Is Disney’s “Content Machine” About to Explode?

Thor Love and Thunder Axe Sky
Thor: Love and Thunder – Tripping Over Itself

2022 has been an excellent year for movies and TV. At least, that’s how I’ve felt about it. We’ve had solid releases like Everything Everywhere All at Once absolutely dominating cultural buzz for months, Tollywood breakthrough RRR blowing people’s minds, The Batman staked its claim as a top 3 Batman movie for several viewers (even if I only thought it was okay), and Top Gun: Maverick solidified that classic filmmaking embracing practical visuals can still outshine regurgitated CGI nonsense. I haven’t even mentioned some of my other favorites or memorable pictures. These are just stellar releases that have made a real claim to this year’s playing field.

And that’s without getting into specifically hero or superhero properties. I already mentioned The Batman, but there’s also Ms. Marvel and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and I’m also realizing even RRR is essentially a period-piece superhero flick. Even Turning Red was basically a superhero movie (or at least borrowed a lot of tropes) while Moon Knight was a pretty cool and frequently memorable foray into more serious Marvel fare (although not as much as we wished). It’s been an excellent year for movies. If you’re a purveyor of exciting excellence and creativity, this has been the year for you. Hands down.

So, why the title? Why question perhaps the biggest content creator’s potential for a burst bubble? Let’s ignore all the political nonsense that I’m sure so many are aware of, what-with bills in Florida and Bob Chapek (or, Bob 2)’s occasional but largely infrequent missteps. I want to look merely at the content Disney has been putting out lately and look forward to what’s coming in the near future.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor Love and Thunder

Earlier this year saw the conclusion of The Book of Boba Fett, a disappointing venture into Star Wars for a collection of fans that, surprisingly, have not built the callous for disappointment yet (seriously, guys, what is up with that?). I chose to pass this time around since I wasn’t hearing particularly great things about it, as well as witnessed a laughably silly clip of Boba Fett fighting off storm troopers. I couldn’t be bothered. I’ve never quite understood the fan appreciation for a character that, more or less, enters and exits stage left in both his debut feature and final climactic sequence (I’m, of course, talking about The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). And even then, the most positive thing I’ve heard about The Book of Boba Fett are the 1-2 episodes focusing on The Mandalorian, which I’m not so sure is a good sign.

That’s how we started the year, but we did end last year with another blunder. The Eternals had vanished as soon as it appeared, only seeing a resurgence on Disney Plus because it was that much easier for people to make memes about the film. Even going further back, we had Black Widow becoming the black sheep of Phase Four, a film so strangely unimportant and lacking in focus that it becomes more and more forgettable the further we distance ourselves.

Now, before I move into upcoming releases, it is important to note; I am aware that these projects were all greenlit during the last few years of Bob Iger’s run. My previous mention of Bob Chapek wasn’t necessarily to imply that he’s responsible for these duds, nor responsible for any upcoming duds. I’d say, roughly, it isn’t until perhaps 2023 or 2024 that we’ll begin to see projects with larger influence from Chapek, not necessarily because I suspect a CEO will be heavily involved in the day-to-day workings of a single division in his company, more that we’ll begin to see what naturally seeps down into the company from his high-rise position. What’s important to him will soon become important to the company, and what’s important to the company will soon become important to Marvel, Pixar, etc. That said, Disney is still Disney is still Disney. So, when we look at last year and move into this year, it’s important to see it was a natural slide than two separate parts. Especially when observing Disney as a content machine, something that is popping out content weekly, whether it’s Disney, Pixar, Star Wars, or a new Stargirl movie that nobody is talking about (but I did watch! It was fine-ish).

Black Widow – A Middling Marvel Movie

Alright, that’s out of the way. Let’s move into 2022. More than that, let’s preface what I’m about to do here. I’m about to do something controversial. I’m about to criticize media that hasn’t even released yet (gasp!). That’s right. I’m presupposed quality based on unfinished trailers and unverified experiences. I’m tainting what could be good with what I think will be bad! The horror!

We all saw that first She-Hulk trailer. It wasn’t the worst trailer we’d seen (not even recently, with that Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power teaser taking that spot) but it was seriously unfinished and seriously confusing. Tatiana Maslany’s casting notwithstanding, there is a lot to find frustrating with this trailer from the wild, full-body uncanny valley of She-Hulk’s design, right down to the trailer having a baby’s-first women’s-empowerment aesthetic. Everything about this trailer screams “I’m not sure how to advertise this”, and it screams even further, “I’m not sure I want to watch this”. It, seriously, looks bad. Keyword here is “looks”. The show may turn out fine, but trailers are extremely powerful. They can literally make or break a feature. Just look at A Quiet Place for how a trailer can expertly sell an otherwise middling movie. Conversely, the trailer for It Comes At Night advertises a completely different movie, leaving audience members confused by the time credits rolled around.

After that we have Andor which may look cool to some but could not interest me in the least. Apart from wanting to keep Diego Luna, I can’t wrap my head around why Kathleen Kennedy said, “Yes, that one character from that one Star Wars movie I made that everyone retroactively says is good? Let’s make a show about him!”. The trailer rarely even shows the character of Cassian Andor, rather sticking to in-world imagery of other characters and figures as if to placate fans, “Yes, we know! He didn’t really have character in Rogue One! But don’t worry, we have other characters!”. It’s really weird to me, and it feels exactly like what Star Wars has become over the last 10 years: name-recognition. It’s just not real. Star Wars is not real. It can’t hurt you. You’ve got to cut the dope.

Jeez, and I haven’t even gotten into the controversies behind Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s lead actress Letitia Wright and the potential issues that may arise from that. I’m not even sure it warrants much more than a mention here, but I’ll leave it up to you to investigate that one further.

Iman Vellani as Ms Marvel

So that’s the past, and there’s our future. What about right now?

It’s not that great for Disney, either. Their best property right now, Ms. Marvel, isn’t even being watched by comparable standards despite having a brilliant first episode. It’s stylized, it’s focused, it has deep characters, and it feels like a real place on real Earth as opposed to even Eternals, which was coincidentally shot in real locations. And yet, this is really a surprise. Media that is perceived to be targeted at young girls is always maligned. Even its own demographic can have difficulty. Breaking it down by demographics; older men won’t watch it because they feel uncomfortable for a variety of reasons (“It’s too childish!” “I think that’s gay!” “Nothing real happens!”); older women may not watch it because they feel they’ve outgrown it; young men will likely repeat the same things older men would (except while also wearing a fedora, because at that stage of life they think they’re cool); young women may watch it during more private times, or in their friend groups; boys won’t think it’s cool because it’s for girls; girls might be teased by their brothers or parents (in particular, their dads) for liking things that are exactly okay for them to like, girlie stuff.

But, the above is also such a dated observation. Interests and hobbies being gendered is so old-school, so obtuse, so misguided. Liking knitting or crocheting as a man doesn’t turn you into a woman. You’re not picking up a sewing needle and phoning your gynecologist in the same motion. God forbid men like fashion!

There is the added bonus that Kamala Khan is from an Islamic family, and we all know how westerners feel about Islam. There’s no denying the combination of Ms. Marvel presenting itself as a show for teenage girls (despite being like any other superhero movie: an origin story) while also including in trailers traditional Islamic rituals and cultural norms that perturb the same crowd that is boycotting Disney for having opinions. A shame, as even Daniel said on our podcast that Ms. Marvel likely has one of the best modern depictions of a religious family.

Eternals – Certified Rotten

All of this leads us to what people are actually watching. Rather than watching a quality, exciting, and charming show like Ms. Marvel, Disney adults are diving into Thor: Love and Thunder just a few weeks after finishing Obi-Wan Kenobi, two properties that have underwhelmed to massive degrees.

Let’s start with Obi-Wan Kenobi. What signified the return of Ewan McGregor’s interpretation of the character, who is arguably considered the best part of the Star Wars Prequels, ends up being equally as boring and uninteresting as the prequels (all without the ‘drinking game’ charm they behold). From the moment a young Princess Leia is on screen, chased by grown adult pirates who gingerly jog while trying to abduct her, walking into tree branches and tripping over their own feet, I knew I was in for a bad time. And I was! And to think it was Moses Ingram’s character that led people to become mad about the show. Are Star Wars fans even real? Can they hurt me? Yes they can, it seems. Don’t mess with them!

And then we have Thor: Love and Thunder, a movie so irritatingly unfunny and vaporously forgettable that I’m only now realizing I haven’t written once about it despite the cover photo. Thor: Love and Thunder has completely sapped my ability to find excitement in the MCU. It confirms something that wasn’t necessarily true about the last decade+ of movies from this juggernaut of a studio: inconsistency is apparent, and reliability is foolish. From Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, it truly is amazing to think there wasn’t a single dud. Sure, Thor: The Dark World is the easiest to cherry pick, but even that movie landed a fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Or, maybe you want to point out both Iron Man sequels. And yet, both of those are not only fresh, but have strong, ardent fans that stan their unique charm. And while Thor: Love and Thunder also has itself a fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, Daniel points out in our episode that their respective reviews from each submission, through nuance, aren’t really that positive. They’re mostly remittent.

I couldn’t get passed how good Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness was. How exciting, frightening, and masterfully crafted that feature was. It’s not only a good Marvel movie, it’s good filmmaking. It’s shocking, funny, dramatic, engaging, toe-curling; Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has profile and character, just as much as its actual characters. So, why is it that a movie that garners legitimate emotion sends the general public into a frantic frenzy about MPA ratings and quality control while a movie like Thor: Love and Thunder gets, “The goats were funny! I laughed when the goats were funny!”?

Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe Thor: Love and Thunder isn’t just bad but general audiences also don’t care about it. Maybe that 80% Audience Score on RT isn’t real. Maybe that can’t hurt me. Or, maybe that’s all it takes: emotionless comedy with goats > genuine dramatic horror with a hint of the silly. Or, maybe I’m just bitter people don’t like a movie I like. Maybe not. Who knows what the future holds!? Who even am I!?

I just think this year isn’t going to be that great for Disney. Politically, it’s already a wash. Bob 2 had no chance of making the right decision for his company, but we’re not talking about his politics. When it comes to content, things looks like they’re on a downward trajectory. Or, at the very least, things look like they’ll be more of a sinewave than a straight shot. And if you want brand loyalty, you can’t risk putting out stinkers. If this is what it’s going to be like, I’m not so sure everyone’s going to stick around, week after week, for endless content when they have other shows they want to catch up on like Stranger Things, Severance, Peacemaker, and so much other quality stuff. And that’s all without mentioning the great films that have, and likely will come out later. Like I said, 2022 has been great for movies and TV. Why bother sticking to Disney?

But that’s just what I think. What do you think? Am I off-base with my thoughts here? I could be totally wrong, but it really seems like things are going to end up less-than-stellar for Disney by the end of 2022. Let me know below.

Want more Christian-influenced media coverage? Subscribe to the Cinematic Doctrine podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app!

Support Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast on Patreon

Consider supporting Cinematic Doctrine on Patreon! As a bonus, you’ll gain access to a once-a-month movie poll where you decide a movie we discuss on the podcast, as well as early unedited episodes of the podcast!!

Melvin Benson Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast Host

Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!

Cinematic Doctrine is available on iTunesSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and other major podcast apps.