The fate of our favorite comic book characters and the movies that are taking over their storylines is the subject of some concern. Plus more letters from other viewers.
How does Marvel keep finding all these great directors?
Oh hi Rob,
Sometimes you’ll say something along the lines of “What are there, like a dozen people on this planet trusted to direct a major tentpole blockbuster.” And by that I believe you mean, hey these CGI heavy movies with MASSIVE budgets can’t be entrusted to an inexperienced person. It would be super easy for them to fuck it up, and then we’re out a ton of money and time. Makes sense. In any branch of the armed forces, you work your way up.
That said, I think there needs to be an asterisk to your above quote. I can cite multiple examples of directors where the MCU was their first massive film.Let’s take Taika Waititi for example. When he pitched to Marvel Studios, his most recently released movie was What We Do in the Shadows. That movie’s budget was around 1.7 million and grossed about 8 million dollars. Thor Ragnarok’s budget was 180 million and grossed around 850 million dollars. Both budget and gross went up over 100x.
If you want to argue that Hunt for the Wilderpeople, released during the production of Ragnarok should be used, they’re both about a 35x increase which is still a stunning difference in magnitude,
So, how can this be?
How can a director be expected to bridge this massive change? I’m taking a bit of an educated guess here, but I believe there’s an existing framework that has been set up. It’s not completely different from television, where different directors come on and have lots of work to do with the actors and setting shots, but they don’t have the entire world on their shoulders.
You may know that Joss Whedon oversaw the creation of phase 2 and that the Russo Brothers oversaw phase 3. That meant that Joe and Anthony flew to Australia to meet with Taika and presumably guide him through all the logistical hurdles before leaving him to make his movie. There are also dedicated long time Marvel Studios producers that stay with a project from cradle to grave. This is also in addition to the on staff concept artists, stunt teams, and other people who know what their job is and how to do it.
I believe this setup is freeing. When choosing a director, you’re allowed a larger net. They’re not trapped into hiring “a proven quantity.” It’s a tiny bit like Money Ball – find talent undervalued by the system.
None of this is to suggest that Marvel studios are not careful. For both WandaVision and Winter Falcon, the directors Matt Shakman and Kari Skogland each have over 50 directing credits. Streaming series are something new for Marvel Studios, so none of the infrastructure would be there.
Here’s a little bit of Disney synergy. Peyton Reed directed two episodes of The Mandalorian and Taika Waititi directed one. They’re both now utilizing an iteration of The Volume / Stagecraft in their Marvel Studios sequels.
Well Rob, that’s about it. I’ll leave you with this:
I keep hearing that making movies isn’t easy, and I believe it. Did you know that Iron Man had two different completed scripts? That meant that it was Jon Favreau essentially writing his own movie, drawing from 2 different recipes.
Here’s the thing that made that movie for me: Favreau made it a joy to watch Tony Stark build Rocket Boots.
And of course, credit goes to the Marvel Studios team for hiring him, even though nothing on his resume suggested he would be a traditional choice.
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What does the future look like for Hollywood’s movie studios?
Hi Rob, moderators, and Post Geek Singularity,
This is my first letter for Midnight Metal, but I will not watch this show, and the Robservations Midnighter, live.
I live in Florida, and I’m on eastern time, so when you do your shows, I’m asleep since it would be 3 in the morning.
I usually have a hard time falling asleep, since it usually takes me a long time, so I basically just lie in bed and think about everything around me. I do that in the bathroom too, when I shower or take a bath, where I have all my deep, philosophical, and sometimes existential thoughts.
With that, I’ve been thinking about the future of movie studios. We recently had the story of MGM being bought, and the previous story about Warner Bros and Discovery.
You and John Campea brought up the topic of the lion roaring with the MGM logo.
So, with that said, I would be interesting in knowing if there is a studio logo you think of when you think of movies. What I mean is, if you’re having a conversation or thinking about movies in general, if there is a studio you think of regardless.
I don’t know why, but for some reason, I always think of Warner Bros. I always picture that logo in my head. Not the current logo, which we saw in movies like The Little Things, where it’s a skinny red, white, or blue highlight of a shield with the letters WB inside it, since I really don’t like that. I’m talking about the classic logo, where it’s much bigger, the shield is yellow and blue, the letters WB are inside it, and there’s a banner in front saying “Warner Bros Pictures”. It’s the logo from movies like Tango & Cash, Lethal Weapon 3, Conspiracy Theory, and Tim Burton’s Batman.
I don’t know why, but there’s something about that version of the Warner Bros logo which gives off a certain type of vibe, to me.
Thanks, live long and prosper.
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Have audiences fallen out of love with Marvel and the MCU?
Is the love affair between audiences and Marvel Studios over? If it is, then I’m completely out of the loop about this supposed change in heart from audiences. This seems to be a topic permeating the ether as of late, and I’m not sure what to make of it, if anything at all.
I completely understand the apprehension from audiences and outright contempt for rival Warner Bros and DC Films after the numerous debacles and head-scratching decisions made since the release of a heavily edited BATMAN v SUPERMAN in 2016.
But I don’t know where and when things went south with Marvel Studios and audiences, that is, if they went south at all. I’m not even sure if this is even a wide-reaching issue or if it’s just some loud voices driving negative Marvel scuttlebutt. But where did this resentment for Marvel Studios come from?
Everything seemed fine up until a few weeks ago for Marvel. It seems the supposed falling out with Marvel can be pinpointed to their streaming content, primarily THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, and to a much lesser extent, WANDAVISION.
After viewing WANDAVISION and THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, it’s apparent that Marvel Studios now has two drastically different approaches to storytelling that are defined by the platforms in which they are told: theatrical and streaming.Marvel’s theatrical releases will continue to follow their expertly crafted, four-quadrant filmmaking formula that has turned the studio into a lucrative worldwide brand akin to their parent company Disney. Regardless of a Marvel property’s popularity, global audiences know exactly what to expect from a Marvel film when they gladly buy a ticket for the next Marvel Studios offering.
With streaming, Marvel no longer has to sell their product to audiences. Instead, the audience is already built-in with Disney+ subscribers. Streaming finally allows Marvel to color outside the lines a little bit and experiment with their material without worrying about recouping their budget or meeting MPA guidelines.
Marvel has continued making their streaming shows with the same universe building and lavish production values seen in their tentpole films. No expense has been spared by Feige and company when it comes to their television properties.
Lauded for its storytelling ingenuity and breaking the norm of what is expected from Marvel, WANDAVISION became a hit for Disney+ earlier this year. Many loved the show. Some were frustrated by it. A bone of contention was the handling of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, who was introduced midway into the series.
Many expected Peters’ Quicksilver to bridge Fox’s X-Men Universe and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But these hopes were dashed in the show’s finale when Peters’ Quicksilver was revealed to be a throwaway character named Ralph Bohner. This deception was nothing new and reeked of the same ruse Marvel pulled with their Mandarin revelation in IRON MAN 3. It’s understandable why many felt cheated with this reveal.
The follow-up series, THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER was relatively straightforward in its storytelling and offered a darker and more grounded look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I never realized how cussing is essentially nonexistent in Marvel films until I heard the word “shit” frequently and nonchalantly used on the show.
The violence depicted in THE FALCON AND WINTER SOLDIER was also something that I didn’t expect from Marvel, either. We saw indifferent killings, brutal fight scenes, and actual blood splattered on screen.
The show won me over when it used the breathing room of being a streaming series to examine various issues in the MCU like the socio-political unrest of a world post-Snap; veterans attempting to integrate back into society; the latent and prolonged effects of PTSD; a reflection of the sins of America’s super soldier past; and what it meant to be an American and a patriot in a post-Steve Rogers Captain America world. The show provided nuanced storytelling from Marvel that we very rarely see.
I loved the show for that very reason, as did many.
For someone like me who has been overtly critical of Marvel Studios throughout the years for their formulaic approach to filmmaking, both WANDAVISION and especially THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, showed a side of Marvel we haven’t seen and hope to see more of.
But there are those who don’t share the same sentiment and have fallen out of love with Marvel as a result. The genesis of this sentiment seems to have its origins – almost exclusively – in THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. This is not because Marvel did much of the same, but because they chose to do things differently. Or did they?
Is any of this outrage towards Marvel Studios warranted, or is it a misguided response to the perceived political leanings of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER?
A look back at what has defined Marvel Studios’ Captain America franchise for the past decade offers much of the same and nothing different than what was depicted in THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, especially the show’s supposed political and “woke” subject matter that many have an issue with.
Dealing with an alternate history of America with patriotism and politics peppered throughout is nothing new to the Captain America franchise. The story of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER is a continuation of the mythology established in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, which was about a genetically altered United States soldier created explicitly to defeat Nazis, Hydra, and the rest of the Axis Powers, and win World War 2.
The sequel, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, dealt with a government spying on their citizens, treasonous elements within a government, and a government organization that wanted to eradicate a threat before it became a threat (a critique of the Bush-era counter-terrorism measure known as the “One Percent Doctrine,” where the hint of a threat was taken as a certainty and analysis was eschewed in favor of response).
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR analyzed the real-world, socio-political ramifications of the Avengers and their actions. The film debated government overreach, limitations of personal freedom, and regulation of super-powered citizens by stripping them of their liberty.
Many complained that THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER was not made for a global audience, that the show was too American for foreign audiences to relate to. But that was the show’s strength; it was unapologetically American as it should be.
THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER continued the uniquely American storylines established by the Captain America mythos. The nearly 20-year-old comic book storyline written by Robert Morales, TRUTH, that dealt with Black soldiers used as guinea pigs by the U.S. government to create the super soldier serum, was adapted for the show.
As a result, many labeled THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER as “woke” and preaching about issues of race. The term “woke” might be in fashion and overused now, but it certainly wasn’t a part of the vernacular when Marvel Comics published TRUTH in 2003. Shaming THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER for adapting an acclaimed 18-year-old storyline by retroactively shaming it is no different than criticizing certain films from the past for issues now deemed problematic. Let us not go down this rabbit hole, especially if there is no rabbit hole to go down to begin with.
Just as you might expect in today’s overtly polarized political climate where everything requires a polemic response, that “woke” interpretation of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER caught on and spread like wildfire. Many saw THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER as the start of a new era of politically tinged and preachy storytelling from Marvel Studios. I saw the show as an expansion of their established Captain America mythos and more of the same from Marvel, but with a little more edge.
I guess the supposed ending of the love affair with Marvel Studios is purely contingent on individual audience members’ interpretation rather than the sentiments of the general audience for whom Marvel Studios’ fare is made for.
Marvel Comics, the publisher of comic books that Marvel Studios’ films are based on, have embraced identity politics and have turned into a shadow of their once-great comic book company. Marvel Comics should be rightfully criticized when it comes out with publications with patronizing characters such as Snowflake and Safe Space or a homeless Captain America to capitalize off zeitgeist affairs in the most cringeworthy on-the-nose way. But Marvel Comics is not Marvel Studios, and disdain for one should not extend to the other.
Post-THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER, the once criticism-free Marvel Studios has seen an increased level of disapproval. For some reason, SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS had many hoping the film would be something in the vein of a gritty Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu film from the 70s. I never expected such an approach from Marvel when handling this property because they need to stick to their now 13-year-old filmmaking recipe for making four-quadrant hits. SHANG-CHI might not look like something that we wanted, but it certainly looks like something Marvel Studios produced. Fans of Blade, and his upcoming reboot starring Mahershala Ali, need to take notice and brace themselves for a four-quadrant, PG-13 film.
Recent criticism of Marvel wasn’t just limited to SHANG-CHI. When a teaser for the long-delayed ETERNALS was finally unveiled a few days ago, many complained that the teaser offered nothing about the film’s plot, villain, or what the stakes were. After all, it was a teaser, and I fear many have lost the meaning of what a teaser is supposed to be, especially when easing audiences into a new property like ETERNALS. The film will undoubtedly explain the nagging question being asked online about why the ETERNALS didn’t interfere when Thanos showed up. But the incessant need to bash a movie that hasn’t come out yet and the need to criticize a trailer for not spoon-feeding the audience the film’s entire plot is rather unreasonable.
Some have also read too much into Marvel’s Phase 4 announcement made after the conclusion of THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER. Instead of inspiring anticipation, for some, MARVEL’s PHASE 4 announcement inspired apparent derision.
One example of this is the announcement of the CAPTAIN MARVEL sequel, THE MARVELS. Some have read too much into THE MARVELS and have opined that the film is a direct result of Marvel Studios not having faith in their controversial star, Brie Larson. Where this misconception came from after CAPTAIN MARVEL grossed $1 billion worldwide is beyond me.
Feige and team know how to build a universe. Expanding the MCU by stuffing other costumed heroes into sequels is nothing new and a formulaic trope that has defined Marvel Studios since its inception. Just look at Nick Fury, Black Widow, and War Machine in IRON MAN 2; Nick Fury, Black Widow, and The Falcon in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER; Spider-Man and Black Panther making their MCU debut along with the rest of the Avengers cast appearing in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (or AVENGERS 2.5 as I like to call it); Iron Man in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING; and Doctor Strange and Hulk in THOR: RAGNAROK.
Now we’re getting THE MARVELS with Photon, a character that originated in WANDAVISION, and Ms. Marvel, whose own Disney+ show will debut later this year. Marvel continues to build and expand their cinematic universe with every project in ways that are nothing new.
To criticize Marvel Studios now for things they have been doing for the last 13 years is admitting that one never paid attention to Marvel Studios’ filmmaking formula. For better or worse, Marvel Studios is a global brand offering films and television shows that consumers will gladly eat up.
Like Apple, Adidas, Coco-Cola, Nike, Nintendo, Samsung, or parent company Disney, Marvel Studios knows what their loyal consumers want and consistently deliver. They might not provide cinematic masterpieces, but they provide crowd pleasing, billion-dollar hits with ease and have set the standard for how franchises and movie studios now operate.
With movie theaters reopening after more than a year of closures, Marvel Studios’ slate of films is some of the most anticipated films for audiences wanting to return to the cinemas and an exhibition industry looking to recoup after pandemic-era losses. The love affair with audiences and Marvel Studios is still strong and will only increase once newly acquired properties like Fantastic Four and X-Men enter the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Despite their detractors, when it comes to superhero cinema, audiences will continue to make theirs Marvel much to the chagrin of those looking for Marvel Studios to fail.
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Taking a deep dive into Superman
I’m not sure how big a Superman guy you are, but since you refer to the 28 known galaxies in all your podcasts, I think it’s a safe bet that you go deep on Superman.I am very impressed with the new CW show “Superman and Lois”. I am finding it to be some of the best “Superman Universe” writing we have had in a long, long time. When it comes to fantasy, comicbook, or sci-fi characters I always find that Superman is the one topic that instantly turns into a long form geek debate about characterization and writing.
Comic shops, coffee shops, and the entire internet is FULL of people who think Superman is impossible to write for: overpowered, has no real physical conflict, has no internal tragedy (IE: Batman), boring, etc. I disagree with all those points, but I concede that those viewpoints on the character have affected writers many times and has given us a lot of bad Superman content over the years.
I have been in these Superman conversations so many times, I lay direct blame on Quentin Tarantino.
Once a week someone comments on my “Bad Mother Fucker” wallet when I take it out of my pocket and within 5 minutes we’re talking about why I disagree with Quentin on Superman. About 50% of people walk away from the conversation with a changed perspective, about 25% side with Quentin, 15% look at me like I need to take my meds, and I am still (in some cases years later) debating the last 10%.
The new show has inspired me to write to you and your listeners today and present my views on KalEl/Clark/Superman. The internet is ablaze with people loving the show, and I believe the writing team and show runners are exactly in line with the way I have always seen the character, which makes me feel vindicated as a fan. I will save my thoughts on Lois Lane for another letter, but the show is also the right in line with my thoughts on her character as well. So let me present my case and see if you agree.
Kal-El/Clark/Superman: “Nature vs Nurture” and Identity.
Kal-El is Nature in its purest form. It is a name given to an infant, a blank slate, a product of the most highly evolved life form in the 28 known galaxies. Kryptonians are (or appear to be) the only lifeform to evolve in such a way that they metabolize and command the 4 basic forces in the universe: Electromagnetism, Strong Nuclear, Weak Nuclear, and Gravity. They metabolize different wavelengths of Electromagnetism, they metabolize and can release radiation, and they can metabolize gravity for density, strength, and flight. I could write a whole other letter about their abilities, but I do not want to dwell on that part. Beyond natural physical evolution, Kryptonians also took conscious control of their evolution as a species through ever advancing technology for millennia.
They evolved to such a level that the only thing in the universe capable of causing their extinction was themselves, and as the only universal constants are the speed of light and entropy, they had no other way to end than by causing their own extinction. In that inevitable conclusion to their existence, their greatest scientist made an insanely brilliant choice and took what he knew would be the last survivor of his species and he intentionally sent it off to a world where that infant would grow to be more than any Kryptonian before him had ever even dreamed of being. So the infant that arrived on earth came with nothing but it’s god like Nature.
Clark is Nurture.
He was instilled with the type of values we all aspire to. He was adopted by a couple that could not conceive. I am a father myself, with a stepson who I have raised since he was 3 and a biological son as well. I often tell people what the difference is between the two. My stepson (I never actually call him that by the way) I love with all my heart and soul, pure pure love. I love my biological son with all my heart and soul as well, 100% equally. The difference: there are times where I could just kill my biological son. Having your own face and voice argue back at you and sounding just like your own mother and father and making every mistake you ever made right in front of you strikes nerves in someone an adopted child never could. I love that little shit so much LOL.
Anyways point is I find older parents that adopt to be the best of us, and the children they raise are usually the greatest people on earth. Those children are often raised full of love, their older parents are wiser than those of us trying to raise a child when were 18-30 (I don’t think I learned a single life lesson myself till I was 30), and the adoptive parents and children often hold their relationship sacred in the most beautiful way possible.
Aside from values, Clark is a person not an infant. He has interests (football, country music, BBQ, astronomy, nature, etc). Clark is not a god, Clark is the guy who shows up to help you move without being asked. He’s the guy you get a beer with to talk about your problems because you know he’ll listen and will be honest with either his sympathies or the tough love you might need. He is just that genuine good guy I am raising my own kids to be. The guy that always has your back.
“Superman” is an identity.The man that Clark is would never use the nature in him (Kal-El) for anything besides helping others and doing hard work. “Evil Superman” for example is always a different identity than “Superman”. “Evil Superman” is either an Else Worlds where he was never “Clark”, or the death of Lois Lane kills “Clark” and creates a new identity as “Evil Superman” (much like the fact that Bruce Wayne died in an ally with his parents when he was 8 years old, Batman was who was there when the police came and found him kneeling next to their bodies). Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman distilled all this into one line perfectly: “Superman is what I do, Clark is who I am.”
Now I say fuck way too much and haven’t been to a church besides weddings or funerals in decades, but you have to address the “Jesus thing” when talking about Superman.
The Jesus allegories are correct, but ironically the writers that use that trope tend to hang their own issues with religion on it. If you take religion out and look at Jesus as a character or person he was God’s son. God power, existence itself is his, etc. who was raised by a carpenter. Jesus washed peoples feet, helped others, asked others to do what he did himself, and flipped tables at the Temple and beat the crap out those that took advantage of the helpless.
Superman saving John Henry Irons is a perfect use of the Jesus trope. After saving him, John askes Superman “How could I ever repay you?” Superman just smiled and told John “Just live a life worth saving” and flew away.
We have had a lot of “bad Superman” in my opinion.
With him floating, looking down at everyone while speaking. With a tortured soul in need of saving. With him stalking his ex with her new husband in their home. The only thing more annoying than Emo Superman is a writer thinking Superman is not fast enough to have jumped on an exploding bomb in the middle of congress and just take the hit.
Hell, he literally could have ate it while it was detonating, took Lex to jail, stop to save a cat from a tree, and he’d still been back in time for the senator to have finished her sentence. You make beautiful images Zack Snyder, among the best in cinematic history- but there was a reason Jimmy Page never sang. Stick to the images Mr. Snyder and partner with a Robert Plant next time. You would have made a jaw dropping Harry Potter film.
“Superman and Lois” is getting major buzz for many reasons, but the cornerstone to me is that they nailed “My own personal Superman” (sorry cheap Depeche Mode joke). I also think they nailed Lois Lane, but I’ll leave that for my next letter. She has been the biggest victim of bad writing in the Superman universe since “Superman Returns”.
I hope to hear your thoughts on my character take and on the new show itself. Episode 7 is the latest episode as of this writing and I cannot wait to see where this show is taking us.
P.S.: Who would win in a fight, Han Solo or Captain Kirk?
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Some films aren’t worth the hype
Hi Rob, moderators, and Post Geek Singularity,Something I experience when it comes certain movies, is when they get a little too much praise, even if I find them to be good, so I find them to be a little overhyped.
I remember that happened when I saw Baby Driver. Everyone gave so much praise to it, when it came out. However, when I saw it, I liked it, but did not find it as good as everyone said it was. That also happened when I saw Call Me By Your Name. The film got so much praise and awards buzz. When I saw the film, I definitely thought it was good, but not that good.
There are other examples, but those were the first 2 I thought of when I started writing this letter, where some movies get a little too much praise, even if I find the movie good.
Thanks, live long and prosper.
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Appreciating the music of ST:TOS
Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic, but I keep going back to Star Trek TOS in spite of having the entire series so memorized I could act episodes out in my sleep. I have a lot of nerdy passions in my life, and have since long before it was fashionable, but I wanted to share my relationship with this remarkable little oddity that became such a cultural phenomena and I think might even weather the recent abuses it’s taken in modern media.
So my mother would watch Star Trek because she had a crush on Spock.
We had a black and white TV at the time, but even so the show fascinated me (when I found out the phasers were blue it got really excited) The setting, the stories, characters, and very much the starship porn (My love of the Klingon D-7 made the opening of STTMP almost a religious experience for me, and I was even happy to see the original Romulan warbird in Picard regardless of the show’s problems)
But what I really wanted to mention, and few people do, is the music in TOS. It haunts me to this day, from the dramatic drums to the orchestral score in Arena to the Jaws-like melody when the Constellation is going to it’s doom in The Doomsday Machine. It’s distinctive, it’s perfect, and it not only adds a lot to the show I sometimes go back and watch episodes just to hear it again.
I can’t think of many other shows or movies which have music like that. I love music that fits a scene, and when I notice old cartoons matching a characters piano fingering to a song or the synchronized music in Fantasia or Bambi that’s enough by itself to make feel attached. Good music and visuals won’t salvage everything, to be sure, but they definitely enhance something that was good to start with.
Alexander Courage is the only name I know related to TOS music. I’m wondering if you know any others.
Anyway, stay Metal and Rock on.
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