These days, Marvel Studios make THE tentpole action flicks. With a combination of fun characters, good direction, solid stories, huge spectacle, and a formula that just works, they’ve created an ongoing, interwoven geek movie franchise that has every other studio scrambling to catch up.
Make no mistake, I’m an unabashed fan. I don’t pretend they are classic cinema — they’re just comic book movies — but they do something important: they consistently make me feel like I’m 12 again, only without all the self-loathing and zits. From the tense drama of The Winter Soldier to the charming adventure of Ant-Man to the hilarious space adventure of Guardians of the Galaxy, I love this stuff.
So do a LOT of people. Marvel movies are YUGE. Four of them have grossed over $1 billion worldwide each, and not a single one has drawn less than $500 million since 2011’s Thor (and even that one hit $450 million). Even the relatively obscure Doctor Strange recently surpassed $655 million. So people are clearly eager to spend their money on these flicks.
They’re not just moneymakers, either. Every single film they’ve done is ranked “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, and only two (The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World) slip below 70%. More than half are over 80%. The same holds true at IMDB, where only Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk are rated lower than 7.0, and they are at 6.9 and 6.8, respectively.
Not just moneymakers, then, either. People actually think they’re pretty decent.
Plus they’re built on a foundation rich with pop culture history, coming from some of the most popular comics in the world. These characters stretch back 40, 50+ years – in Captain America’s case, 70 years – and have been beloved by multiple generations. They’re some of the most iconic characters in the world. For geeks, every movie is an Event.
Which makes me wonder why the home releases on Blu-Ray suck as badly as they do.
When my edition of Captain America: Civil War came in, I did as I usually do with a new home release and dove right into the extras. By this point, though, I lacked my usual fan’s excitement. I don’t expect much from Marvel home releases anymore. That the shallow offerings on this disc actually improved on past releases is faint praise indeed, because they’re little more than EPK (Electronic Press Kit) fluff.
Here’s the rundown:
- A 45-minute “making of,” among their longest so far, but one that doesn’t really provide any real “making of” material. It’s empty, uninformative trash that amounts to a lengthy commercial.
- Two short bits that sum up Cap and Tony’s story so far are about 4 minutes each and are pure Youtube hype fodder.
- A brief (and funny) gag reel.
- An advertisement for the then upcoming Doctor Strange.
- And a commentary track.
All of this came in a glorious, paper thin, super cheap plastic Blu-Ray case that would be crushed if you put a paperback book on it.
The recent release of Doctor Strange was much the same. The extras totaled up to about an hour, which seemed promising, but when you actually watch them you see that they’re the worst sort of filler. The behind the scenes shorts are the kind of content-less puffery you’d find on Entertainment Tonight. No actual insights into how the movie was made, no true looks behind the scenes, nothing of value whatsoever.
I can go grab a Blu-Ray of critically slammed junk like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and it will be JAM-PACKED with hours and hours of extra stuff — and it’s not mere fluff. Those home releases are filled with robust “making of” material, behind the scenes, lore from Middle Earth, and lots more, all of it in very nice packaging. It’s worth a purchase even if you never watch the movie, because you get loads of good viewing just from the extras.
The Harry Potter series was just as huge as Marvel is now, and again, those DVD releases were fantastic. Tons of extra material made them a great value that extended and expanded your love for the franchise. Star Wars, ditto. The Alien series has absurdly good home releases. And on and on and on. They all gave you a good reason to want them on your shelf and they all provide a great bang for your buck.
Yet since Iron Man 2, the Marvel home releases have been low-effort cash-ins with little to actually recommend them aside from the movie itself – and sorry, as a fiend for quality home releases with good extra content, that just doesn’t cut it. There just isn’t much reason to purchase them.
They all follow the same basic formula: They’ll have one “main” extra feature which is usually a 20-minute hype-reel purporting to be a behind-the-scenes but which is actually a lengthy commercial for a movie you already own. Then they’ll be one or two small segments about some specific topic — Thor’s hammer or the movie’s music or something — usually about 5 minutes long, that tend to be Youtube fodder. You’ll also have a short gag reel, a preview for the next movie, and some deleted scenes. Finally, the director’s commentary, which are the most substantial extras on each disc and generally the only thing worth checking out.
Contrast this with other superhero movies from Marvel properties that have had fantastic home releases and it’s hard to not bee disappointed.
The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies had great home releases, for example. The first one had multiple commentary tracks, a HBO “making of,” a full documentary on the character, and loads more. The second one was even more jam-packed, with a substantive feature-length making of documentary, loads of informative featurettes, two commentary tracks, and more.
Or look at the X-Men franchise from Fox. Their home releases have been robust and worth every penny. X2, for example, not only had two commentary tracks, an array of short features with actual substance, and lots of deleted scenes, it had a feature-length making of documentary that actually brought you behind the scenes on how the movie was made. The first was just as robust (and the 1.5 version even included an alternate cut of the movie). Later released got thinner, but the landmarks were all worthy purchases.
Even junk like the Fantastic Four movies (which I actually enjoyed) got nice, hefty home releases. The DVD edition of the first movie’s extended cut has two commentary tracks, multiple short features, and THREE informative documentaries on the making of the movie, the history of the Fantastic Four comic, and one on Jack Kirby, the latter of which is a great watch. The second movie also had good, chunky extra content.
And yet with Marvel you’re lucky if you get a decent commentary track, because everything else is going to be disposable.
A franchise this big, popular, and good deserves better home releases than this. I’d gladly pay an extra $10 for a deluxe release that came with plenty of extra content, provided it had substance, and I know I’m not alone in this. At the very least you’d think that the centerpieces of the MCU movies, the Avengers films, would get the deluxe treatment with extensive documentaries on the comic, the team, the comic creators, and so on.
Hell, comic book/superhero fans are natural collectors. It’s what we do. Throw extra stuff at the superhero community and they’re going to eat it up. It surely wouldn’t be a chore for Disney and Marvel Studios to create this extra material. They’re already filming behind the scenes footage, and cast members and directors already do tons of interviews – few studios are as good at media outreach as Marvel – so what’s stopping them from doing a few more in-depth interviews with technical staff, then getting some good editors to assemble it into documentaries that have actual substance?
Nothing, really, except maybe some penny-pinching bean counters.
Marvel fans deserve better than the low-effort home releases they’ve gotten. We’ve made it the highest grossing film franchise in history, thus far outpacing even the mighty Star Wars. Can you at least throw us a bone and put a little effort into these things?
‘Cause otherwise, there’s little reason to actually own them instead of watching them on streaming services.