Marvel Studios and the Unusual Sound of Silence

Ebony Maw
Credit: Marvel Studios

This week while preparing Marvel Comics’ November 2018 solicitations, Newsarama took note of an unusual dynamic – the publisher released one of the first official products related to next March’s Captain Marvel feature film. You know, Marvel’s first solo female-led superhero film and by all indications the biggest step yet in what the studio is touting as a significant push into putting female heroes on equal footing as males, including by pure numbers.

Credit: Marvel Comics

And in doing so, they put Samuel L. Jackson on the cover…

Motherf…

Now to be fair (and serious), in Marvel’s in-MCU continuity one-shot Marvel’s Captain Marvel Prelude #1, the solicited special clearly spells out the story is mostly about Nick Fury and Maria Hill, seemingly set in the moments before they’re ‘snapped’ to dust by Thanos but managed to get a text message off to Captain Marvel. And the image, which may or may not present the actual published cover, is clearly part of a still from Avengers: Infinity War.

Not that we’d even expect Marvel Comics to debut something significant for Marvel Studios, but just the juxtaposition of Nick Fury on an official Captain Marvel tie-in underscores the fact that the clock is ticking away in terms of its promotional calendar, and we’ve seen very little from the film. No official shots of Brie Larson – even in civilian attire as Carol Danvers – despite paparazzi photos of her in a black, green and silver version of the costume months ago. No shot of Jude Law as Mar-vell - or any cast member for that matter.

And in case you haven’t done the math, we’re now into a somewhat atypical if not unprecedented timeframe when it comes to Marvel dropping the trailer. Take for example this February’s Black Panther. Its first trailer debuted online June 6, 2017, nearly 8 full months before the film opened on February 16, 2018. Thor: Ragnarok’s first trailer dropped more than 7 months before opening.

Infinity War (despite footage shown in Hall H last July) and Ant-Man and the Wasp had much shorter windows, which may have been because of the secretive nature to varying degrees of both films ... or maybe it’s Marvel’s new normal.

Either way, despite having the potential to be a cultural event for Marvel somewhat akin to Black Panther and the character playing a pivotal role in next May’s Avengers 4, the lack of anything Captain Marvel thus far has been conspicuous.

Credit: Marvel Studios

Again, there may be story reasons behind that. After all, we still don’t know what the real title of Avengers 4 actually is and there's no indication we’re going to find out anytime soon, so in this day and age of heavy promotion perhaps we’re just seeing an unusual ‘say less’ strategy, which wouldn’t be unwelcome.

But whatever the reason(s), we’re still in somewhat uncharted territory in the decade-long life of Marvel Studios, who despite touting this year as a celebration of that anniversary, are being unusually tight-lipped at the moment and don't quite have that perception of invulnerability they had just a few months ago but that a significant new piece of news could help restore. 

Ant-Man and the Wasp, despite getting what looks like will be a small bump (even adjusted for inflation) from its predecessor which will keep it from being a set-back, probably performed a little under expectations, considering the winning streak of exceeded expectations that preceded it. Reviews were very positive, it introduced the Wasp, it had that momentum coming off the massive hits Black Panther and Infinity War, and on top of all that added a pivotal chapter to what comes next in the MCU, at least for the fans who knew where to look. Yet it’s more or less keeping pace with the original. Ant-Man and the Wasp’s somewhat muted returns may not be a full-scale chink in the Marvel armor but the long wait between it and Captain Marvel will give rise to some questions as to what proper expectations will be for the latter’s performance.

The studio also is unusually in the midst of its first prolonged negative news cycle, which they don’t seem to have any easy way out of. Disney hasn’t seemed to get too much flak for essentially pleading ignorance of the 10+ year-old offensive tweets that got James Gunn fired as director of Guardians of the Galaxy 3, and they handled the news swiftly and decisively when the matter arose. Until a new director is hired, the idea of Gunn getting a reprieve will likely be ever-present, but Disney seems to be sticking to their guns (sorry) and the lack of a new film to promote has allowed president Kevin Feige to stay out of the story ... for now.

Credit: Marvel Studios

But there may be no win here for the studio. Gunn's cast seems behind him and clearly desiring of him to get a second chance, with Dave Bautista being the most vocal among the core stars. This is likely going to leave Marvel with ‘lesser of evils’ solutions – try to find an able and willing director to follow in Gunn’s shoes and shoot in his massive shadow with an unhappy cast. And even if they find someone with chops willing to take on that challenge, they may find a group of actors who won’t be in full corporate team player mode when it comes to any Marvel film’s extensive promotion schedule.

Marvel may have temporarily dodged a bullet considering Rocket and Groot are only Guardians left alive (for now) since Avengers 4 promotion is less than a year away, but given the franchise was Marvel’s sort of happy-go-lucky funny cousin to the Avengers, and Gunn was the eldest jokester cousin, the future of the property is now surrounded by significant questions. To some degree, the lighthearted aura of the property has been altered permanently.

Whether or not any of the Gunn situation has factored into Marvel’s unusual low-profile is purely a matter of speculation, but there are signs the radio silence is part of a larger plan.

Recall Marvel is the studio that just four years ago held a press event at the El Capitan Theatre to announce five years’ worth of upcoming movie titles, with a scheduled date for each. Now the dates have changed for many of titles mentioned that day, but with the exception of The Inhumans [cough, cough], the identity of the films have remained pretty consistent.

Contrast that to today – of the 12 opening weekends Marvel has claimed over the next four years, only three have been revealed (and one only partially) – 2019’s Captain Marvel, Avengers 4 and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and only one of those was unknown back in 2014 – Far From Home. Nine films from 2020 through 2022 are yet to be revealed, although it stands to reason a significant number of those releases will be sequels.

Of course, Marvel Studios has another 'x-factor' (wait for it…) which may or may not be affecting their plans to reveal more about their schedule – what looks like will be the completion of a Disney-21st Century Fox assets acquisition next year that would net them the live action rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

Given the United States Justice Department (in the other big thing they’re doing this year) has officially approved the transaction along with shareholders of both companies, Feige and co. likely have had no choice but to have already begun rethinking whatever the long-range MCU plans were.

Whatever their reason or reasons, we know less about the future of the big-screen Marvel Universe today than we have perhaps anytime in their 10-year history, including and especially their next two films.

Just a few months ago after Black Panther and Infinity War Marvel appeared to have the world on a string and the inability to make a false move. Now with a few question marks having surfaced it’s been fascinating to watch them keep their rabid fanbase and Hollywood in general still guessing as to what the big picture is.

Maybe it’s all just because they want to maintain Avengers 4’s impact and their immediate and long-range future is entirely dependent on its story events. Maybe it’s because of a certain level of uncertainty within their own halls. But until they break their own relative silence, all we have is guesswork.

Which may be exactly the way they like it.

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