Sunday, September 6, 2009

Thoughts on Disney Buying Marvel

In case you haven’t heard the biggest news in the entertainment industry yet, Disney purchased Marvel a few days ago for the sum of 4 billion dollars. This move came as a complete surprise, and speculation has been running rampant over what implications this could have for both companies.

Is the deal really a cause for worry? Maybe, maybe not. Some people seem to think that it could lead to the “Disneyfication” of Marvel’s movies and/or comics – a rather absurd proposal, if you think about it. Despite its clean-cut, family-friendly image, Disney has distributed the likes of Sin City, Pulp Fiction, and plenty of other violent or otherwise “mature” media through Miramax (which it also owns), so the issue isn’t one of what level of explicitness Disney will allow its new subsidiary to “get away with.” Besides, after the financial debacle that was last year’s Punisher: War Zone, Marvel swore off making R-rated films in the future anyway.

The real issue, I think, is one of creative control over Marvel’s franchises. I’m not too concerned for Marvel Publishing, which handles the publication of Marvel’s extensive line of comic books. Since Marvel’s rebound from bankruptcy in the late 1990s, its publishing arm has maintained an unprecedented level of creative autonomy (and critical acclaim) which I seriously doubt Disney would feel any need to dismantle. (As a brief side note, though, I do wonder whether this deal could lead to Marvel absorbing Boom! Studios, another comic book company which for the last year or so has been publishing a number of well-received comics based on Disney-owned franchises, including Toy Story and the Muppets.)

To dwell on publishing for just a moment longer, I think it’s important to remember that Marvel hasn’t merged with Disney – Marvel is now simply owned by Disney, and as such it will remain a mostly self-directed institution. So for those worried that Mickey Mouse will soon be joining the X-Men by corporate mandate, you have nothing to fear (although if fan art like this piece provides any indication, it might not be so bad!).

So with Marvel’s comic book universe fairly safe, in my opinion, my main concern in is over what will now happen to Marvel Studios. This is the independent production studio, owned by Marvel, which has so far brought us Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, and which is currently producing next year’s Iron Man 2. Several more Marvel movies, including Captain America, Thor, and The Avengers, are also lined up for the studio.

I have commented before on this blog that I felt Marvel Studios’ legal and financial independence gave it a level of creative control that we are never likely to see from DC, since it is owned by Time-Warner. Forming its own production studio was a major triumph for Marvel in that regard, which makes it a bit sad to see the company essentially “selling out” when it’s proven that it can be both financially and critically successful on its own.

I’m still somewhat optimistic, on the one hand, because Disney has done such an excellent job in its handling of Pixar, which has perhaps the single greatest track record of any production studio in history. But fundamentally, this deal is still about Disney making more money, and the difference between Pixar and Marvel is that Marvel has many more long-standing franchises that have the potential to be exploited, for lack of a better word. Disney will do whatever it feels it needs to in order to protect its own financial interests – and if this means, for example, forcing Marvel Studios to crank out a third Iron Man movie without the same care that was devoted to the first two movies, I have little doubt that Disney will do so. We’ve already seen this same scenario play itself out in Sony’s mishandling of the third film in the Spider-Man franchise, and with a fourth film on the way (and, supposedly, a fifth as well), the cycle seems almost inevitable.

Of course, the true effects of this deal probably won’t be felt for at least a few years. I imagine Marvel Studios will continue to operate as it is now through the completion of its current slate of films, at which point it will either close its doors or take its work in whatever direction Disney feels best. This might not end up being a bad thing at all – it’s not as if Disney doesn’t have an eye for great filmmaking. The point is simply that Disney will have a tremendous influence on what Marvel-based movies are made in the future, for better or for worse.

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