Suske en Wiske Infographics 1: De Prachtige Personages

De Prachtige Personages is de eerste verschijning in een reeks van zes infographics over Willy Vandersteens populaire stripboekenreeks Suske en Wiske. In De Prachtige Personages is te zien welke personages in de loop van de reeks vijf keer of vaker in de albums verschenen. De personages zijn allereerst gesorteerd op het aantal verschijningen in de albums en vervolgens op de datum dat zij voor het eerst geïntroduceerd werden.

Lees het volledige artikel op Suske en Wiske op het WWW

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Producer vs. Director: The Case of Zack Snyder

Pim Razenberg on the debate on creative differences between producers and directors…

Creative differences. The clichéd answer to most break-ups between a studio and its directors. Recent examples of cases where “creative differences” were the cause of conflict are the departure of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the as-of-yet untitled Han Solo anthology film and the much discussed departure of Edgar Wright from Ant-Man. For a director to step up to direct a blockbuster movie means to take on the responsibility of turning a ton of money into tons of money. When such a blockbuster is meant to help shape a financially successful, Marvel-esque cinematic universe, the stakes are even higher. The look and feel of these movies have to fit within certain expectations and must not break the overlapping narrative of the cinematic universe. The level of financial risk involved to create a product audiences feel is worth paying for, warrants the involvement of producers: the gatekeepers of the aforementioned money.

Read the full article on Flickering Myth

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Sexism and Racism in Hollywood: The Black Force Awakens

Pim Razenberg on the politics of minorities and women in blockbuster superhero movies…

“Alright,” he sighted, the look on his face implying that a more serious tone was to follow. Squatting down next to the dead-still body of a man lying face-down in a puddle of mud, he paused a short moment to observe the seemingly beaten down individual’s shredded black uniform. “You’ve been beaten. You’ve been broken…” Without making a sound, the battered man slowly raised his head towards the speaker. “…You’ve got nothing left but what’s inside.” Small drops of rain started making splashes in the puddles surrounding the man’s broken body. The sound of the raindrops echoed through his ears. “I want you to reach inside. Reach into the depths of your soul. I want you to try to find that power within. That power that only we can feel. Others… they don’t understand. They will never understand. But we do… and that makes us special.” The speaker stood up, raised his back and looked up to the sky, while the increasing rainfall soaked his clothes. A third individual, dressed in dark gowns, sporting a mechanical arm, stepped up out of the shadows in ominous silence… “You have to find that power. The power only a black person can have.”

Read the full article on Flickering Myth

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Thanos: the Unproven Titan

Pim Razenberg on whether Thanos is the Avengers’ greatest foe, or just purple cookie-dough…

Thanos. The Dark Lord. The Man Titan… The Great Bore?

Introduced with a slight, grim smile in The Avengers, Marvel Comics’ powerful supervillain Thanos soon became Marvel Studio fans’ top 1 Google-search term. It didn’t take long before I started hearing casual movie goers attending newer Marvel Studios’ titles whispering about “who that purple guy from ‘The Avengers’ was”. By the time Guardians of the Galaxy came out, and intergalactic terrorist Ronan the Accuser started arguing with his omnipotent employer, a student occupying the seat in front of me impatiently tapped his friend on his shoulder trying to explain to him that they were now looking at the guy who appeared at the end of The Avengers. Though his friend had no idea what he was talking about, the young man then went on to explain how “Thanos was also fighting with Thor on the ice planet in the first Thor movie”. This guy really did his homework to impress his friend.

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Either way, Thanos has become a presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If we have to believe Korath from Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos is “the most powerful being in the universe”. This seems to be a fact Marvel Studios can’t stress enough to set up the “epic scale” of their two-parter Avengers: Infinity War. But are they really succeeding?

“You will have your war, Asgardian,” Thanos’ direct servant The Other promised Loki in The Avengers, “if you fail, if the Tesseract is kept from us, there will be no realm, no barren moon, no crevice where he can’t find you. You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as death.” Well – that obviously never happened. Three years later and Loki is still wandering around freely – free to the point where he can impersonate Odin, “the most powerful being in the Nine Realms”, take his throne in Asgard and get away with it (so far). Thanos must have a very busy schedule ruining lives elsewhere, off-screen – lives such as those of his “adoptive” daughters, Gamora and Nebula, or that of scorned warrior Drax the Destroyer, who each speak their mind about the horrors inflicted upon them by the Mad Titan in the Guardians of the Galaxy… Events about which we get to hear gruesome tales, but that we’ve never actually been shown. So far what Thanos’ on-screen power boils down to is sitting, grinning and bullying.

Now, that’s alright – it makes sense in a way – Marvel Studios is trying to portray him as a fearsome legend, a lurking threat in the darkness whose powers are still left up to the viewers speculation and imagination… But it’s been three years since we first saw him. X-Men: Apocalypse is already churning out their “omnipotent, ancient supervillain” Apocalypse next year and the Internet is captured by a continues buzz surrounding Warner Bros.’ plans of setting up a possible confrontation with either Doomsday or Darkseid in the DC Extended Universe. Yet three appearances later, the most spectacular thing Thanos has done is lift his arm at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron in a 23 seconds scene.

To show Thanos is more than a bucket of purple cookie-dough ice cream to keep the fans on their toes, it’s time we see him in action. Since in 2016 neither Captain America: Civil War nor Doctor Strange really have a reason to reference the Thanos-storyline at this point, it is all the more important that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok will not leave his story untouched. It’s time to see some ramifications in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to demonstrate the unproven “titan” his powers. If they really want to make us believe Thanos is the universal treat with a capital “T”, even greater than those “ultimate supervillains” their rival studios are prepping, Thanos will have to do a lot worse than kill off some secondary characters or destroy a random planet in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 which no one cares about. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is really one entity, I want to see his actions leave a real impression on its major players. I want to see Thanos call back on his deal with Loki in Thor: Ragnorak, only to reveal his real intentions, take the Tesseract, rip out (the real) Odin’s throat, destroy Asgard and kill most – if not all – of Thor’s supporting cast in the process. Doing something similar on Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to retrieve the Orb wouldn’t have much impact on Marvel Studios’ earth-based heroes, but a (successful) attack on Asgard would make a statement that cannot be ignored… Because really, one more cameo of that guy smiling at us and I’ll start thinking Happy Hogan is a bigger threat. I just hope the Dark Lord’s statement at the end of Age of Ultron will receive the follow-up it deserves…

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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The Future of Franchising: The Shared Universe

Pim Razenberg on the future of franchising…

Around the start of the new millennium a change occurred in Hollywood; a change that had been brewing for a while. The production of cinematic sequels to popular movies proved to warrant a strong outcome at the box office and studios were looking for ways to exploit their sequels in a more effective manner.

Without further warning, 2001’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring broke all box office conventions. Due to their immense success, the concept of “media franchises” dawned on the world, giving new meaning to the business term “franchise”. Hollywood’s adaptation of the term – their substitution for the then more common term “(film) series” – indicated a fusion between media and merchandise aimed for longevity. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings proved that producing movies and sequels based on pre-existing material was a good strategy to create a steady stream of sure-fire box office hits, rather than betting on the next Ivan Reitman-movie to become a success.

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Though sequels were already commonplace at the time, they were, with some notable exceptions, planned one by one, step by step, based on the outcome of its predecessor’s success. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings ignored this approach and instead contracted its stars for a set number of films, guaranteeing their return to the big screen if the public’s response was favourable. The Lord of the Rings took the new approach even further than its magical British cousin, by filming all three of its instalments back-to-back like only a handful of film series had done before.

The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean quickly followed suit and many, many other new “franchises” were planned by the Hollywood studio heads, more often than not signing the franchises’ main stars for a “three picture deal”. Some of these franchises (re)launched well, such as Pirates of the Caribbean, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hunger Games and Twilight, but not all proved to be successful: Prince of Persia, The Golden Compass and The Mortal Instruments, as well as the planned “sequel trilogies” to The Mummy, Indiana Jones and The Terminator failed to become the “blockbuster franchises” the studios had hoped for. Hollywood’s newly adopted “franchising strategy” was thus successfully applied to produce a series of great box office hits, but like other strategies, also at times faltered when results felt flat of expectations.

Each new strategy – whether it’s the latest fantasy-fad or the application of a business-wide franchising model – is eventually met with stagnating profits, and within Hollywood’s multi-billion dollar industry, that’s not considered as a good thing. Steady profits are considered unfavourable; as any other business, most Hollywood studios aim for a yearly profit increase, which means having to continuously search for new business models that can provide them with a steadier, more secure way to produce movies at a high success rate.

With so many franchises clogging up the yearly box office it was only a matter of time before “the next big thing” would come along: in 2012 Marvel Studios introduced Hollywood to a new business model: interconnected franchising, or: the merger of pre-existing franchises into one singular mega-franchise, stretched across all aspects of the industry, branching into film, television, online media, music, gaming and merchandising.

Marvel Studios’ so called “cinematic universe” was the first of its kind, but its base can be found in the publication of both traditional American comic books as well as similar earlier conceived cameo-based “shared universes”, such as the Disney universe, in which random Disney characters pop up in other movies and Kevin Smith’s View Askewniverse, in which characters from one film would often reappeared in other instalments. Marvel Studios was, however, the first studio to combine the 21st century-franchising and contracting business model, while also interlinking a series of major franchises into one mega-franchise: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

One mega-movie and 1.5 billion dollars later, studios wrote the 2001 Hogwarts express off as old-fashioned, strapped on their capes and scrambled up all their forgotten toys from the basement floor to put them all together on the big screen, ready to flood the world in a sea of “cinematic universes” – much like they had started to flood the world with “franchises” a decade earlier.

Sony was the first to head-over-heels rip up its intended plans for The Amazing Spider-Man franchise to make way for an adaptation of Marvel Studios’ new mega-franchising model… and by doing so wound up ripping apart their entire franchise. Warner Bros. followed Marvel Studios’ example with more caution, pushing back their release date for the Man of Steel-sequel Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, not just to allow for the film to be properly developed, but also to be able to flesh out the overall intended storyline for their new-born “DC Comics cinematic universe”.

What arguably should’ve ended there since then progressed into idiocracy. Universal, having none of the world’s classic superheroes under its belt, introduced audiences to their version of the “shared universe” with Dracula Untold, hoping to re-launch a series of franchises based on their back catalogue of classic monster movies, the same monsters who then one day will unite in an Avengers-style mega-movie. Much like 2004’s Van Helsing; but surely better…

Meanwhile, Sony admitted to having screwed up the (Amazing) Spider-Man franchise and decided to instead put other ideas for “shared universes” in production, such as the “Robin Hood shared movie universe” with movies dedicated to Robin, Little John, Friar Tuck and Maid Marion; and the “Ghostbusters shared universe”, detailing an all-female and an all-male spin-off movie. Warner Bros. Pictures and Village Roadshow Pictures then added a six-movie ‘‘Knights of the Roundtable’ King Arthur shared universe’ to the mix, Valiant Comics promises to create “the largest independent superhero universe” based on their own heroes, and Columbia Pictures is contemplating to make a 21 Jump Street and Men in Black crossover, because, why the hell not? Additionally, existing franchises such as The Expendables, Star Wars, X-Men, Madagascar and Despicable Me are also attempting to expand their “cinematic universes” by producing (spin-off) movies based on old and new characters.

As it seems, a new production strategy has taken over Hollywood; a strategy that comes with the promise of box office gold to those who handle it well, yet a strategy that will also no doubt claim just as many victims as the franchising strategy did before. Though at the moment we only have the widely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe and two cinematic universes’ “first instalments” – Man of Steel and Dracula Untold – to enjoy, it won’t be long before audiences will be invited to join the major studios in their attempts at cinematic world-building… and those same audiences will no doubt start to feel the queasy aftereffects of 2012’s The Avengers soon enough.

For now it seems the Hollywood studios are pampering their previously much-ignored fan-boy audiences, creating a series a mega-franchises coming straight from the pages of America’s favourite comic books, as well as producing a plethora of prequels, sequels and “soft-reboots” of old fan-favourites to keep their existing franchises alive and kicking. If anything, The Avengers taught Hollywood’s studios that a bit of long-term investment can lead to a very rich pay-off, and while today most of their cinematic universes are still in their infancy, the studios’ plans are getting increasingly bigger. To keep their plans in check, Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. already started signing their main stars for “six picture deals” or more.

Whether the idea of “shared universes” will grow tiresome before its largest tent pole centrepieces, Avengers: Infinity War – Part I & II and The Justice League – Part One and Two roll into cinemas is questionable, however, it can be assumed that in a decade from now that shiny superhero cape the studios heroically strapped on will look far less attractive to Hollywood’s money-hungry studio heads. Though both story-wise and financially it wouldn’t make much sense now to merge the different studios’ separate (mega) franchises, it is not unthinkable that in 2028 Superman, Wolverine and the Hulk will be squaring off against Galactus together…

Meanwhile, I think now is the time to make that Roger Rabbit-sequel!

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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Avengers: Infinity War – An accumulation, or continuation?

Pim Razenberg on whether Avengers: Infinity War will be an accumulation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or a continuation…

We’re well into 2015 and Avengers: Age of Ultron is firmly knocking on our doors. The superhero ensemble movie will pick up the threads from Marvel Studios’ previous Phase Two instalments, and, looking at the studio’s Phase Three movie slate, will shuttle its main characters into a host of new adventures.

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The titles announced for Phase Three in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe give us strong hints of what’s to come. Captain America: The Winter Soldier actor Anthony Mackie recently referred to Captain America: Civil War as “Avengers 3.8”, referring to the fact that many of the Cinematic Universe’s characters will return to the big screen for the Phase Three opening movie. Furthermore, Tony Stark’s inclusion in Civil War and the progressive integration of new characters such as Black Panther and Spider-Man over the course of several films seem to strengthen the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s overall sense of coherence: during Phase Three there might be a lot less second guessing over the fate of “other Avengers” while Marvel’s solo movies play out.

Even more so than in Phase Two, each individual movie in Phase Three seems to serve as both a continuation of Marvel’s solo franchises as well as a building block towards some greater goal. Though Kevin Feige stated to have mapped out the Marvel Cinematic Universe until 2028, as of now the two-part Avengers: Infinity War seems to be the great epic event the studio is steering itself towards.

However, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to be explored and expanded, there are certain pressing issues at hand that make us question the status of Avengers: Infinity War within the overall plot of The Avengers franchise. The contracts of the actors portraying the “original” 2012 Avengers are soon to expire and speculation already arose over the absence of these key characters in the first part of Infinity War.

Whether these rumours are true or false is at this point irrelevant. The real question at the base of these issues is: will Avengers: Infinity War be an accumulation or a continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it?

In the original comic books The Avengers commonly operated with a rotating schedule of superheroes, and by the time Infinity War comes around many new characters will be in place ready to take over from characters such as Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. But what is commonplace within the world of comic books doesn’t necessarily translate well into a multi-billion dollar movie franchise. Not all fans of The Avengers are comic book readers, let alone comic book fanatics. Strip the audience of these loyalists and how many people will there be left that would gladly accept – or even understand – why the “new Avengers movie” doesn’t feature the characters they came to know as “the Avengers”?

Marvel Studios will have a difficult decision to make concerning the movie’s creative direction. Given that Avengers: Infinity War is said to wrap up Marvel’s eleven-year story arc, will the movie truly be the epic accumulation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will the movie be more of a continuation of the franchise, leading old and new characters and storylines into Phase Four?

If the studio opts for accumulation, Infinity War will most likely feature many of the Cinematic Universe’s pre-existing superheroes, ranging from the original Avengers to new additions such as Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, the Inhumans or Black Panther. Only time will tell how (and whether) Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil and The Defenders come into play, and whether the Guardians of the Galaxy will unite with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to square off against the Mad Titan, Thanos. Infinity War could end the saga of the Cinematic Universe’s current Avenger-team and lead the franchise into a new era, focusing on new characters. Contracts end, characters die; yet the world keeps on spinning. Producing Infinity War as an epic accumulation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hinting at and influencing many of its aspects, might be the definitive prove that Marvel truly succeeded in pulling of the creation of a comic book-style shared movie Universe.

It is questionable, however, where such a movie would leave the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, entering Phase Four. If everything leads up to Infinity War, and after Infinity War Phase Four will largely focus on the studio’s new characters and storylines, will there be as much franchise loyalty then as there is now? Drawing up Infinity War as the conclusion to the Cinematic Universe’s overall story arcs and continuing the franchise in such a fashion could feel much like making a sequel to The Matrix-trilogy, based on its surviving characters.

If Marvel Studios instead opts to produce Infinity War as a continuation of the Cinematic Universe, making it a (large) stepping stone between its first three phases and the fourth, rather than a cumulative conclusion to it all, the two part-epic will leave a stronger sense of “there’s more to come” on its audience. Such a movie would, however, require a smaller scale movie, handpicking its main characters from the Cinematic Universe’s large batch of heroes much like Civil War is doing, while saving other characters as a second front to (co-)headline Phase Four. Yet while Civil War’s mix-and-match approach might be a wise choice to model Infinity War after, it might not prove to be enough to warrant the long anticipated two part endgame Marvel Studios is promising its audiences; after all, Kevin Feige himself already stated that the studio has been building up towards Infinity War since the very beginning of their Cinematic Universe, calling the two-part movie a “culmination of everything that has come before”.

Juggling Marvel Studios ever-growing slate of heroes within the Cinematic Universe might prove to be very difficult to pull off over time. No matter which approach the studio decides to take, Infinity War will most likely leave the Cinematic Universe with a discrepancy between the old and the new. There’s no guarantee Phase Three’s new heroes will become fan favourite characters strong enough to eventually replace the likes of Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth and there are no guarantees today’s Earth Mightiest Heroes will be willing to extend their contracts beyond Infinity War.

Personally, I would feel a bit cheated if the Infinity War storyline, which has been set up over the course of over a dozen films, doesn’t even feature the characters from that particular slate of films. After all, what’s the point of having all the “original” Avengers encounter the infinity stones if they won’t be around to protect them when the storm hits? Based on Marvel Studios’ track record, however, I believe that this won’t be the case. Hopefully the studio will be able to find the right balance between the old and the new for Avengers: Infinity War, leaving Phase Four to become an accumulation in itself of all that was good about the Universe they have created.

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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The Downside of The Avengers adopting Spider-Man

Pim Razenberg on the downside of The Avengers adopting Spider-Man…

So, there we have it! Monday this week Marvel announced their new partnership with Sony, after striking a deal to cement The Amazing Spider-Man’s future firmly within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The news was welcomed by many of the web-slinger’s fans, who were left disappointed by Sony’s previous Spider-Man instalments.

Personally, I’m not very thrilled.

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Every time there was talk of “negotiation” between Marvel Studios and Sony it gave me the awkward feeling that something just didn’t fit. Marvel has been on a winning streak for years producing entertaining, yet highly qualitative superhero movies, while the Spider-Man franchise has been in a downwards spiral ever since the series’ highlight, Spider-Man 2. Not once, but twice Sony killed its own cash cow by oversaturating their Spider-Man movies with an unbalanced amount of characters and diluting the characters that actually mattered.

Is Spider-Man’s comic book iteration a great, diverse character? Arguably so. Popular? No doubt about it. As a movie franchise, however, the web-slinger’s reputation is severely damaged by bad sequels and a rather pointless reboot that came too soon and changed too little. For Marvel Studios to adopt – and thus, revive – the twice dead corpse of Peter Parker really doesn’t sound like such a great idea to me.

In 2012 there was talk of including Spider-Man in The Avengers and Oscorp Tower was to be added to New York’s skyline in Marvel’s ensemble movie. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. If there is one thing Marvel is hell-bend on, it is their consistency in story and structure – just ask Edgar Wright how the studio enforces that policy. The tone, style and level of “realism” of the “universes” The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers inhabit are very different. In addition to that, the franchises don’t click storywise either: in both The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers New York was wrecked, yet somehow there was no mention of such events in the franchises’ respective movies? There’s another big-time superhero in New York, yet none of the Avengers or S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever taken notice of him?

To include Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to again reboot the rebooted franchise, sadly, without its main star, Andrew Garfield. Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel have worked way too hard making every detail in the Marvel Cinematic Universe click, to allow for Sony’s failed franchise to puncture holes in the entire continuity of Marvel Studio’s shared universe.

Marvel Studios’ goal was to create a series of interlinked movie franchises similar in structure to their comic book publications. The Marvel Cinematic Universe sports a host of great superhero characters and is about to become a lot bigger with the inclusion of Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and many others. If there’s one thing that was abundantly clear during these last few years is that Marvel Studios never needed Spider-Man to become successful, nor to tell great stories. Even Civil War, a story heavily featuring Spider-Man, would have been made without him in the blink of an eye. Taking back Spider-Man under these circumstances sounds like a step away from “great movie making” and a step towards financial greed.

What stung the most about Monday’s announcement was the statement that Sony remains to have “creative control” over the Spider-Man series. Because of this, my one hope for Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the presence of Kevin Feige’s “iron thumb” that has been keeping all the storylines and characters (as well as Marvel’s directors) firmly in place. Marvel stated that Feige will co-produce the new Spider-Man films along with “his expert team at Marvel and Amy Pascal.” If Marvel Studios’ role as “co-producer” weighs in even half as strong as it did in all its Phase Two and Phase Three movies, I am willing to give this turn of events a chance… Just as long as Spider-Man doesn’t become the Avengers’ unruly, spoiled adoptive child, who’s ready to kick Marvel’s golden teeth in corny juvenile one-liners…

How do you feel about Spider-Man’s inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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The Superhero Spin-Off: will a Black Widow solo movie ever be made?

Pim Razenberg on whether a Black Widow movie will ever be made…

Back in October the announcement of Marvel Studios’ Phase Three movie slate surprised everyone with the absence of a movie centred on Scarlett Johansson’s superspy Natasha Romanov, a.k.a. Black Widow. Long rumoured since the introduction of Black Widow in Iron Man 2, many fans expected the movie to be announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s third slate of films. But was it really that big a surprise that it didn’t happen?

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Like Hawkeye, Black Widow was passed over for a spin-off movie in Phase Three, seemingly ruling out the possibility for a solo outing for the foreseeable future. Yet looking at Phase One and Phase Two, the movie’s exclusion was not all that strange. This year the Marvel Cinematic Universe will see the release of its eleventh instalment, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and while sporting a host of intriguing comic book characters, Marvel has yet to take the decision to make a spin-off movie based on one of them.

After Nick Fury’s cameo in Iron Man’s stinger in 2008, audiences speculated the possibility of a Nick Fury movie; a movie that was, at one point, thought to come out as part of Marvel’s Phase One line-up. As of yet, however, the status of the Nick Fury spin-off is still up in the air. Over the last six years many other spin-off movies based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe were proposed, but none of them saw the light of day: Black Widow, the Winter Soldier, S.H.I.E.L.D., Hawkeye, Loki and even the Warrior’s Three were at one point considered for a solo outing; yet in Phase Three none of these characters received the greenlight for spinning off into their own adventures. In addition, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver are equally kept out of the spotlight in Phase Three.

Maybe the reason for Marvel Studios’ reluctance to forward a spin-off movie lies within the concept’s unstable track-record. After all, previous attempts made by other studios to produce spin-off movies from existing ensemble franchises weren’t all that successful. Reception to X-Men spin-off X-Men Origins: Wolverine was lukewarm at best and halted the production of the X-Men Origins film series, which among others would have included a movie based on the character of Magneto. Daredevil spin-off Elektra received generally negative reviews and barely broke even at the Box Office. The Fantastic Four spin-off Silver Surfer and the Spider-Man 3 spin-off Venom never even materialized.

It seems, however, that other studios hope to change this trend. Both Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Warner Bros.’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were in part set up to serve as a launching pad for the creation of new “cinematic universes”. Like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Batman v Superman will introduce a host of famous DC characters, cameo-status or otherwise, meant to be spun off into new franchises and spin-off movies set in the same universe.

Marvel Studios plays its cards closer to the chest: rather than shoehorning new characters in its movies and using The Avengers’ blockbuster status to launch new spin-off movies, the studio has been testing its success with spin-off material in the short movie series Marvel One Shots and the ABC television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. Meanwhile, characters such as the Hulk and Black Widow are glorified as “key characters” in their colleagues’ franchises. After the announcement of the Phase Three movie slate in October 2014, Kevin Feige defended the exclusion of a Black Widow solo movie by stating that her role “throughout the rest of the Avengers saga is very, very big, and lynchpin, in fact, to those films.” A bright light for those who are still hoping to one day see Black Widow take the spotlight is that Marvel Studios’ Agent Carter is now testing the waters for the production of more female-lead-superhero fare. The series is slowly paving the way for Marvel’s female heroes of the future.

Feige’s words are key to the discussion that surrounds the status of each of Marvel Studios’ proposed spin-offs: rather than stepping back to produce a prequel of sorts based on Black Widow’s past, the studio opted “continuing the forward momentum and the continuity of the Cinematic Universe”. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe was set up as a line of interchanging stories that move each other forward towards a common goal, and a movie based on Black Widow’s past would halt the saga’s main storyline for quite some time.

For now, it looks like the inclusion of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War promises to be Marvel’s first real attempt at making (or rather: planning) a spin-off movie, given that Boseman’s character’s screen time in Civil War will be more than a glorified cameo.

Are you still optimistic about the possibility of a Black Widow movie?

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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Introducing Marvel’s Age of Miracles

Pim Razenberg on Marvel’s Age of Miracles…

Last week’s Ant-Man teaser introduced worldwide audiences to the character of Scott Lang, a con-man who’s on his way to become part of something greater than himself. The character’s story arc greatly resembles that of Lang’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) colleague Tony Stark: both men are presented as unlikely anti-heroes overcoming their own imperfections to become something more.

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Ant-Man is Marvel Studios’ carefully planned next step towards the supernatural side of the MCU. The “serious” way in which Ant-Man was introduced in the movie’s teaser just goes to show how well thought through Marvel Studios’ long-term plan really is.

The greatest political game-changer in the world of comic book movies in recent years was the attack on the World Trade Center, September 11, 2001. The emotional aftermath of the events that took place that day were strongly felt in the movie industry and arguably affected comic book movies the most. Director Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and its sequel The Dark Knight were the first superhero movies that tackled the problems the United States faced head-on. Nolan presented audiences with a darker, more realistic take on the classic superhero, whose previous incarnation had been reduced to a campy colour fest. In Nolan’s Batman series supervillains were replaced by terrorists – Batman’s enemies became the product of a corrupt society rather than the outcome of a failed experiment, mutation or genetic manipulation. Nolan’s movies contained numerous references to September 11, the Patriot Act, Al-Qaeda, and its former leader Osama bin Laden.

After Nolan introduced the concept of the “grounded” superhero movie Marvel Studios’ MCU was created with a similar approach. In the studio’s first movie Iron Man, the extraordinary abilities of Tony Stark’s alter ego were the product of advanced technology; Stark didn’t undergo mutation, he wasn’t genetically manipulated and he required no gruelling combat training to turn him into a hero. Through Stark’s down-to-earth personality and the many references to terrorism and international politics within the first Iron Man film, Stark’s story became a plausible extension of our own world.

Subsequently skipping the clichéd “mutation through gamma radiation” storyline by introducing Bruce Banner as a scientist on the run from the U.S. Government in The Incredible Hulk, Marvel was able to extend the MCU’s sense of “realism” until the introduction of Thor. Before Thor’s release, fans complained that the movie wouldn’t fit within the “grounded” universe of Iron Man. The movie, however, adequately positioned the “magic” of the Asgardians as an extension of Earth’s science. Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger slowly eased audiences into the cosmic side of Marvel. Simple hints and quotes served as stepping stones to a possible meeting between Tony Stark and outer space hero Rocket Raccoon; as the Red Skull stated in The First Avenger: “what others see as superstition, you and I know to be of science.”

Announcing a meeting between Iron Man and Rocket Racoon in The Avengers, however, would have stretched the concept too far, too soon. Audiences clearly had their fill of campy CGI filled superhero fare such as Batman & Robin or Green Lantern and were looking for something more relatable. Hence, The Avengers focused on the team’s inner struggles. It was only after the dust had settled that Marvel’s heroes faced the Chitauri invasion, led by Thor’s brother Loki – an outer space villain the audience was already familiar with.

The Avengers pushed the envelope on the MCU’s cosmic side, but didn’t take it too far to disrupt the franchise’s “grounded reality”. In fact, like Marvel Studios’ audience, Tony Stark needed some time himself to adjust to the existence of the Marvel cosmic universe; the events of The Avengers left him suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Iron Man 3, while Thor casually went on to defend the Nine Realms. The disruption of Stark’s reality was conveyed through Stark’s own words, as early as in Iron Man 3’s first trailer: “You experience things and then they’re over, and you still can’t explain them? Gods, aliens, other dimensions? I’m just a man in a can.”

Of course, Stark was then faced with the franchise’s first “supernatural” enemies whose powers did not just stem from advanced technology, but sprung from a mutation caused by the Extremis virus. Iron Man 3 thus served as a reflection on the growing presence of the supernatural in Marvel Studios’ movies and in addition it opened the MCU up to the introduction of more obscure comic book properties.

Sequels Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier further hinted the co-existence of Iron Man’s “grounded” reality and the cosmic side of the MCU. Both movies came with a stinger that offered audiences stepping stones towards Marvel’s riskiest property to date: the Guardians of the Galaxy. Headlined by a man just as stubborn an anti-hero as Stark and Lang, protagonist Peter Quill – and to great extent his new-found partner Rocket Raccoon – was ready and able to comment on the insanity going on around him, mimicking the voice of the audience whilst at the same time confirming that no matter how strange things get, even in outer space we’re still walking the world of former weapons manufacturer Tony Stark.

Though serving as a step-up for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker’s words in The Winter Soldier’s mid-credit scene hold a far greater meaning for the franchise as a whole. “It’s not a world of spies anymore,” von Strucker stated after audiences had just witnessed the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the hands of Captain America in Marvel’s political action thriller, “not even a world of heroes. This is the Age of Miracles.”

Looking at the detailed process through which Marvel Studios built and established the characters and story lines within the MCU reveals just how carefully the franchise has been mapped out from the very beginning. In 2008 it seemed unimaginable that Tony Stark would ever share the big screen with a talking raccoon or a surgeon-turned-magician going by the name of Doctor Strange, but through careful planning, story building and universe expansion, it seems that Marvel is more than capable of making us believe in such miracles.

For a franchise which started down and dirty in the war-torn dust bowl of Afghanistan, the MCU has come a long way. Now, nearing the conclusion of its Phase Two movie slate, the MCU is ready to present us with a new generation of anti-heroes stemming from the (super) natural; from the Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver in Age of Ultron to Ant-Man, Doctor Strange and the Inhumans, Marvel Studios is taking its time to prepare audiences for 2018-2019’s ultimate Marvel movie event, Avengers: Infinity War.

Personally, I am very much looking forward to discovering the path Marvel Studios will pave towards the Avengers’ inevitable clash with the Mad Titan Thanos and I’m very curious how the studio’s new slate of characters will fit within the reality they have created, because as Jane Foster stated in Thor: “magic’s just science we don’t understand yet.”

Are you exited to join Marvel’s Age of Miracles?

This article was first published on FlickeringMyth.com.

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Saving the world time and again: Een tweeledige contextualisering van de hedendaagse superheldenfilm

Het Mesopotamische Gilgamesj-epos, een heldengedicht geschreven in de achttiende eeuw voor Christus, beschrijft de levensweg van Gilgamesj, de vijfde koning van Uruk. Het in het Sumerisch geschreven gedicht presenteert Gilgamesj als de grootste koning op aarde, voor tweederde god, eenderde mens en in het bezit van overweldigende krachten. Gilgamesj is een oud voorbeeld van wat we vandaag als een “superheld” beschrijven; een van bovennatuurlijke eigenschappen voorzien wezen met de macht taken te volbrengen waartoe anderen niet in staat zijn. In de Griekse mythologie bevochten soortgelijke halfgoden de grimmige wezens uit de Griekse Heldentijd, de Engelse folklore uit de vijftiende eeuw vertelde over de avonturen van Robin Hood en de pulptijdschriften uit de laat-negentiende eeuw presenteerden de wereld de eerste gemaskerde misdaadbestrijders zoals The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro en The Green Hornet. In 1938 zag vervolgens de prototypische superheld het licht: schrijver Jerome “Jerry” Siegel en tekenaar Joe Shuster bedachten het personage Superman voor de publicatie van Action Comics #1.2 Zowel Superman als zijn voorgangers uit de Oudheid waren producten van hun tijd en “verwerkten” in hun avonturen actuele, sociaal-maatschappelijke ontwikkelingen die zich in de wereld voordeden.

Als gevolg van ontwikkelingen in de samenleving veranderden in de loop der jaren in de comics zowel het aanbod aan superhelden als het type problemen waarmee zij te maken kregen. De recente heropleving van de superheldenfilm in Hollywood lijkt eveneens gestimuleerd te zijn door actuele politieke en sociaal-maatschappelijke ontwikkelingen. In deze scriptie wordt daarom uitgebreid bekeken welke relatie er bestaat tussen de ontwikkelingen in de maatschappij en de superheldenfilms die daaruit voortkwamen.

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Saving the world time and again (Pim Razenberg, 2013)

Grade: 7,5/10.

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