Producers At Comic-Con State Their Intention Not To Stray Too Far Into The Unknown
At Comic-Con in San Diego two weeks ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) mapped out all of the projects in their “Phase 4” for the next few years. What was surprising was how much of what they’ve got planned is for the small screen. As part of what they’re calling Disney+ series, a host of shows will stream starring characters from the movies, along with a few new MCU franchises. The same month that Avengers: Endgame became the biggest moneymaker ever in film history, Marvel announced how they’re going to continue to dominate entertainment both on the big screen and small. And the blurring of the lines between them became just as prevalent.
Amongst the projects appearing on the new Disney streaming platform, their answer to Netflix and Amazon Prime, are the following:
• Falcon and the Winter Soldier star MCU regulars Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as a precursor to Mackie’s Sam Wilson character taking over the title of Captain America in a year or so on the big screen.
• WandaVision is a new Disney+ series that will stream that will connect significantly to the cinema sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
• Loki, the breakout villain from Thor, will lead a new streaming series with Tom Hiddleston returning in his star-making role.
• A new animated series entitled What If? will showcase famed Marvel stories that have different outcomes than originally seen. The first episode will show what would have happened if Agent Peggy Carter had been injected with the super serum instead of Steve Rogers.
• Hawkeye, starring Jeremy Renner, will bring the popular cinematic character to the small screen as part of a limited series. In it, Hawk will mentor a new archer played by Kate Bishop.
The MCU is just part of the trend in entertainment where movies feel more like television with their multiple chaptered storytellings, TV becomes more cinematic in look and feel, and social media, video games, and interactive sites extend the franchises further and further. Thus, Clint Barton/Hawkeye becomes an even more beloved character because of his recurring appearances across multiple platforms. Now, as he is about to beam into our living rooms, he will feel almost as comfortable and reliable as a favorite chair.
The loser in all this could be the Cineplex. The movie theater has, for the better part of a decade now, become a domain dominated mostly by tent poles and CGI extravaganzas. Sure, some modestly budgeted films sneak through, mainly in the horror or comedy genre, but the independent dramas, foreign language films, and documentaries are becoming more and more a rarity on the big screen across the nation. Instead, such modest productions tend to go straight to VOD or the premium streaming platforms. At least they’re available, of course, but when even tent pole productions start taking over the smaller screens, what happens to the little guys?
All of this begs a somewhat troubling question. Have our television viewing habits become so part and parcel that it’s emptying the Cineplexes of more varied content, and marring our ability to consume stories in ways other than series? Do audiences crave serialization now to the point where self-contained, one-off stories no longer feel adequate or prominent enough? And in doing so, is the public telling Hollywood that the kind of entertainments they prefer are also those that feel all too familiar and comfortable?
Any entertainment, be it a ball game or a hobby, is escapism. And when say, the world is at war it’s easy to see why audiences gravitate towards it. It not only recharges our batteries, but it provides some necessary comfort. Perhaps it’s a sign of how undependable the world seems that we’re gravitating more and more to superheroes in our escapism. And in such forms of entertainment, heroes don’t fail, and they rarely die.
Thus, such characters permeate our movie screens, and now they’re plopping into our living rooms with increasing frequency. It doesn’t seem that unusual that Hawkeye would continue to make appearances on our screens when you consider that Robert Downey Jr. has appeared as Iron Man in nine films, let alone Avengers video games and other extras.
Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is a beloved movie character too, one who first appeared on the big screen in 1971, but it took him 20 years to rack up five cinematic appearances. Downey did nine in just 11 years.
It’s part of a burgeoning trend, one that’s been going on for years, of Baby Boomers and Generation X audiences gravitating towards the familiar. Nostalgia is a powerful antidote to the trials and travails of a modern world, and it’s driving the plethora of greenlit remakes, reboots, and refreshes of familiar material. And as launching any movie, show, or game becomes more and more expensive, a lot of studios are merely defaulting to known properties. The audience is built-in, they’re willing participants, and marketing doesn’t have to work as hard to make things stick to the wall.
No matter the argument for or against nostalgia, the studios are becoming all too comfortable with the tried and true, and increasingly growing more risk-averse, just like their audiences. It’s that cycle that leads entertainment Goliath’s like Disney and the MCU to plot out a decade or more of remakes, reboots, or extensions of all their popular properties. There’s still plenty of fresh content that gets produced, but even there, the whiff of nostalgia often is strong.
Take Stranger Things on Netflix, for example. It’s one of the series television’s biggest hits of the last few years and its third season was as much a “water cooler show” as ever. This last run was, even more, chock full of nostalgia and 80’s references than ever before.
The show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, clearly have great affection for coming-of-age in that decade and have mined references to it with zeal. Such nods are there in the Demogorgon monster (John Carpenter’s The Thing), Eleven’s telekinetic powers (Firestarter), and indeed, the top-billed presence of 80’s superstar Winona Ryder. With season three, their affection may have become too conspicuous. After all, when the climactic action of the final episode stops for a three-minute singing of the theme song from The Neverending Story, subtext has become text. It was a hoot, for sure, but it felt like an inside joke writ a bit too large.
One need point to nothing more than this past weekend’s box office for proof that audiences are gobbling up nostalgia and comfort like they are their primary diet. Disney’s photo-realistic remake of The Lion King and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood were number one and two at the box office, and both played heavily on our familiarity with yesteryear. Tarantino has always coveted the past and is affection for Tinsel Town in the ’60s is there in every second of his ninth film.
Tarantino’s film even turned the all-but-forgotten TV western Lancer, which figures heavily in the plot, into a trending topic all over the web. It was the kind of limelight and resurgence in interest in the old chestnut that the old western hadn’t experienced in over 50 years. Don’t be surprised if some executive in Hollywood is already planning a reboot.
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