Don't Feed The Trolls, And Don't Blame The Marvels Director Nia DaCosta For The Film's Box Office

What a difference five years can make. This time back in 2018, Marvel Studios was on a red hot streak and was gearing up for the release of "Captain Marvel," another sure-to-be box office gem to add to its figurative Infinity Gauntlet. It's easy to forget just how much awful people on the internet had it out for the House of Ideas' first solo woman-led Marvel Cinematic Universe film, especially when star Brie Larson dared to use her platform to highlight the staggering lack of inclusivity among the ranks of the press. But despite the chorus of clowns online chanting "Go woke, go broke," the film handily became a member of the coveted billion-dollar club.

("Captain Marvel" isn't even that "woke," for the record, though that's another discussion.)

Now, the "Captain Marvel" sequel, "The Marvels" (which is also a sequel to the Disney+ shows "WandaVision," "Ms. Marvel," and "Secret Invasion"), has set a new franchise low for MCU box office domestic opening weekends. Coupled with the film's middling reviews (in his own review for /Film, Jeremy Mathai wrote that despite Iman Vellani's winsome turn as Kamala Khan, the movie is "little more than another mediocre, easily-forgotten effort in a never-ending stream of products"), it caps off a disappointing year for Marvel Studios — one that has seen multiple titles flop and several bombshell reports detailing the company's behind-the-scenes problems.

Of course, the same crappy people who trolled "Captain Marvel" have been predictably quick to lay the blame for its sequel's box office on "The Marvels" co-writer and director Nia DaCosta, the first Black woman to helm an MCU movie. However, regardless of how you personally feel about her film, throwing DaCosta under the bus is racist, sexist, and, yes, objectively inaccurate.

Getting caught in a perfect storm

DaCosta is, to put it simply, going places. Her first movie, the 2018 neo-Western "Little Woods," was a critical darling and her second film, the 2021 horror reboot/sequel "Candyman," while less well-received, did quite well financially despite premiering at a time when the box office was still recovering from the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns. Her going on to helm an MCU film right after that is standard procedure nowadays for Hollywood, where up-and-comers are frequently hired to oversee big-budget projects after scoring a smaller hit. Yet, for some reason, unlike DaCosta, nobody accused Colin Trevorrow of being a "diversity hire" when he went from directing "Safety Not Guaranteed" to "Jurassic World." How peculiar.

Anyway, there are plenty of reasons "The Marvels" misfired at the box office that were firmly out of DaCosta's hands, including the cast being unable to promote the film until the actors' strike was resolved two days before it opened and the fact that superhero tentpoles are no longer the dominant box office force they were pre-pandemic. DaCosta has also addressed the fact that she began preparing her next film, the Tessa Thompson-led "Hedda," while "The Marvels" was still in post-production.

"For me personally, it was literally just that they moved the date of the film four different times, and so instead of it being a two-year process, which I was deeply committed to, it became a three-and-a-half-year process," she told Jake's Takes, adding that she continued to work on "The Marvels" remotely while prepping "Hedda" (which she couldn't postpone any longer without risking it being canceled). By then, "everyone was so clear about what ['The Marvels'] was, what we wanted, everyone knew what I wanted. So it really wasn't the dramatic sort of thing that I think people are feeling."

The limits of creative control on Marvel productions

It's the dirty secret that everyone already knows. At the end of the day, there's one creative whose voice outranks everyone else's in the MCU and it's head honcho Kevin Feige. It was something DaCosta was fully aware of when she boarded "The Marvels," telling Vanity Fair, "It is a Kevin Feige production, it's his movie. So I think you live in that reality, but I tried to go in with the knowledge that some of you is going to take a back seat." That also meant making her peace with just how much of a personal mark she could leave on the material, all the way down to specific comic book influences. As she told Entertainment Weekly:

"The biggest challenge was finding the balance between my point of view as a director and as a comic book nerd. Obviously, there are changes between the comics and the movies, and sometimes I'm like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa!' Sometimes Kevin [Feige] would be like, 'You're being too much of a nerd. Please stop.'"

In the case of "The Marvels" especially, it's pretty glaring where DaCosta's personal input ends and the Marvel machine takes over. In her own positive reaction to the film, /Film's BJ Colangelo even noted, "Any complaints I have come with the caveat that I could practically hear a studio note commanding it." That's not to say that everything that works in "The Marvels" is DaCosta's doing and everything that doesn't is Feige's fault, but it is something that one has to consider as part of any serious conversation about the film's word of mouth and its impact on box office sales. Ultimately, it's Feige who needs to get his house in order here.

"The Marvels" is now playing in theaters.

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