Tales From The Marvel Universe: The Pressures of an ROI
One thing remains certain in this world other than death or taxes: Marvel as a property breathes incredible financial success. Everyone in the world now knows who the Avengers are, demonstrated by being one of the highest grossing films of all time. Iron Man 3 was the first film to spin-off the events of the Avengers and was easily the largest box-office hit of the year both domestically and worldwide. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron has officially been announced and has everyone excited to see Joss Whedon repeat his monstrous success one more time. In the meantime, however, some strange happenings have been coming out of The Walt Disney Company with regards to the Marvel Universe. The kinds of behaviors that investors normally have when their tie is starting to slowly strangle them.
The weird feeling started pointing its nose three weeks before the release of Iron Man 3. Disney/Marvel decided to change the pieces on the chessboard and asked all major theatre chains to take a smaller percentage of movie ticket sales. The bad press started dripping some serious ink and the studio was characterized as overly aggressive and unreasonable in their business dealings with distributors. The chains decided to stand united in response (a little bit like The Avengers when they’re all standing around in a circle) and chose not to sell tickets for Iron Man 3 unless Disney got off their backs. The Mouse House did. Referring to Disney’s revenue demands, AMC’s Chief Executive Gerry Lopez told The Los Angeles Times: “The depth and the breadth of the ask puts us in a very, very uncomfortable situation (…) clearly they are under some kind of financial pressure.” RED FLAG #1: MARVEL IS BULLYING ALL MAJOR THEATRE CHAINS IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.
Fast foward to the end of Summer 2013 where Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has clearly positioned itself as one of the most anticipated TV shows of the Fall. The show kicks in with a great pilot episode and seemingly promises to satisfy our Avengers cravings until 2015. However, only 4 episodes in, the show begins to show signs of weakness in terms of action and character development. Let’s look at a superhero TV show that’s done it right before in comparison: Smallville. Smallville followed a great format in the beginning of the series: a mysterious event occurs, Clark and Chloe play Sherlock to unravel the mystery, a big action filled climax, and finally what they learned from the episode. This is what made Smallville a great TV show – action mixed with good character development. However, it also worked because we actually cared about the fact that Clark was eventually set to become Superman.
When it comes to S.H.I.E.L.D., we don’t actually know who we’re supposed to be cheering for. Agent Coulson? Skye? The dude agent that never smiles? Marvel might forget that we don’t even know much about Coulson in the first place because he was merely a cameo in the other films. Though Clark Gregg does a great job playing Agent Coulson, our need to focus on him isn’t really defined. I’m sure if he died in the next episode (which he clearly can’t because of The Avengers), the show would still carry on and not have much impact. The show lacks an anchor, which is probably why viewers find it unsatisfying and have already started tuning off according to Nielsen ratings. Bottom line: It’s a bad show and since it wasn’t due to lack of resources or caring, it’s fair to assume that was due to a rush in production, script, and the overall creative process. But who keeps rushing them like that? The same folks that AMC’s Gerry Lopez was talking about? RED FLAG #2: MARVEL IS PUTTING OUT BRAND DAMAGING, LESSER QUALITY CONTENT IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.
Next up: Who are the Guardians of the Galaxy? Anyone? I consider myself a humble reader of mainstream comics, and yet all I know is that there is a racoon on the team and that Thanos has something to do with them. I can tell you about Spider-Man’s date of birth or all the characters that came and went through the revolving door at Avengers Mansion, but I honestly know zilch about the Guardians of the Galaxy. Who has decided to green-light that property when so many movies in recent years (cue in John Carter and Green Lantern) should have served as a warning sign?
According to IMDb, Chris Pratt plays Star Lord – an interplanetary policeman. I guess he might be considered the Green Lantern of the Marvel Universe. Zoe Saldana plays the daughter of Thanos, which could be a critical plot line of the movie (but again, what do I know about this movie?). And the two biggest names of the cast; Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, aren’t even physically in the movie – they are voice-acting for a CGI raccoon and “hyper-intelligent tree-like creature”, respectively. My guess is that they lacked the starpower to attract an audience, and neither Bradley Cooper nor Vin Diesel could turn down the publicity involved in attaching their names to Marvel just for a couple of headphone-wearing line delivery sessions. Same reason these sub-Pixar animated movies are always packed with big names. And if you aren’t shocked by the decision to make a GOTG movie, wait until Ant-Man shows up in 2015. That’s right, ANT-MAN is getting his own movie. Ant-Man. RED FLAG #3: MARVEL IS GREEN-LIGHTING B-GRADE LEVEL COMIC BOOK PROPERTIES IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.
If you disagree with my piece, your defense mechanisms should have kicked in by now. Every major entertainment brand does that! Marvel was giving sub-level heroes their movie properties back in the nineties! Distributors should thank their lucky stars they had Iron Man 3 this Summer! Okay, okay. But I have one more red flag for you. It’s when licensing goes beserk… The official news that Disney… are you ready? are you sitting down? Okay. That official news that Disney Consumer Products will market Marvel-branded fruits and vegetables. Holy cabbage, Thor!!! RED FLAG #4: MARVEL IS WHORING THEIR LICENSING ONTO ANY CONSUMER PRODUCT AVAILABLE TO MANKIND IN ORDER TO MAKE A QUICK BUCK.
Up until April 2013, the rule of thumb for Disney/Marvel was always to carefully build their brand and universe around Iron Man and The Avengers. That universe alone has limitless storytelling possibilities and one movie per annum sounded like the perfect release platform to keep audiences engaged for decades. Decades, however, don’t give you the cash flow necessary to pay your interest rates back. Interest rates, however again, that you might have incurred by spending 7.4 BILLION to buy Pixar, 4 BILLION to buy Marvel and another 4 BILLION to buy Lucasfilm. That’s over 15 BILLION dollars so regardless of how low-interest Disney’s borrowing plan might be, even The Avengers won’t come to their rescue fast enough.
Speaking of thunder, Thor 2 is coming out next month. I, for one, couldn’t be less thrilled to see it simply for the fact that I feel Marvel has been in overkill mode. It’s like I’ve been eating my favorite dish of pasta every single night for a year. Don’t get me wrong, I love pasta, but not as much as I used to. As a huge Joss Whedon fan, I sincerely hope he has a plan to make Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Guardians of the Galaxy tie-in more cohesively with the incredible universe he was able to craft with The Avengers. I’m just afraid that all this piggybacking might prove so heavy that he won’t be able to lift them up; instead, they’re simply going to bring him down.
– The Silent Shark