Weekend Binge: The origin stories behind Marvel movies like Avengers Infinity War
Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.
While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.
The Marvel machine this week produced its most elaborate movie, Avengers: Infinity War, the grand culmination to the decades-in-the-making superhero saga that began in 2008 with Iron Man. Following months of unprecedented hype, the movie faced near impossible hurdles. And against all odds - think about it, when was the last time a studio had this much riding on one movie - Infinity War was a satisfying cinematic experience, a film that didn’t short-change its ensemble cast, and felt like it had been put together with great care. It will surely divide long time fans - but that’s a virtue that is becoming rarer by year, especially in blockbuster filmmaking.
Behind its success are its two directors, The Russo Brothers - Joe & Anthony. The Russos are in many ways the ideal for the sort of filmmakers Marvel goes after to make their movies, especially after the initial batch of films. This change came after Joss Whedon was hired to direct the Avengers. Like Whedon, the Russos were established TV directors, with very successful stints on the sitcoms Arrested Development and Community behind them. Their only feature before they directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier (to incredible success) was the 2006 comedy You, Me and Dupree.
While this jump may appear shocking - or, at the very least, surprising - on paper, most directors Marvel has groomed over the years have shown similar graphs. So in celebration of the Russos’ continued success, and the record-breaking run of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let’s take a look at some of the best movies that perhaps got these promising filmmakers the Marvel gig.
Before he injected the MCU with a fresh burst of energy with Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn had established himself as an oddball director of indie genre movies. His homage to slasher movies, Slither, is still one of the finest horror kitsch out there but it was his feature follow-up, the shoestring superhero black comedy Super, that probably alerted Marvel to his unique voice. And while we’re at it - and Gunn would probably want to forget this - he also wrote the script for the two live action Scooby Doo movies.
In a recent interview ahead of the release of his film All the Money in the World, director Ridley Scott didn’t hide his feelings about studios hiring untested directors to make big blockbusters. Scott said that the reason behind Disney’s troubles finding a voice to shepherd the Star Wars series was because they’d invested too much money in novice filmmakers only to have them crumble under the pressure. His suggestion was to give an indie filmmaker a mid-budget movie with which they could acclimatise themselves to the demands of studio filmmaking, and only after that should they be given $200 million to play with.
Scott would have approved of Ryan Coogler’s career trajectory. Before he changed the world with Black Panther, he directed the best possible example of a franchise reboot with Creed, and the terrific independent film, Fruitvale Station.To further remove any doubt as to his talents, here are the Rotten Tomatoes scores of his three movies, in order of release: 94%, 95%, 96%.
Watts’ career before he directed Spider-Man: Homecoming is more interesting than you’d think. For one, he hadn’t really shown any particular style, or a preference to a genre. His two features before Homecoming - the gory horror Clown, and the low-key thriller Cop Car - if anything, showed that he was adaptable. Which is perhaps why he was hired by Marvel’s Kevin Feige, who didn’t want the great boat rocked after the unpleasant experiences with Thor: The Dark World’s Alan Taylor, Edgar Wright, who was supposed to make Ant-Man for the studio, and Joss Whedon, who quit the MCU after making the second Avengers movie.
Taika Waititi’s road to blockbuster success was just as aggressively quirky as the Marvel movie he made, Thor: Ragnarok. He was one of the most important voices to emerge out of the New Zealand film industry, which is, as you’d expect, not the largest in the world. Like his fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson - who himself made a remarkable leap to the big leagues after having directed a couple of gory horror movies in his backyard - Taika’s films are uniquely his. From the quaint dramas Boy and Eagle vs Shark to the legit indie classics, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows, if you’re going to marathon one director’s filmography, Taika’s is the most diverse.
He even checks the box for having experience in television - Taika directed several episodes of Flight of the Conchords and The Inbetweeners.
With Marvel on the verge of concluding a decade’s worth of stories within a year, it’ll be interesting to see who they hire to shepherd them into a new phase.
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