Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the pride of Samoa, used to refer to himself as “franchise Viagra.” This was in the days before he was commanding $20 million per movie – $1 million for his social media promotion alone! – and just generally enjoying life as one of the last true movie stars. However, for a good stretch of time he was flailing in Hollywood. The studios weren’t so sure he was the type of guy you could build a franchise around. (Sorry, Doom.) They were far more willing to throw him into the middle of an already-established, possibly dying franchise to see if his presence alone could help renew interest. Worked out pretty well for Fast and Furious, not quite as well for G.I. Joe. Either way, it happened enough times that The Rock started making jokes about it.
You wouldn’t think to refer to The Rock as “franchise Viagra” now. He’s passed that stage of his career. Kevin Feige – the 46-year-old, baseball cap-loving Marvel Studios guru who is still in the middle of arguably the most successful run by any movie producer in Hollywood history – would similarly seem immune to such a description. If there was a Mount Rushmore for Hollywood’s leading players of the moment, Feige’s face would be on there along with Disney’s Bob Iger, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, and, I dunno, TV producer Greg Berlanti (he has 19 shows – 19! – on the air right now).
Yet, when Sony screwed the pooch with the Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies a couple of years back they turned to Kevin Feige to save the brand. Literally billions of dollars in ticket sales later, Sony has agreed to partner with Feige on a third Spider-Man movie, reportedly set to be the web-slinger’s swan song in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Spider-Man: Back Into the Swing of Things
There was much handwringing online by freaked out fans and negotiating in the press between Sony and Marvel, but a deal got done because there’s only one Kevin Feige. Amy Pascal and others help produce those Tom Holland movies, and they thought they could move on without Feige. The internet told them they were wrong, and they caved.
(The reality of it all is more complicated than that. Reportedly, the true dispute was and continued to be over profit-sharing, but the overhead view of the whole ordeal does give the impression of one studio thinking it no longer needed Hollywood’s golden boy and then eventually changing its mind about that.)
There was a bit of a lover’s spat to all of it. Sony’s stance in the press was that Feige was too busy for them thanks to everything on his plate what with Disney+ and the looming Fantastic Four/X-Men revivals in the MCU, and they simply couldn’t sit around waiting for him while their marquee character sat on the shelf. A resolution was reached, and now get a new Spider-Man movie in 2021.
What A Bunch of Force A-Holes
Sony wasn’t entirely wrong, though. Feige is incredibly busy, and he just added even more to his workload by switching streams over to LucasFilm and agreeing to produce a new Star Wars movie. The pattern here does seem a tad familiar:
Kathleen Kennedy’s LucasFilm screwed the pooch – I know, I keep saying that incredibly awkward phrase, but I did just watch Stand By Me last night – on Last Jedi and Solo. Now, with the Star Wars franchise about to enter uncharted territory in launching new, original films detached from the Skywalker saga it’s time for the preeminent expert in cinematic universe-building to help put right what had gone so wrong.
For that narrative to completely hold, you have to be someone who didn’t like Last Jedi and Solo. I’m not one of those people – can take or leave Solo, but quite admire Last Jedi. However, there’s enough working against Star Wars right now to view it as vulnerable:
Last Jedi made $700m less than Force Awakens and alienated hardcore fans. Solo bombed. The video game division seems to keep antagonizing fans. Bob Iger admits in his new memoir that George Lucas hates Force Awakens and feels betrayed by what the Mouse House has done with his universe. Disney World’s much-hyped Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction has struggled enough out of the gate that head people have been fired. To spur attendance, Disney is running an all-out media blitz, including a two-hour Freeform special hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
Add to all of that Kathleen Kennedy’s continuing misadventures in producing – how many directors has she fired? – and you can easily start making your obligatory “there’s a disturbance in the force” jokes.
Iger says he deserves some of the blame for this. He pushed LucasFilm to do too much, too soon with Star Wars, and the market has punished them for their overreach, which is why we might go a year or two between Rise of Skywalker and whatever comes next. There will still plenty of content on Disney+, including The Mandalorian and the Ewan McGregor Obi-Wan series, but in theaters who knows what they’ll do. We thought the choices were down to complementary new trilogies from David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and Rian Johnson respectively. Now we know Kevin Feige will be producing at least one movie, and he already has a recognizable name in mind of the lead.
He can help them turn things around because he already did it with Spider-Man, they might be thinking. This should be a natural fit for him. What is Guardians of the Galaxy, after all, but a version of Star Wars with Han Solo as the lead character?
Eh, that might be a bit of an oversimplification, but the dude clearly loves Star Wars. Feige’s track record tells me it’s easy to believe he really is doing this just because he’s always wanted to make a Star Wars movie. He isn’t necessarily gunning for Kennedy’s job. This doesn’t have to mean he’s aggressively elbowing Benioff, Weiss and Johnson out of the way. He just wants to see Star Wars back on the right track the same way he wanted to save Spider-Man.
I’m cool with that.
What about you? Let me know in the comments.