroine, the Avengers prequel Black Widow starring Scarlett Johansson and The Eternals – an adaptation of a niche MCU series starring Jolie and directed by indie filmmaker Chloé Zhao.
Feige also threw a cat among the internet pigeons by announcing the studio’s plans to reboot the hugely popular late ’90s black vampire series Blade, replacing previous star Wesley Snipes with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali.
Marvel is also keenly aware of questions of representation and gender, which have been the subject of much outcry and criticism in Hollywood. So, many of its new titles will be directed by female filmmakers and filmmakers of colour.
A play has also been made for the Asian market thanks to the announcement of a film based on MCU’s martial arts hero Shang Chi titled Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It is due for release in February 2020 and stars Hong Kong cinema legend Tony Leung.
All of which is supposedly welcome evidence of Feige and the MCU’s awareness that times and attitudes are changing and that Marvel plans to continue to be the go-to, one-stop studio for a new woke generation and its concerns, packaging films that acknowledge new concerns without too much in-depth examination but with enough awareness to create reams of online appreciation for their efforts.
There’s also the question of streaming and the MCU’s potentially huge contribution to attracting viewers for the new Disney + service that will be launched in November and take all the studio’s previously quite successful and profitable offerings away from Netflix. These shows will include outings for popular Avengers characters such as Anthony Mackie’s The Falcon, Paul Bettany’s Vision, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, which the studio is hoping will provide a potentially lucrative base on which to build the future of the channel.
The truth, though, is that however Feige, Marvel and big bosses at Disney are spinning it, the bottom line of all of these supposedly woke and groundbreaking announcements is a very cunning and savvy awareness of the corporation’s bottom line. Whether or not this will mean another decade of dominance for the MCU will have to be seen but the company should be aware that if the history of Hollywood and television production has taught us anything, it’s that sometimes too much of a good thing is just that and inevitably the magic carpet that they’re riding loses its power and deposits them fatally back to earth because, believe it or not, not even the hysterically obsessed fans at Comic Con are as stupid as they look.