How to make movies the Marvel way

How to make movies the Marvel way (photo)

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Last week, I appeared on the BBC’s “Talking Movies” for a review of “Captain America: The First Avenger” with Tom Brook. As our conversation wound down, Brook looked forward to next summer’s “The Avengers,” the superhero movie to end all superhero movies (and if it’s is a flop, it very well could). He voiced an opinion I’m hearing with increasing frequency: that all of Marvel Studios’ recent movies — from “Iron Man 2” to “Thor” and now “Captain America” — feel like “one gigantic promotional trailer, a big tease for that film.”

There are moments in all those movies that make it hard not to think he’s right. “Iron Man 2″‘s story essentially pauses at the end of Act 2 so that Samuel L. Jackson can pop in and deliver the cameo equivalent of a commercial for “The Avengers.” Over what could literally and figuratively be described as a narrative coffee break, Jackson’s Nick Fury and Robert Downey Jr.‘s Tony Stark have a conversation about S.H.I.E.L.D., Stark’s father, The Black Widow (another future Avenger, played by Scarlett Johansson) and assorted other topics that have little to do with matters at hand, and everything to do with a film coming years down the road. As a comic book reader for decades I know that Fury will ultimately unite the Avengers in their own movie. But what does someone who doesn’t know the Howling Commandos from Howlin’ Wolf think of Jackson’s endless series of payoff-less teases? After four movies and counting, I can see why some audiences might be getting frustrated. As a comic book fan, though, I see something else. I see a comic book company making movies the way they make comic books.

From “Iron Man” onward, Marvel has begun to build a shared universe akin to the one its characters populate in the pages of their monthly comics. Though the idea of a shared comics universe was pioneered by Marvel’s rival DC in the 1940s, the Marvel Comics of the 1960s was the place where the concept really took off. That’s when Stan Lee was writing and/or editing basically every book in the company’s line and began weaving this massive tapestry of interconnected four-color adventures. One month the Hulk would rampage through New York City, and the Fantastic Four would be called in to calm him down. In the next, Spider-Man might swing through Hell’s Kitchen and solve a case with Daredevil.

Shared comic book universes have never really taken off in movies, mostly because in the past comic book companies have licensed their individual characters to different movie studios: Spider-Man swings around the Sony lot, while the X-Men hang out at Fox. Even in cases where one studio controlled multiple properties, you don’t see many crossovers. Warner Brothers’ Superman and Batman’s movie universes are totally separate and distinct, and even though she’s known as a Batman villain, there was no mention of the Caped Crusader in the Halle Berry “Catwoman” spinoff movie from 2004 (I’m sure Batman was quite pleased with that arrangement).

Marvel’s gone the opposite route with these “Avengers” movies. Jackson’s recurring presence as Nick Fury (along with Clark Gregg’s equally frequent appearances as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson) is just one of the obvious symbols that Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America all exist on the same planet Earth and are destined to meet sooner or later. Amongst the easter eggs littered throughout the films: the prototype of Captain America’s shield was lying on one of Tony Stark’s work benches in “Iron Man,” while Cap fought in WWII alongside Stark’s father Howard, battling for control of an incredibly powerful tesseract that is said to have been stolen from the armory of Thor’s father Odin.

This is how you make movies the Marvel way: with an intricate web of characters battling against an endless series of cliffhangers. Every Marvel Studio movie ends with a clever tease for the next film: “Iron Man 2” gave you a glimpse of Thor’s hammer, “Thor” showed you the tesseract (or the Cosmic Cube) from “Captain America.” I often hear these bits described as fan service, since they offer narratively inessential cookies for hardcore nerds. But they also represent of the cinematic equivalent of “NEXT ISSUE: SOMEONE DIES!” dialogue boxes that pop up on the last pages of comic books. Comics work like addiction: each issue ends with the promise of even more excitement next month. To be fully satisfied, you have to come back for the next hit, but the next hit demands you return for another fix too. These credits teasers work exactly the same way.

I think there’s further to go with this idea. I would argue that the fact that many of these Marvel Studios films have, at least in my eyes, similar flaws, from their so-so action to their and rushed plotting, is indicative of a certain “house style” of moviemaking similar to the way that there was a “house style” at Marvel Comics in the 1960s when books were designed to look and sound similar. As for frustrating teases like Jackson’s, four appearances with no payoff is nothing: comic book readers routinely wait years or decades to find out closely guarded continuity secrets. If you want to see what I mean while getting an intense headache in the process, just read this Wikipedia page about the mystery of the X-Men’s Cyclops’ brother. It’s nuts.

There are probably even more parallels to be drawn between the way Marvel makes comics and movies. But I’ll leave things here for now, just like Marvel would. On a cliffhanger.

Do you like the way Marvel makes movies? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.