Marvel: The Endgame For The Studios (But Not For Cinema)
It's no secret that Endgame is coming out in a few days. Is this the actual final Marvel Studios film? Not even remotely. There are a whole slew still lined up that we know of. Okay. What about the last Avengers film? Highly doubtful. There can be a ton of new bosses, and new warriors that wear the title of "avenger". The comics have a whole conveyor belt of potential candidates in both fields.
What is Endgame all about, then? It's the conclusion of a ten year story arc that leads up to the final battle with worlds-destroyer Thanos. Of course, I'm preaching to the choir. Most of you already know this stuff. In fact, many of you could even describe Marvel Studios' labyrinthian storylines and phases better than I can. This is not news.
Neither is Marvel's strategy, which is exactly why we are where we are. Observe Marvel Comics films before 2008. Other studios held the licensing rights to a series of caped (or masked) crusaders. It's why Fox had a stranglehold on the Fantastic Four and X-Men, for instance. Comic books of all sorts only made up around $255 million in 2000 (a low when compared to other years). The internet was fresh, and new forms of piracy were on the horizon. A brand new Spider-Man film (two years later, in 2002) was good news for blockbusters (but only slightly impactful with comics).
Fast forward to 2008. Iron Man went toe-to-toe with Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (the second film in a one-off trilogy that was never meant to bloom into anything more). In comparison, Jon Favreau's vision was fun, light, and charismatic (plus, having Robert Downey Jr.'s career experience a rebirth before our very eyes was a two-for-one deal for many). We're up to $436.6 million earned from comic books, now (according to Diamond's distribution sales).
Of course, this boom did not happen over night. Many comic book and graphic novel films had to be released, for a continued interest in the community to be apparent. There was a developing fascination with newcomers, too. However, Marvel Studios knew how to capitalize on a growing trend. Iron Man was the test run. It more than succeeded. Marvel Studios was about to dive head first, and never look back.
Paper is being eradicated. The internet and mobile devices are still on the rise. The environment is being somewhat discussed. Therefore, the attention span with reading is shortening, but the attention towards how we read is at an all time high. You're reading this article online, right? Comic books also transitioned into the digital realm; this allows for many forms of piracy to take place. As downloading and torrenting got worse, Marvel Studios had to strike while the iron was hot. If they had to pack their bags, it had to be now. Before the bulldozers of change paved the comic book neighbourhood into a parking lot of distant memories.
The move into the cinematic universe took place, and it worked. Marvel keeps breaking it's own records for the amount of money their films make. Comics made $1.015 billion (with a "b") with physical and digital copies combined. Marvel didn't have to abandon their primary medium after all. Their films sparked a necessity to become familiar with the print forms of these stories. Comics are stronger than they've been in years.
The films also operate like comics. There are so many story lines, and so many issues. The films have caught up in their own form of pacing. There are three to four Marvel films a year, at this point. With the television shows of yesteryear (and more to come), there are a plethora of avenues to explore. Yes. Marvel found a comfort in visual mediums outside of comic books. It's a business model that is clearly more than working (being bought out by Disney is usually a good sign).
What does this mean for cinema as a whole, though? Obviously, Marvel is the strongest leader of the box office this decade (as well as Disney, when all things are considered). Many mainstream films cannot compete. Indie films flat out never have a chance anymore. Distributors have been releasing under-the-radar festival purchases of last year right now. What other option do they have? Do they risk their high budgeted money maker against the unstoppable Marvel film of the month? Fat chance. It's like fighting a samurai while yielding a balloon animal (not even a sword, but a balloon dog).
The box office has become extremely saturated. People complain about remakes and franchises, yet that is all that makes substantial coin anymore. You want originality? You have to support the independent films out there. There is nothing wrong with taking part in franchises you are a fan of, but the industry as we once knew it is struggling. The amount of Marvel films a year (or any other major player) is making every week an impossible task for arthouse, independent, or even slightly-less-mainstream works.
Franchises are of a single nature, as to ensure cohesion. Franchises eliminate the opportunity for multiple voices to be heard in a theatre a week. While Marvel Studios is doing better than ever (and comics did not have to face an untimely extinction), cinema as a platform for artistic merits is weakening. To be fair, films of this nature usually have to fight something, right? The Hays Code of the golden age. The romantic epic of the '80s and '90s. There is always going to be a flavour of the week. This isn't necessarily a problem. It's just the way of the world at that given second.
We're living in a time of convergence, as to glue together real estate. There is more content than ever. Markets are crumbling under technological, corporate juggernauts. Marvel Studios found a home in cinema, and got to keep its home on paper and online. It's a triple win. The cinematic neighbourhood is still here. It's just changed. It's of a new nature; a splicing of worlds. Endgame cannot be the end, because the permanent investment is too great. Marvel's gotta think about retirement, too (summer homes, mansions, that kinda thing).
Endgame is the completion of a thread, but Marvel's impact (both positive, and negative) for cinema renders it too big of a player. I guess we will see how the housing market will fare out for new time purchasers -- and those looking to move into town -- in the near future. Box office attention is great for the industry. Box office slaughtering is awful for the artistry.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.