Filmism.net Dispatch February 5, 2023

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First, a quick update. A few Filmism.net Dispatches back I talked about how important your moviemaking stance is to appreciate what you're about to watch regardless of whether it's on a cinema screen or a streaming service.

Since writing and posting that riposte, I feel somewhat vindicated by this Wired.com story, which agrees with me.

But to today's topic. It's time to sell your shares in Marvel. The wheels might be coming off.

Every studio, franchise and film movement has its bell curve, and if you'd bought shares in the comic book publisher and hit factory (if such a thing were possible) in 2008 right before Iron Man was released, you'd have been a squillionaire when Avengers: Endgame came out.

If you'd bought your shares when that globe-stopping phase three wrap-up was released in 2019 you've already lost money, and I predict stock in the Marvel name is going to trend downward for some time yet.

Until now, it's been the white knight of the cinema industry and everything associated with it (from Comic Con to the K Mart lunchbox aisle) for a decade and a half, never putting a foot wrong.

Through incredible timing or some mysterious Faustian pact it's also positioned itself ahead of culture wars representing women (Captain Marvel) and African Americans (Black Panther) at the perfect time, seeming to capture and own the new Hollywood of minority inclusion.

Its record of financial success as well as critical appreciation for its film beats all the other major studios and production companies put together.

Head honcho Kevin Fiege is feted at Hollywood galas and self congratulatory circle jerks everywhere, giving up-and-coming directors and writers their shot and making them part of the billion dollar club.

But lately there's been a shift. The first wobbles were creative. For as long as I can remember I've been trying to remind anyone who'll listen about that time the Marvel universe was seriously sexist, way back in the original Iron Man (ask me if you want the whole lowdown).

Then came the casting of Tilda Swinton in Dr Strangelove, portraying a character that was Asian in the comics. That generated raised eyebrows rather than boycotts, but Marvel once again waved the representation banner and lapped up the kudos for it by making Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings a handful of years later, re-establishing itself as Hollywood's woke HQ.

Now, other voices are joining the chorus. First it was Martin Scorsese's off the cuff comment that superhero movies 'aren't cinema'. That was only an opinion, after all, so Marvelites could position themselves against a curmudgeonly old fart out of touch with what kids want from movies today without too much blowback.

But then came evidence from reputable names we assume know what they're talking about. Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel told the media back in 2018 about how she was invited to a meeting with Marvel bigwigs to discuss the possibility of directing Black Widow, the gig that went to Australia's Cate Shortland.

She talked about being bought in to give the female lead character more gender legitimacy but that they told her not to worry about action scenes - they'd handle them.

Jeff Bridges, who played Iron Man's original nemesis Obidiah Stane in the 2008 flick that introduced the whole universe, told reporters last year he and star Robert Downey Jr spent weeks workshopping the script between them only to find out on day one of the shoot it had all been thrown out.

Then came Ethan Hawke's notorious comments about how the studio was actor-friendly but not very director-friendly.

Not long after (and as if to confirm as much), Marvel was in the midst of rebooting the film that came well before the MCU (1998's Blade) when its director jumped ship.

But more damaging still are the growing rumblings about how much unsustainable pressure Marvel puts on VFX vendors.

Now, it has to be said that it's not really fair to pick on Marvel alone for this. It's an endemic, longstanding and much commented-upon issue in the movie industry. In my day job as a movie journalist I've even written about it myself.

But the whispered comments about studios/producers and their industrial abuse of VFX artists (with Marvel at the centre of many of them) can't be ignored.

You see, just like the system that protected Harvey Weinstein for so long, there's a very strong incentive to not bite the hand that feeds one in Hollywood. He (and countless others) got away with what they did for generations because they could make or break careers.

And when you talk to the VFX companies at the centre of reports about harsh working conditions and the sometimes-poor VFX they end up causing (like I did in the story above), people nearly turn themselves inside out toeing the party line as delicately as possible, defending their employers because they know going public about grievances will see them blacklisted.

The same publisher who commissioned the above piece asked me to put another one together about the complaints of VFX artists who've worked on Marvel films and (somewhat predictably) nobody would talk to me about it, even off the record. The incentive not to is just too strong.

But other media outlets have talked about the scene more generally, and it's become a thing to such a high profile extent it's even prompted those from within the Marvel fold to try to defend the company while being seen to support workers' rights.

But other media outlets have been luckier (or better connected) than me, and now stories are coming thick and fast that Marvel is underpaying, undervaluing and rushing VFX artists just as badly (or worse) than most other players in the field.





A lot of it is coming from anonymous self-published honest accounts like this one, but it all adds up to one thing.

Marvel, never mind its neverending roster or supervillains, might be heading towards a reckoning...

On screens now, I urge you to watch the Netflix documentary Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy, which encapsulates a movement with such righteous anger and verve it's impossible not to be carried along.

I also quite liked Pablo Larrain's interpretation of an awful Christmas weekend Princess Diana spends with the royal family in Spencer, a lushly soft tone poem about being a prisoner in a gilded cage.

And if you feel like a small, VOD film with a seeming gimmick but which is pulled off with panache, don't go past ride-share thriller comedy Dash.

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