Despite bringing us one of the highest grossing films of all time, James Cameron's Avatar, 2009 was a dark time. Circuit City closed its doors forever after over 60 years in business, and the US was reeling from the housing crisis which effectuively brought on a second depression. The best cell phone was either the iPhone 3G, HTC HD2, or the Blackberry 8520... remember those?! People were scared and in major need of distractions from their financial burdens and professional uncertainties.
A mobile game from Rovio Entertainment swooped in and provided some much needed relief. Angry Birds was released for Android, iOS, and Windows phones. People could forget their troubles, even if only for a moment, by slingshoting pixelated birds at pixelated pigs. Angry Birds was not just a hit but a full on cultural phenomenon, much like other smash hits that followed such as Pokemon Go.
Capitalizing on the success of the mobile game, Sony Pictures released The Angry Birds Movie in 2016. Although the excitement for the lovable and sassy characters had started to recede, the movie grossed $352M against its ambitious $73M budget. The Angry Birds Movie 2 is about to drop, 10 years from the origin of the source material.
Now You'll See It, No You Won't
Now let's jump in the Tardis one last time to the year before the birds were wreaking havoc on their swine counterparts. In February 2008 Universal Studios and Hasbro strike up a deal to begin development on four films derived from games and toys, Magic: the Gathering being one of these. This drummed up little excitement and development officially halted in 2012.
Disney was the next studio to stick their toe in the Phyrexian oil by paying Hasbro intellectual rights to use Magic: the Gathering in the continuation story (kinda) to the classic Fantasia segment, The Sorcerer's Stone. 2010's The Sorcerer's Apprentice introduced the mercurial Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell) who in the film is sponsored by WotC, and featured on cards designed by R&D exclusively for the movie. The film wasn't a complete financial failure, but was panned critically so Disney decided it had its fill of featuring the fantasy themed TCG.
A New Hope... Is Dashed
Two years after Universal thankfully cancelled their attempt at bringing Jace, Lilliana, and the gang to the big screen, 20th Century Fox burst from the Blind Eternities like a Knight of the Ebon Hand and snatched up the rights to finally bring our beloved planeswalkers to life. The difference, and cause for excitement, was that real names were being attached to the project.
Simon Kinsberg, among the main writers and producers on Fox's X-Men franchise, was charged as the film's creative steward. Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman was brought on to write (and re-write) Kinsberg's screenplay. Even creative WotC legends Mark Rosewater and Doug Beyer were heavily involved in the story building and creative details that a Multiverse of this magnitude would produce. Everything was looking up. Fans were feeling less pessimistic and more hopeful that an MTG movie could actually happen and dare I say.... GASP be enjoyable, rather than going down in cinematic flames like The Dark Tower or Dungeons & Dragons.
However like playing against a tempo player, nothing that made it to the board stayed relevant for any period of time. And this turned out to be not necessarily a bad thing.
Think back to 2014: Game of Thrones was the undisputed ruler of prime time TV and Fox released arguably its best X-men film in Days of Future Past. Of course, fans (myself included) got caught up in the what if's and what will be's. But in my opinion, we dodged bullets like Neo. Kinsberg just directed his first ever film, Dark Phoenix, in 2019. That's right. The man who penned story and script for X3: the Last Stand, almost universally regarded as the worst treatment to date, was asked to bring the most important and beloved storyline in Mutant history to the silver screen.
When in the history of anything has this ever worked out?
You can play devil's advocate and say, "Well Jon, maybe he learned from his mistakes", or "It was all that horrible Brett Ratner's fault The Last Stand was such a pile". Fair and valid arguments. But we'll never know, because when the Mouse in the High Castle purchased 20th Century Fox, they essentially axed not only the X-Men franchise but most other projects under development, too. Just like that the Magic: the Gathering Movie was relegated back to being a
Thing in the Ice.
Don't Cry For Me Yavimaya
Bryan Cogman was the other casualty, left in a
Ghostly Prison. And if you, like me, were one of the millions of viewers of what got passed off as a Game of Thrones series finale.... well, then you aren't too sad to see him go either. Quite the contrary.
Another big announcement was sprung on fans like a
Sneak Attack earlier this year. Coming off being drowned in cash from Avengers: End Game, The Russo Brothers were hired on to helm the animated Magic: the Gathering series for OG streaming service Netflix. The news was cemented by the brothers' appearance at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con panel. Joe Russo stated "this is truly a passion project" and once again the Internet blew up with jubilation that not only could this thing finally happen, but this time it will be stellar. I have always been in the camp saying that a series would be the way to go with this much story and lore available. An IP this rich, like a fine Vino, needs time to breathe and grow organically.
Emotionally Over Committing to the Board
I applaud Hasbro & Wizards of the Coast for giving talents like The Russos whatever they need to ensure a successful roll out. And yes don't get it twisted -- this will be successful. There are too many dollars on the table and talented people involved to misfire this time. Many of the writers and producers were also named and the talent pool is deep. The Russo Brothers are now the film industry's Belles of the Ball and could have done anything they wanted. I'm just glad they chose our corner of the Multiverse to play in.
So does this spell total doom for ever getting a Magic movie onto the big screen? Absolutely not. The powers that be are doing this the right way by setting up this world to not just the enfranchised MTG player but everyone. With the series they can introduce characters and plot lines and really see what does and doesn't work. Then with this data, and once viewers are connected or at least familiar with the setting, they can translate that into a face melting IMAX experience.
I have been talking, speculating, and casting this darn thing since the 2014 Fox announcement. I have written articles about it, talked with Masters of Modern's Ben Bateman on an episode of The Hive Mind, and guested on MTG Tonight with Jake Boss to cast the MTG movie. No one wants this to happen and be successful more than I do.
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