Marvel’s The Interventioni2t: Executive Orders in the Wake of Edgar Wright's 'Ant-Man' Departure
The following remarks were delivered by Dingo Fontana, professional interventionist, to the American Superhero Studio Executives Society (ASSES) during their annual meeting in Los Angeles. Reprinted with permission. You can read transcripts of Dingo’s other comic-related interventions here.
Gentlemen, please take your seats so we can begin. Sir, if you insist on blowing lines off of that hooker’s labia…wait, is she still alive? She is? Wow, I had no idea. OK, sorry. If you continue to blow lines off that call girl’s vagina during my presentation, you’ll have to do so outside.
[studio executive shrugs, throws call girl over his shoulder, walks outside]
Listen, facts are facts: you all are crushing it. Comic book films are now self-sustaining entities. Three of the 12 highest-grossing films from last year were based on graphic novels, as are two of the top three (Amazing Spider Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) so far this year. The new X-Men film raked in more cash over Memorial Day weekend than 656 movies earned in all of 2013. By every fiscal standard known to man, you’re all winning.
Entertainment must fulfill higher standards, however. There’s a substantial difference between profitable and memorable. Transformers earned more in one summer than most US companies generate in a year. That doesn’t mean it’s well regarded.
[studio exec raises hand]
“Transformers is awesome.”
Well, there were few scenes here and there that took your breath away, but overall…
“Chief, listen up: it’s awesome, OK? You hear me? Awesome.”
[chugs two Monster energy drinks, carves the cans into stick figures, aligns them so they’re having sex]
I’m here to discuss a worrying trend: prioritizing dollars over quality. As the studios you represent grow more and more powerful, signs have emerged that key components like plot, character development, and creative vision are taking a backseat to ancillary revenue streams - spinoffs, sequels, and merchandising. These trends, if left unaddressed, could turn your prize cash cow into grade-Z Chalupa Supreme meat.
How many of you here work for Marvel?
[dozens of hands appear in the air]
Great, we’ll start with you. Marvel faces some rare bad press over Edgar Wright’s decision to leave the Ant-Man director’s chair over “creative differences.” According to Latino Review, those differences included Marvel executives hiring low-level screenwriters to rework the script by Wright and Joe Cornish. The draft reportedly came back “poorer” and reflected not Wright’s vision, but one laid out by Marvel honchos. “Franchise characters” for everyone!
That’s all unverified information, of course, but this isn’t the first time a Marvel director has left a project due to studio interference. Patty Jenkins was fired as the Thor: The Dark World director in 2011. A source told the Hollywood Reporter that, “Marvel had certain things they needed to achieve. There were constraints on what she could do creatively,” i.e., the film had to fit the sprawling Marvel Phase 2 continuity and not contain anything that might derail the next 10 years of planning. Jenkins’ replacement, Alan Taylor, also complained about Marvel meddling in everything from forced exposition to added scenes to final cut. It’s worth mentioning that the second Thor was an incomprehensible mess.
Things aren’t much better on the small screen. “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” debuted last fall to monster buzz and spectacular ratings — 11.9 million viewers, the most for any network drama debut in four years. Its May finale drew less than half that number. What the hell happened in eight months? Well, Marvel made the showrunners dedicate 13 episodes to villain-of-the-week procedural nonsense in order to protect an April Captain America: Winter Solider reveal that drastically altered the series. In other words, they squandered two-thirds of “S.H.I.E.L.D’s” freshman season and millions of viewers in an attempt to get more people to see the Captain America sequel. That’s not a television show. It’s a bad marketing campaign. Yes, the series is better now. At least, that’s what I heard. I’m one of the millions who quit back in November.
One could fairly make the case that Marvel views their properties as ancillary revenue streams first and respectable standalone entertainment vehicles second. There’s a formula that works financially. While Marvel does release films that are both competent and lucrative, by marginalizing distinct voices they run the risk that their brand becomes a pile of homogenized goop.
[Marvel exec stands up]
“Listen pal, I know Gwyneth Paltrow. She’s been in a bunch of our movies. And she’s no queer, I can tell you that much.”
Excuse me, I think you misunderstood what I’m…
“As for Ant-Man, Wright just didn’t get it. He kept saying crazy shit like, ‘I don’t care that this character has to survive for Avengers 3. His arc demands a noble death. There’s just no story past this point.’ We have toys to sell, E-Dubya. He and his stiff upper lip can traipse back across the Pacific and complain to Earl Grey that he was screwed all day long. Point is, we had different goals.”
“Everyone keeps going on about the screenplay changes. The script wasn’t spectacular anyway. For one, the thing was rife with misspellings. Cornish kept adding all these extra ‘U’ letters to words. ‘Favourite.’ ‘Honourable.’ It was weird. Wright assured us that the film would make tens of millions of pounds, but we’re in this for money. We don’t really care how many minorities fist-bump each other on the way out of the theater. Or as Wright said, ‘Theatre.’”
Uhhh, let’s move on. Is anyone from Sony in attendance? I’d like to discuss Amazing Spider-Man 2’s relatively lukewarm box office take and Sony’s decision to nonetheless move forward with a pair of sequels and spinoffs (Sinister Six, Venom). You sir. Hello. What’s your name?
“I dunno, who cares?”
Sigh…what is your role with the company?
“I’m a contract lawyer.”
Oh, Ok. Is there anyone from filmmaking department here today?
”[rolls eyes] There is no filmmaking department. The entire studio is me and two paralegals. We review all our existing properties once a quarter to determine what action, if any, is required to maintain the rights. If it’s necessary to release a film, we plug the characters and number of desired spinoffs/sequels into an algorithm written by an intern from DeVry University’s marine biology department, and it spits out a script. Then we trick some limey bastard into starring in 17 of these, hire a director that will work cheap and stick to the Mad Libs screenplay, ask marketing to create some insipid NBA tie-ins, and backstroke through our money like Scrooge McDuck.”
What about quality? No disrespect to your computer program, but movies typically involve more than paint-by-numbers plots and massive FX budgets.
“You’re f*ckin adorable. I bet you’d be right at home in my mistress’ Coach purse. Does the film feature beloved characters from our youth? Do buildings explode, bro? Is the cast mostly male and white? Is there a secret scene that sets up nine sequels and causes geeks to unzip their pants in full view of theater staff? If the answer to all those questions is yes, then it’s a great movie. If not, screen that shit for the granola munchers at the Tofu International Film Festival or whatever. Sony rhymes with ‘money,’ if, uh, you use the hard ‘O’ sound, and we’re about money.”
You’re missing the point. While you may be printing money now, there’s no guarantee this model is perpetually sustainable. We’re this close to a bubble, folks. Laziness and oversaturation have made audiences are more circumspect than ever before. CGI and nostalgia isn’t enough to get people’s attention. If you want them to commit to your product, deliver something worth committing to rather than an extended marketing campaign or two-hour trailer. Varied voices should be encouraged, not silenced. Because if these properties become wholly indistinguishable carbon copies of one another, the entire industry will suffer.
[studio executive kicks in door]
“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Fontana, but that call girl from earlier? I think she just turned into a hooker.”
This meeting is adjourned.
Brian Byrd is a prolific tweeter of subpar tweets. Follow him on Twitter.