Alright Marvel, with Black Panther you’re basically just showing off now.
How do you do it? Seriously. Black Panther was the eighteenth big screen installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it felt like the first superhero movie ever made. Fresh as hell, groundbreaking in the genre, when I thought it wasn’t possible for Kevin Feige and company to keep delivering after all these years, they knock a grand slam right out of the park.
How do they do it? Everybody wants to know, including myself. So what we’re going to discuss throughout the duration of this piece are a couple of theories as to how the Marvel Machine maintains its dominance at the box office, its MCUpremacy, so to speak.
I believe a majority of the glory goes to the people behind the scenes. Not to take anything away from the actors and actresses. Whatever they have to do to 1) stay in shape, and 2) consistently deliver a solid performance over and over again is a feat most of us could never accomplish. Yet they do it every time. Downey Jr. gets progressively more charismatic. Chris Hemsworth’s abs just end up with abs of their own. Literally double abs. They deserve the money, the fame, the magazine covers, future opportunities, skipping the two hour wait at restaurants, free stuff, everything. They are movie stars, this is what they do.
However, the project as a whole rests on another set of shoulders. People are responsible for writing the script, then the director, I’m sure with some guidance from Kevin Feige, turns the screenplay into a cohesive final product that will not only make money, but also garner the critical acclaim to sustain an audience. These days the dynamic is the studio vs. the internet and Marvel wins every time.
What’s interesting is the continued MCUpremacy was founded on a principle founded by their rivals at DC Entertainment. Hear me out on this!
Remember in the 90’s when Joel Schumacher tried to overly mainstream the Batman franchise? I do too, and the thought sickens me. Dark, realist tones established by Tim Burton were replaced by neon landscapes and forced attempts at humor. So what did Warner Brothers do? Hired an upcoming auteur named Christopher Nolan to re-legitimize the character for a modern audience. Keep in mind Nolan was not what he is today. He had Memento and Insomnia on his resume but the studio recognized genius, then gave him a shot. And look what happened. Nolan’s a god now. He can just hint at an upcoming project and studios will send gift baskets of blank checks to his estate.
Marvel learned from the success of their competition and launched an massive, multi-phase endeavor while The Dark Knight Rises hadn’t even seen a green light. They have opted for true talent over the A list director. Let me give you a few names along with some of the titles in their “pre-MCU” filmography:
Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming) Cop Car, Clown
Scott Derrickson (Dr. Strange) Sinister, Devil Us From Evil
Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America Saga) Welcome To Collinwood, Community (TV Show)
Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) Hunt For The Wilderpeople, What We Do In The Shadows
Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) Creed, Fruitvale Station (his only other movies)
Notice a lack of Pixar titles? How about zero franchises? See any big budget action features on the list? NO! Remember Joss Whedon was the Firefly guy until the Avengers.
It’s almost as if Kevin Feige assembled his own Suicide Squad of independent film talent. Hate to be that guy here, if you want “real” cinema… indie stuff is where you to go. I’m not saying Michael Bay isn’t an artist, but let’s face it, Transformers is more about money than artistry. Whether artistry transcends into a profit is a whole other other discussion. Most of these are character driven pieces, with deep meaningful conversations, little to no CGI, or insanely creative concepts that actors line up around the block and take pay cuts so they can be a part of something special.
To put it simply, what if Stanley Kubrick directed Superman? Geniuses, masters of the craft, behind the camera of a superhero movie. If Christopher Nolan can make Batman sexy following the Schumasacre, there’s no reason Taika Waititi could follow Wilderpeople with Thor: Ragnarok.
I imagine Feige sitting down and offering James Gunn whatever he wanted as long as he signs on for Guardians 3. Have a passion project? Help us and we’ll help you. Business 101. It’s fair, everybody wins.
If you want a DCEU comparison… Zack Snyder made big budget studio projects, 300, Sucker Punch, then made Batman v Superman. Patty Jenkins directed Monster (the film where Charlize Theron is a prostitute), a bunch of TV shows, then made Wonder Woman.
Anyone noticing a pattern? It’s funny, who would have ever thought the future of Hollywood blockbusters would be in the hands of independent filmmakers?
I have to give a major shoutout to the writers too. The screenplay is a quintessential element of any motion picture production and Kevin Feige put together an impressive stable of talent who continue to re-invent the wheel. Eric Pearson and Craig Kyle from Thor: Ragnarok have mostly television credits to their name. Ryan Coogler wrote the script for Black Panther with help from another TV scribe named Joe Robert Cole. Academy Award winner Adam McKay was involved in the writing of Ant-Man. Hire the best, get the best. Sometimes the ideal candidate for the job isn’t the person who wrote the smash hit of the summer.
Whatever it is that Marvel is doing, it’s working, and has been for years. I wonder if they’ll ever see the type of reviews DC has gotten recently. Is that even possible? Will the reign of MCUpremacy come to an end? Who knows… but one thing is for sure, it has been one hell of a ride.
By Adam Chmielewski
Photo Credits- Disney/Warner Brothers
What do you think Marvel’s secret is? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!!