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.

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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.

Thor: Ragnarok — third time the charm?

Thor: Ragnarok poster

Thor: Ragnarok has begun its international run and will debut in the United States next week. So far, critics have given it their seal of approval, far more than the hero’s two previous installments.

The new movie, with Chris Hemsworth returning as the Norse God of Thunder, has a 95 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the website that collects reviews.

That’s up from the 77 percent fresh rating for 2011’s Thor and the 66 percent for 2013’s Thor: The Dark World.

Thor has a reputation for being one of the stuffier of Marvel’s original comic book heroes. He was powerful, but not tortured the way Bruce Banner/Hulk was. Thor didn’t crack wise the way Peter Parker/Spider-Man did.

A common view among reviewers is Thor: Ragnarok has more humor compared with the earlier installments. Regardless, here’s a look at some non-spoiler excerpts from reviews.

RAFER GUZMAN, NEWSDAY: Thor: Ragnarok “turns down the Shakespearean pretensions, cranks up the humor and delivers what is essentially an action-comedy with swords and capes….It’s a close cousin to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ a high-energy lark that occasionally makes time for monsters, battles, bloodletting and spectacular special effects.”

PETER TRAVERS, ROLLING STONE: “Need a quick fix for the bleak dystopian epics flooding the multiplex? Take a hit off the laughing gas rising up out of Thor: Ragnarok, which may be the most fun you’ll ever have at a Marvel movie…As for Hemsworth, who showed his comedy chops in the femcentric Ghostbusters remake, the Australian actor seems liberated by the opportunity to shake off any trace of God-of-Thunder gravitas.”

Thor fights the Thing in a 1968 Fantastic Four comic drawn by Jack Kirby and inked by Joe Sinnott.

STEPHANIE ZACHAREK, TIME: “Thor: Ragnarok is boyishly eager to reveal Thor’s goofy likability to us, as if it were something we hadn’t yet cottoned to. Directed by the enormously talented New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, it’s well intentioned but ultimately numbing, an instance of fun overkill whose ultimate goal seems to be to put us into a special-effects coma.”

LINDSEY BAHR, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: “The results are pretty decent, though perhaps not the total departure that had been hyped….But it’s a fairly flawed movie on the whole with egregious tonal shifts. Some of the gags go on too long with the Hulk with too little payoff and sometimes it seems as though there’s a mandate that every 25 minutes there will be a big fight no matter what.”

ROE MCDERMOTT, HOT PRESS: “Similarly, the action sequences – though well-executed – are lacking in originality, resulting in an utterly generic offering. You’ll watch, be lightly amused for two hours, and go back to forgetting that Thor exists.”

Jack Kirby: Hail to the King, 100 years later

Jack Kirby self portrait

Jack Kirby self portrait (enhanced version, adding other characters from the original drawing)

Hail to the King! Aug. 28, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book artist Jack Kirby.

“Comic book artist” actually is an inadequate description. Comic book creator is more like it. His nickname was the “King.” It was deserved.

Kirby lived the stories he drew in his mind. The characters he depicted existed in that fertile imagination. At one point his beloved wife Roz banned Kirby from driving. He was so distracted devising new stories he wasn’t safe behind the wheel.

In the 21st century, much of the output of Marvel Studios wouldn’t be possible without Kirby’s contributions: Captain America (co-created with Joe Simon in 1941), the Avengers (co-created with Stan Lee in 1963), Iron Man (co-created with Lee, Larry Lieber and Don Heck, also ’63), Thor (co-created with Lee and Lieber, ’62), Ant-Man (Lee and Lieber, ’61), the Black Panther (co-created with Lee, 1966). Not to mention the X-Men (co-created with Lee, ’63) that are licensed by 20th Century Fox.

Walt Disney Co. reached an out-of-court settlement with the Kirby family that ensured the company would maintain control. Terms weren’t disclosed but ever since Kirby’s on-screen credit in Marvel-made movies is more prominent.

Still, Kirby (born Jacob Kurtzberg) isn’t as well known among the public as Stan Lee is. Stan was the showman and promoter. Kirby was the workhorse at the drawing board who dreamed up much of the story content. Stan gets cameos in every Marvel movie. Kirby got a cameo in one episode of the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV show.

This isn’t intended as a criticism of Stan. For several years in the 1960s, there was a magic every time there was a Stan Lee-Jack Kirby story published by Marvel. It’s just that Kirby deserves more notoriety than he has received.

Kirby has some detractors who note his drawing style wasn’t realistic. In a 2005 documentary, artist Neal Adams said that missed the point.

Paul McCartney and Jack Kirby in 1976

“I don’t think Jack could really draw anatomy,” Adams said. “I don’t think Jack could draw a real car. That wasn’t Jack. He was a visceral animal. (He) drew impressions of things.

“If you sit around with artists and talk about Jack’s anatomy… you would get the artist who was critical. ‘Oh, he doesn’t know how to do anatomy and everything,'” Adams added. “Then you say, ‘But can you do the power that he can do? Can you do it?’ Let’s just say I ask you to do it. Would you know what to do? Wouldn’t you essentially be held back by what you knew?”

Finally, Adams had this thought: “Me as an artist, it overwhelms me to see this gutsy, ballsy thing and in a way say to myself, ‘I can’t do it.'”

No one else could. That’s why Kirby was the King.

To read about the 1976 meeting between Jack Kirby and Paul McCartney, CLICK HERE to read a post from the Jack Kirby Museum website.

To view frequently asked questions about Kirby, prepared by his biographer Mark Evanier, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (2:45 p.m., Eastern time): Evanier, who once worked as an assistant to Kirby, has his own tribute you can view by CLICKING HERE.

Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios, sent out a post on Twitter on Monday afternoon.

 

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Spider-Man: Homecoming generates a $117M opening

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man: Homecoming is estimated to generate box office of $117 million for its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada, Exhibitor Relations said on Twitter.

The movie was aided by a wave of positive reviews. Spider-Man: Homecoming has a 93 percent “fresh” rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

This is the third version of Marvel Comics’ flagship character. This time out, Marvel Studios produced the movie while Sony Pictures released it.

With this version, Spider-Man is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man makes an appearance.

The film also is a follow-up to last year’s Captain America: Civil War, where Spider-Man (Tom Holland) made his MCU debut.

Sony produced and released five previous Spider-Man films from 2002 to 2014.

The opening is less than the $146.5 million opening for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 in May and a bit higher than the $103.3 million opening for Warner Bros.’s Wonder Woman last month.

Exhibitor Relations gathers and tracks entertainment industry data. Here’s the post it made on Twitter.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming and the art of the twist

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

No spoiler unless you consider mention of a plot twist a spoiler.

Spider-Man: Homecoming, this weekend’s big movie opening in the U.S., has a lesson about how to spring a plot twist on the audience.

We’ll avoid details here. However, this paricular plot twist may be a bigger surprise to those familiar with the original source material, i.e. the 1962-66 original comics run by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

The movie’s creative team does take some creative liberties with those Lee-Ditko stories in updating them for a 21st century setting.

That’s not a surprise in and of itself. Ever since Marvel began making its own movies, it has picked and chosen among comic story lines going back decades. The first Marvel Studios film, 2008’s Iron Man, moved the site of the character’s origin from Vietnam (as in the 1963 comic book) to the Middle East.

In any case, Spider-Man: Homecoming’s plot twist works.  Viewers who know the original stories may not see it coming.

One other non-spoiler note, the movie also adapts a major sequence from the original (plotted and drawn by Ditko and scripted by Lee). That will probably also catch the attention of fans of the original comic stories.