These are uncharted waters. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a mega-franchise that produces hits so dependably that it’s acquired a logic of its own, which does not resemble normal human artistic endeavor.
In 2018, Marvel Studios produced Black Panther, a profoundly successful movie about a character who was not particularly well-known before he started showing up in Marvel movies. The film made a staggering amount of money, with a $700 million domestic box office take. It was the #1 movie of the year in the United States, even beating that year’s Avengers crossover.
They planned to make a sequel, of course, with Chadwick Boseman returning as King T’Challa. Writer-director Ryan Coogler started working on a script, and most of the original cast signed on for the second movie. They were about seven months away from the start of filming on Black Panther 2 when the news broke that Boseman had died of colon cancer, a condition that he’d been struggling with privately since 2016.
At that point, the normal thing for the studio to do would be to announce that the film was cancelled, and that the MCU would regretfully move on without Black Panther. Instead, they decided to make the movie anyway, rewriting the script to have the lead character die offscreen on page 2.
This is a bizarre way for a movie studio to behave. They made a two hour and forty-minute film about how bummed they are that they couldn’t make a sequel to Black Panther, and released it to theaters, and then everybody showed up and loved it anyway.
Continue reading Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 99.1: Make the Movie Anyway
It’s tough being DC Films these days, for almost every possible reason. They’re standing in the shadow of the pop culture juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is still expanding like crazy, in both movies and TV. There’s a clear vision behind Marvel’s plans, extending further into the future with movies lined up for 2026 and beyond.
In comparison, DC has been falling backwards downstairs for the last ten years, insecure about what they’re making and who should be in charge. Warner Bros started DC Films in 2016 after everyone didn’t like Batman v Superman, putting Geoff Johns and Jon Berg in charge. Then everyone didn’t like Justice League in 2017, so Johns and Berg were ousted, and replaced by Walter Hamada.
After Aquaman was successful in 2018, Hamada announced that DC was going to focus on individual character stories instead of worrying about how they all connect. After a few more movies, they backtracked in 2021 and announced that the films were all interconnected again… and then they released The Batman, a very successful standalone film, so they have no idea what they’re trying to do.
By this point, DC’s fans are polarized into warring tribes, who are trying to push the company into making decisions based on how a particular hashtag is trending on Twitter on any given day. And now the company’s been bought by Discovery Inc., and their terrible new CEO has ousted Hamada, and is reportedly looking for “a Kevin Feige type” to give the films “a coherent creative and brand strategy”, which is probably not going to work, because how many Kevin Feiges can there be in the world?
Amid this turmoil and uncertainty, it’s only fitting that this weekend they put out a new film that isn’t very good, but is doing very well at the box office, just to complicate things even more.
Continue reading Black Adam 98.1: We’re the Justice Society
And hardly anybody even noticed, was the really annoying thing for all the people who made the Swamp Thing movie. They worked as hard as they could, in the middle of a swamp, and some of them were good at their jobs and some of them decidedly were not, and eventually it turned into a movie that hardly anybody watched. It made so little that Box Office Mojo has a blank space where the domestic and international gross is supposed to be.
Meanwhile, all the way over here at the other end of history, the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe effort — Thor: Love and Thunder — made 143 million dollars this weekend, and people are talking about how disappointed they are.
Continue reading Thor: Love and Thunder 97.1: Things That Happened to Thor
It was silly of me, I suppose, to hope that a follow-up to WandaVision, Loki and Spider-Man: No Way Home would be anything but disappointing; I just didn’t expect it to be as disappointing as this. I guess sometimes green means stop.
Continue reading Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness 96.1: Everything Somewhere
And as General Zod sinks slowly in the west, we bid farewell to successful superhero movies for a while. If I’m going to cover the entire history of superhero movies, then that means taking the bad with the good, so I’m about to enter the string of disappointing comic book movies of the 80s, including Swamp Thing, Supergirl and Howard the Duck, which convinced everyone at the time that making movies based on comic books was a dumb idea.
Meanwhile, way over here on the other side of history, we live in a world where making as many movies based on comic books as possible is the only logical course for every single movie studio to pursue. You can tell that the nerds have won because a movie about a minor Spider-Man character comes out, and the entire pop culture discussion around the movie is about which Marvel movie “universe” it belongs in. This is not normal pop culture behavior.
Continue reading Morbius 95.1: The Sinister Sick
At this point in the blog, Superman II has two current plot tracks. In one thread, three powerful, untouchable people drop from the sky, and immediately start exploiting and gentrifying, destroying both the environment and the economy of a struggling rural town. Meanwhile, nerdy Clark Kent finally gets a date with the girl he’s been crushing on by revealing to her that he’s secretly rich and famous, and now he’s driving that point home by whisking her off to the ice mansion party palace that his dad built for him.
In other words, this is a movie about white people.
Now, obviously, that’s not unique for the genre. It turns out that big-ticket superhero movies tend to be produced by rich white people, so they’re usually about an individual or a small group of people who become immensely powerful, often from birth or by accident, who then battle the forces of disruption and social change, in service of the status quo.
And then there’s The Batman, which is all about how terrible white people are. And I have to say, it makes a compelling case.
Continue reading The Batman 94.1: This Would Be a Good Town Not to Be From
I’ve been writing about the first Superman movie for several months in this blog, and I’m just reaching the end of his first date with Lois Lane. And if you want to know how superhero movies have changed from their relatively humble beginnings in 1978 to the frantic blockbuster factory of today, consider this: Superman: The Movie just spent a full twelve minutes entirely focused on the two main characters getting to know each other. I can’t imagine a superhero movie in the 2020s spending twelve minutes focused on anything; they can’t even make one movie at a time.
Just the fact that I can think of Superman as a “humble beginning” is insane; in 1978, they spent 55 million dollars making it the biggest and most exciting film that they could assemble. But as of this weekend, the film seems impossibly small.
This blog is a history of superhero movies, but I don’t want to be stuck entirely in the past, while the rest of the world moves forward. So when a new superhero movie is released, I’ve been writing special weekend popcorn posts looking at what the current film tells us about where this history is going. So far, Superman: The Movie has held up pretty well in comparison to Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals, but the scale of Spider-Man: No Way Home is a different universe entirely.
Spider-Man: No Way Home assumes that the audience has spent the last fifteen years watching superhero movies. To fully appreciate it — or even just to follow what’s going on — you need to have watched at minimum eight other movies, with bonus points for following several spinoffs, including TV shows on two different streaming services. In the normal world that we inhabited not that long ago, that level of pre-release homework assignment would kill the picture; you can easily imagine the scathing reviews, saying that this movie is too complex and self-referential to appeal to mainstream audiences. But it looks like No Way Home is on its way to the 2nd best opening weekend of all time, with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who’s been tut-tutting about the future of superhero movies needs to reconsider; the lonely echoes of the singing cowboys calling across the prairie have never seemed so far away.
Continue reading Spider-Man: No Way Home 93.1: The Big Deal
“It is forbidden for you to interfere in human history,” Jor-El says, and to the limited extent that means anything, he’s sincere about it. In Superman: The Movie, we’re supposed to admire the crystal palaces of Krypton, but the point of the film is the development of Superman’s connection to everyday life on Earth. Sure, there’s a galaxy-spanning backstory in there, but ultimately, the thing that’s really important is Earth, and real people. And then there’s Eternals, the new Marvel Studios movie that has kind of a different take on that question.
In this blog, I’m telling the story of how blockbuster superhero movies developed into a dominant cultural force, starting in 1978 with Superman and moving on chronologically from there. So far, I’m about an hour into the first movie, and there’s a long way to go. But out in the real world, that history is still going on, so when a new movie is released, I take a look at what’s happening in popcorn world, and what it has to do with the movie I’m currently writing about. Last month, I wrote about the Spider-Man spinoff Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and this weekend, the latest movie is Marvel Studios’ Eternals.
Honestly, I can’t think of a movie more appropriate for this treatment, because Eternals asserts that all of history was influenced by a set of gorgeous extraterrestrial cover models, who are responsible for every good idea in human civilization, specifically including Superman. Apparently, I’ve been writing about these people all along.
Continue reading Eternals 92.1: The Adventures of Fancy People
So here’s the thing: I’m currently telling the story of the development of blockbuster superhero movies in chronological order, and at the moment, I’ve only gotten as far as 27 minutes into the genre’s first film, 1978’s Superman: The Movie.
But while I’m doing that, the world is moving on, churning out new superhero movies at an unbelievable clip, and leaving me even further behind. Out in the world, this history is still unfolding, and if I ignored what’s happening right now, then this project would be a dusty museum piece, rather than a living story that’s connected to who and where we currently are.
So when a new superhero movie is released — which at this point might as well be every couple of weeks — I’m going to write a weekend popcorn post, comparing the new film with the movie that I’m currently writing about, to draw connections between them, and explore where this genre is headed. As of this weekend, the latest release is Sony’s Spider-Man spinoff Venom: Let There Be Carnage, which as far as tone is concerned is about as far away from Superman: The Movie as you can get.
Here we stand, on a family farm in Smallville, Kansas, where Jonathan Kent is about to deliver some inspirational words of advice about restraining our darker impulses in order to find our true purpose in life, and then along comes Venom, who encourages us to do exactly the opposite.
Continue reading Venom: Let There Be Carnage 91.1: The Murderability of Crowds