Note: I know it is a very frightful time right now for finding The Last Jedi spoilers sprinkled throughout the internet, but don’t worry: though this article will delve into full spoilers for The Force Awakens and the rest of the previously released Star Wars films, no plot details or other potentially spoiler-y bits of information from The Last Jedi will be revealed. Any assumptions or predictions made about Rey’s potential character development in the next few movies are simply that: predictions. Like Jon Snow, I know nothing about how this particular story will actually pan out. With that long but necessary disclaimer out of the way, let’s get right into it.
When I think back to middle school and the time in which I was taught the basic fundamentals of storytelling in a substantial way, I am left with one rather distinct memory, one that I return to time and time again as both a consumer of storytelling and a creator of it.
It was a run-of-the-mill English class right at the start of the school day — that dreaded time of consciousness where you were technically awake, but your brain had yet to get the memo. The class featured both the students eager to learn what the teacher was trying to teach, and those who would prefer to simply stare at the clock in hopes that they could somehow move time backwards and return to their nice, warm beds. Judging by the fact that I am spending my free time writing a long, meandering piece about character development, you can probably guess which category I belonged to.
In any case, my teacher was valiantly trying to teach a crowd of New Mexican public school attending seventh graders (49th in the nation, woohoo!) the tenets of characterization in literature and, seeing the glazed over eyes of many in the crowd, pulled out an age old tactic: the pop culture stand-in. Rather than explaining the contrast between the static and dynamic characters of the short story from the literature book that none of us (not even the indoor kids like myself) read, my teacher decided to illustrate his point by breaking down the characters of a hit blockbuster film that he assumed we all saw. Off the top of his head, he chose Pixar’s Cars, which was the style at the time.
Opening the floor to the class, he asked them to explain what made main car-guy Lightning McQueen a dynamic character, one who changed and developed throughout his story. Most of the students explained that Lightning was dynamic because he started off the movie as the best racer, and ended it by no longer being the best racer. Our teacher listened to their comments, but pushed them to explore deeper. According to him, all those developments were just plot points, merely skin-deep readings of what happened through the course of the film.
To explore characterization further, he wanted us to examine how the Lightning McQueen character behaved, how his attitude towards others and himself was, and how he changed throughout the course of the film. He explained to us that Lightning began the film as arrogant and self-centered and, through his experiences interacting with the people (err…cars) of Radiator Springs, he grew into a more kind and thoughtful person. Lightning McQueen was a dynamic character not because his status changed in the film, but because his world view did. Because he grew as a person not through an external conflict, but an internal one. As my teacher continued to explain, Lighting’s story fell into the first category of conflicts in literature: man vs. self.
Now, obviously, Cars is not a paragon of complex character development, nor should it be — it’s a kid’s movie, and not even one of Pixar’s more thoughtful ones at that (for the record, I hadn’t even seen Cars yet at the time of this lesson, and was mostly wondering throughout the demonstration why we weren’t talking about Monster House instead. I really liked Monster House.)
And if you’re reading this, I imagine you were taught the same principles of characterization that I was back in school, and probably understand them quite well. I am certainly the last person in the world who should feel obligated to teach the fundamentals of storytelling to the public at large, because I’m far from an expert at them. But I like to think I know a good character when I see one, and can adequately explain why to boot.
So when I see people bashing Rey of Star Wars: The Force Awakens for being a poor character and, most pointedly, a “Mary Sue,” sometimes I wonder if we could all use another trip to middle school English class, to learn a thing or two about what really makes a well-developed character.
Because characters in fiction are more than just their base collection of skills, a simple list of the things they can and can’t do assembled on some spreadsheet of power rankings. In my mind, what makes a well developed, “good” character is that they have character flaws (be it emotional or physical or mental or pretty much any other combination of “-als), and they fought to overcome it throughout the course of a story (or many stories, as the case may be.) And, when it comes to Rey, she ABSOLUTELY fits that bill. In fact, her emotional arc and character development is stronger than pretty much any other Star Wars character I can think of.
Which, admittedly, isn’t a tall order. It’s true that most Star Wars characters don’t have the strongest arcs, and those that do have them are rather simplistic (character does A, regrets A, decides to do B.) There’s nothing wrong with simplistic, especially within crowdpleasing blockbuster movies, but it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Star Wars puts spectacle and fun ahead of in-depth character retrospection. But in all the defenses I’ve read or heard about how Rey isn’t a Mary Sue character, almost all of them resort to a straw man fallacy of sorts — they jump to explaining the character of Luke Skywalker, and how amazing his abilities were, and how no one seemed to particularly mind back then.
And, hey: that’s a fair point, and does seem to reinforce the underlying strain of sexism that can seem to be a factor in critiques about Rey’s character. While not all of the Mary Sue complains are borne from this inherent misogyny, it seems a large faction of them stem from the same thought process I’ve seen banded about a whole lot now: that writers and directors only chose to make a character a certain gender or race for “virtue points,” and purposely made them vanilla and perfect to further impress all their fellow SJW’s (or whatever the new silly parlance is.)
Not only do I think the thinking behind that is misguided and flush with bias, but that it makes many people warp their view on any character who might not be a straight white male. They chose to focus on the fact that she is super strong in the force, and defeated Kylo Ren, and a good pilot, and a whole bunch of other admittedly positive traits. Just looking at those surface abilities, sure, she does seem like an all-powerful, wish fulfillment character. But, to quote my sixth grade English teacher…explore deeper. Because Rey ISN’T a perfect character. In fact, the girl is actually pretty messed up. But that’s what also makes her so damn great: seeing her overcome her mental and psychological issues works as the backbone for a satisfying — and still very much developing — character arc.
Rey throughout all of The Force Awakens has one primary goal: to return to Jakku, and reunite with her parents. At the beginning of the story, from the moment she rescues BB-8 and becomes enveloped in an adventure she had absolutely nothing to do with, all she could express was how, after the next stop, she was taking off. A little like her brief mentor Han Solo (who, at the time, probably had the best Star Wars character arc by almost default), Rey didn’t want to be involved in any of this. Sure, she got excited by the possibility of being in a dog-fight, and meeting her heroes, and helping the Resistance…but the entire time, there was a very vocal part of her that also couldn’t wait to get out of there, and return to her life of scavenging through derelicts and eating disgusting insta-bread (if you can really even call it bread.) Luke Skywalker, she wasn’t: while that kid dreamed about overcoming his farmboy heritage and becoming a hot shot Rebellion pilot, Rey was hesitant to do anything outside of the immediate radius of her derelict home on Jakku.
And when the call to adventure literally shouted out to here through the lightsaber at Maz Kanata’s castle, she didn’t heed it instantly and become the badass hero who saves everyone, defeats Kylo Ren, creates all porgs, and saves the day: instead, she got the hell out of dodge, overcome by her emotions and feelings that, even with all these things happening around her and all the signs that she could be meant for something more, she was not supposed to get involved. Unlike Han Solo’s departure in A New Hope, her decision to leave wasn’t based on selfishness or self-preservation or not wanting to be blown up by a giant, planet destroying beam — it was born out of self-doubt, and the fear that she simply wasn’t good enough to take on the mantle so swiftly thrust upon her. This conflict created a standard, but still effective, reluctant hero archetype.
But, like all good characters, it’s the cause of her mental setbacks that makes her an interesting character, not the setbacks themselves. And in the scene just before Rey flees from the rest of the group, we get her character motivation clear as day: crippling, very much unhealthy, abandonment issues. You know, the kind of abandonment issues that only perfect, wish-fulfillment based Mary Sue characters get. After all, don’t we all dream of being a character in our favorite properties who suffers from low self-esteem and a crippling lack of self-worth?
Anyways, let’s return to the point. In the scene where Rey touches Anakin’s lightsaber and goes through a whole montage of events, we see our first and only glimpse into Rey’s childhood — the moment she is dropped off on Jakku as a child, left in the (assumingly not great) care of Unkar Plutt, screaming into the sky in a vain attempt to get the attention of those that abandoned her. And while we can only guess how her life unfolded after that based on how we are introduced to her in The Force Awakens, it wouldn’t be a jump to think that her time on Jakku wasn’t pleasant.
Rey spends her days digging through trash looking for anything of value and, most depressing of all, returns home to a life of loneliness, eating that once again awful-looking bread and dreaming that her parents will return and whisk her back to a life full of love and fulfillment. And since she can’t find it within herself to abandon said dream, (the only one she’s ever had since she was a young child) she refuses to move on with her life. She has to believe that her parents will return and save her, because that’s the only thing that she allows herself to believe. After all, she was left there for a reason — surely they will return in time, right? The alternative is a life knowing that she was simply discarded, thrown away, to never be found again. And no one wants to live life thinking that.
But the theme of being thrown away is a powerful one for Rey, and the point in which I get completely college-level essay all over this assignment. Because Rey’s choice of occupation (if you want to call it that) isn’t simply a coincidence — it’s a pretty simple metaphor for her character arc in The Force Awakens. She is a scavenger, literally scouring thorough garbage in order to find the things of value it might contain. The things that were thrown away or left behind by people, but that can ultimately still can serve a purpose somehow.
You see where I am going with this, right?
Rey believes herself to be a discarded thing of little worth, but as The Force Awakens shows, the opposite is true. She’s one of the valuable objects — a diamond in the rough. She’s powerful in the force and has a variety of skills, yes, but more importantly, she’s a kind and compassionate person who can be a force (ugh, really, no pun intended) for good in the universe…if she only can gain the willpower to push forward with her life and take control of her own destiny. In fact, that part of Rey’s characterization is one of the reasons I am desperately hoping that her parents turn out to be of little importance in the grander scale of things, and that her abandonment doesn’t have some big complex conspiracy at the center. For me, the “mystery” of why Rey was abandoned on Jakku is pretty much an afterthought — in fact, I would be totally fine with us never finding out the root cause. Rey being a character of no real importance, who determined her own path and forged her own destiny outside of her lower status, is an infinitely more satisfying story and character arc than her turning out to be Ponda Baba’s grandaughter or whatever.
But even with that unlikely to happen, I still feel we are left with a pretty compelling picture of who Rey is as a character, and what internal struggles she had to go through to end up where she was by the end of The Force Awakens. And, look, I’ll even meet you Mary Sue truthers halfway — maybe you’re not wrong. Maybe Rey is super powerful, and maybe all her abilities do make her something of a wish-fulfillment character. But A) there’s nothing wrong with having a character others wish they could be and B) if that’s the case, then maybe deciding whether or not a character is a Mary Sue is just a stupid way of judging a character’s worth.
Because, if Rey IS a Mary Sue in terms of skills and powers, that’s still ignoring the second half of the equation here. In fact, maybe Rey being a Mary Sue is part of the plan after all — maybe she IS the most powerful Jedi ever, who will beat Snoke with two hands tied behind her back, restart the Jedi, convince Captain Phasma to take her damn helmet off, and push Finn and Poe into finally becoming the couple we all want them to be. Sure, Rey might be capable of all that. But Rey’s internal struggles cripple her in a way that no Wookie bowcaster or lightsaber swing can: until she can overcome her self-doubt, it doesn’t matter how powerful she is on paper — she still has a lot of development to do until she becomes an all-and-out hero.
And while you might roll your eyes about the conclusions I’m making in this piece and how stereotypical and boring Rey’s internal struggle might be…you do realize this is LITERALLY EVERY SINGLE HERO’S JOURNEY EVER, right? Batman isn’t interesting because he trained and became a ninja — he’s interesting because he suffered a trauma when he was young, and copes with it by doing something that may or may not be healthy for him. Spider-Man is a character I love to watch not because he’s fighting a bunch of powerful foes, but because he’s doing it as a young kid juggling the troubles of teenage life, and what responsibilities he owes to the world he occupies.
Or, to go to one of my favorite versions of the heroes journey in recent years, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender wasn’t a dynamic character because he only knew air-bending at the beginning of the series but, by the end, he knew all the elements. He was dynamic because he doubted his ability to be a hero at the beginning of the story but, through episode upon episode of character growth, embraced his destiny in time to (spoiler alert) save the world. Sounds familiar, huh?
And Avatar: The Last Airbender is an interesting comparison here because, in my mind, judging Rey on if she’s a successful character based on The Force Awakens alone is like evaluating the entire character arc of Aang based on the end of the pilot episode. By the conclusion of The Force Awakens, Rey’s journey has literally just begun. She was able to overcome her arrested development in the first film, but her self-doubt still seems to very much be at the forefront of The Last Jedi, if the trailers are any indication.
Which might make my proclamation in the headline a bit contradictory: I can’t say that Rey has the best character arc overall in the Star Wars franchise, because we have yet to see it completely take shape. But is it one hell of an introduction to her, one that does an excellent job of explaining her motives and exploring her psychological struggles, perfectly setting up what I hope will be a powerful emotional journey for our main character?
I just wrote like three thousand words about it, so what do you think? At the very least, I know one thing for sure: I can’t wait to see what happens with the character next. And shouldn’t that be the entire point?
Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens in theaters this Friday. But I doubt you needed me to tell you that, nerd.
Also published on Medium.
10 Years Later, Cloverfield Remains The Pinnacle of Found Footage Films
There’s been a lot of found footage films. But none of them can equal the scale and ambition of Matt Reeves’ monster movie masterpiece.
There could be a bit of recency bias in my recollection here but, for me, there might be no more important year in the history of 21st Century film than 2008. There’s a few reasons for that, most of which I will discuss in the months ahead (let’s just say it was a big year for superhero movies, and leave it at that for now.) But when it comes to notable film’s celebrating their 10th Anniversary, one film in particular instantly sticks out to me: Cloverfield. And the reason why is two-fold — not only is the film’s release date extremely memorable (it was going by the title 1-18-08 for the longest time, after all), but the film itself has been one I’ve been thinking about quite a bit in the decade since.
Sure, there might be other films in 2008 that had a larger impact on the world and on cinema, but for me, at least? Cloverfield remains an absolute marvel of a film, a technically brilliant disaster film that not only defined a format, but pretty much give it a kick in the pants the moment it needed it the most. Since Cloverfield we have had many, MANY found footage films, but none have had the initial impact that Cloverfield had for me. And with the film turning ten today, I thought it would be the perfect time to reevaluate its mertis. After so many years, and what feels like a lifetimes worth of other movie releases, would Cloverfield be able to elicit quite the same response? For me at least, the answer is a clear yes. Cloverfield is a film that left me absolutely gobsmacked the first time I saw it and, revisiting it 10 years later, still leaves me rather breathless.
And, for me at least, that euphoria all comes from the result of some absolutely stellar filmmaking. At the time, it was rather shocking just how well made Cloverfield was: nothing about the shaky cam footage and blurry visuals looked like they would amount to much, at least from what the vague trailers showed us. But, now, it’s far easier to see just how technically proficient this film is. Hindsight is 20-20, but also having a grasp on who’s behind the camera helps you appreciate the artistry on display much more.
That man here is of course Matt Reeves, who made his directorial debut with Cloverfield. Reeves would go on to make two of the best blockbusters ever made (IMHO, but it really should just be considered a fact at this point) with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, but right from the get-go he proved himself an able craftsman with Cloverfield. While the film bares resemblances to both its found footage forefathers AND later successors (think The Blair Witch Project, Chronicle, and Paranormal Activity), it’s clear from the get-go that Cloverfield is working on an entirely different scale altogether. This is a film packed to the brim with huge special effects, crazy monster designs, and the literal destruction of New York City in the span of a half dozen hours. Paranormal Activity, by comparison, is about a bedroom.
None of which is to belittle other films in the found footage genre: I happen to be a fan of the conceit, generally. But, man, none of them have been able to push my buttons in the way that Cloverfield did. It was a revelation, and one that only got better and better as it spun out into grander territory. Even with the intense viral marketing and captivating trailer, I was not prepared for the ride that I initially went on with Cloverfield. And I was far from the only one — remember all the reports of the people getting sick in the theater, becoming disoriented and dizzy by the action unfolding onscreen? That’s purposeful, and though I’m sure those who experienced it would probably disagree with me, very much one of the film’s strong suits. On the surface, it’s a mere monster movie. But the way that the film tells its stories turns it into a powerful, disorienting, enthralling thrill ride.
Which is kind of the point anyways, right? The whole reason found footage exists as a genre is to give viewers a rawer, more visceral experience. Take away the excesses of traditional film techniques, and you also separate the barrier between what appears fake…and what doesn’t. You end up taking away people’s perception of it “just being a movie,” to the point that they too might really be convinced that a witch killed some kids in the forests of Maryland.
Now, obviously, the same can’t really be said of Cloverfield. No one was going to get fooled into thinking the events of this film actually happened, unless they just happened to chose the film as their first bit of entertainment after coming out of a twenty-year long coma. But the fact that it feels so real despite that is what makes Cloverfield so magical: through the use of its found footage conceit, it strips away the artifice of the standard disaster movie template, and creates something far more horrifying and powerful in the process. The found footage element of Cloverfield isn’t just some gimmick to make the movie stand out amongst other monster movies — it’s essential to what the film is trying to accomplish and, ultimately, what it is trying to say about the very nature of the genre.
While it would be incorrect to say Cloverfield is the most “realistic” monster movie for this reason, I would argue that it makes it the most down to Earth one. In fact, what I love so much about the movie is the fact that it takes your standard Godzilla-esque story, and recontextualizes it entirely by focusing on your standard, run-of-the-mill people. Throughout the film, our main group bears witnesses to a bunch of soldiers running around, trying their best to combat the unstoppable monster and save the city. In most movies, you would be following the military dudes going after the monster, with the background characters trying to escape simply serving as the backdrop. But what Cloverfield so beautifully realizes is that the more interesting story is buried within these background figures, that a tale of basic human survival is far more affecting than the umpteenth story of some military figures or scientists trying to save the world.
And if you’re going to commit to telling that story, what’s the best way to bring the action down to their level? Why, by literally presenting it from their point of view. The camera only catches the occasional glimpse of things, and misses a bunch of key moments, and is usually just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of chaos happening on screen. But if you were in the shoes of Rob, Hud, Lily, Marlena, or Beth, wouldn’t you be overwhelmed too? The camera is a nice way to give the film some flair but, more importantly, it’s a way to get into the headspace of the main characters.
Main characters who, by the way, are far better handled than they had any right to be. Props should most likely be given to screenwriter Drew Goddard in that department — like Reeves, time has only gone to further show how amazingly talented this man is, with The Martian and (especially) Cabin in the Woods subsequently earning raves. But even in penning his first feature film script, Goddard already showed a knack for inventiveness, and a willingness to form strong character arcs even amidst the nuttiest of concepts. While the center love story between Rob and Beth isn’t the most amazing one in the world, it has its benefits. The idea of risking your own life and safety just to save another in a time of crisis is a meaningful one, and the film’s use of in-camera flashbacks (through a pretty smart “overwriting” technique) also provides a powerful glimpse into how simple and relatable the lives of our main characters used to be before things went to shit. But most important of all, fleshing out the characters the way Cloverfield did gives the film a drive and emotional throughline that so many modern blockbusters really lack.
…Like Godzilla, for instance. Now I was going to try my best not to make this article just another takedown of that 2014 remake, but rewatching Cloverfield reminded me just how much better this film handled the idea of a stripped down, barebones disaster film. While Godzilla wasted about an hour of time with secret military tests, scientists talking about ultimately unimportant things, and criminally underutilizing Bryan Cranston, Cloverfield opens with a bunch of 20somethings having a fun party, and using that party as a way of laying down the groundwork for their future behavior and character arcs. While Godzilla spends an agonizing amount of time following ARMY MAN Aaron Taylor Johnson doing absolutely nothing of value while hopping from country to country, Cloverfield lays out the central mission of the movie a third of the way in, and focus on said mission for the rest of its runtime. While Godzilla got off on withholding its main monster through smudgy cinematography and baffling cutaways, Cloverfield uses said withholding to instill a sense of foreboding and chaos. While Godzilla is an overlong, dreary mess, Cloverfield is a brisk 85 minute roller coaster ride of action and horror. One that also happens to feature a cast of characters I actually give a shit about which, believe it or not, is pretty important for a film! Anyways, I’ll stop picking on Godzilla now. I just needed to release that rant, since I’ve been holding on to it for nearly four years.
Anyways, what more can I say? Clearly I love Cloverfield and, rewatching it now, I’m taken aback with how much it still very much works. Not quite as much as it did the first time I watched it unfold on the big screen but, to be fair, what could? Seeing Cloverfield back then was a magical moment for me, as I sat in pure awe watching this crazy monster movie unfold before my very eyes. The fact that the experience can even be 1/10 as awesome some ten years later speaks to how, even pushing aside the mystery and the presentation, the film works incredibly well as a subversive, visceral disaster movie.
Part of me wants to say that I wish we got more original blockbusters that are as gutsy and crazy as Cloverfield but, really, that’s one of the film’s ultimately greatest accomplishments. Even with the found footage format being one of modern horror’s go to devices, there is nothing else that can quite match the scale and ambition of Cloverfield. And, honestly, I doubt there ever will be. I can only just hope that the ongoing Cloverfield set of anthology films will continue to find equally compelling ways to tell unique, compelling sci-fi stories. Hey, they are two for two so far! Hopefully April’s mysterious Cloverfield 3 will continue the trend.
But, until that happens, I highly recommend revisiting Cloverfield. The film unfortunately isn’t streaming on Netflix or Hulu or anything like that, but you can rent it on Amazon, and where all purchasable streaming films can be found. Or you can just watch it on a Blu-Ray disc, like me. PHYSICAL MEDIA 4EVAH.
(You might disagree with what I have to say about the film, but no one can argue this isn’t one of the all-time great teaser trailers, right? Makes one hell of a first impression, and perfectly sells the madness of the finished film.)
Here are some other things of note I thought about while re-watching the film. Also they are spoiler-heavy thoughts so, if you got this far and haven’t seen the film…just go do that instead, okay? Okay.
- There’s a lot of oners in the film, which must have been very difficult to do with the budget and level of secrecy that the film had. Just makes the technical wizardry all the more impressive.
- The scene where Rob has to tell his mother that his brother died is so, so great. Once again, it’s not the type of shit you usually get in a monster movie. You don’t get the time to see the direct human cost of the monster wreaking havoc, at least not as it extends outside the core group of characters. Of course all the mothers of the world would be calling their children. And of course a fair amount of those mothers are going to end up heartbroken.
- I remember there being a huge uproar from people about how stupid it would be for someone to keep filming throughout the entirity of such a crazy attack. But, personally, I never got the argument. Hud from the beginning explains why he keeps filming everything (“People will want to see this”), and I found the sentiment mostly rang true. It was also clearly a way for him to handle the enormity of the situation, which rather intelligently made the motif an additional, but intrigual character quirk. Also, in the modern age, the idea of someone filming everything they are seeing is more believable than ever. If Cloverfield actually happened in real life, you bet your ass someone would be streaming the entire thing on Youtube.
- The tunnel scene is TERRIFYING. The visualization of the hatchlings is just so perfect, with the creature designs overall being top notch. Props to man designer Neville Page and the rest of his team on that.
- Marlena’s exploding head death was a visual that stuck with me for a decade. That’s when you know a film is good.
- The slanted skyscraper also made for some neat compositions, and even cooler set designs.
- Pulling the rhubarb out of Beth’s shoulder is horrifying, and without even showing a damn thing. It’s the little things that make this movie so great.
- “What is that!” “It’s a terrible thing!”
- “What is that?!” “I don’t know, something else, also terrible.” Like any good thriller, Cloverfield also takes the time for some very much appropriate comic relief. Shame it has to come out of the mouth of T.J. Miller, though. Time has been kind to Cloverfield in many areas but, uh, not that one.
- Speaking of genuine emotions: I love how people are actually FREAKING THE FUCK OUT throughout the entire film. Not your standard screams and other crowd noises, but genuine “OH MY GOD I AM GOING TO DIE” rantings. Can see how some could be turned off by the detail, but it just makes me appreciate the film’s authenticity even more.
- The shot of Hud being eaten/seeing the monster for the first time. Next level stuff, people. Matt Reeves is a brilliant, brilliant man. I’m so happy he’s doing a Batman, and I have all the confidence in the world it will be great.
- “My name is Beth McIntyre. And I don’t know why this is happening.” Can’t think of a more succinct line to express the film’s ultimate theme than that. At the end of the day, the main characters are just a bunch of tiny figures, going through a world-shattering event, and trying their best to make it out alive. And, if a monster attack happened in real life, you can bet the vast majority of audiences would be right there with them.
- “I had a good day.” And then that final line is just…mean.
Also published on Medium.
Why The Hell Did Fox Just Push Back The New Mutants To 2019?
And why the are they still trying to make that Gambit movie happen? These questions, and more, below.
Fox is in an incredibly weird position when it comes to the future of their Marvel mutant properties. By far one of the studios most profitable properties, they recently doubled down on the franchise, putting what seems to be dozens of X-Men adjacent films into development. But then a wrench was thrown into all these spin-off plans, a wrench in the form of a corporate takeoff and a massive, groundbreaking acquisition.
Yes, Disney now is in the process of purchasing Fox, which will certainly have repercussions on how the two studios proceed with the future of their Marvel properties. But, for now? Fox has no idea what to expect, so is just proceeding with business as usual when it comes to all the X-Men plates they have twirling in the air. And business today, I guess, is pushing back a film, moving up another, and continuing to live in denial about the increasingly slim possibilities of a third one while they are at it.
All this happened just a few hours ago, as The Hollywood Reporter filled us all in on the shifting schedule of Fox’s X-Men branded films. The most surprising of the bunch by far is Fox’s decision to completely push back The New Mutants, not just by a few weeks, but by AN ENTIRE YEAR. The horror-tinged mutant film was on track for release on April 13, with marketing already commencing and everything, but will now hit theaters on February 22, 2019. Yes, a grand 13 months away…or a substantial 17 months after the film first concluded filming.
That type of delay is rare to happen on a big Hollywood blockbuster, especially one so close to release. So the question must be asked: why did Fox delay the film? Well, like all things to do with Hollywood blockbusters, the answer is pretty muddled. THR’s sources tell them that Fox was afraid of having too many X-Men films in release at the same time, what with Deadpool hitting theaters in June (at least at the time — more on that in a second.) But that excuse doesn’t at all add up, as it was Fox’s decision from the start to release the film’s so relatively close together. Why wasn’t it a problem back when Fox chose the release?
(Might want to change the date at the end of this trailer now, Fox.)
Furthermore, why couldn’t Fox have just delayed the film a little bit to, say, August? Or maybe push back X-Men: Dark Phoenix instead, giving it the February 22 release and putting New Mutants in its November 2 slot? Marketing hasn’t really kicked off for the former film, and a delay of three months for it is far less drastic than the 10 month one for New Mutants. Or, if Deadpool 2 is the problem, why not push that one to July, giving a healthy gap of three months to all the Mutant properties? No, no, that reason does not hold up in my mind. Far more likely is the fact that New Mutants was having trouble in the editing room, and isn’t up to snuff to what Fox is wanting. Will the Josh Boone helmed horror film manage to come out of this delay a good film? History is not kind to films that get delayed in such a substantial way, but anything is possible I assume.
But New Mutants failing is Deadpool 2‘s gain, as the still untitled sequel has been pushed up from its original June 1 release date to a prime May 18, 2018 slot. That’s great…on the surface. But beneath the assumed confidence such a move would dictate, I’m kind of baffled why Fox would do this. It’s been widely assumed that Disney was going to own May 2018, what with the release of Avengers: Infinity War at the start of it and Solo: A Star Wars Story at the end of it. Why would Fox chose to throw Deadpool 2 right smack dab in the middle of the Disney madness?
The way I see it, releasing Deadpool 2 at the start of June pretty much gave the Merc with A Mouth the whole month to himself — the only other real blockbuster competition was in the form of Incredibles 2, which wouldn’t even be opening until a couple weeks after anyways. All I see happening from placing Deadpool 2 in May is the film running into Avengers: Infinity Wars legs, and having its very own cut off by Solo: A Star Wars Story. Did Fox learn nothing from War for the Planet of the Apes, which faltered at the box office by being smack dab right in the middle of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Dunkirk? And did they learn nothing from the FIRST Deadpool, which managed to be their highest grossing movie by, in large part, having little competition in its February release? C’mon movie studios, stop overcrowding all the blockbusters!
Moving on to the final bit of X-Men franchise news is our old friend Gambit, which at this point has been in development for about 77 years. The Channing Tatum led (maybe?) spin-off was supposed to be directed by Pirates of the Caribbean helmer Gore Verbinski…until he abruptly quit the project earlier today, making him the 124th director to do so (my numbers might be a little off, but you get the point.) Due to once again having no one direct the film, and New Mutants now occupying the previous February 2019 release date, Fox has moved the film to June 7, 2019.
Of course, the movie isn’t going to actually come out then — in fact, I am starting to question that this movie will ever see the light of day. Despite what seems to be the initiative of one executive (or maybe Tatum himself), no one is demanding a Gambit movie. And even more troubling for the film’s production, no one is willing to make one either. When the Disney/Fox deal is finalized, I expect Gambit to be one of the first movie casualties. But, until then…sure, Fox. Believe what you want to believe. When Marvel Studios reabsorbs the X-Men, will any of this even matter anyways?
Also published on Medium.
Kevin Feige Shrugs, Figures Now Is The Time To Make That Black Widow Movie Everyone’s Been Clamoring For
It only took two phases of near constant requests, but Big Brother Marvel is finally listening.
There have been 17 Marvel Cinematic Universes films thus far released, and literally dozens of others making their way through various stages of development. And, as the years go by, the choices of characters that Marvel chooses to make movies about are only going to get more and more obscure — after all, with all the bigger heroes taken, there’s a lot more room in the development world for the likes of Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy. And yet, even with the slate expanding to lesser and lesser-known characters, Marvel continued to ignore what seems to be a sure-fire, established property: that of Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow.
She’s been featured all over the MCU thus far, and is almost certainly one of the most beloved members of the main Avengers team. Furthermore, she’s played by Scarlett Johansson, undoubtedly one of the most bankable actors in the world. And with Marvel very much trying to expand what an MCU movie can be, and delving into a bunch of different genres as a result (Ant-Man is a heist movie, Guardians is a space opera, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a high school coming-of-age movie, etc.), it would make sense to add Black Widow on to the pile — the espionage/noir movie you can build around the character practically writes itself!
And, yet, Marvel has been oddly reluctant to actually give Natasha Romanoff her fair due. They’ve talked about it for years (since she came out as one of the breakout heroes in The Avengers, really), but a movie was never actually produced. It’s been nearly seven years after the character was first introduced in Iron Man 2, and its just been endless talk after endless talk. But coming off 2017, whose 3 highest grossing films all starred a female, it seems Marvel might be thinking twice about having such a male-heavy slate…and is once again looking at giving the Black Widow character her chance at a standalone.
That’s at least my takeaway from today’s big news, as the much-discussed project finally moves forward into development. As first broken by Variety, Marvel has hired up-and-coming writer Jac Schaeffer to pen the script for the potential project. Schaeffer is a bit of an unknown quality at this point, with her only produced projects on IMDB being the indie sci-fi comedy TiMER (which she also directed), and, umm, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. But I’ll try not to hold that last thing against her.
Johansson is of course attached to reprise her role which, by the way, she has done in SIX MCU films as a supporting character so far. If you ask me, she more than deserves her due to lead a standalone. In fact, she deserved it like five Marvel films ago. Honestly, it would have been great to have Black Widow lead the current charge of female-led action films, rather than simply being an effect of it. But I guess this is one of those situations where I shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. This movie is probably happening, and that should be celebrated. Even more so if Marvel manages to attach a strong director to it. May I be the first (of probably many) to suggest one Michelle MacLaren? If DC won’t have her, you can!
Also published on Medium.
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