EDITORIAL: Marvel Studios' Achilles' Heel

EDITORIAL: Marvel Studios' Achilles' Heel

Edgar Wright has suddenly departed from Marvel Studios', "Ant-Man", and it has left us all feeling somewhat anxious...but this is not a localized incident. Here's why. (Some very dated but very real spoilers do follow)

     I remember when "Spider-Man 3" first came out in theaters.  That was in 2007, in case your memory is a little fuzzy, which means that I was a Sophomore in High School at the time.  Putting aside the fact that I did not join CBM until 2008, I was excited for this movie for many reasons, the chief of which being that I was finally going to see my favorite Marvel villain of all time appear on the big screen: Venom, namely Eddie Brock as Venom.  Coupled with the fact that I was and still am a huge fan of Topher Grace, you might say that I was a little more than excited, I was ecstatic even, to dangerous levels of fanboyism.  You have to remember though, lest your cynicalness get the best of you: this was back when the art of hateful internet opinions was still blooming, at least in my eyes.  Thus, in these early days, my knowledge of all things wrong and largely incorrect with comic-book cinema was not as broad as it is now.  

Remember this?  This poster was everywhere, literally.


     The morning after the movie's premiere night one of my long time school buddies, Sean, showed up to Spanish class that Friday morning grinning from ear to ear with his trophy in hand to prove that he'd been to the midnight showing (that is, Thursday at midnight, leading into Friday morning.  See, I do my homework before I write these things).  Holding his ticket up triumphantly, he explained to me that he went to see Spider-Man 3 at midnight last night, at the IMAX theater, and it was as I quote: "Perfect.  It all just fit together so perfectly.", or something to that effect.  I was so jealous, and that's an understatement.  Of course it wasn't too long before my parents took me to see it for myself, and at the time, I was not disappointed.  The only true thing I was disappointed by in the movie was the fact that Eddie Brock died via tragically bad timing, which in turn meant that he would not be returning for Spider-Man 4, and I was longing to see more of Venom's black webbed antics in Manhattan.  Still, I floated away from the movie theater that day, mind-blown and still a tad jealous that Sean saw the film in IMAX; in 2007 IMAX was a relatively new thing, we only had one IMAX theater in town, and it was aaaaaaaaallllll the way Downtown, about a billion miles away in my eyes.  My my how I remember my first time going to that IMAX theater -- it was a big, expensive, and important event when you got to go to the IMAX.  Nowadays I have an IMAX theater right here in town, because every other major release is a, ahem, "IMAX 3D Experience", and you better belive that my bespectacled self will be in that theater watching whatever I can in IMAX 3D because it's awesome.  

     I told you all that to tell you this: times have changed.  I mean, I just watched "Blade" again for the first time in years on one of those premium subscription movie channels, and I have a hard time believing that Blade is a Marvel character which meant it was technically a Marvel movie.  When Sam Raimi was breaking some new ground with his Spider-Man flicks, there's no way I believed that just a few short years later we would be seeing The Avengers on the big screen either, I wouldn't have listened to that at all.  Now we have so many comic-book movies that the genre is becoming a wee bit stale, studios and creative minds alike are quite literally reaching for the nearest comic-book or graphic novel to adapt into some sort of entertainment, whether it be television or film, and sometimes a video game.  Enter Marvel Studios, a studio built from the ground up by Marvel itself.  It's a grand and exciting premise, a studio that has the rights to the characters totally on their own, and it has brought us something special and amazing that will be cherished forever.  My mind is constantly reeling (haha, puns are funny, get it?  Movie reel?  Right?  Whatever) with possiblities, and I'm right here along with you guys every time they announce something, cheering and bouncing in my computer chair with absolute glee.  Despite my love for Marvel Studios however, I can't help but feel saddened now that we know Edgar Wright has left their adaptation of "Ant-Man".  Not only does this mean we can no longer expect the Ant-Man movie to play out like an Edgar Wright film, but this also means that we may or may not be subject to another director's vision....or does it?  

It says so much, without saying much at all.


     I'd like to refer you back to a recent article on this site, posted by nailbiter111.  Some recent information has come up about the Ant-Man project, and it's exactly what I feared: Edgar Wright might have left the project because Marvel didn't like his vision for the character and the movie.  I'm totally willing to believe this, and not just because I'm skeptical on general principle.  You might not be ready or keen enough to fully grasp this reality, but Marvel Studios has a glaring flaw in all of their shared universe films, and it's so insidious and subtle that you probably haven't even noticed it.  Either that, or you have noticed it and you simply don't care. 

    Are you ready for this?  Okay, here goes nothing.  

All of the Marvel Studios connected universe movies, are stylistically and fundamentally similar, on a creative and structural basis.

     Read and reread that sentence a few times.  There is a chance that you might be facepalming right now and dismissing my editorial here, but I implore you to reconsider.  My own close friends think I'm crying "wolf", but I'm telling you, it's the truth!  If you referred back to the article I mentioned, you'd see that sources claim Marvel neutered and/or friendlied-up Edgar Wright's vision for the project, returning back to him a fairly milquetoast version of the film in lieu of what he wanted to do originally.  Scroll up and read that sentence again.  All the movies, every one of them, are similar.  They're similar.  Edgar Wright is not a typical film director, he's a film director with a unique style that we all know and love.  He's comparable to Zack Snyder, whose films you can spot from a mile away because of his distinct visual style.  Over the course of the past few years, Edgar Wright has quickly become one of my all time favorite directors, thanks in no small part to his incredibly timeless adaptation of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World", now actually one of my favorite movies of ever.  Anything the man touches turns to gold, he's got the cinematic Midas Touch.  So, with all that being reasonably solid and well-known to us, why are we surprised that Marvel basically gave him a failing grade in art, and instead said , "No, THIS, is art"?
Official photo of Edgar Wright versus the in-house writers at Marvel Studios


     I dare you to go back and watch all of the Marvel movies.  I double dare you to do it in a completely objective way, removing your love for the characters and the love of the concept itself for a little while.  If you can't see that all of the movies are similar creatively, you simply don't have an eye for criticism.  While some of the Marvel movies lately have been amazing, like "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", some of them have been remarkably weak.  "Thor: The Dark World", was in my humble opinion, sorta lame.  The story was pretty neat, to be fair, but the plot of the movie itself was hamfisted and shallow.  It was something akin to what you'd see on "Tales from the Darkside", only lesser in quality and left rejected on the cutting room floor in favor of something better.  Not only was the plot weak, but their attempt at shocking the audience with Loki's deception and replacement Odin was an overall mistake and poor move on Marvel's part.  Doing something in the movie that ties to the other films in a way that weakens the plot creates a fissure in the movie itself, weaking the movie as a singular film that can stand on its own and instead turning it into "The Continued Adventures of Chris Hemsworth and Friend".  Okay, so maybe I'm being a little harsh, but be honest with yourself: what's the difference between a movie such as "The Dark Knight", and a movie like "Thor: The Dark World"? While that might be sort of like comparing my shoe to an ant, humor me for a bit.  A magnificent movie like "The Dark Knight" can stand on its own, not because I have  hard on for Christopher Nolan lest you should claim, but because it was a great movie.  The actors performed at their best, it was dramatic, and they didn't pull any punches.  It wasn't just a popcorn movie, it was an honorable and respectable testament to the magic of the silver screen.  The movie had an almost Shakespearean quality to it in respect to the story and the themes behind it, which is a different editorial altogether, but I think you see my point.  Marvel Studios would never take any sort of risks with their movies, and the movies suffer because of it.  Even 'The Winter Soldier' was family-friendlied just a little bit, if only on a subtle level.  

     I don't mean to cast any stones at Marvel, because I love them, I honestly do, but you can watch any of the Marvel films in any order and plainly see that everything from the camera angles to the poor climaxes happen in every movie.  Every time the bad guy finally gets his comeuppance, the climax is a little anti-climactic (Iron Man 2, anyone?).  You rarely ever see anything too distinctive in the cinematography such as extremely up-close shots, slow-motion scenes, or a movie that moves at a very brisk pace like "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World".  No, not at all sir.  They never make a four-hour epic, there's never a sex scene, they're never too dark, you rarely see any true bloodshed, they would never have an R-rated movie that would benefit the character more (Deadpool anyone?), and they certainly would not have a director such as Edgar Wright inject any of his trademark edgy and comedic style into their movies.  Nope, Marvel needs their shared universe movies to feel the same and be similar in toneality, which is exactly the reason that they would do something like have one of their own in-house writers edit Edgar Wright's script (again, referring back to nailbiter111's article).  The only Marvel movie that bucked all of these pressure points was "The Avengers".  Joss Whedon is a masterful director and an all around genius; if you haven't seen "Firefly", or even "Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog", you're missing out on life my friend.

     Allow me to concede on my point a little bit.  Marvel Studios' movies might not be as cookie-cutter as you think I'm telling you.  To be fair, "Iron Man 3" and [hopefully] "Guardians of the Galaxy" are tonally different and somewhat darker entries, with directors behind them with a history for darker and uniquely oriented films (again I have to refer you to James Gunn's "Super", it's one of the best superhero movies ever and I believe that it properly realizes what it means to be a hero and overall why we love comic books so much).  Because Marvel Studios does deviate from the formula enough to keep things interesting, I'll be the first to admit that I might be spanking them a little too hard to not be considered abuse.  This doesn't turn my focus away from their blatant miscalculations, however, because it's all to obvious here in this situation when Marvel Studios has put their foot down to keep their precious shared universe sticking to the metaphorical blueprint.  For this reason, even though I love and adore everything Marvel and I'd say "Make mine Marvel" at any given time, I have to also say that DC Comics and Warner Bros. have the upper hand in the film department over Marvel.  There have been some turds, like "Green Lantern" (I'm not even going to hyperlink that one, save yourself the embarassment), but overall Warner Bros. has pumped out some pure cinematic treasure.  There's a reason why I have an original 27x40 theatrical poster for "Watchmen" in my entertainment room: it was a darn tootin' great movie, and I've got every version of it on DVD and Blu-Ray to boot.  I've also got an 'Avengers' poster, framed and hanging as well, but I doubt I'd ever let myself put up a "Thor: The Dark World" poster.  Movies like that one are good movies when you see them in tandem with the rest of the shared universe, but falter when you hold them up as individual works, all other criticisms aside.


(I tried to insert a Youtube video here, it's not working for some reason.  Instead, just Google ⇒ "Everything Wrong With Thor: The Dark World.  

     So what is Marvel Studios' Achilles' Heel?  I hope I haven't bothered you too much with fanboy rage instead of logical and understandable criticisms, I'd hate to write a short book on the subject, because I have been criticized by my friends for being too preachy at times and I'm trying to work on that.  Marvel Studio's Achilles' Heel, their tragic flaw, is that their movies don't always have enough gravitas on their own to stand as individual works.  You can go back and watch the original Iron Man movie and love it to death: the Avengers Easter eggs, Jon Favreau's undercurrent of realism, Robert Downey Jr.'s fantastic acting and sharp wit, but you can't go back and watch every Marvel movie with all of those same feelings.  If Marvel Studio's wants to outperform their competitors and create something that I can be proud to say is a feature film, and not just another movie, they're going to need to take some risks.  I can only hope and pray that they don't embarass themselves with a stinker like "Ant-Man", and they actually turn the character into something more than a mockery of comic-book fiction, and that will hang on the new director they choose, I'm sure of it.  As for myself, I have fond memories of the way things used to be, before the culture explosion of nerd-cred, and it's my personal wish that we can someday elevate a comic-book movie to something more than just a popcorn Summer cash-in, something "Star Wars"-esque that changes cinema as we know it and leaves a mark on our society.  Until then, I will faithfully collect every comic-book movie that releases, and I will love them as my own even though they're imperfect.  "Thor: The Dark World" is still a decent flick by me, Natalie Portman is a long-time crush of mine, and that's worth a view.


If you're interested in more things related to comic-books and everything comic-book related, please feel free to check out Nerdsync Productions on Facebook, and Nerdsync Productions on Youtube.  We have original shows and a podcast.  Our latest show, "Trailer Trash", breaks down newly released trailers frame by frame and examines exactly what they show us, in a humorous light of course.   Sorry for the shameless plug, it's all for the love of comic-books, I swear!     
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