Tag Archives: avengers

Disney Seeks More Fortune and Glory with INDY V

By Tom Holste

Mar. 15, 2016

First of all, hello and welcome to all of my new readers! Thank you for the likes and the follows over the past few weeks.

So here’s the latest bit of interesting movie industry news: It looks like Disney is finally moving forward with a new Indiana Jones film. This would be the fifth in the series.

There’s been talk of speculation of another Indy film pretty much since the last one came out in 2008. Rumors intensified after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, but for the time being, the Mouse House only seemed interested in Star Wars.

But having gotten their first major victory under their belts — The Force Awakens wowed the critics and shattered box-office records — the magic makers at Disney seem keen on trying their hand at Lucasfilm’s other big franchise.

Bob Iger expressed his continuing interest in making another Indiana Jones movie back in December, but it was vague and noncommittal. What makes this latest announcement so newsworthy is that Disney has gone so far as to announce a date: Jul. 19, 2019. Both the series star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg have also officially been confirmed. This time, it seems, Disney means business.

In the press release from Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios: “Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019 … It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

indiana-jones-kingdom-crystal-skull-spielberg-ford

Note two names that weren’t mentioned: George Lucas and Shia LeBouf.

Frankly, I was surprised that the franchise didn’t start over with a new actor. After Crystal Skull, I thought maybe a fresh start was best. Don’t get me wrong: I never want to live in a world where Raiders of the Lost Ark is no longer canon. But Casino Royale so wonderfully gave us a new take on James Bond, I wondered if a new actor and director could enliven this franchise the same way.

After all, both Ford and Spielberg seemed bored during the last installment. Perhaps, though, that was because they were unhappy with the flying saucer storyline they were forced to go with at Lucas’ insistence. Maybe this time, they can make the story they wanted to make last time.

Speaking of the story, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of a screenwriter yet. One would think that everyone wouldn’t be moving forward if there wasn’t an idea already in mind. Perhaps they have an idea but don’t want to spill any secrets yet, for fear of someone beating them to the punch (as in the ridiculous game of one-upmanship going on between the makers of Batman v. Superman and Civil War).

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-vs-captain-america-civil-war

“Our movie has a BILLION superheroes in it.” “Oh, yeah? Well, OUR movie has a MILLION KAJILLION superheroes in it!”

Or perhaps there was simply a gap in Ford’s and Spielberg’s schedule, and they decided this was their chance to redeem their names, and the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that they want to do.

I’m using a bit of over-dramatic wording to make my point, but to be fair, Crystal Skull isn’t an outright bad film. There are funny moments and a lot of action scenes that work. It’s just not really a great film, especially not in comparison with the others. I don’t even blame George Lucas for wanting to try a little something different with the flying saucers angle. For me (and for a lot of others), the whole thing just didn’t fully gel.

I have to say that it’s strange that the story will now have to be set in the late 1960s . I feel like the 1930s setting of the earlier films made the movies seem more distant and exotic, and made the fantastical endings seem more plausible. But the late 1960s are just a few years before I was born! That doesn’t seem as distant or exotic. Then again, maybe that has more to say about my age than it does about the original time and setting.

So I’m trying to keep an open mind. After the last installment, I didn’t think we needed any more, at least not from the original team. But then Harrison Ford was arguably the best thing about The Force Awakens. So maybe there’s more cinematic treasure to be mined from Ford and Spielberg after all.

 

ULTRON is Not an AGE-less Film

By Tom Holste

Oct. 8, 2015

DAREDEVIL is one of the more satisfying productions from Marvel.

DAREDEVIL is one of the more satisfying productions from Marvel.

When I first started this blog, I wrote an article about how people might be becoming overwhelmed with all the latest superhero movies. Since that time, I’ve caught up on a lot of Marvel films and TV shows, and for the most part, Marvel has anticipated viewer fatigue and responded by making each project unique. I thoroughly enjoyed the dark and grim Netflix series Daredevil; despite my initial reservations, Ant-Man turned out to be hilarious and inventive; and the ABC TV series Agents of SHIELD, which got off to a rough start two years ago, has thoroughly come into its own.

I’ve liked almost everything I’ve seen, with one exception – ironically, this year’s flagship installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The movie isn’t outright bad; it’s a respectable effort. But it’s the least interesting thing that Marvel has done since the inception of the MCU. Since writer/director Joss Whedon was again in charge of the production, as he was with the first Avengers, it was surprising that this film missed the mark. But here are the reasons why I think it did in fact miss.

“Second verse, same as the first! I’m Ultron the Eighth I am, I am…”

A weak villain. A key problem is Ultron. He’s a villain who can be killed over and over again and not die. The Terminator handled that concept well, but in that film, there was only one nearly-unstoppable robot. Ultron has thousands (millions?) of bodies, so destroying any one of them is meaningless. His bodies are so worthless that at one point Ultron himself destroys one copy just because it’s a slightly older model. How can there be any dramatic tension when “destroying Ultron” is such a pointless goal? There’s a moment when thousands of Ultrons (all clearly CGI) are descending upon our heroes. Rather than being a moment of terror and dread, it looked like nothing so much as a cheap video game.

A lack of urgency. If the first Avengers film had failed, the grand MCU experiment would have ended at that point. There was some sense that this could be the end of the journey, and that maybe one of the major characters would die. As unlikely as it might be for that to happen in a major summer tentpole, there was at least the possibility, particularly with Whedon’s well-known propensity for killing beloved characters. (A semi-important character does die, and it actually elevates his participation to something more memorable than any of his previous appearances.)

But in an age where Avengers movies are super-profitable, we know that the train is going to keep rolling. In fact, Marvel released all of its plans for Phase 3 of its film universe, which includes two more Avengers movies before 2019. What this means is that there’s no sense that anything too important can happen here. This movie is just a placeholder until the next one. By the time those films come out, Marvel will probably have already announced its plans for Phase 4.

One semi-important character does indeed die, but that death hardly registers. The only suggestion that we might not see all our favorites back in the next installment is a moment that indicates that some of the C-level characters will become the new stars. Since we care so little about them, this moment fails to engender any excitement.

Too many characters. In the first Avengers, Whedon deftly balanced its huge roster of characters so that everyone got memorable screentime (Hawkeye was the only one who got a little shortchanged). But the task of giving good moments to all the returning characters plus having to introduce new heroes and villains proves to be overwhelming for even someone with Whedon’s skills. Everyone is shuffled onscreen quickly and then shuffled off again to make room for somebody else. The character who gets the most shortchanged is Falcon, who was great in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and in Ant-Man but shows up for two scenes here and never does any actual fighting. (Ironically, the best-developed character in this film is Hawkeye, who finally gets some backstory.)

There’s also a new character called the Vision, played by Paul Bettany, who had previously appeared in the MCU as a different (but related) character. (I can’t say more for those who haven’t seen the film yet.) His new character is actually less interesting than the old one, and I missed Bettany’s presence as the other character for most of this movie.

On the note of too many characters…

Peter and Wanda in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Their characters never even meet.

Wanda in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST.

Peter

Peter in FUTURE PAST. He and Wanda never even meet.

The needless appearance of X-Men characters. Marvel made headlines when it got in a very public legal war with Fox over the use of two characters named Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. These characters have been on both the X-Men and Avengers teams; the problem is that Fox owns the rights to make movies based on Marvel’s X-Men characters rather than Marvel Films proper, which produces the Avengers movies. Rather than figuring out a scenario that’s mutually beneficial and pleasing to the fans, both studios stubbornly moved forward with conflicting interpretations of the characters. Fox used them in X-Men: Days of Future Past while Marvel used them in Ultron.

Pietro and Wanda in AGE OF ULTRON, who are brother and sister.

Pietro and Wanda in AGE OF ULTRON, who are brother and sister.

Peter (Quicksilver) made a memorable appearance in Future Past, while Wanda (Scarlet Witch) was a non-entity. I don’t think anyone even said her name in that film. (Strangely enough, neither production uses their superhero names.) Pietro (instead of Peter) and Wanda both have things to do in Ultron, but due to the overstuffed nature of the film, even a crucial, emotional moment near the end left me totally cold. In other words, the fight was largely over nothing, as the characters that were so fought over hardly made an impression (although I think I’ll give a slight edge to X-Men).

An unbelievable romance. When Agent Romanoff (Scarlet Johannssen) is introuced in Iron Man 2, Tony Stark flirts with her. In The Avengers, she and Hawkeye seem to share a special bond. In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she kisses Steve Rogers. So who does she end up with romantically? Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk – who she mainly seemed afraid of in the first Avengers, leaving with the audience with the general feeling of “…Huh?”

Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff -- the romance that no one asked for!

Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff — the romance that no one asked for!

As good of actors as Johannssen and Mark Ruffalo (who plays Banner) are, there’s no chemisty onscreen between them, in part because this romance seems completely out of left field. Also, a lot of viewers (myself included) liked the fact that Romanoff hadn’t been subjected to the cliched romance subplot until now. (Ironically, one of the late Roger Ebert’s criticisms of the first movie is the lack of sex in it. Perhaps this review stung Whedon to make changes, which sadly backfired.)

The final scene between Romanoff and Banner, which is supposed to be touching, instead simply creates the feeling of, “Oh. I guess we’ll find out more later.”

A mildly anti-religious theme. Ultron doesn’t have much motivation for his world-destroying ways, except when he mentions being inspired by the story of Noah. I don’t want to dwell on this aspect of the film too long – this is a free country, and Whedon is free to make the movie how he pleases. And the scene doesn’t go on and on. Plus, in reality, we’ve all seen people misuse their religion for violent ends. Still, in a film that was already lacking in other respects, this proved to be one less thing that I enjoyed or that had resonance for me.

A lack of connectivity to earlier installments. (Spoilers for the first Avengers and Iron Man 3 in the next paragraph.)

In the first Avengers movie, the group was disbanded and everyone went into hiding. In Iron Man 3, Tony blows up all of his suits and retires from being Iron Man. But in this film, everyone is back together right at the beginning, and Tony is already back in the suit without explanation. For a series of films that take pride in how well they connect to one another, seeing everyone already like this is rather jarring and confusing.

__

Ultimately, what it boils down to is this: Marvel needs to care more about telling each individual story well rather than focusing its attention too heavily on building the MCU. When characters come first, the projects thrive, as they did in Daredevil and Ant-Man. But Age of Ultron feels less like a movie and more just like a series of boxes being checked off. (“We introduced new characters? Check. We set up the next movies? Check…”)

Perhaps the most telling part of the movie is when my parents went to see it. A couple of weeks later, they couldn’t even remember what they had seen. When they finally remembered, they said that they enjoyed it.

But the part of the experience that they really remembered? Eating their Sno-Caps.

Lessons to Be Learned from JURASSIC WORLD’s Success (Part 2)

By Tom Holste

Jul. 31, 2015

Previously, I noted that Jurassic World’s triumph over Avengers: Age of Ultron at the box office probably had at least something to do with the idea that audiences were becoming weary with trying to keep up with all of the iterations of this franchise. Today I would like to offer a few more possible lessons that Hollywood can glean from JW’s success.

TonyStark

Tony Stark just learned how much better JURASSIC WORLD did than his movie.

It’s okay, and perhaps even welcome, for a franchise to take a break. It used to be that sequels that came long after the original movies ended up not being nearly as successful. Superman Returns, TMNT, even Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles—these films all failed financially to revive their respective franchises. They were seen as more of a last gasp than anything else. Rocky, Rambo and Die Hard fared a bit better, earning multiple new entries late in their franchises’ lives, but none were record-breaking successes. But Jurassic has changed the mold. In a world where a new Marvel movie gets released every few months, audiences are quite happy to revisit a franchise that hasn’t had a new installment since 2001. Down with superheroes (a little bit, at least for now); up with dinosaurs!

–A franchise can overcome multiple bad installments. The Jurassic Park movies follow a similar trajectory to the Jaws movies. The first film in each series, directed by Steven Spielberg, was a huge hit at the box office and loved by critics. The second and third films were considerably less well-received. But while Jaws: The Revenge was the final nail in that franchise’s coffin, Jurassic World made nearly as much money as the original film did (after adjusting for inflation). Audiences now seem willing to forgive the cinematic sins of the later films because of their love of the original. Provided that Universal can get the right people in place to make it, Jaws 5 might not be so much of a ridiculous idea anymore.

–Continuity is not as important as it once was. Superman Returns, despite being set in its release year of 2006 (as evident by the technology and the fashion), takes place five years after Superman II, which should set the film in 1985 or so. The timeline since Superman’s last appearance is mentioned multiple times, and due to what happened to Lois Lane in the intervening time, it seems highly unlikely that the events of the franchise-wrecking Superman III or IV could have happened. Ignoring the later, poorly-received entries was a deliberate attempt on the filmmakers’ part to focus on the franchise’s glory days. But based on the way that the viewers stayed away from the theaters, audiences were confused by the filmmakers abandoning some aspects of the continuity while sticking with others.

The characters of Jurassic World indicate that the park has been running successfully for the past 20 years, which means that it couldn’t have been a deserted island at the time of the second and third movies. But this time, audiences don’t seem to care about that. At the very least, it was easier to ignore this continuity glitch than it was to ignore the confusing Superman timeline. This time, “who wants to remember those awful sequels anyway?” was a compelling enough argument.

One caveat: So far, Jurassic is the only film to fit the mold for all of the previous points mentioned. Maybe it will turn out to be a fluke. But it seems like these ideas make more sense than some of the articles I was reading where writers insisted that Jurassic World was going to single-handedly kill the art of cinema, creating a sequel-hungry craze (as if this hadn’t been a phenomenon in Hollywood until just now). All of which leads me to my last point…

Audiences’ tastes are somewhat fickle and unpredictable. Last year was a disastrous year at the box office, and executives were wringing their hands, terrified that competing entertainment (video games, streaming video, etc.) had finally caught up with them, and that their days were numbered. This year has broken all kinds of records, and it’s the best year Hollywood has had since the mid-‘90s. And how did Hollywood achieve that? By making the exact same type of films that they did last year.

There’s the usual assortment of sequels, superhero films, and comedies aimed at roughly the same audience (mostly teenage, mostly male) as last year, and the year before that, and so on. But this year, for whatever reason, it was just the right combination of those things. This year’s films caught the audience’s attention in a way that they hadn’t for a long time before this, but Hollywood isn’t doing anything particularly unique to make that happen.

While Hollywood can be relieved that they weren’t so far off from guessing what audiences wanted after all, it must be a little less comforting to be reminded that there’s no exact formula for success.

Despite often rising prices at the ticket stand and at the concession stand, and despite the availability of other entertainment options, the audience hadn’t really gone away. It just took the right combination of elements to get people back to the show. Why these elements specifically? As William Goldman once said about making movies: “Nobody knows anything.”

I don’t know what this post-Jurassic wave of films is going to look like – maybe long-gestating sequels to The Goonies and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure will finally get the greenlight, riding on more nostalgia? Next year’s 20-years-later Independence Day sequel certainly seems to be in a good position to take the box office by storm. Whatever the case, it will be interesting and different from (yet, in other ways, similar to) what we’ve seen before.

Lessons to Be Learned from JURASSIC WORLD’s Success (Part 1)

By Tom Holste

Jul. 29, 2015

Jurassic-World-scene

This summer, audiences preferred dinosaurs to ants.

This summer, Hollywood was taken completely off guard when Jurassic World broke the $1 billion dollar threshold – making even more than the latest Avengers sequel, and finally topping even the original Avengers film itself.

To be fair, The Avengers: Age of Ultron also crossed the $1 billion dollar mark, and it stands in the top 10 highest-grossing films ever made globally (not adjusted for inflation). But it was nosed out of the top 5 by the fourth installment in the ongoing Jurassic film series, and by Furious 7, also from this year and also from Universal Pictures. (Furious 7 benefits from audience interest following the untimely death of star Paul Walker. It’ll be interesting to see if later installments can maintain this level of popularity.)

Take a look at the top grossing films of all time worldwide here, with Jurassic World at #3 and Furious 7 at #5:

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/

Now take a look at the box office for this year in America. In this case, Avengers has slightly edged out Furious 7 (as well as Inside Out), but Jurassic World still clearly has Iron Man and his friends beat.

http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2015&p=.htm

People in Hollywood expected Jurassic to do well — it was heavily marketed, and the film had Chris Pratt in it, fresh off his successes in The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, after all — but no one expected a belated entry in a long-dormant franchise to do this well.

The original Avengers had stunned Hollywood in pretty much the same way. All of the various Marvel superhero movies up to that point had been successes, but none of them had gone on to be one of the top five highest grossing movies of all time. Avengers proved that Marvel’s experiment in creating a shared cinematic universe for its fictional characters had worked beyond their wildest expectations. So, naturally, Hollywood experts figured that the sequel would do just as well if not more so. They thought that Jurassic would be a pleasant side dish for movie audiences, not turn out to be the main course.

While Marvel (and their parent company Disney) really doesn’t have any reason to cry, they must be scratching their heads a little bit. What happened? Why didn’t Avengers clearly run away with the top prize?

Here are my thoughts on that, for what they’re worth:

Viewers are experiencing franchise fatigue. At the time of this writing, Marvel has just released Ant-Man, the 12th film in the Avengers franchise in the past 7 years. That’s not counting 44 hours (2 years’ worth) of its related Agents of SHIELD TV series, an 8-episode Agent Carter miniseries, and 13 hours of Daredevil on Netflix. And all that’s just within the shared Avengers universe. In the same period of time, other studios that own Marvel characters have released four more X-Men related films, two more Spider-Man movies, one sequel each for Punisher and Ghost Rider, and an animated Marvel film (Big Hero 6).

In a few weeks, we’ll get a new Fantastic Four film, and next year promises five new Marvel-related films, three of which tie into X-Men and all get released within the same year. Marvel is already in production on new episodes of Daredevil, SHIELD and Agent Carter, while developing more Netflix series. And we can expect 10 more Marvel-related films between 2017 and 2019, including Infinity War: Parts 1 and 2, a 120-page comic book miniseries needlessly stretched out to 240 minutes’ worth of film.

At some point, this no longer sounds like fun. It sounds like homework.

Suddenly, Jurassic World sounds like a welcome relief, a throwback to a simpler time when a movie had a lot fewer sequels and tie-ins. Going to the movies is supposed to be fun, and Jurassic offered a much easier way to have fun.

Notably, Ant-Man – while arriving at #1 at the box office, and receiving strong praise from critics and fans – had the weakest opening weekend of any of the 12 Avengers-related films so far. There are probably multiple reasons for that, but I wouldn’t doubt if one of them is that it’s just been too hard to stay caught up.

To be clear, the superhero franchise isn’t dead. Ant-Man was a bit of a long shot anyway, and next year’s Batman v. Superman will likely demolish all kinds of box office records because its main characters are much more famous. But a little bit of audience fatigue can explain why Jurassic pulled ahead of Avengers when the latter seemed to be the more anticipated film.

To be continued