Film making: The Mighty Marvel Way...
It's interesting to look at the body of work Marvel Studios has built up in less than half a decade...
Iron Man (2008)
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Captain America (2011)
Next year is the culmination of the comic book company's and many geek fans dream with the release of "The Avengers." It also marks a turn for Marvel Studios, in that it will be finally be working as an independent entity within the Mouse, a lot like Pixar. They won't be relying on an outside partner (Paramount) to distribute their films for a small percentage of the take. The Walt Disney Studios will take the reins of distributing and marketing them, but the Marvel executives will be the ones making the decisions; a semi-form of autonomy, with exceptions only when budgets start to go beyond a certain point.
But think of what they've accomplished. Marvel has essentially in less than a decade, become a live-action Lamp. They're the live-action Pixar. Now, this is not to say I don't have problems with "Iron Man 2," but I didn't hate it. It had it's moments and much of it was compelling. But it was very uneven to me, and much too much of just a calling card for Avengers. This is something that "Captain America" was accused of, but totally off base. That film works as a story until itself. If anything it only adds/accentuates the idea of seeing the spin off. I could easily live without any Avengers film so long as I got a couple more Cap films of the same quality. So far, no film Marvel has made has turned out to have been a dude, a bomb or truly bad. They've taken great care to make sure the adaptations that reach the screen are authentic and assessable to the public at large. And they clearly have a plan that reaches out for the next few years.
The Avengers (2012)
Iron Man 3 (2013)
Thor 2 (2013)
Possible film projects:
Doctor Strange (2013)
Ant Man (2013/14)
The Runaways (2013/14)
Captain America 2 (2014)
Iron Fist (2014)
Luke Cage (2014)
While I'm a DC Guy, I begrudgingly have to acknowledge that Marvel is kicking their butts right now. With the exception of video games where DC is better represented, and home video where they have a slight lead with the quality of their DVD films. Marvel is clearly the company making the better decisions. Other than Batman and Superman, DC just hasn't been able to make any traction in adaptations. While "Green Lantern" may have not been a bomb, it was a huge disappointment. The didn't fully get what the character was about. Let's cross our fingers if a sequel is made that they realize the errors from the first film and rectify it. And any future adaptation had better be handled with care. Perhaps they should try the Marvel Way? Even in comics, DC's latest moves strike me as gimmicky and desperate (rebooting all your titles back to #1? Superman wearing pants? Really???). Warner Suits, please pay attention to what you're doing. You have the potential to make a great deal of money, or possibly alienate anyone you wish to see your films.
Even on television where "Batman the Animated Series" represents the pinnacle of great tv animation, Marvel is now leading the way. "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" is an example of an excellent show that is very well written, and the upcoming "Ultimate Spider-Man" looks promising too with the writing staff that has been hired for the first season. Not to mention that Paul Dini is now involved in the new "Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H."and that is a monstrously positive note as well. Now, when they finally get around to that Hulk television show from Guillermo del Toro I'll definitely be interested in seeing how they've handled it. And if they'd only green light that S.H.I.E.L.D. animated series I'd be really, really happy.
One of the ways they've accomplished this difficult feat of becoming a major Hollywood player, is to recreate a variation of the old studio system that was disbanded in the late Sixties. This was a system within the entertainment industry where talent was controlled, educated and trained, and most importantly, marketed by the moguls of Hollywood. Marvel has created a system where they lock up talent for long periods of time with multiple film commitments. This is something that hasn't been done to this level in decades. Most of the contracts for actors run 7 to 9 films. Samuel Jackson is signed for nine pictures total. The same contract was offered to Chris Evans, but he didn't want such a long commitment and was able to negotiate one for just six pictures. That's still a lot of films. Scarlett Johansson also has a similar contract. These deals, many of which are not for great amounts of cash, create a stable group of talent from which to draw from for their stories. One of the main reasons Marvel is able to do this is because of the cache value that superhero films have right now. They can turn a very good actor into a super star who can command and control his/her own destiny outside of Marvel's films. It's a small price to pay for benefits that would come from such a success.
Another reason that is even more important that the talent is the story. And Marvel doesn't have groups of committees that pore over scripts offering suggestions as to how to make it better. They have a small group of executives lead by Kevin Feign that actually knows the properties they're trying to get made. Somewhat like Pixar and the small group of film makers that John Lasseter relies on, this group is the one charged with choosing the characters, hiring the directors and green lighting the film for production. They typical Hollywood high concept assembly line that turns out one after another soulless films has been avoided.
It will be interesting to see what happens after 2013, because that is when most of the brand characters will have run their cycle and a new collection of stories and heroes will have to arrive on the silver screen.
We will then see if they can save the day...