27 April 2018

Ingrinity Blar

Here we are folks. A week early, mostly to not run into Solo (2018) - ahh synergy, we have one of the most hotly anticipated films of all time. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) has been brewing for ten solid years and could very well become one of the biggest movies of all time.

That's all a given. I personally think this will easily outweigh some of the more recent Star Wars (maybe not The Force Awakens [2015] absurd $936 million domestic, but surely in that $700-800 million range). I mean, Black Panther (2018) just hit $681 million for the #3 all-time slot. The only question is just how high this thing can go. Maybe it does crack a billion at home and beat AVABAR (2009) worldwide. It's pre-release figures are insane and the hype is real.

Also, every MacGuffin becomes a Super-MacGuffin!
This is a different level of hype, though. It's almost a taken for granted hype. There was a certain level of excitement when Marvel first started cranking out really good movies that highlighted comparatively lesser-known, "B-level" superheros like Iron Man, and when they teased a major crossover Avengers movie, that was a big deal. In the end, that feels very surface-level though, now. The universe has pivoted more and more and steadily grown, actually teasing Thanos for longer than we were teased of the concept of an Avengers team-up. That timespan has given people plenty of time to catch-up, canonize all 18 Marvel movies in the popular consciousness, and expand little niches of the universe like sci-fi and magic and technology until they become as commonplace as they are in the preceding comic book source material.

We're at this weird crossroads now, then. There's a distinct feeling of finality to all this. I obviously have abstained from a lot of trailer watching, as per regulation, which is easier because I'm currently lacking a TV. That's where this hype is different. Advertisements are needed to get randos into the seats for sure, but for most folk this is just a culmination of a ten-year journey with these characters. You get the feeling we could see some major deaths, shake-ups, or changes.

And this is all supposedly only Part I, right? I mean, there's another one slated for next year. I suppose they want to keep that under wraps. We'll probably get a full trailer as the post-credits sequence of Infinity War. But there's where that weird crossroad comes into play. We're casually talking about this movie breaking a domestic billion dollar mark. They're going to make more. While this will likely be simply with a new cast of subtly shifting actors, it still represents a big change in what the MCU has long held sacred.

That's why I reject a lot of "superhero fatigue" bullshit. The public is clearly not fatigued. I think that critics are, but that's because they have always had their own little indie world. And when you strictly analyze a lot of these films, they're not totally great, but by and large they're not bad, either. An 18-film multi-arcing story with multiple directors, writers, and sometimes cast members is actually marvelously impressive to pull off. It's just that we need to see it as such.

This mostly started with Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), which I still consider the first Marvel film that really became a great film on its own. That was also the first one to gleefully undercut the rules of its own universe. It's a common complaint that all Marvel films are the same, and that's largely true for pesky origin stories that we should really stop caring about exploring, but the arc from Winter Soldier through Age of Ultron (2015), CIVIL WAR (2016), and now Infinity War is a character study and test for this group of superheroes on par with anything the Academy regularly favors. It's a legitimately carefully crafted slow burn of competing ideologies, with political and personal ramifications that echo beyond their individual worlds. Yeah, okay - Ant-Man (2015). There are some duds, but their duds are at least fun duds, worthy ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Their latest films just keep pushing. THOR: Ragnarok (2017) was so successful because it wasn't afraid to literally break everything iconic about its character. It's this kind of confidence and daring that keeps attracting fans as well as keeping them interested. This is often mistaken for weird conspiracies like Disney is paying off critics or we're just all biased, but this also largely ignored that all those same people loved Wonder Woman (2017). It's not the studio, it's the product. We respond to good product.

That's where I'm skeptical of this "superhero fatigue" statement. This may have been more true in that 2003-2007 zone where we had Daredevil (2003) and Fantastic Four (2005) and Ghost Rider (2007), all these sub-par films that didn't quite know what they wanted to be. Were they action films or adventure films or expressly "superhero"? Looking back, they are all actually distinctive, but also all pretty bad. Is it worth it to have the inverse? All good films, but none that are distinct? Again, I'd like to think that's not even true, as Marvel continues to surprise with film after film, going bolder, weirder, and truer to its insane source origins. Unarguably, FOX is actually doing this on a grander scale with Deadpool (2016), Logan (2017), Legion, and The New Mutants (2019), although for some reason its core franchise is stuck spinning its wheels. I digress.

We're not in superhero fatigue. That's grossly inaccurate. That's like saying we're sick of comic books. Sure, that does actually happen as the industry waxes and wanes (ahem - 90s), but these characters also all have 50 years under their belts now. And they've become such a pop cultural focus point that there are countless iterations that can be developed and re-developed and pushed and pulled, constructed and deconstructed. What's amazing is that Watchmen (2009) came out nine years ago - barely at the tip of our current boom. What should have been a genuine deconstruction was instead another nail. Winter Soldier deconstructs more.

Is there blockbuster fatigue? It's more accurate to say that studios have poured a lot more money into making things "happen" when they probably shouldn't have. We just saw Rampage (2018) become one of the most expensive B-movies of all time, if it hadn't been for Pacific Rim Uprising (2018) a few weeks earlier. The fallacy here is that studios feel like they have to spend a ton of money to make a huge film that will recoup enough to justify its costs, but in reality they should spend less, make a solid B-movie and be content to make their money back. This line of thought will never happen, in large part to the mentality created by The Avengers (2012) and Disney's studio posturing.

This may be crazy to think about, but Disney (parent company Buena Vista) has only won the years 2016 and 2017. You have to go back to 2003 to find the last year they were the top-grossing studio. In 2015 Universal was crushing everyone through a combination of Vin Diesel and Jurassic World (2015), yet it's crazy how much of an afterthought Fallen Kingdom (2018) now feels. The slap-hazard marketing that doesn't know what genre the film is and a remarkable revulsion to the film that's happened in the past three years doesn't really help things.

Even in 2012 alongside The Avengers, Buena Vista was edged by SONY under Skyfall, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Hotel Transylvania, and 21 Jump Street. Warner Bros also beat them, mostly through a combination of The Dark Knight Rises and the first Hobbit movie. 2012 was also the year of John Carter. Enough said. The age we're in now is that every possibly big film is treated as a blockbuster on The Avengers level. When people say superhero fatigue they possibly really just mean blockbuster fatigue, which is also isn't really a thing. Is Rampage all that different than 10,000 BC (2008) or Mighty Joe Young (1998) or Action Jackson (1988)? I don't really think so, although it just has a bigger budget and more hoopla. But just like these flicks, we won't remember it beyond a quick byline in 2028.

All this is to say that in an era where everything with the slightest hint of possible recognition is treated like a mega-hit blockbuster and every potential franchise is a shared universe, when The Avengers come along it's the real thing. It's become that blockbuster that's beyond blockbusters. It's what people actually wait for and are organically invested in, rather than something thrown together with the Rock to make a quick buck. I'm really shitting on Rampage right now, which I haven't actually seen but assume is stupid, but in fairness that's only because I've seen all the marketing and read the reviews.

Man I hope Mantis is the main protagonist. Make Thanos feel!
This is what drives these comic book movies even further away from the other pretenders to the thrown. Not only can these flicks not emulate the success of Disney and Marvel, but their existence enforces their inferiority, bolstering the growing track record of the comic book adaptation studio. We aren't fatigued. Movies have always been stupid. Disney has found a really nice way to use corporate synergy and backing to create movies that are actually innovative within the genre (or at least appear so, there is a strong argument to be had that most of their universe structural changes are still surface level) and keep viewers coming back for more. This has been made better with relevant, beautiful casting, confident production decisions, and deep, accurate marketing campaigns. That's really it. It's a deep well to draw from, but they've drawn from it well - ho ha!

I'm excited for this. There's always the spectre of disappointment in a big film, but it's worth it just to see where we've all been headed these past ten years. There is some flirtation with legitimate greatness and not just popcorn greatness, but that's clued into a slightly different movie-going experience. The simple fact that no other studio has been able to catch up, despite having ten years to try to do so, is also a testament to the fact that this blockbuster stuff isn't really that easy.

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