Happy 95th birthday, Stan Lee

Stan Lee on a 1971 episode of To Tell The Truth

Dec. 28 is the 95th birthday for Stan Lee, the long-time editor and writer at Marvel Comics. More recently, he has been part of the marketing of Marvel Studios movies.

Stan (born Stanley Martin Lieber) has outlived many of his collaborators, including Jack Kirby, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Don Heck and John Buscema. Others, including Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr. are hanging in there. Also, Stan’s wife Joan passed away earlier this year.

As the blog has remarked before, Stan’s legacy is a complicated one. He has been depicted as the creator of the Marvel Universe while Kirby, Ditko, et al. did considerable work in devising those stories.

That legacy remains complicated today. There’s plenty of time to analyze that again later. Today? The blog wishes Stan a happy birthday.

With that in mind, here’s one of Stan’s many comic book cameos (along with Joan) in an issue of Daredevil from 1971:

Stan Lee (and his wife Joan) make a cameo in Daredevil No. 79, written by Gerry Conway, drawn by Gene Colan and inked by Tom Palmer

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Get ready for a new era with Disney-Fox deal

Walt Disney Co. logo

UPDATE (7:10 a.m., Dec. 14): Walt Disney Co. announced this morning it was acquiring the 20th Century Fox studio and other Fox assets for $52.4 billion in stock.

Among the bullet points in the press release: “Popular entertainment properties including X-Men, Avatar, The Simpsons, FX Networks and National Geographic to join Disney’s portfolio.

Disney also said CEO Robert Iger, 66, who has postponed retirement once already, will remain in the post through 2021. It was under Iger that Disney acquired Marvel and Lucasfilm (Star Wars), deals dwarfed by this latest one.

ORIGINAL POST (Dec. 13): Walt Disney Co. reportedly is about to buy 20th Century Fox and other major assets from 21st Century Fox. (Both CNBC and The New York Times have said the deal may be announced Thursday.)

Many entertainment and fan websites have concentrated on how major Marvel characters such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four, now controlled by Fox, would come under Disney and its Marvel Studios unit.

The business media (such as this CNBC story) has focused on how the deal would bolster Disney with its plans to start a streaming service to challenge Netflix.

However, such a deal would cut the number of major studios releasing movies. 20th Century-Fox probably would become another brand for Disney and be involved in fewer movies overall. As the Daily Beast put it last month, “A Disney-Fox Merger Is Bad for Everyone But Disney.” Also, such a transaction may spur additional deal making and consolidation.

Fox currently handles home video distribution for James Bond films, with its current deal lasting through June 2020. It’s uncertain how or when a Disney acquisition of Fox assets would affect that. Disney may have its hands full dealing with Marvel characters and streaming issues that the 007 home video situation may have to wait.

Meanwhile, if a Disney-Fox hookup spurs more consolidation, it’s possible the Bond franchise may be affected. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, is a relative runt.

MGM is just now — seven years after exiting bankruptcy — taking steps to distributing its own movies again by forming a distribution joint venture with Annapurna Pictures. Could MGM get gobbled up at some point?

In any case, the anticipated Disney-Fox deal means things won’t be the same.

CNBC says Disney ‘closing in’ on deal to buy most of Fox

Walt Disney Co. logo

CNBC reported today that Walt Disney Co. is “closing in” on a deal to buy most of 21st Century Fox, including the 20th Century Fox movie studio.

The financial news network said a deal may be announced as early next week. CNBC cited people it didn’t identiy

CNBC originally reported Nov. 6 that the two sides had conducted negotiations. At that time, CNBC described the talks as on again, off again and that negotiations weren’t currently underway.

Now, CNBC said, “The deal contemplates the sale of Fox’s Nat Geo, Star, regional sports networks, movie studios and stakes in Sky and Hulu, among other properties. What would remain at Fox includes its news and business news divisions, broadcast network and Fox sports.”

Such a transaction has the potential to shake up entertainment properties. Disney owns Marvel. But Fox controls key Marvel properties such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four. Also, Fox performs home video distribution for James Bond films.

Comcast, parent company of Universal, NBC and CNBC, has also been in talks with 21st Century Fox. However, “the talks with Disney have progressed more significantly,” according to today’s CNBC report.

Justice League: Epilogue

Justice League movie logo

Well, the Justice League’s soap opera has come to an end and it’s not looking pretty from a financial standpoint.

After three weekends in the U.S. the Warner Bros. superhero movie has an estimated box office of $197.3 million.

For the average film, that’s great. But when the budget is an estimated $250 million to $300 million, not so much.

By contrast, Warners’ 2016 Batman v Superman generated $166 million on its opening weekend.

Justice League’s opening weekend  was $93.8 million. Again, great for most movies. But it failed to match the opening weekend of other films based on DC Comics characters such as Man of Steel, Suicide Squad and Wonder Woman.

Justice League is the big DC team of heroes, comprised of its leading characters. Compare it to Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, which had an opening weekend of $207.4 million. Its sequel, Avengers Age of Ultron, had a U.S. opening weekend of $191.3 million.

The two Avengers movies had ultimate global box of more than $1 billion ($1.5 billion for the first, $1.4 billion for the second).

Justice League may end up at less than half of that. Forbes.com estimates it will generate less than the $668 million global box office of 2013’s Man of Steel.

The lesson? Nothing’s a sure thing. Justice League didn’t lack for effort. It was the effort of two directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon. (Whedon isn’t credited but does share in the screenplay credit).

The latter directed those two billion-dollar Avengers films. So he ended up re-shooting much of the movie. But, at least at the box office, Whedon’s sensibilities and style didn’t transfer to Justice League.

Beginning of the end: Avengers trailer unveiled

Marvel Studios today unveiled the first trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, the third Avengers film due out in May 2018.

The movie, combined with a fourth (and still untitled) Avengers film in May 2019, is intended to represent a finale for the various interconnected movies Marvel has produced since 2008.

At least that’s what Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, told Vanity Fair. “There will be two distinct periods,” Feige said. “Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting.”

Avengers: Infinity War includes Thanos, a villain who was teased during sequences in the end titles of 2012’s The Avengers and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. There has also been speculation the third and fourth Avengers movie may cost a combined $500 million.

Anyway, the trailer is embedded below. Things look pretty dire at times.

 

Marvel Studios boss teases a ‘finale’

Marvel art in 2016 celebrating the eighth anniversary of Iron Man (2008).

Marvel Studios gave Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson a peek behind the curtain, which included mention of a “finale” with 2019’s as-yet unnamed Avengers movie.

The man doing the talking was none other than Kevin Feige, who runs the Walt Disney Co.-owned operation.

While Feige refused to reveal any details about the characters and stories Marvel has yet to introduce, he did promise a definitive end to the franchise that built Marvel. Avengers 4, he said, will “bring things you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale.”

(snip)

“There will be two distinct periods. Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting,” Feige teased.

A number of the franchise’s key actors, including Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Chris Hemsworth, have contracts nearing their end, Robinson writes for the magazine’s Holiday 2017 issue. Also, actors naturally like to move on to new challenges. Downey will have played Tony Stark for more than a decade in multiple inter-connected movies by the time Avengers 4 comes out in May 2019.

In a way, Marvel has at times adapted the old Eon Productions playbook, including balancing drama and humor and finding ways to economize even though the movies are expensive overall. At the same time, Marvel is definitely an example of the corporate model of movie making compared with the still family-controlled Eon.

In turn, there other studios have tried to establish “movie universes.” So far, at least, they haven’t matched Marvel’s track record.

Justice League’s motto: Do no harm

Justice League movie logo

No major spoilers but the spoiler adverse should pass this up.

The subtitle of Justice League could be “Do No Harm.” One of the main missions of the film seems to be to repair the damage done to DC Comics characters in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In that regard, Justice League succeeds.

(OK spoiler sensitive types bail out now.)

The film brings back Superman who had died at the end of Batman v Superman. What’s more, he’s brought back (after an understandable period of adjustment) as being….well, Superman.

With 2013’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, the Man of Steel was full of self doubt, unsteady and, at times, not very Superman-like. In Justice League, Henry Cavill’s Superman costume looks like it has been cleaned. It looked dirty in his previous two appearances.

Even better, Superman embraces being a hero. That’s what Superman does. The movie doesn’t have Clark Kent wink at the audience, the way comic book Clark Kent did decades ago. But it’s a big improvement. And Superman actually isn’t in the movie that much.

Other characters do a lot of the heavy lifting. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman understandably carries a lot of the load. Jason Momoa grabs attention as Aquaman, a character general audiences probably aren’t that familiar with. Ezra Miller brings a neurotic take on the Flash.

Finally, there’s Ben Affleck’s Batman. The actor took much of the brunt of criticism for Batman v Superman, which depicted the character at times as a homicidal maniac. The “do no harm” label applies here as well. Batman is more on an even keel (well, as much as a guy who dresses up in a Bat costume can). The new-look Affleck/Batman even shows some compassion at times.

The production of this film has been a bit of a soap opera. Extensive rewrites and reshoots. A large budget, raising doubts whether this movie will ever earn a dime of profit. And even having Henry Cavill’s mustache (grown for Mission: Impossible 6) digitally erased in the reshoots.

And, of course, there has been plenty of speculation whether Affleck will return as Batman. Intentional or not, a scene in the film evokes this when Affleck’s aging Bruce Wayne acknowledges he can’t keep being Batman much longer.

In the end, the movie makes the viewer forget the soap opera. That may be the biggest compliment one can provide. GRADE: B-Plus.