Art Vs. Money in the MCU


From the blog  Super Connectivity

by Charlie Esser for the Nuff Said Podcast

If there is one thing that defines the Marvel Cinematic Universe and this column it is connectivity.  What differentiates these two artistic endeavors is that the MCU exists first and foremost to return on the investment of Disney.  The MCU is a money printing machine of late, and one reason for this is its connectivity.  That these well written, acted, and directed pieces are also interconnected allowing for each to build on the other’s fan base and past performance.  However this sort of connectivity requires some level of forethought.  They may not know exactly where they are going with the entrance of Nick Fury at the end of Iron Man or the entrance of Tony Stark at the end of the Incredible Hulk, but they know how it leads to the next film and to the next.  As the MCU grows larger and larger, more and more long term plans are needed.  Marvel has reserved dates through 2028 for their film releases, and that is more than just squatting, they know where they want to go, and how they want to get there.

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In my previous article, I made mention of how Marvel has tied science to magic from the very beginning of its arc, and with each successive film, we are seeing more and more magic inserted into the ostensibly science based universe, and the recent Guardians of the Galaxy film is no exception.  In many ways, without going into spoilers, despite being a sci-fi extravaganza it is without a doubt the most magical of all the marvel movies to date, featuring both arcane ritual and ancient items of power.

This brings us to the problem Marvel now faces.  I’ve explained why I thought the recently released film Lucy starring the incomparable Scarlett Johansson might be a fairly weak story.  Suffice it to say, that my assessment of the film was largely correct, but as a marvel of show business, this film dominated the box office its opening weekend. To be frank I don’t think that anyone is looking at this outcome and thinking that it was Morgan Freeman who pushed Lucy to the top of the Box office.  Scarlett Johansson has proven herself at this point to be a truly bankable movie star, able to open a film on her name alone. 

I don’t know if this was a strategy by her agent, or Ms. Johansson herself, or just random luck, but she struck upon a genius gamble in her most recent film projects.  She has associated herself with more artistic fair (Her, Under the Skin, and now Lucy) and in doing so elevated the social presence of these pieces.  While Her might have been an impactful film regardless of who provided the voice (to me any computer that is not Majel Barrett will always be a little less than correct), but Under the Skin (a hit for an indie film) and now Lucy (a bon a fide Hollywood hit) are so because of Ms. Johansson exclusively. 

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Scarlett has a loyal fan base (owed in no small part to her work with Marvel Studios) that will open a film for her.   Few if any other actors in our modern world really have that. That Lucy was, in all honesty, such a weak piece just emphasizes that the draw had little to do with story or direction but Johansson herself, and that makes her for this moment a very powerful woman in the movie industry.

However this creates a problem for the MCU.  While, a Black Widow film was something that we would have seen in time without question, Lucy forces the issue. Marvel studios has Ms. Johansson on contract as the Widow for a number of films, and Marvel now has a real impetus to make one of those films a standalone Black Widow film sooner rather than later, and by sooner I me, the next announced Marvel project with release date.

The simple truth is Marvel can’t afford to leave the money on the table that a Black Widow film offers them, and if they wait too long, the price (as Mr. Downy Jr. has shown) only goes up.  So Marvel needs this movie, but they also have a problem, a different Lucy Conundrum if you will.  Do they keep as they had planned to press forward with Magic as the core of phase 3 in Marvel, or do they jump back from the Dr. Strangest and cosmic crossroads they’ve laid and go back to a good old spy thriller to cash in on this phenomenal and popular actress currently working for them.

Marvel needs to move this powerful actress whose character is steeped in the espionage world, into the world of magic to keep their artistic arc in place, but whether they know it or not, Marvel has already set the ground work for a film, I’m calling Black Widow: The Secret Avenger. #BlackWidowTheSecretAvenger

Why is Black Widow the Secret Avenger,  because SHIELD (now run by Director Phil Coulson) is as an underground agency, rebuilding but still trying to protect the world.  So when a situation arises that needs something more than “the Calvary” can bring, something that needs the manipulation and all the angles planning that Natasha put on display in the Avengers, they reach out to the Black Widow.   

Once our Secret Avenger is on the scene, we just need a mystical MacGuffin for her to track down.  She could try to recover Loki’s staff from Hydra or something tied to the Roman Goddess Venus, or the Psyche-Magnitron a Kree weapon that amounts to a wishing machine.   This of course creates an Indiana Jones style treasure hunt story, mixing adventure, espionage, and magic as the Black Widow, Hydra, and the USAF (who also investigate unusual activities) seek to find and control the object before it falls into the wrong hands of one of the other parties. 

A story like this allows Marvel to build out their universe further, tie a spy story into magic, and cash in Ms. Johansson’s star power while she’s still under contract.

All they need to do, it green light the project. 

Oh, and if they are interested, I am available for consultation on the story. 

Posted on August 4, 2014 .