Right now we're stuck between technology that can pretty much do everything and movies that haven't a clue what to do without it. Joss Whedon's Avengers demonstrated a way forward for the comic-book movie: action-television. Without anything interesting to say, these Avengers 2 teasers (or whatever we're calling them; "movie" usually feels wrong) exist to give hundreds of technicians a lab to advance the state of their art.
You'd never call Thor: The Dark World experimental, even though that's ultimately what it is. The costume department gets to play with fabrics and colors and helmets. The effects teams continue to discover subtle new ways to erase the boundaries between the laws of physics and the version Marvel's writers and illustrators use. (Marvel, like Grantland, is owned by Disney.) And the studio, of course, gets richer. But for all this experimenting, why does no one monkey with the script? Why doesn't the acting get to go off the rails? Why is Chris Hemsworth's crown prince, Thor, still a caped Chippendales dancer?
Alan Taylor had three feature-film credits to his name before Asgard beckoned. Taylor, the director of Marvel Studios' Thor: The Dark World, had made Palookaville (1995), The Emperor's New Clothes (2001), and Kill the Poor (2003) — all were met with middling reviews and none earned a million dollars at the box office. But as Taylor's sequel to 2011's Thor arrives in theaters this weekend, he's already sitting on a new personal best: This past weekend, the movie grossed more than $100 million overseas. How did this happen?
Marvel took a chance on Taylor for one reason: Game of Thrones. Taylor is known to hard-core fans of the fantasy series as an established TV director, but even that body of work isn't that prolific. He directed a handful of episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, the pilot for Mad Men, and that one episode of Lost where Hurley has bad dreams. But for Kevin Feige, overlord of the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” the company's self-proclaimed delineation between studio movies like X-Men and Spider-Man and their own homegrown franchises, it came down to Game of Thrones.
Inspired by the success of the Harry Potter franchise under the eye of British TV director David Yates, Feige began homing in on a TV helmer to call his own. First choice Patty Jenkins (Monster, AMC's The Killing) departed the project for unknown reasons (although accounts of the shake-up cite creative differences that would have lengthened the development process and constricted Jenkins's vision). Feige turned to Taylor to add some Game of Thrones grit to the candy-colored world of Asgard. Now, with an alley-oop pass from Marvel, Taylor is an in-demand blockbuster director: He's in talks to helm the next Terminator movie. The director of Palookaville.
When ABC announced the pickup of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., its first co-branded superhero series, the challenge was clear: how to bring a grounded — and less expensive! — point of view to a high-flying cinematic universe. After four weeks, it's safe to say that S.H.I.E.L.D has managed to accomplish that and only that. The show has taken a world in which Norse thunder gods and armored billionaires soar through the skies and made it as compelling as a commuter flight to Albany.
(This is probably as good a time as any to mention that ABC and Marvel are, like Grantland, owned by the Walt Disney Company. We now resume our regular programming.)
That S.H.I.E.L.D. should be struggling creatively isn't necessarily a surprise. (It also doesn't much matter. Thanks to its pedigree, the show is the highest-rated new series of 2013 and has already received a full-season order.) Comic-book stories are never easy to translate to the small screen and the difficulty only increases with an unprecedented project like S.H.I.E.L.D. It's an hour that needs to serve multiple masters, both creative and financial. The series is officially "canon" in a brave new storytelling context where that actually means something: Anything shown onscreen has to sync up with blockbuster Marvel films, even the ones yet to be made. With billions of future dollars at stake, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s creative process is almost necessarily more about the boardroom than the writers' room. This means that the late-night, cheap takeout–fueled inspiration that has led to some of scripted TV's most indelible moments won't be happening here. What's worse, an exploration of the Marvel U's most fascinating corners — like Wakanda, say, or the Savage Land — is also unlikely. Why burn something on a random Tuesday night in October when there's a chance of blowing people's minds with it on a summer weekend in 2019? Even with the familial connection to Avengers godhead (and S.H.I.E.L.D. executive producer) Joss Whedon, husband and wife showrunners Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen are saddled with a great deal more responsibility than actual power.
Say you've just finished directing (and writing) one of the highest-grossing movies in history — a superhero super-epic that super-redeems you from past underperformers. How do you possibly follow up that kind of astronomical success? ... Well, fine, you work on a TV spin-off of your franchise. But in addition to that, you conceive a microbudget adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy and shoot it in black-and-white. At your house.
Joss Whedon's new Much Ado About Nothing is pure, uncut catnip for his fans. From Buffy, there's Alexis Denisof and Tom Lenk. From Angel (in which Denisof also starred), there's Amy Acker (also of Cabin in the Woods). From Firefly, there's Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher. From Dollhouse (and Cabin), there's Fran Kranz. And from The Avengers, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and all the movies that led up to The Avengers, there's your old friend Clark Gregg. Should he have played Benedick instead of Denisof? Probably. But you can't have everything.
Kanye isn’t the only introspective, nation-dividing rapper who'll appear in Anchorman 2. A befro'd Drizzy Drake will also appear, flexing those Degrassi acting chops for the first time in a minute. He elaborated the casting process to Chelsea Handler thusly: "Anchorman was a huge part of my life. I used to have this car that would allow you to play DVDs illegally through the front dash. [Editor's note: Drake, what?] ... No music, just, like, Anchorman consistently looping over and over and over. So people would get in my car and you'd be mid–sex panther scene in Anchorman. So I asked [Will Ferrell] if I could do it and him and [Adam McKay] were phenomenal about it. They let me be part of the scene, I got to improv, I got to interact with [Christina Applegate] and [Ferrell] and I got to look like Blue Ivy, '70s." Process all that while you take in Drake's new "Hold On, We're Going Home" video, packed with gun-blasting, non-Kanye-inspired ski masks, A$AP Rocky cameos, and zero Drake–as–Blue Ivy looks.
Earlier today, Marvel announced some big news: Ultron, the villain in the Avengers sequel, will be played by James Spader. James Spader? James Spader.
Since the moment that the very last frame of The Avengers flickered out, the fanboys have been speculating as to who'll bat cleanup after Loki. Thanks to a little after-credits teaser, smart money was on Thanos for a while; then, at Comic-Con, it was announced it was actually Ultron that Cap 'Merica and the crew was gonna do damage to in this sequel. (The flick's official title: The Avengers: Age of Ultron.) In the comic books, Ultron is one bloodthirsty killing machine of a sentient robot, and was created by Henry Pym, a.k.a. Ant-Man. Now, Ant-Man is getting his own Marvel movie, to be directed by Edgar Wright. But speculation is that in Age of Ultron, in the interest of simplicity and continuity, Ultron will be the bastard brainchild of genius playboy Tony Stark, The Avengers’ most dashing bad-ass. Meanwhile, director Joss Whedon has already confirmed that Ultron will have his pretty-much endless powers dialed back a bit. Speaking with EW, Whedon said:
The American Idol producers must be very tired. They've been retooling ceaselessly for so long that they're getting glassy-eyed and confused, the latest example being the return of Randy Jackson, who had hardly exited the old warhorse as a judge before reportedly being invited back as a mentor for next season, replacing Jimmy Iovine. TMZ is reporting thatAI’s powers that be are attempting to get Scooter Braun onboard (the headline politely reads "American Idol Wants Scooter Braun to Finger Next Kelly Clarkson"), but don't get your hopes up: Braun, apparently, isn't eager to take the job because he doesn't want to get recognized while he's grocery shopping.
On Wednesday, we pointed your attention to reports of renewed, possibly contentious negotiations between Robert Downey Jr. and the good-but-stingy folks at Marvel over future Iron Man and Avengers sequels. Today, more Marvel inside baseball, this time volunteered freely via Avengers lord of the realm Joss Whedon.
See, during the chatter about Downey's paychecks, as well as the paychecks for his superhero friends, the number $100 million was thrown out for Joss. As in, $100 million to make another Avengers. $100 million?! For the guy who can barely keep a show on the air for more than a season?!! No, you're right, it was too good to be true. And Joss himself set the record straight, in his trademark cheeky manner. From his comment on the site Whedonesque (via EW):
Silver: Because of its blatant recycling of plot points and gags, at one point I considered The Hangover Part II one of the biggest wasted opportunities to hit the big screen. But I’m not gonna lie, I’ve warmed up to it quite a bit. After subsequent (and multiple) cable viewings, I’ve come around and really appreciate Stu’s “there’s a demon in me” story line. It’s a disturbing yet oddly moving comment on the mental state of these three shallow, weak-minded men. More than this, as deplorable as they are, I’ve grown to genuinely like hanging out with these guys. So, like re-watching Inception or Prometheus, with expectations properly set the second time around, I'm at the point where I can also sit back and enjoy The Hangover Part II for what it is. Each time I see the film my enjoyment from spending time with Phil, Stu, and Alan slowly weakens my initial disappointment.
So without even seeing a frame of footage, my enthusiasm for Part III starts with my desire to simply hang with the wolfpack again. Then came this highly entertaining trailer, chock full of mayhem, laughs, and glimpses at a killer supporting cast (John Goodman, Melissa McCarthy, and our returning champions Heather Graham and Ken Jeong). Todd Phillips and his gang of merry men and women look determined to deliver a very different and fresh adventure to cap off this trilogy. I can’t wait.
Someone is always mad on the Internet, but this week has been quite a doozy. First we had Nate ThayerversusThe Atlantic, a contentious back-and-forth about freelance payment and digital publishing that launched roughly 5 trillion think pieces across the web. Then there was this very! long! rant from the director of the faux-documentary The Upper Footage, in which he chronicles his attempt to hoodwink audiences into believing that the events depicted in the movie were real as well as his subsequent feud with the film's lead and her "famous actor/actress" parent. Everyone is "infuriated" and "disgusted" and "dead broke" and unable to feed their children or wash their faces with money. The world is in shambles. Gordon Ramsay has "two shit dads." How can I link dump at a time like this?
"You know, like a lot of liberal Americans, I was excited when Barack Obama took office four years ago. But it's a very different world now. And Mitt Romney is a very different candidate. One with the vision and determination to cut through business-as-usual politics and finally put this country back on the path to the zombie apocalypse."
Whatever your political leanings, you have to admit: The whole time Joss Whedon was delivering that speech, you kept a laser focus on that window behind him, expecting to see the beginning of the zombie invasion, didn't you? Or was that just us? Alas, the few glimpses of what we thought might be "walkers" seem to be regular old "pedestrians." Maybe that's what we'll end up calling them if things break the way Whedon describes. Especially if we get the "old-school, shambling kind." And if the apocalypse begins in L.A., the way we've always hoped.
If you are, somehow, not one of the $1.5 billion worth of people that made up The Avengers audience this summer, you may want to avert your eyes from these spoilers. For the rest of you: Hey, remember Agent Coulson? The straight-laced but still kind of badass S.H.I.E.L.D. bureaucrat played by Clark Gregg? The guy whose brutal death at the hands of Loki united the bickering Avengers when nothing else could, because he used to collect their trading cards and that used to mean something in this country, or something? Well, he's not dead anymore. Yep, he got shot up by all kinds of secretive high-tech government weaponry. But nope, not dead anymore.
Next week, once the barbecues, boat shoes, and Breaking Bad have been safely packed away for another season, the pop cultural apparatus — yours truly included — will pivot to focus on the annual parade of hope and hype known as fall television. With great fanfare, the traditional broadcast networks will unveil their fresh product to the skeptical masses. Features will be dutifully written on stars both new and returning, wildly optimistic predictions will be made, misgivings will be muted, bets will be hedged. But with the hot sun still shining and most of Hollywood still on vacation, here’s a hard truth: Most of the new shows being debuted in September are lousy. And, like alopecia-stricken bears, precious few of them will survive the winter.
The Avengers Blu-ray is coming, and they've released this clip of the film's alternate opening to whet the appetite of those action-starved Whedonites eager to set out on one more mission with Cap, Thor, Hulk, and the boyz. While this certainly would've been a darker way to kick things off, the clip's not without a much-needed moment of levity; when Tony Stark wanders through the background of the last few frames, absently kicking at some smoldering rubble as he snacks on some delicious shawarma, that's a moment of clever foreshadowing that would have paid off big time 140 exhilarating, harrowing minutes down the line.