Discover more from Pop Culture Brain
Marvel's secret is in its themes
And where Peloton has Spotify beat
What to know
Black Widow pops to $80M in theaters, $60M on Disney+… Surprise! Disney decided to actually reveal some streaming numbers! What a world. We knew the theatrical would be good, but that at-home number is huge. So many people lamented day-and-date releases as the death of movie theaters, but the numbers keep showing that a rising tide lifts all boats. I hope this leads the industry to keep simultaneous releases even after 2021. Variety has a great, if wonky, write-up on why Disney released its streaming numbers and what that means. 💵
Wes Anderson’s latest is ‘relentlessly wonderful’ and ‘playful as they come’… early dispatches from The French Dispatch are in and it seems Anderson has done it again, exactly like he did it all those other times. I’m picking up a bit of exasperation from critics though which is surprising 🎞
Peloton pays artists more per stream than Spotify, Apple, and more… I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this story. What a sad state the music industry is in for an exercise bike and subscription service to be paying artists a higher rate than the music apps themselves 🚲
2 new Harry Potter VR experience coming to NYC Wizarding store… speaking of witches 🧹
Jon Hamm and and John Slattery will reunite in new Fletch… those “angry guys” are getting back together 🎬
Dropping this week:
Naomi Osaka — July 13 Netflix | Tennis doc series | RT
Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail s3 — July 13 TBS | Comedy series | RT
Gunpowder Milkshake — July 14 Netflix | Action movie | RT
Never Have I Ever s2 — July 15 Netflix | Comedy series | RT
The North Water — July 15 AMC+ | Drama mini series | RT
American Horror Stories s1 — July 15 FX /Hulu | Horror series | RT
Dr. Death — July 15 Peacock | Drama series | RT 67%
Space Jame: A New Legacy — July 16 HBO Max & theaters | Family film | RT 50%
Schmigadoon! — July 16 Apple | Musical comedy series | RT 86%
What to watch
Black Widow isn’t exactly under the radar and there probably aren’t that many people on the fence about whether they’re in or out on it, but I did want to give the movie—and the ongoing MCU project—some credit where credit is due. So if you’re not a Marvel-head, this might not mean that much to you, but know that Black Widow is the latest example of why Marvel Studios is so dominant.
The human brain loves to make connections and figure out puzzles. Kevin Feige has been tapping into this innate desire for 13 years. Black Widow does the familiar surface level work of reference-making and easter egg-laying. It explains away a mysterious line from The Avengers, it makes connections out of recurring wardrobe, it connects the plot dots, but the movie goes from good to great by also shading in the boxes between the plot dots. Black Widow resonates with longtime fans because it connects thematically to the greater Marvel universe as well.
Doppelgängers might be the most frequently used villain trope in Marvel movie lore. Iron Man and the Iron Monger, Hulk and Abomination, Captain America and Red Skull, Ant-Man and Yellowjacket, Black Panther and Killmonger, Wanda and Agatha; the list goes on and on. Here, Natasha is up against the literal embodiment of the dopplegänger: A faceless mercenary who can perfectly mimic our heroes’ fighting style. “It’s like fighting a mirror,” Yelena explains after earlier fighting Natasha in their own mirror battle. (A battle that saw them literally tied together by the end. Symbolism!) Black Widow’s use of the dopplegänger theme is both a deconstruction and reflection of all those couples that came before. It also ties in neatly to the overarching theme of Phase 4 up until this point: facing one’s self. (See Wanda, Bucky, Sam, and Loki). We find inspiration and meaning from Marvel’s heroes as they confront and overcome the manifestations of the darkest parts of themselves.
Which brings me to Loki. Black Widow was supposed to debut more than a year before Loki — and yet their confluence couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. While one is a surreal, fantastical journey out of time and the other is a grounded spy thriller, they’re both about loners who learn to embrace others and themselves, as they escape an all-powerful force bent on controlling them. In the final act of Black Widow, Dreykov boasts about hacking a human’s free will so he can completely control them. Tell me that’s not exactly what the TVA is doing. Just recall Mobius’ belief in predestination vs choice from episode 2 of Loki. Inevitably, both Natasha and Loki have to rebel against these domineering forces to take the power back over their own lives — and they have to do it with other heroes, misfits, and family members who happen to be exactly like them. This cross-platform conversation deepens each property in the minds of fans, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Jokes about Black Widow’s favorite superhero pose are funny, but the deep, thematic ties that link vastly different stories are why we return to Marvel. The secret sauce is in the connections we can’t see, but can only feel. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that they keep bringing in incredible talent like Florence Pugh and David Harbour.