The Tangled Web Of The Sony & Disney Spider-Man Debacle

Spidey out of MCU

AAARRGGH! We fans thought things were bad with the imploding DCEU and Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck’s departures, but now this! Superhero fans are still reeling from yesterday’s news that Spider-Man will no longer be in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). To say this was a surprise is putting it way mildly. It’s a bigger shock to our collective consciousness than Trump winning the presidency in 2016. We all thought things were going great between Sony, who owns the film rights to Spider-Man, and Disney/Marvel. Spider-Man: Far From Home is a smash hit, earning $1.1 billion dollars, making it Sony Pictures biggest money maker of all time. Disney’s Marvel Studios, which produced Spider-Man: Far From Home, is continuing to earn accolades as they sit on top of the box office world. The sharing of Spider-Man with Marvel Studios was for him to appear in six MCU films and so we all waited for news of when that film would happen and when the two film studios would announce a new deal extending Spider-Man’s presence in the MCU.

But it was not to be. Deadline reported that negotiations broke down between Disney and Sony after Disney demanded unreasonable terms. When the news first broke, everyone was out with the pitchforks for Sony because let’s be honest, their track record for their own Spider-Man films has not been great. Sure, they released the classic Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, which won the Academy Award for best animated film and Venom was a far bigger success than it had a right to be. But their last three live-action Spider-Man films have not enthralled the world and the studio was seeing diminishing returns for their efforts, which prompted them to make a deal with Marvel Studios.

dancing emo peter parker

The arrangement to share Spider-Man between the two studios worked beautifully for everyone. Marvel and MCU fans got to see comic book company’s most popular hero be a part in the MCU. Marvel Studios used their topnotch talent to create a Spider-Man that felt more faithful to his comic book source while being updated. This led to a revitalized interest in the hero as audiences responded positively to the MCU reboot of the Web-slinger. His presence in the last two Avengers films and Captain America: Civil War were delightful highlights and he gelled nicely with the larger MCU. Meanwhile, Sony was able to reap the financial rewards of the two Spider-Man MCU solo films, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Far From Home. One would think that the two studios would want to continue this relationship.

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Is Star Wars Losing Its Luster?

 

The title of this post sounds click baity, but it brings up a nagging thought among many fans over the beloved sci-fi franchise. There are many indications that Star Wars is losing its luster with the general public. No need to worry, Star Wars is not going anywhere, but the property just doesn’t seem to be capturing our excitement these days. Instead that is going to Disney’s other blockbuster IP, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Wars is still a behemoth that brings in tons of dollars to Disney, but the evidence is becoming more clear. Let’s look at some facts:

  • The property has been swept up in the toxic culture wars that is strangling our society. It started with the release of the controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has enraged many conservatives fans who accused it of being too politically correct.
  • The mixed to negative reaction to The Last Jedi, not just from haters but many die-hard Star Wars fans helped lead to the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. That in turn led to the cancellation of planned Star Wars films.
  • Disney head Bob Iger admitted that too many Star Wars films were being released too quickly and cited this as a reason for Lucasfilm to cut back on Star Wars films.
  • Even though there is another Star Wars film coming out later this year, the enthusiasm for it is not as high as it was for previous Star Wars films.
  • Merchandising sales are down, with many retailers severely discounting Star Wars toys, especially those related to the Disney-era films.
  • The recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland has not brought in the massive crowds that Disney anticipated.

So, what is happening and why? The answers are not quite simple and it really depends on context. Yes, Star Wars is a victim of the stupid culture wars going on but that has affected other properties and franchises as well. Yes, there are too many sites and videos from haters infesting the web, but they also target Star Trek and even Marvel. Then the fact that these places champion underdog properties indicates that many of them just want to kick at the top dog of the moment. What didn’t help Star Wars is how Rey was written to be a Mary Sue and how the deconstruction of Star Wars in The Last Jedi alienated many die-hard fans who hated what writer/director Rian Johnson did with the characters.

There are many reasons why Solo didn’t perform well. A big part of it was due to the backlash of The Last Jedi, which is unfortunate because Solo was actually a fun film that evoked the traditional adventurous Star Wars films.

The scaling back of Star Wars films is a natural reaction to the mixed reception of recent films. However, more films are still being planned and the Disney streaming service, Disney+, will premiere this year The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars film and it is highly anticipated. Plus, the same service will include a new season of the beloved animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has many fans excited. So, for now, Star Wars’ future lies with television to keep us satiated until the next standalone or saga film.

All this hand wringing over the property could wind up being silly if the next film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recaptures the magic and leads to new films coming out sooner. Given how Star Wars: The Last Jedi turned out, it is nearly certain that The Rise of Skywalker will play it safe and give fans what they want. In the long run, it could wind up hurting the franchise in the same manner that some were ultimately turned off by Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it was too derivatives of A New Hope. But a short-term win is called for.

Let’s face it, Disney went overboard with the marketing and merchandising of the property At first, it worked wonders for the company when they acquired the IP in 2012. The build up to The Force Awakens was immense and was a genuine phenomenon. Unfortunately, this led to Disney slapping the Star Wars label on practically everything. If we thought creator George Lucas was bad with the merchandising when he owned the property, Disney took the marketing to the nth degree. it is only natural that there would be a backlash and this led to lowered sales.

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Let’s Hear It For The Boys

The Boys poster

As if anyone hasn’t seen the ubiquitous advertising, The Boys is a new superhero TV show streaming on Amazon Prime, and what makes it stand out from the standard superhero fest we’ve seen is that the superheroes are actually the villains and the main stars in the show are ordinary humans trying to undercut the superhumans.

In the world of The Boys, superhumans have been around for decades and are slickly marketed as celebrities to the public by the corporation Vought International. The company sells their superhumans as wholesome and patriotic heroes but the reality is that the superhumans are deeply flawed, amoral and let their power get to their heads. In other words, the superheroes feel they are above the law and act behind the cameras and campaigns without impunity.

The Seven

The main “superheroes” featured in the show belong to a superhero team called The Seven, and are basically knock-offs of the Justice League, with the Superman-type, Homelander (Anthony Starr) being the worst of the bunch. He knows he is basically a god and is treated as such by the adoring public. Literally draped with the American flag, Homelander is not above invading people’s privacy, rape, and needlessly killing people. Not all of The Seven are bad. Annie January (Erin Moriarity), is a new recruit called Starlight and she genuinely wants to do good and make a difference. The problem is the harsh reality of her co-workers disillusions her and causes her to question The Seven and how their heroic actions are solely carried out to please Vought’s marketing executives.

At the start of The Boys, one person’s life is changed forever by the superhumans. He is Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid), an ordinary salesperson in New York City. His girlfriend is accidentally killed by a speedster called A-Train (Jesse T. Usher) who was speeding towards a crime scene. A-Train shows little remorse for smashing through Hughie’s girlfriend and is more concerned about not getting in trouble and not having his reputation ruined. Hughie, of course, is enraged by A-Train’s attitude and quickly becomes disillusioned by the Supes. He meets Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), a grizzled and salty freelance operative for the CIA who hates all the Supes. Billy recruits Hughie and old colleagues/mercernaries such as Mother’s Milk (Laz Alonso), and Frenchie (Tomer Kapon) in a clandestine mission to gather intel on the Supes and bring them down. It goes without saying that the inventive and creative ways Butcher’s bunch defeats their superpowered prey is often humorous and grossly effective.

meet the boys

Comic book readers know by now that The Boys is based on a comic book series published by Dynamite Entertainment and created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. Eric Kripke developed the show, which is executive produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Before the show came along, many doubted that the comic book could be adapted because of its graphic content. It was so severe that the original publishers of The Boys, Wildstorm Productions, cancelled the series early in its run because it was too anti-superhero.

Thankfully, the show has been able to capture the spiteful and dark humor nature of the comic book. It provides viewers with a wry look at how superheroes would be actually perceived by the normal public and examines the implications of superheroes in our world. It is a lot like Watchmen only with more humor and not as bleak.

Even though it only has eight episodes (Amazon Prime already renewed it), The Boys is already one of the best superhero TV shows ever shown. It out-gritted previous grounded superhero shows like Daredevil and successfully emulates that feeling of engagement that Daredevil and the first season of Heroes used to hook viewers. All the characters are well cast and intriguing, even though a lot of their actions are barbaric and will make you wince. Make no mistake, this is not a standard superhero show for kids. It is jammed with graphic violence and sex acts; much of it is strangely fascinating to watch in a morbid fashion, such as the scene where Hughie’s girlfriend is suddenly turned to pulp by A-Train. But the highlight of The Boys isn’t the over-the-top violence or uncomfortable scenes,, but the characters and their situation. We are instantly involved and drawn towards Hughie, who is the confused and angry soul of the show. He is a decent man who witnessed a terrible act and is driven to want to do something but is wracked by his conscience. Meanwhile, Billy Butcher comes off as a foul-mouthed and cynical thug who has seen it all. But deep down he is embroiled in sadness and rage over his past. Butcher channels these intense emotions towards his drive to bring down Supes, especially Homelander. While we quickly come to despise Homelander and other Supes like A-Train, other Supes like Starlight and Queen Maeve (Domminique McElligott) are much more sympathetic as they struggle with their public image and their personal feelings.

hughie and starlight

Aside from the intriguing characters, The Boys carefully unveils the evil nature of Vought International with enough grim nuggets per episode to keep you watching. The company’s actions are quite horrific given the sunny nature they project to the unassuming public about their brand superheroes. In many ways, it is a sly commentary about the media in our lives and how public perception is easily manipulated.

Along with the superhero shows on the DC Universe app, The Boys is heralding the next step in superhero TV shows. If upcoming shows like Watchmen and the offerings from Disney+ match the quality of The Boys then we are in for some must-see viewing.

Avatar: Looking Back At The Sci-Fi Epic

Avatar Sully and Natiri

After it was announced recently that Avengers: Endgame had finally dethroned Avatar to become the all-time box office champion, everyone was whooping and hollering in joy. Sure, we’re entitled to feel that way and celebrate because Avengers: Endgame is so well regarded. But lost in all the hoopla was how dismissive many people were toward director James Cameron’s film which came out ten years ago. Yes, we all are entitled to our own opinions about everything, but some were too quick to put down Avatar, which is not warranted.

Even when Avatar came out in December 2009, there were those who were very critical towards the sci-fi epic. A common gripe was that its story was weak and derived from the “going native” trope, which is why Avatar was sometimes called Dances With Smurfs. Another critique was its too-on-the-nose environmental message or its simplistic evil capitalists vs. noble savages motif. These are valid points, but Avatar should not be disregarded so casually.

jake rides giant banshee

For its time, Avatar captured the world’s imagination thanks to the rich and immersive effects and world that James Cameron and his team of effects wizards created. Almost everything about the world of Pandora (a habitable moon orbiting a distant gas giant a few lights years from Earth) looked alien. From the six-legged creatures to the ultraviolet forests to the floating mountains. This was a landscape never before seen in live action. It was and still is breathtaking to take in.

While the story may be too familiar, it does resonate and has relevance to our times. It was reported back then that some viewers experienced a type of depression because they realized how unlike Pandora the Earth was with its pollution and disappearing nature. Now, climate change and other environmental concerns have become a more tangible problem and we can appreciate the idea of a pristine, untouched-by-man world. This is also inspiring many to look for other worlds and can be seen as a drive for the new upcoming space race. Avatar showed many the possibilities of what lies beyond our solar system.

Of course, the special effects and 3D technology are still unrivaled to this day. Cameron is known to be a perfectionist and insisted on the best usage of effects technology and 3D. This was why it took so long for the film to be made and this goes for the sequels that are only now being filmed. The result of Cameron’s strict standards was that audiences were floored by the stunning 3D and effects that gave the feeling that we were truly in an alien world. The 3D technology isn’t cheap and the top dollars spent on Avatar shows, and it lead to a new boom in the use of 3D in films. Sadly, much of the 3D in other films couldn’t compare and that is because truly impressive 3D has to be filmed with special cameras and is very expensive. Most films that use 3D these days are actually using a conversion process. Much of the time, it’s done well, but it cannot compare to Avatar.

Many critics state that the film isn’t anything without the effects or the 3D. That is not so. Avatar is actually very entertaining with exciting battle scenes and genuine moments of awe. The story is basic but effective; in the future, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former vet, takes an assignment on an alien moon being mined by a large company. He is to infiltrate the moon’s native sapient species, who are called the Na’vi, and get intel to use against them. He ingratiates himself by having his consciousness fused into a cloned version of the Na’vi. Over time, he comes to empathize with the Na’vi and eventually joins their side to fight off the human invaders. We have seen this story before, most famously in Dances With Wolves, but it is effectively reimagined in a sci-fi trapping that works for this epic. The film is still awe inspiring and packs some emotional weight. Just watching that final battle of humans against the Na’vi is so thrilling and inspiring.

It has been said that Avatar has not remained in the public eye for very long. That is debatable, the film represents the pushing of boundaries and a good example of this is with the land it inspired in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. In the land themed to Avatar, which opened in 2017, visitors were and still are awestruck by how alien and majestic the land looks with its Pandoran forestry and even more with its headline ride that simulates what it is like to be a Na’vi riding a flying banshee. Interest has been renewed for the property and although cynics like to say that no one cares about the upcoming sequels, it is foolish to bet against James Cameron. Undoubtedly, he will create another winning sci-fi epic, the likes that he is famous for. Avatar 2 or whatever it will be called may not supplant Avengers: Endgame but it will most likely be a big hit and help keep Avatar in the public eye. Maybe by then, the original film will be looked at more fondly.

One Giant Leap: Apollo 11’s 50th Anniversary

It may be all too easy to conveniently forget or dismiss the historic anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing given the current mess our world is in. It is also just as easy to get caught up in all the problems, both petty to serious, we face, from hateful political tweets to nuclear proliferation, from celebrity gossip to climate change. Yet, the fact remains that fifty years ago, humankind observed and celebrated its greatest technological feat with the first manned landing on our moon.

Of course, everyone knows of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr., the second man to walk on the moon, and Michael Collins, the command module pilot of the Columbia, which stayed in lunar orbit as Armstrong and Aldrin descended to moon on the lunar module Eagle. Their accomplishment was truly spectacular and took great courage considering the dangers they faced with relatively untested and primitive (by today’s standards) technologies. Neil Armstrong was always an understated, low-key person who quickly disappeared from the spotlight after his feat. This is part of the reason why not many know how suitable he was for the mission. In his career, Armstrong displayed a calm veneer and quick-thinking skills that were needed in the Apollo 11 mission. Before Apollo 11, Armstrong used these skills to improvise and save his life during dangerous tests and would do so again as the Eagle approached its landing spot. The astronaut saw as they approached the site that it was not a suitable place to land the Eagle, so he used his piloting and navigational skills to quickly find a new location with precious seconds to spare before the module’s fuel ran out. The mission was that close to failing but thankfully it was a huge success which momentarily united all of humankind.

Apollo 11 was one of the most significant milestones in our collective history because with this feat humanity was no longer Earthbound. We are now on the verge of becoming a spacefaring species thanks to the mission, which truly was one small step, but an incredibly important one. This is vital because by traveling into space we are taking steps to prevent our extinction. Of course, landing on the moon was just the beginning and as of now it will take much more for us to become a true space-dwelling species.

One downside to the Apollo mission is that it was fueled back in the ’60s by the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The U.S. was caught up in a struggle to get to the moon first, to achieve President John F. Kennedy’s goal of getting to the moon by the end of the decade. And this was accomplished 50 years ago, but afterwards, both superpowers took their eyes off the ball. Instead of expanding upon the landing and establishing a lunar colony, both countries focused their space efforts much closer to home. As we made numerous trips to low Earth orbits to set up space stations and conduct experiments the public’s interest in the space effort quickly diminished. Many became downright dismissive and openly (and loudly) wondered what was the use of traveling to space when we had more pressing problems down on Earth.

While these critics have a legitimate point, they overlooked the long-range benefits of space travel and even the immediate ones. For example, after the Apollo program closed down in the ’70s, many of the technicians involved in the program eventually migrated to the computer field. Many of them were considered geniuses and many organizations involved with computers took advantage of this. They were able to use their expertise and knowledge to help drive the marvelous Computer Age that we live in. This is stunning when you consider that the computer that ran the Eagle spaceship was far weaker than any cellphone. As primitive as the computers were during the Apollo mission they paved the way for the computer renaissance today.

However, computers and other technological innovations are not the primary legacy of Apollo 11. Thanks to the efforts of the Apollo 11 astronauts and everyone involved, the imagination was fueled for many of today’s entrepreneurs who have an eye toward space. These include Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Robert T. Bigelow. They are actively improving and creating new space technologies such as the resuable Falcon 9 rocket–a true successor to the Apollo’s Saturn V, inflatable space habitats, and more. Private companies are now paving the way to fully return us not just to the moon but to Mars itself. So even though it may seem as if we had reached a dead end with the lunar landing 50 years ago, the fact is that there was merely a delay. We are on the cusp of the next great Space Age where the Space Race won’t be between nations but companies as they rush to reach the red planet. There will be mishaps and setbacks but in the long run these will be mere blips in our future history of being space dwellers.

Thus, 50 years later, Apollo 11 continues to impress and inspire countless of others who will carry forth our species into the stars. Collectively, we will always commemorate and celebrate this historic moment for our species because as Neil Armstrong himself famously said when he took his first step on the moon, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Walter L. Stevenson and José Soto