Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film Room (2015). She also has a handful of other interesting credits on her CV. And yet, the performer — who plays Captain Marvel — is the latest victim of the lack of control that reigns at Marvel Studios, which is plagued by exorbitant budgets, low-quality series and audience fatigue.
The premiere of The Marvels — the sequel to Captain Marvel (2019) — already smells of failure, with box office projections in the United States close to previous disasters faced by the company, such as Eternals (2021) or the third installment of Ant-Man (2023). If, a few weeks ago, it was expected that The Marvels would pull in around $75 to $80 million during its opening weekend, experts have recently lowered the projections to around $60 million… three times less than the revenue for Captain Marvel.
So what’s happening at Marvel Studios? Has Kevin Feige — the company’s president — lost his magic touch?
Every morning since July of 2016, Larson has woken up to furious attacks on social media from Marvel fans railing against her being cast as Carol Danvers… better known by her nom de guerre, Captain Marvel. Still, she managed to prove herself: when she starred in the 2019 film, it earned a total of more than $1.1 billion at the box office. However, the four weeks of additional shooting that she had to do this past summer to complete The Marvels (which began filming in April of 2021 and was supposed to have wrapped in May of 2022) and the continued wear-and-tear caused by sexist attacks have meant that her continuity in the saga isn’t guaranteed.
The worst thing is that The Marvels isn’t a bad movie. It brings together three main characters who have charisma. In addition to Captain Marvel, there is Ms. Marvel — the studio’s first Muslim heroine, who, in her daily life, is named Kamala Khan and is a teenager of Pakistani descent from New Jersey — and Monica Rambeau, a family friend of Captain Marvel. When they interact on-screen, they’re a lot of fun. They’re also very convincing in the action sequences.
The script, however, is quite another thing. It’s a bunch of nonsense concocted by second-rate writers from Marvel Studios. The main villain is played by Zawe Ashton, the wife of Tom Hiddleston (best known for his role as Loki). Neither a boring war between the alien races Kree and Skull, nor the fake science that is thrown around in the dialogue are enough to help along the plot. The trio deserved better.
Between the pandemic and the subsequent rush to produce, The Marvels, Thor: Love and Thunder (released in July 2022) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (released on February 17) were filmed simultaneously. The Marvels was shot between Jersey and Los Angeles. The delay has been extensive: after the fourth change to the release date, during post-production, the director — Nia DaCosta — moved to London to begin pre-production on a film based on Hedda Gabler, a play written by Ibsen (although filming didn’t start due to the actors’ strike).
In the promotional tour over the past few days, DaCosta has assured the press that Disney — the owner of Marvel Studios since 2009 — knew she had to move on to the next film, since she had been working on The Marvels for two-and-a-half years. She also claims to have participated in the post-production virtually, from the British capital. But she didn’t do the reshoots, nor has she denied her frustration with the project, as she noted in an interview with Vanity Fair: “It was really great to play in this world (Marvel), and to be a part of building this big world… but it made me just want to build my own world more.”
At Marvel Studios, the filmmaker’s freedom is limited, given the monstrous machinery of the company and the fact that — above all — the post-production (which is loaded with digital effects) can alter the entire plot. The film’s duration — one hour and 45 minutes, making it the shortest-ever Marvel film — and the physical changes observed in some of the actors further emphasize this.
At the beginning of 2020, Brie Larson mentioned DaCosta’s name in a text message to her friend Tessa Thompson, a fellow Marvel actress who is also close to DaCosta (and will star in Hedda). Larson thought that DaCosta would be great to direct the sequel to Captain Marvel. The filmmaker — who was only 30-years-old at the time — had directed a contemporary Western co-starring Thompson (Little Woods) and was in the midst of producing Candyman (2021), which would make her the first Black female director to debut a movie in the No. 1 spot at the weekend box office. In fact, The Marvels’ best camera movements are influenced by the style of Candyman.
In the last change that was made to the release date (it was scheduled for this past June),
Marvel Studios took the opportunity to film new sequences, so as to shed some more light on the story. This is according to anonymous members of the team who spoke to various American media outlets. Variety suggests that Larson wants to leave the character behind, after the chaotic filming process and the misogynistic attacks from fans. “[Marvel Studios] put Brie Larson in [a prominent place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe]. I don’t know if Brie Larson was the wrong person for the role necessarily. But the toxic backlash means that Brie Larson doesn’t want to play Carol Danvers anymore,” Joanna Robinson said on The Watch podcast a few weeks ago. And Robinson knows what she’s talking about: she’s the co-author of the book MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, where she writes that Kevin Feige believes that the saga still has a long way to go.
Marvel executives — led by Feige — are facing a number of challenges on multiple fronts.
There’s little confidence in The Marvels, box office revenue has gradually been declining across the board and the second season of Loki has made a limited impact on the Disney+ streaming platform.
Jonathan Majors — the great villain in the show — was arrested for assault and domestic violence this past April. His trial is this month. While he assures the public that he’s innocent, his presence as the archenemy Kang the Conqueror in the MCU isn’t confirmed. Meanwhile, the fifth installment of Avengers is scheduled for 2026.
After 32 films from Marvel over the last 15 years (The Marvels is the 33rd), the public may be exhausted of the saga. Overall, the movies have pulled in nearly $30 billion from the global box office. After squeezing out unattractive material to fill the Disney+ platform with content, things got even more difficult during the pandemic, with viewers demanding more series. The company made the decision that, between the Marvel movies, there would always be a related show to watch… meaning that there wouldn’t be a day without Marvel. However, given the massive budgets that the executives are managing (The Marvels cost about $270 million), the pressure to get sufficient financing moving forward is high. One problem is that the projects such as Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (both from 2021) didn’t attract large audiences.
Feige believes heavily in post-production: specifically, the idea that, with digital effects, you can resolve errors in the script. But with so much material in the works — and with so many delayed release dates — those special effects falter. As pointed out by Variety, due to the rush in Ant-Man and the Wasp, there were at least 10 sequences in which the additions were out of focus. Funnily enough, because of those 14-hour-long workdays (and the success of the strikes held by screenwriters and actors) the special effects technicians finally founded their own union this past September.
From the parent company, Disney, there’s also little positive news. Bob Iger came out of retirement in November of 2022 to once again assume the position of CEO, in an attempt to save the company from financial losses. After a year in the position — and after a summer in which Barbie and Oppenheimer swept the world (neither film belongs to the century-old Disney empire) — Igor hasn’t lived up to expectations. We’ll now have to see if Wish — Disney’s upcoming animated film — can move the new generations.
So, given all these issues, was this year’s box office phenomenon — a stupendous $845 million worldwide, for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 — a mirage? Or was it the talent of its director, James Gunn, who now leads the competition over at DC Studios? In a hopeful sign for Disney, Variety is predicting the rebirth of the X-Men, once they’re brought into the MCU. But first, Marvel must decide whether to finally sever all ties with Jonathan Majors. And we’ll also have to see if Deadpool 3 works out, which — due to the actors’ strike — has seen its premier postponed until May of 2024.
There’s also the reboot of Blade, who will be played by Mahershala Ali (although the film, which was supposed to be released this year, doesn’t even have a definitive script yet). Disney has also wrapped some series — maybe they’ll succeed? Meanwhile, other rumors suggest the return of the original Avengers, which would imply the resurrection of Iron Man and Black Widow. However, in times of economic hardship, perhaps the $25 million that Robert Downey Jr. charges per film to play Tony Stark is a bit pricey… something that cannot be solved, even with digital effects.
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