If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I haven't posted anything in a while. Feel free to read this here or on my main site.
After the waves of critical backlash that soured general audiences to this year's Oscar contenders--The Artist and The Tree of Life, especially--before the films even reached the multiplexes, it's relieving to read near unanimous praise circling series like Girls, Community, Game of Thrones and, most recently, Marvel's superhero films. The few less-than-positive pieces about the latter's latest and most ambitious chapter, The Avengers, centers not on the film's quality but the corporation behind it (or corporations, if you still can't bring yourself to accept Marvel as Disney's subsidiary.)
For the purposes of this article, I'm ignoring David Brothers' worthwhile editorial (which I think jumps the shark by complaining that the film being advertised as Marvel's The Avengers signifies corporate dominance rather than a practical need to separate itself from the film adaptation of the 60s British TV show) to focus on James Sturm's Slate essay, "Why I'm Boycotting The Avengers." After passionately detailing his personal history with Marvel along with his anticipation for its newest film, Sturm summarizes the infamous fallout between Stan "The Man" Lee and Jack "King" Kirby and the following lawsuit that resulted Marvel's absorption of Kirby's creative claim to his characters. As Sturm points out, such cases are neither unique nor have they ceased since the Disney merger.
While Kirby's cautionary tale has only gained relevance in these times of capital over compassion, I'm concerned that Brothers' response, to boycott The Avengers, does more harm than good. This isn't to say that his article is a waste--on the contrary: artistic exploitation through contractual bullying is an issue that needs to remain in the public eye for as long as it continues if one expects an end to the abuse. However, denying well-deserved money to the hundreds, if not thousands of craftspeople that it takes to produce multi-million dollar juggernauts like this is not the way to go, in my opinion.
To address obvious criticisms, yes, the employees have already been paid and it's the studio that'll take the hit for any money lost in the box office. My concern lies in what happens after the hit. Unless this boycott is organized enough to read off a graph at the end of The Avengers's run, Disney, like most culturally daft mega-corporations (think NBC,) will see this as a simple profit loss and will blame the marketing department if you're lucky or the creative hands if you're realistic. Unless one's filmmaking role is exclusively behind-the-scenes technical work, the box-office draw and sometimes the critical response are what solidify one's reputation, which becomes Hollywood's basis for greenlighting scripts, setting budgets and canceling series.
Few are more familiar with the latter categories than The Avengers director Joss Whedon, whom, somehow, has managed to produce short-lived but nonetheless influential work under constrictive network television budgets and studio executive impatience. Despite Whedon's unrivaled cult support from fans, The Avengers, moreso than Serenity or the original Buffy film, acts as Whedon's mainstream proving ground, not unlike Christopher Nolan's was with the Batman franchise. Although, I'd argue Cabin in the Woods easily bests Nolan's Inception creatively, imagine if The Avengers's success entrusted Whedon with studio budgets that allowed him to work on that imaginative scale more often without the trappings of development hell.
For once, I'm optimistic that this could happen and, perhaps the financial success of this whole Avengers experiment is what will motivate studios to continue hiring based on talent and listening to fan response when they inevitably continue their respective franchises.* This summer may be our window toward moving past the era when creative forces were seen as the interchangeable chess pieces that were so easy to manipulate in Jack Kirby's time. Only when fans and artists factor into the power equation will they be able to change system through means that don't require them to miss out on something they've been anticipating for years. Who knows? Maybe one day film will have its own equivalent to the bullpen letters column.
*Or at least it may motivate Marvel. With DC's announced plans to reboot Batman so soon, I have my doubts that they're interested in much more than brand-building at the moment.