Arcade Fire's "Afterlife" video starts with a sad single papa feeding his sons supper. It moves to bedtime, then all over the place, beautiful and melancholy throughout its black-and-white journey. Emily Kai Bock, who's worked with Grimes and Grizzly Bear, wrote and directed the clip.
The first Thor film arrived in May of 2011, almost exactly one year after the disappointing but wildly successful Iron Man 2, and almost exactly one year before the fanboy-sating, billion-five-grossing, super-team-up orgy of The Avengers. Though no sure thing, it was a big hit, exceeding any reasonable goal for a tentpole entertainment directed by Henry V and centered around a Norse god whose powers include salon-quality hair and being able to afford the nicest hammer in the Asgard Home Depot. After the movie pounded out $450 million worldwide, nobody's sniffing at our hero's impossibly bouncy tresses anymore, unless it's to ask Chris Hemsworth if he'd like to try the shampoo infused with fresh-squeezed diamond essence today. (He would; the one made from 24-carat bullion flakes is giving him a nasty case of goldruff.)
And so Friday's arrival of Thor: The Dark World comes with much higher expectations than the movie two years ago. The Marvel Universe is now made entirely of money (thanks, Joss and RDJ!), and Hemsworth, as untested a beef-slab as the suits dared jam into Viking armor the first time around, is now a battle-tenderized movie star. There is a train that must be kept running until the next Avengers film arrives in 2015, and each super-conductor must take his turn shoveling cash into its hungry furnace. But, we ask, is that your problem? It is not; when Stan Lee comes by to jiggle an upturned fedora near your pockets as you wait in line outside the multiplex, you're under no obligation to toss in any coins. Your only problem is this: Should you open your wallet this time? Well, we're here to arm you with the information you need to make an informed ticket-buying decision.
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.
It sure gets complicated, what with all these superheroes zipping around, but here's the basics: After Avengers, Iron Man had to save the world. On November 8, Thor will save the world. And then, finally, it'll be Captain America's turn to save the world. Again.
Between 2001 and 2011, Warner Bros. released eight films with the name "Harry Potter" in the title. The franchise took over an entire decade and became the highest-grossing film series of all time, raking in $7.7 billion-with-a-B internationally. The final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, was the highest-grossing of all, with a domestic take of $381 million; the series was forced to end because there was no more book to adapt, not because it was anywhere close to overstaying its welcome at the box office. So, naturally, it only took two years for Warner Bros. to fire up the mint again — this time in a way that could potentially run until the last dime has been milked from the last standing Harry Potter fan in a postapocalyptic desert wasteland future where everyone not safely housed within the confines of a studio-owned theme park has died from starvation and/or exposure.
If I sound cynical, it's because I've used up all my benefit of the doubt for financial strategies disguised as fan service on Disney's revitalization of the Star Wars franchise into a 21st-century pop culture product assembly line. And in many ways, the recently announced J.K. Rowling–penned Potter spin-off series sounds like WB's answer to that all-but-guaranteed windfall: With no number of films specified that Rowling has been contracted to write, we are to assume that this will just go on as long as it's profitable to all involved parties.
Last week, Steven Soderbergh bemoaned the state of the film industry during a talk at the San Francisco International Film Fest, and this week, the Girls in Hoodies respond to some of his arguments. We use examples from a so-far-underwhelming summer movie season and Baz Luhrmann's upcoming The Great Gatsby 3D as fodder, and probably alienate every fan of Marvel's Avengers mega-franchise in the process.
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):
Iron Man 3 is making money hand over fist ($678.9 million in 10 days, to be exact). Robert Downey Jr. is being paid handsomely for his services ($50 milliooooooon). What could possibly stop the beautiful Marvel-RDJ relationship from blossoming ever more? Two things: (1) Downey is not signed for any more Marvel movies. And while he's already entered negotiations for two more Avengers movies, he's not quite ready to talk Iron Man 4. And (2), Marvel, it turns out, is actually quite cheap. Just ask all the Avengers who don't have a powerful suit of armor that keeps their injured hearts beating.
This Friday sees the release of Iron Man 3, with Robert Downey Jr. returning to the role that took him from (hugely rewarding) indie purgatory to all-out blockbuster movie star. But there are more than two chapters to the RDJ saga, and this week the Grantland staff looks back at some of the most memorable moments of his career.
Please stop what you are doing and watch, in slack-jawed amazement and delight, as Patton Oswalt filibusters a Pawnee City Council vote with his fevered ideas for Star Wars: Episode VII in this very extended outtake from tomorrow night's Parks and Recreation double bill. What follows is eight minutes of improvisational wizardry that ends only when Oswalt nearly dies of dry mouth, having heroically reached the extreme limits of nerd-endurance by liquefying the minds of Star Wars purists with the taboo-obliterating suggestion of a grand merger with the Marvel universe.