On paper, 2015 has been fine and business as usual for the juggernaut that is Marvel/Disney. Two movies have been released, each making strong showings in the Box Office, the TV division has come into its own with [Daredevil (Netflix)](tag:1168702), Agent Carter and Agents of SHIELD all finding their audience and critical success. Spider-Man is now part of the MCU and Phase 3's imminent beginning has everyone juiced. They're on a roll.
Looking a little deeper, it doesn't seem quite as good news for Marvel. [The Avengers: Age Of Ultron](tag:293035) was to many, a disappointment and it was seemingly blown away at the Box Office by the left-field Fast 7. The relationship with Joss Whedon seemed to spectacularly crumble along with most of Sokovia and for all the hype, Ultron seemed a victim of studio cuts and faux pas from their stars. It wasn't part of the plan right?
Ant-Man is on paper, the weakest potential entry into the MCU, not a top tier character, a troubled development and a tough sell in terms of casting, yet it's getting great word of mouth and is doing better than The Hulk solo movie did but surely they wanted more from it? Surely it's a disaster?
Absolutely not... to steal a line from their rivals top villain "It's all part of the plan..."
For the better part of a decade now, Marvel has been on a seemingly unstoppable run of success, each movie doing as well or better than the others and building the richest multimedia universe of ALL TIME. Starting with the Fury cameo in Iron Man, they have increasingly got the reputation of "do no wrong".
Even the movies that didn't quite hit the mark like Thor The Dark World STILL were good enough to do monster business.
Only Marvel could have ever foreseen that Guardians Of The Galaxy would have become not only their top grossing, but most popular and critically acclaimed movie. Once Disney came on board then it became increasingly a case of "Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Better", budgets increase, spectacle increases, casting becomes more impressive building to Age Of Ultron which was supposed to be that all time great movie the trailers and hype promised.
Except it wasn't quite that and many argued it was cos of cuts made by Marvel/Disney...it also slightly under-performed at the box office.
That being said, it's arguably the best thing that ever happened to the MCU and is no accident.
Too Much Of A Good Thing
"Superhero Burnout" is a major possibility, not just for fans but for the all important casts.
While we fanboys lap up everything produced, casual moviegoers may quickly get fatigued with the constant stream of superheroes, which is only going to increase when Batman v Superman hits with the first REAL competition Marvel have had.
There is a chance that casual fans simply stop going to see Marvel all together if they start to become "identikit".
Ultron was the first disappointment of the MCU, though not a crushing one, but enough to make casual fans and the geeks alike stop and accept that not every movie in the MCU or show for that matter is going to be perfect. Expectations were lowered for Ant-Man, which seems to have paid off and there is always the promise of the "longer Whedon cut" of Ultron to sate the fanboys and perhaps "put it right" later.
Why Lower Expectations?
For Marvel simply, Phase 3 is based around lesser properties.
If Thor or Iron Man was a tough sell initially then wait till Ms Marvel, Black Panther and Inhumans are opening.
There are still the big event movies in the slate, but with at least 3 new players to introduce and longer between those big crossovers, Marvel needed to get away from "every movie being an A movie".
That's not to say that the effort won't be there but there won't be as much riding on them or they wouldn't have been green-lit in the first place.
If there are going to be failures, they're going to be in Phase 3... so it's better to cool that expectation now so that if/when they come, it's not the "end of a streak of awesome" that's lasted a decade, more of a "they do a dud every few years, no biggie." situation, which if they are going for sustainable is really important.
I Am Iron Man
What started as great business for Marvel is quickly becoming a bit of a nightmare for them. In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. was a cheap get, now nearly a decade from that initial phone call to his agent, he is rightfully a top 3 guy in Hollywood, commanding a massive sum of money for less and less work. He's already making reference to his age and the next deal has to be pretty big to keep him interested.
Chris Evans has also become a more bankable star, except he's not really getting to make very much outside of Marvel and he's already said that's a problem.
Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner have both become "serial franchise players" since Thor, they take the odd smaller movie but nearly everything they do is major now, be it Mission Impossible or the Huntsman. They're not cheap.
Perhaps the worst "luck" from Marvel's side is Chris Pratt, who is quickly becoming THE guy. Just like RDJ did before him, he's quickly going to find far more options than Peter Quill and some of them potentially internal to Disney if the Indy rumors are true. He might show loyalty but also might say "nope, bigger fish to fry" when the time comes.
Keeping these guys is gonna be hard for Marvel into Phase 4, especially if inevitably the box starts dropping.
There comes a point where it's better to recast Tony Stark than pay RDJ $70m for cameos, or where the sheer logistics of using Renner or Pratt cos of the number of big movies they are in becomes too difficult or expensive. As the multi picture deals run down, then they will only ask for more for fewer films so they can spread the work.
Even before the Disney buyout, Marvel were known for being hardballers when it comes to wages. Sam Jackson was originally not returning as Nick Fury, Terrence Howard was brutally jettisoned and Natalie Portman was contractually forced to return for The Dark World, despite not wanting to. Feige don't mess around with contracts.
Cooling the MCU down means these people can in reality only ask for less, and from Marvel's perspective hope that as time goes on they become more identified with the role and thus, have fewer options outside.
It's a cold strategy for sure, but essential if you want to keep a core of characters on payroll and almost "at your beck and call" for up to a decade.
Ultron not being as successful means RDJ, Hemsworth, Renner, ScarJo and Ruffallo all carry that can...and probably can knock 10m off their next contract.
Evans might just escape as The Winter Soldier showed he is pretty much the heart of the MCU now. Everyone else is expendable, indeed the end of AOU says it loud and clear... "We can change this team out ANYTIME...No one is too big to be cut..." Anyone want to bet against Tony Stark being the one to die at the end of Civil War rather than pay RDJ more?
Ant-Man is a very interesting addition to the MCU as they've introduced 3 new A-List actors, while Ultron introduced respected character actors like Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany.
Michael Douglas is arguably one of the most respected actors of all time, Evangeline Lilly and Paul Rudd have both starred in major movies over the years, but all 3 are cheaper than the current other headliners...more ammo for Marvel come next contract talks begin with an Avenger, "we can get top talent without paying what you want... here's the number...take it or leave it.", suddenly is true.
As the TV side grows in popularity, that also offers "promotion" to the movie ranks for it's actors. Again cheaper than an A-Lister but no less impact. John Bernthal, Charlie Cox, Rosario Dawson, all these people have been in movies and if they get Charlie Hunnam as Iron Fist for example, then that's someone who has headlined big summer movies too.
Disney is of course the power behind Marvel and while Kevin Feige has an almost svengali like control of Marvel, he still reports to the House Of Mouse, and they have their own agendas.
Even if all the above was true and Feige and co were deliberately cooling down their creation to either build sustainability, reduce costs or to stave off fan burnout there is one very real truth...
MARVEL IS NOT DISNEY'S PRIORITY IN 2015 & BEYOND
Star Wars is... very simply AOU was most likely cut that way on purpose to help make Star Wars return this year more impressive, both in terms of reviews and box office.
Disney can afford the odd Marvel disappointment or even a flop eventually but Star Wars? After the amounts invested it absolutely MUST succeed and crush every other movie out there, and this is in a year where unexpected movies have done the best business like Jurassic World and Fast 7. Joss Whedon was REALLY annoyed and fell out with them big time, could it be cos he got wind of them sacrificing his masterpiece at the altar of their new cash cow?
Disney must see Star Wars become the biggest ever movie, in the quickest ever time without fail.
Their whole plan and strategy hinges on it. If it does, they become the biggest cash rich entertainment entity on the planet, bar none. Star Wars hits big and suddenly ANY property they want is pretty much available to them.
You think the X-Men or Fantastic Four will never be at Disney, think again.
With the money they made from AOU and Star Wars they can make an offer the board at Fox couldn't legally turn down if they wanted. Bond? He's a no brainer for Disney too.
Even Spidey... with that level of cash you could easily see Sony bought out as a studio, much less the rights alone to Spidey as the parent company are gonna need a LOT of cash to cover lawsuits from the hack that are coming their way, shedding the Bond rights and the Marvel deal is just the start of that process.
Looked at that way, AoU slightly flopping and Ant-Man not being as heavily promoted makes a LOT of sense. Ironically it could actually help secure Phase 4 and 5 for Marvel as being X-Men, Fantastic 4 and Spidey based. If in 6 years time we're sitting down to the first movie in Phase 4, X-Men then think back to how annoyed you were with Age Of Ultron, and remember this article, I might just have been right.
So, what you you think? Is it far fetched that Marvel would cool it's own success? or making lots of sense?
Let me know in the comments below... be gentle it's my Birthday!