Filmism.net Dispatch February 2, 2021

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A few different topics today. Firstly, speaking of Marvel (as we were last time), are they the luckiest studio ever or what? You might beg to differ; like a handful of others they had two movies ready to release (Black Widow and The New Mutants, although strictly speaking the latter was a 20th Century Fox production) when a global pandemic hit and effectively closed down the entire entertainment industry.

The choice when that happens is to hold your movie back for so long it just sits there not making any of its costs back and costing you heavy interest, or risk releasing it in cinemas and gambling not just that there are enough open but that enough people are willing to go to them to return multiplex-level box office. It's an unenviable choice and it's looking even more dire since Warner Bros gambled on releasing Tenet and lost (the gains from Wonder Woman 84 have been more promising, but they're far from theatrical event movie numbers).

But think of the other Marvel films of the last few years and where they've landed. When we were still talking about #OscarsSoWhite and #BlackLivesMatter came to prominence, what did they give us? Black Panther, a blindingly commercial piece of crowd pleasing entertainment with an African American cast, effortlessly positioning itself to stand for everything we thought society should be as a result. It rode a wave of political will to a more than billion dollar haul.

A couple of years later when we were all hoping Harvey Weinstein would trip over in court and break all his teeth out and a whole new social media movement arose exhorting us to believe and listen to women's stories of sexual abuse and harassment, Marvel did it again. It gave us another blindingly commercial piece of crowd pleasing entertainment in Captain Marvel, which also made it seem like they'd looked into a crystal ball for when pro-female sentiment would be its highest.

Fast forward to a year later. What started in 2008 with the original Iron Man drew to a close, a multi-stranded, multi-connected series of films about 20 major characters, leading to the denouements of all their stories and bringing the whole shebang to a narrative climax. Avengers: Endgame came out in April 2019 and soon blew every box office record away, just a year before the world went into global lockdown and the movies as we know them effectively ended.

Can you imagine if it had come out 12 months later? April 2020 was when we were all terrified at where this was all going to lead, when COVID19 cases were mounting up, when we'd already stopped eating out and going to movies. But Marvel and Disney had timed the Avengers two-parter with preternatural luck.

In other news, you probably also glossed over this tidbit of behind the scenes news (if you even saw it) around Christmas 2019, but Hasbro bought studio/distributor Entertainment One. Big deal, you say? Companies buy other companies all the time. Sure, but think for a second about the ramifications of a company that makes toys buying a company that makes movies. In the post Smurfs, Lego Movie, Angry Birds, Transformers (etc) world, motivations are everything.

Sure, some companies make purchases of successful businesses just to fill their coffers, but in today's corporate world it's all about synergy, and Hasbro's strategy will be to make movies about its toy lines and have its own production house to make and sell them, without the hassle of going through a creative partner (like a traditional studio) who'll want a say in scripts and release plans.

Even that might not strike you as a big deal. The Lego Movie and the first Transformers were actually pretty great. But when every producer and executive trots out the old line about how they love telling stories and got into the movie business to tell stories, the Hasbro/eOne deal reveals a deeper truth. We all know how many movies today are huge, expensive ads, loss leaders for the toy and lunchbox lines in Kmart and Walmart. But to see it so nakedly in action is still kind of icky...

The only thing that's really impressed me on screens lately is Adrift. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur, the Icelandic director who made the equally ace Everest about the killer 1996 Mt Everest tourism season. It's the true story of Tami Oldham, a young American woman travelling in Southeast Asia in the early 80s who meets the man of her dreams, sails off into the sunset with him and ends up smack bang in a killer hurricane that wrecks the sailboat and leaves her stranded in the middle of nowhere.

It's got heart, great performances and some of the starkest, most effective visuals (a lot of it done with very high quality CGI) you've seen in any film or recent years, let alone a drama.

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