The State Of Two Cinematic Universes: MCU & DCEU

This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.

So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.

MCU

One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.

Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.

Black Panther and MCU

There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.

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Sorry Folks, No X-Men Or FF In The MCU For A While

XMEN in MCU

Many of us were disappointed when we learned last week that there are not any immediate plans to integrate the X-Men or the Fantastic Four into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In an interview with Vulture, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige stated that it is too soon to stick the newly acquired properties into the MCU and that Marvel Studios is busy with their current slate of heroes.

As disappointing as that is, it should not come as a surprise. First of all, despite all the news in December 2017 about Disney buying most of 21st Century Fox’s intellectual assets, it is not a done deal yet. It will take at least a year for the deal to be finalized and approved by the government and, of course, there can be roadblocks, which would disrupt immediate plans for the Marvel mutants and the First Family of comic books. Coming right out and making that statement was the safest thing for Feige to admit. The statement is a good way of letting fans know to not get their hopes up that the X-Men or the Fantastic Four will somehow turn up in the next two Avengers films.

To shoehorn these new characters into carefully planned films and TV shows would be too disruptive and ruin the narrative flow. They have to be naturally introduced into the MCU because that universe is not set up for mutants and their baggage, although it will be easier with the Fantastic Four. The X-Men property is built on the premise that mutants are widely feared and disliked by normal humans. This would not gel with the MCU where for the most part, superhumans are better received. In the comic books, although both mutants and superheroes co-exist, the way they are treated does not make sense. If normal people distrust mutants because of their powers, shouldn’t they feel the same way about superheroes? Comic book events like Civil War addressed this but the dichotomy still exists. Besides the entire humans-fearing-superhumans motif has been addressed in the MCU with Inhumans as seen on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Inhumans. Last we heard both TV shows are nominally part of the MCU.

Look at the bright side, the time being given to integrate the properties allows Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios to have some breathing room. They can take their time to figure out how to integrate mutants and the Fantastic Four and just as important, who to cast in the roles. Despite what some may hope, it is likely that Marvel Studios will recast the iconic roles. This is a great opportunity for the Fantastic Four who’ve had terrible casting in the Fox films, but for the X-Men this can be traumatic for fans. Also, after the slated Fox X-Men films and TV shows run their course, it would be a good idea to give the properties a decent rest so when they make their comeback, the level of interest will be intense.

All we need is some patience and hope that at the very least some cryptic references about the X-Men and the Fantastic Four can be made in next year’s MCU films and beyond.

Lewis T. Grove 

Runaways Emphasizes Characters At The Expense Of Superhero Antics

runaways poster

Marvel Studios’ first streaming TV show on Hulu, Runaways, has finished its first 10-episode season.  Now that the show has finished its run (don’t fret, Runaways has been renewed for a second season), it’s time to review the show. In a nutshell, Runaways is enjoyable if not especially outstanding.

Runaways is based on the recent Marvel Comics teenage “superhero” team created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona. Fans of the comic book characters know that the group of teenagers are not actually superheroes. They don’t use code names or wear goofy outfits and there are less fisticuffs in their adventures, which the show faithfully recreates. By the way, this adaptation is supposedly set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) though you would not know it. It has almost no reference to the MCU, not even vague mentions of “The Incident” as in the Netflix Marvel shows. However, how people react to the demonstration of superpowers and wild situations is not consistent in the MCU that has aliens, public superheroes and other fantastic people. It might as well not be set in the MCU. Instead, the emphasis is more on the characters and their immediate world of L.A. The basic story is that several well-off teenagers with wildly different personalities  discover that their parents are actually supervillains. Horrified, the teenagers band together, rebel against their elders and go on the run.

The TV adaptation more or less follows this premise though no one runs away until the final episode that just streamed (“Hostile”). This made the entire first season feel like a set up for the really interesting stuff. For example, “Hostile” featured the best moments between Gertrude Yorkes (Ariela Barer) and her pet raptor and the dinosaur finally had some screen presence. The raptor seemed more like a character than a CG/puppet creation. But putting aside the lack of thrills, Runaways is a different animal than the comic books in that by not having the kids run away until the final episode, it focuses on their relationships with each other and their parents. If that sounds like mopey teenage drama then you are correct. Although, it’s well done and holds your attention.

What helps are the writing and most of the acting. While the kids are newcomers they are surprisingly good in their roles such as Barer, Rhenzy Feliz (as Alex Wilder), Gregg Sulkan (as Chase Stein) and Lyrica Okano (as Nico Minoru), the parents steal the spotlight many times. Instead of presenting the parents as mustache-twirling villains like in the comics, they’re more dimensional and grounded here. You understand that they live in a grey world where they’re forced to make questionable decisions. These were done, for the most part, to provide a good future for everyone, but the consequences of their choices have come to haunt them and alienate their children. There is a mystery of what their true motives are, but that gets a bit muddled. The parents’ machinations and how the Runaways react to them sometimes slows the show’s pace. Adding to the drawbacks is the mid-season introduction of Jonah (Julian McMahon), a mysterious and super-powered person running things for his own purposes. If anyone screams “bad guy” it’s this character. Unlike Jonah, the parents are more nuanced and well acted. Standouts include Annie Wersching, Ryan Sands, Kevin Weisman, Bridgid Brannagh and James Marsters.

Strangely, for a show about teenage superhumans (for the most part), the weakest moments are when they actually go into action. This happens exactly two times in the first season, which will surely disappoint anyone expecting another Daredevil, but it’s for the best. When the Runaways used their superpowers against an opponent, their actions were quite dull and unrealistic. Basically, they would stand around and use their powers one at a time. Blame it on the budget, but this became a drawback. The other episodes are spent with the Runaways dealing with their hormones, parent issues, and your typical teenage angst.

Make no mistake, Runaways is  pretty interesting and put together well, even if it’s not groundbreaking. As these season finales go, this one raised more questions than gave answers. All of it just to set up a second season, though it could leave you feeling frustrated because just as things pick up significantly, the episode ends. Hopefully the second season will be here before we know it and provide satisfying answers while ramping up the dilemmas of the Runaways…and their parents.

Waldermann Rivera

 

The Top Ten Most Anticipated Films of 2018

Lately, it seems as if there are more and more sci-fi, fantasy and horror films. This year is not any different since we have so many upcoming films to choose from. As usual, superhero fare rules, especially the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, but along with them are other films that make up the top ten most anticipated films of 2018. Some of these films will turn out to be huge disappointments while others, maybe not even mentioned here, will exceed expectations. As always, keep in mind that the release dates for these films might change.

10. Captive State (Aug. 17):  

Very little is known about this film, but the premise and the talent behind it are topnotch. Rupert Wyatt (director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes) directs this look at life in Chicago under alien occupation. The film stars Vera Framiga and John Goodman as part of a human group that includes collaborators and dissidents.

9. Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25):

Ordinarily a Star Wars film would be on the top of highly anticipated film list, but behind-the-scenes mishaps (which included the original directors being fired) and a divisive reception of Star Wars: The Last Jedi have cast a suspicious eye on this production. Still, Lucasfilm veteran Ron Howard is directing it. Maybe he can salvage Solo.

8. A Quiet Place (April 8):

What makes this horror film stand out is the disquieting and nearly silent trailer that features a lone family hiding in a cabin in silence. Why do they have to be quiet? What terror lies outside their home? Let the imagination run wild.

7. Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6):

The sequel to Ant-Man returns the same players that made the first film an unexpected and fun hit. This time out, Hope Pym suits up as the Wasp and takes her place among the pantheons of Marvel Comics’ legendary heroes as she and Ant-Man undertake another perilous mission.

6. Deadpool 2 (June 1):

Pay attention, this could be last, unfiltered version of Deadpool in the big screen before Disney cleans up his foul mouth and tones down the over-the-top violence. Even without that, this film looks like it will continue the same outrageous violence, fourth-wall breaking laughs and adult humor that the first Deadpool reveled in two years ago.

5. Pacific Rim: Uprising (March 23):

After the first Pacific Rim didn’t perform well in theaters, fans of the kaiju film feared there would not be a sequel. Fortunately, those concerns have been alleviated with this followup that stars John Boyega as the pilot of the gigantic robot Gipsy Avenger against even more dangerous kaijus from another dimension.

4. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (June 22):

Chris Pratt returns to his other big-tent genre franchise in this followup to 2015’s Jurassic World, which brought back the Jurassic Park franchise from extinction. Now, the dinosaur island of Isla Nublar is endangered by an active volcano and a new, dangerous hybrid dinosaur. Doesn’t man ever learn? Besides that, the popular character Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) returns to the franchise, and that alone is reason to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Jurassic-World-Fallen-Kingdom-Volcano-and-T-Rex

3. Incredibles 2 (June 15):

The best animated version of the Fantastic Four ever done finally gets a sequel in Pixar’s latest effort. All that is known is that Incredibles 2 takes place right after the first film and features the same superhero family lineup. With original director Brad Bird behind the helm it’s a guarantee that Incredibles 2 will be better received unlike those unwanted sequels to Cars.

2. Ready Player One (March 30):

Legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg directs this adaptation of Ernest Cline’s book of the same name where a poor teen in the future competes in a virtual reality world for the ultimate prize…control of the VR world. The trailers were astounding with all the imagery and Easter eggs of popular genre characters and vehicles like the Iron Giant and the DeLorean from Back to the Future. This mashup of Tron and Willy Wonka will hopefully blow our eyes and minds.

1. Avengers: Infinity War (May 4):

Marvel Studios celebrates ten years of superhero films with the culmination of its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Epic does not begin to describe the long-awaited teaming up of the MCU heroes against the cosmic threat of Thanos. We’ve been waiting for this moment for ten years when the the MCU came into being and we were teased with the Thanos threat since the end of the first Avengers film. The recently released trailer gave us a hint of the mammoth scale of what our many heroes will face. The idea alone of most, if not all, the MCU heroes to date appearing together in one film is enough to crown Avengers: Infinity War as the most anticipated film of 2018. Just don’t expect any mutants or anyone from the Marvel TV shows to show up in Avengers: Infinity War.

Other Films: Annihilation (Feb. 23), Ex Machina director, Alex Garland, helms this adaption of the Jeff VanderMeer novel about a science team exploring a mysterious land with unknown life;

Black Panther (Feb. 16), the latest Marvel Comics superhero gets his own action-packed solo film after his explosive debut in Captain America: Civil War;

The New Mutants (April 13), Marvel Comics’ young mutants make their big-screen debut in a horror film;

God Particle (April. 20), the mysterious third film in the loose Cloverfield trilogy has had its scheduled release date changed a couple of times already and there are rumors of title change. Sounds alarming, but its premise of stranded astronauts surviving Earth’s destruction sounds promising, so hopefully the film will turn out fine;

Rampage (April 20), The Rock stars in the adaptation of the arcade game about a giant ape (and two other giant animals) causing havoc in a city. Where else would he do this? Anyway, judging from the trailer it looks like mindless fun;

Alita: Battle Angel (July 22), James Cameron produces and Robert Rodriguez directs the long-awaited live-action adaptation of the manga classic. They better hope this one does not become this year’s Ghost in the Shell.

The Predator (Aug. 3), former Predator actor turned director Shane Black brings us the latest entry in the Predator films. Maybe Dutch can finally appear in a cameo;

The Meg (Aug. 10), move over Sharknado! This Jason Statham thriller brings the action star face to face with a prehistoric giant shark;

Alpha (Sept. 14), so how did dog become man’s best friend? This film tells the story of how man and dog first bonded in the prehistoric past;

Venom (Oct. 12), Tom Hardy stars as the title anti-hero in Sony’s attempt to create its own Spider-Man-themed cinematic universe;

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (Nov. 2), possibly the final X-Men team film from Fox before Disney folds the mutant superheros into their MCU;

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Nov. 16), the further fantastic adventures of Newt Scamander in the Harry Potter universe;

fantastic beasts 2

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (Nov. 21), Disney’s beloved video game villain returns in this sequel to Wreck-It Ralph;

Mortal Engines (Dec. 14), Peter Jackson produces this futuristic tale of giant, mobile cities in a post-apocalyptic landscape;

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Dec. 14), the first Spider-Man animated film features the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man;

Aquaman (Dec. 21), the sole DCEU entry for the year is a solo venture starring Jason Mamoa as the troubled king of Atlantis.

There you have it, a lot of films to look forward to, including some that were left out that could still turn out to be great. Have a wonderful 2018 and enjoy these and other films.

For Oliver

José Soto

Disney Buys Fox And Becomes An Entertainment Supergiant

We’ve all been expecting this for weeks with all the gossip and innuendo. Some salivated over the idea of an expanded Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), others feared the rise of a modern-day monopoly. Regardless of opinion, the Walt Disney Company has bought a significant portion of 21st Century Fox and in the process, regained the film rights to several Marvel Comics properties and now own several other intellectual properties. This is truly staggering news and a legitimate cause for celebration and concern.

To be clear, Disney has only purchased (for $52.4 billion) the film division, 20th Century Fox, the Fox TV shows, assorted channels like FX and National Geographic, and other divisions of Fox. These include Sky and a majority share of the Hulu streaming service, while Fox will retain its sports and news divisions.

MCU fans may feel that the biggest prize of the purchase has been the film rights to the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Deadpool, but those are just fringe benefits. Disney would have regained those rights even if Fox was sold to another party. Instead, Disney wants to have a significant film library for its coming streaming service and the Fox properties will provide that. In addition to the missing Marvel properties, Disney now owns several franchises and intellectual properties, which include: Planet of the Apes, Alien, Avatar, Titanic, Ice Age, and The Simpsons. Some of these IPs are a strange fit for Disney since the company is renowned for its family-friendly fare, but more adult offerings are not unheard of for the entertainment giant. Disney once owned Miramax, which produced mature films during its time with Disney. Also, Disney CEO, Bob Iger, assured fans that their Marvel films will explore R-rated offerings, which means that Deadpool should be safe for now.

But will Disney produce hard R-rated fare like the Alien films? They might, but it is possible that they may just sell the IPs to another studio to help recoup some of the mammoth cost of the sale. Other IPs like Avatar and Planet of the Apes should fit well with Disney. After all, Avatar has a heavy presence as a themed land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park and Planet of the Apes is an obvious addition to the same park.

Bob Iger also announced today the fate of the X-Men films. It was speculated before the sale was finalized that the X-Men films might remain in their own separate continuity or relegated to TV shows for the streaming service. Instead, Iger said that the X-Men, Deadpool and Fantastic Four will be integrated into an expanded MCU from Marvel Studios. The Fantastic Four are an easy addition to the popular cinematic universe and their inclusion is to be celebrated because Fox’s attempts at Fantastic Four films have been terrible. However, the X-Men are a different matter. For the most part, the films worked and adding them to the MCU may make that cinematic universe too crowded. Their addition could take attention away from lesser-known Marvel properties that could have seen their day in the sun. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Ant-Man may not have been possible if Marvel Studios owned the X-Men back then. Will the big purchase mean that these kinds of films won’t be made in favor for the new mutants on the block? It is hard to imagine Marvel Studios releasing three films per year as it now does and a mutant film or two. This will certainly create superhero fatigue. Plus, how good will the MCU X-Men films be? Will they be hard hitting and successfully tackle the mature themes of bigotry that the current films do?

Right now, Marvel Studios has the task of recasting the X-Men, including Wolverine, and Hugh Jackman has stated that he will not return to the role. Luckily, the film studio has had a good streak when it comes to casting their superheroes. On the other hand, expect the current X-Men film universe to end. This does not mean that upcoming films like Deadpool 2, The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix will be canceled. Those films are complete and will be released as planned. But a sequel to The New Mutants is unlikely and the “Dark Phoenix” story may be a fitting conclusion to the films. Another thing to consider is that the X-Men films, for better or worse, are associated with director Bryan Singer, who’s had problems lately with allegations of sexual abuse and unprofessional conduct on film sets. Ending the X-Men films and starting over fresh is Disney’s best option, with the sole survivor being the Merc With a Mouth. He may have a thin connection to the MCU like the Marvel TV properties do and be the snarky commentator of the film universe.

When the dust clears, Disney will have a monumental job of integrating all these properties and divisions into its entertainment empire. Will it be too much for them? Possibly. As mentioned before, it may be best for Disney to sell off some of its IPs or divisions or simply shut them down for the time being. Another thing to consider is will all this disperse the company and dilute it? Iger and his executives may believe they can handle, but they may have bitten off more than they can chew. We will not know for a while.

The most disturbing aspect of the mega purchase is the explosive growth of Disney. They now have their expansive tentacles in many parts of our lives and our entertainment. Under normal circumstances, this sale may have been opposed by the government, but that is unlikely these days. This may take years, but perhaps the company may be forced to get rid of many properties and divisions before they assume too great a control over our entertainment venue.

There are so many details that are unknown to the general public and we won’t know for some time. Until then all we can do is wait and keep an eye on new developments, which will be covered here as they happen.

To think it all started with a mouse.

José Soto