Six Thoughts about The Marvels and What Marvel Is Doing Wrong
As I sat in my car on the way home from the movie theater, several thoughts spun in my head about The Marvels.
The latest Marvel movie offers many positives, but it doesn’t quite get to the fireworks factory.
I wrote a review that you can read on MickeyBlog, but I’d like to dive a bit deeper now.
Here are six thoughts I’ve had about The Marvels.
I’ll follow this up with a few thoughts about the state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a companion piece next week.
Brevity Is the Soul of Wit
An early comic book movie from the 1990s worked as a proof of concept and quickly developed into a franchise.
That title was X-Men, and the director of that project proved to be a monster.
Even before then, the individual’s directorial skills proved questionable, at least on X-Men.
Fox threw away hours of footage in settling on a barebones 105-minute final cut that’s really closer to 95 minutes.
The people in charge of the editing bay, none of whom were Singer, correctly cut all the scenes and dialogue that didn’t work.
But X-Men got one thing very, very right, which was the casting, especially Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.
More importantly, X-Men deleted anything that involved stray characters who weren’t part of the core.
The editing bay team did this out of desperation more than anything else, but it helped strip X-Men down to its essential component: the Mutants themselves.
More than a quarter-century later, we are STILL seeing some of these characters appear in modern MCU titles.
Paraphrasing James Carville, it’s the characters, dummy!
With The Marvels, director Nia DaCosta got that part right.
The four characters who matter are Monica Rambeau, Kamala Khan, Carol Danvers, and Nick Fury.
While Samuel L. Jackson is finally moving like someone in his mid-70s, the quartet provides the core of this story. And those are the parts that work the best.
Marvel saved this movie by cutting out all the fluff, although it came at a high cost…
Marvel Needs Better Villains
I’m writing this roughly 16 hours after I watched The Marvels, and there was a jaw-dropping Loki season finale in between that has distracted me.
So, my brain is bouncing around between multiple aspects of the MCU.
I’m currently trying to catalog the last two main Marvel stories we’ll get until next July.
Yes, What If…? has moved its release date up to Christmas 2023, and Echo will follow soon afterward. Those projects are afterthoughts, though.
Marvel is standing on Loki and The Marvels for now. Then, it’ll switch to Deadpool 3, having delayed Captain America: Brave New World until 2025.
As I watch the turmoil occur behind the scenes, I kinda want to grab Kevin Feige by the shoulders and scream, “IT’S THE VILLAINS!!!”
That’s where Marvel has failed lately, and I can make this point simply.
You remember who the villain was in WandaVision, right? How about Black Widow or The Falcon and the Winter Soldier?
Sometimes, the MCU has taken a big swing, like the surprising reveal in The Eternals, but we live in a post-Thanos world. That’s the measuring stick for villainy.
Loki would qualify as well. That character also serves as proof that yesterday’s villain can become much more.
So, what happened to Dar-Benn’s scenes that caused Marvel to cut so much of the character’s role? Was it underwritten?
Did international events cause some of her Kree civil war storyline to become too hot-button?
We’ll find out at some point, but it’s crushing to know that Marvel shot hours of footage and only found a few minutes where Dar-Benn distinguished herself.
Zawe Ashton is an exceptional actress. She deserved better.
Characters and villains, Marvel. Characters and villains.
More Is More
I realize that the phrase “less is more” signifies a similar message to brevity being the soul of wit.
In the case of the MCU, more is more, though. It’s a tautology.
Specifically, this film reintroduces S.A.B.E.R., the Strategic Aerospace Biophysics and Exolinguistic Response aerospace defense system.
This unit functions as a Skrull/human initiative led by Nick Fury. We’ve seen pieces of it before, primarily in post-credits scenes, but that’s it.
In The Marvels, the plot finally takes us to an interstellar space station, about whom we learn basically nothing throughout the course of the film.
Well, some of the people working there suffer a grim, albeit hysterical, fate, but that’s about it.
Marvel teased this S.A.B.E.R./Skrull storyline in Captain Marvel in 2019.
Four years later, we’re no closer to knowing anything about it other than that it’s in deep space.
The production crew constructed an entire orbital space set and then basically used it for one prolonged cat vomit gag.
Now, the joke landed. Nobody’s complaining about the joke. But who at Marvel thought that was enough storytelling on the space station?
Marvel Has a Money Problem
No, this conversation isn’t going to go the way you think. It’s not about the box office, but it ties into what I just said.
A few years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles called themselves a dream team because they signed any number of high-profile free agents.
The veterans expressed confidence and had so much swagger during the off-season. Once the games started, they had no chemistry together.
That team missed the playoffs, and many of the so-called stars quickly left for other teams.
Similarly, the New York Mets just had the highest payroll in the history of baseball.
The number rose and fell, depending on various interpretations of contracts and the luxury tax, but let’s use $380 million as a final total.
The 2023 Mets won 75 games, which placed them nine games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks, who eventually made it to the World Series.
The Diamondbacks had a 2023 active roster payroll of less than $100 million. All-in, that team cost a frugal $143.2 million.
Where am I going with this? Having all the budget money in the world doesn’t matter if you won’t use it correctly.
That orbital space station budget wasn’t a total waste, but it also wasn’t money well-spent.
Circling back to Secret Invasion, I kinda want to study the accounting ledger to figure out how Marvel burned $35 million an episode on a garbage series.
Marvel has fallen victim to the same mistake as the Mets and that previous Eagles team. It’s just throwing money at the problem and relying on star power.
Contrast that to the current Philadelphia Eagles roster. This team, which is probably the best in football as I type this, has built everything around a core of a solid offensive line and defensive line.
The Eagles (eventually) learned from their mistake and focused on building a sustainable foundation.
Marvel needs to get back to basics and do the same.
The recently fired Victoria Alonso built her pristine Hollywood reputation on a Midas Touch when it came to casting.
I’m working my way through MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios right now – expect some articles later – but something has jumped out.
People at Marvel had wanted Timothy Olyphant (!) to play Iron Man before Robert Downey Jr. entered the picture.
Due to how radioactive the troubled RDJ had been at the time, Marvel’s Board of Directors strongly resisted that idea.
Everything worked out okay in the end because Marvel banked on talent.
Similarly, no matter how my tone sounds here, The Marvels works as a movie because of the talent.
Teyonah Parris stole scenes on WandaVision and continues to excel as a charming, innately decent superheroine.
Brie Larson still isn’t the best at sounding tough, but she is so infinitely watchable on screen.
There’s a jump rope scene in The Marvels, and my two thoughts were 1) She’s so uncoordinated and 2) these three are so fun together.
Finally, we have Iman Vellani, who is living her best life as a Marvel fan who has somehow had a genie grant her wish and allow her to become a part of Marvel.
If you’re familiar with Almost Famous, Iman Vellani is pretty much William Miller, which means she’s Marvel’s Cameron Crowe.
Vellani is currently writing Marvel comics, and she represents the future of the entire brand.
Marvel should be playing up this fact whenever possible. From my perspective, Kevin Feige should start doing the Stan Lee cameos we all miss.
Later, after Feige stops doing them, that role should go to Vellani. Sixty years from now, she should still be the face of Marvel. I believe this.
I would love to watch the three actresses work together again. That’s exceptional casting.
Marvel Screwed Up. Again.
My final thought here is simple.
Marvel had absolutely no reason to air the season finale of Loki on the same evening that The Marvels opened in theaters.
Doing so served to discredit and diminish The Marvels, almost as if Marvel had no faith in the title.
For my part, I attended a 6:50 p.m. screening of the film, returned home at 9:30 p.m., and watched Loki’s finale immediately afterward.
By 10:30 p.m., all thoughts of The Marvels had completely left my mind.
During the second half of 2023, Disney+ could have slotted Loki anywhere between the season finale of Secret Invasion on July 26th and New Year’s Eve.
I mean literally anywhere. We’re talking about more than 150 dates on the calendar.
Why in the world would Marvel and Disney+ choose the day when The Marvels enters theaters? It’s just bad business.
Even worse, this action becomes the latest demonstration that Marvel leadership appears asleep at the wheel.
That’s a problem that’s growing harder and harder to overlook.
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