The Marvels is likely going to end up one of Marvel Studios’ worst-performing films in a considerable period of time—and at a time when people are largely questioning the direction of a franchise that has dominated cinema for 15 years, that’s not an ideal bit of publicity. Also not ideal? The weirdly public way Disney has decided to paint director Nia DaCosta in the wake of its release.
It started earlier this month, just as The Marvels was preparing to release, when a damning report from Variety about the struggles the MCU was facing—in both terms of waning critical and commercial response and an uncertain future slate of films and TV shows—included a bizarre aside that, while discussing the uphill battle the movie faced at the box office, saw an undisclosed source take a shot at DaCosta for concluding production on the movie remotely, as she moved to London to set up her delayed follow up project, Hedda with Tessa Thompson.
“If you’re directing a $250 million movie, it’s kind of weird for the director to leave with a few months to go,” the “close to the production” source told the trade, sparking a wave of criticism of the framing of this information, itself a pretty standard practice for directors balancing multiple projects at once. It even lead to DaCosta herself having to address the allegation that her move “raised eyebrows” at Marvel during The Marvels’ press tour, citing that it was Marvel’s repeated shuffling of their own movie that eventually forced her hand.
Peculiar airing of dirty laundry through sources talking to Hollywood media’s biggest trades is nothing new or unique to Disney and Marvel, but the practice continued even after The Marvels came out. A few weeks later, The Hollywood Reporter published a piece salaciously framed as accusing DaCosta of having “bailed out” on a cast-and-crew screening of The Marvels, only to reveal in its own reporting that DaCosta had not only not been invited to the screening, but her absence from it was because she was celebrating her birthday on the same day. The piece likewise sparked around of criticism, and a response from DaCosta’s representatives, who told THR “it would be quite disrespectful and upsetting to suggest Nia has anything other than adoration for her creative team.”
Like we said, it’s nothing new for studios to try and air grievances through Hollywood media, and not at all unique to the House of Mouse, as weird as the specific situation around DaCosta was coalescing. These weren’t allegations of a poor job on DaCosta’s part as a director or any kind of professional impropriety, but scandalous framings of pretty run-of-the-mill scheduling conflicts. But now Disney is taking an even more unprecedented step into the light to frame DaCosta for The Marvels’ failings: directly from the mouth of CEO Bob Iger himself. Speaking last night at the NYT Dealbook summit about Disney’s not-too-hot year via (The Verge), Iger commented on the lacklustre performance of The Marvels. While not directly footing the blame at DaCosta, Iger did offer what he believed was the reason for the film’s underperformance: that there were simply not enough cooks in kitchen.
“The Marvels was shot during Covid, and there wasn’t enough supervision on set [from executives]” Iger said at the summit, which is certainly something to offer given that—as that aforementioned Variety report lobbied, and has been a frequent criticism of the Marvel Machine even at the height of its influence in Hollywood—Marvel Studios is known for heavy executive involvement in its films, even when working with directors seemingly hired for their own unique visions and approaches, and a fix-it-in-post attitude that the studio is at least apparently trying to turn away from. But still, it’s also a wild thing to say when The Marvels itself still ultimately feels like a product of the studios’ preponderance for meddling and poking—a brisk film with the studio’s shortest runtime, but also one filled with bizarre edits from moment to moment.
But no matter what you ultimately think about The Marvels itself, positively or negatively, Disney’s increasingly public critiques of DaCosta are just starting to feel weird, and weirder the higher up the food chain they start coming from. If the studio is so concerned as to why this specific film among a series of underperformers in 2023 didn’t work, there has to be a better way of approaching that concern than throwing its director under the bus.
Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.
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