Monday, August 1, 2011

The Marvel Age...

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)

Thor (2011)

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)

S.H.I.E.L.D. (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...


Dum Dum Dugan said...

Are they really doing an Iron Fist film?

Should the Avengers do well, I think the Shield spin off would make a lot of sense.

Cory Gross said...

I agree with you that DC is mismanaging a lot of things. I looked over the "New 52" catalogue and couldn't help but notice that most of it read like the same old thing.

However, I'm not entirely convinced that DC necessarily needs to worry about feature films either. They have routinely done the best animated serieses, from Batman: The Animated Series to The Batman, Justice League to Young Justice... I even liked Teen Titans.

I think we need to be clear on exactly what the Marvel strategy for film is. It becomes clearer when you bring up the stuff that you conveniently left off your list: 5 X-Men films of varying quality, 3 Blades, Ghost Rider, Daredevil and Elektra, 2 Fantastic Fours, 2 Punishers, the first Hulk, Man-Thing, and 3 Spider-Mans with a reboot on the way. In short, you cherry-picked your way around exactly what the Marvel strategy is: throw everything at the screen and see what sticks.

DC could do that too, no problem. Just start filming a Green Lantern reboot next year, and throw down some Flash, Hawkman, Aquaman, Plastic-Man, another Jonah Hex because why not?, Nightwing, The Sandman, Suicide Squad, New Gods, Power Girl... Basically, anything with even a half-assed chance of breaking even, and if it doesn't work, just reboot it a year or two later.

I don't like Pixar, but Marvel isn't even Pixar.

Anonymous said...

You keep talking about live action Hulk, but have you not heard about the other three live action shows in development? (AKA Jessica Jones, Cloak&Dagger, Mockingbird)

J said...

To Cory Gross:

All the films you mentioned were produced, developed and made with outside studios, Fox, Sony, etc. Marvel had almost zero involvement in the making of those films and Marvel's name was presented prior to the each film because the they were based off of Marvel's property and the contract to license each film came with Marvels name attached to the project.

The films listed in this article were all developed, produced and made BY Marvel. They were distributed by Paramount, but paramount had zero to very little involvement in the production of the films. Disney/Touchstone will be taking over distribution rights from Paramount in the coming year, starting with The Avengers.

Going forward the films listed as possibly following The Avengers, would also be produced and made BY Marvel. (With Disney/Touchstone distributing)

The reason you see Sony and Fox developing and producing their own Spidermans, X-Mens etc is because of contracts that Marvel made with those studios to license the characters for their own publications/productions. When those contracts expire you will bet that we'll start to see Marvel taking over the properties (some will be continued and some will be reboots), but you'll see all the films released under the Disney/Touchstone-Marvel package.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone not like Pixar?

J. Jonah Jameson said...

"In short, you cherry-picked your way around exactly what the Marvel strategy is"

No Cory,

Honor was simply listing the films that Marvel Studios is making, not the ones that are licensed to other studios. They only get a royalty on those and have very little to do with the creative process of those films you mentioned.

Stanley Timeley said...

The Avengers - coming out next year.

Iron Man 3 - out in two years.

Thor 2 - out in two years.

Doctor Strange out to potential directors right now.

Ant Man - Just turned in latest draft and a good chance it may be green lit by end of year.

The Runaways Closer than you think.

Captain America 2 Two to three years away depending on scheduling.

Iron Fist being written as we speak.

Luke Cage they are looking for ways to adapt this character right now.

S.H.I.E.L.D. We'll wait and see how Avengers does.

Nice job speculating there, Honor.

alexsatelite said...

"They're the live-action Pixar."

What the?!?!?!?!

Cory Gross said...

Fair enough on the other films not being Marvel Studios as such. But that still leaves the last three Marvel films being less than spectacular. Arguably last four. Perhaps it's a taste thing, but I have yet to hear an unreservedly good review of any of those movies except Iron Man 1.

As for how anyone can not like Pixar, it's easy. They only made one movie, and have kept remaking it ever since. I get it already: those toys, bugs, fish, automobiles, rats, superheroes, etc. are funny because they're just like people. I recognize that they have slightly different plots (mostly variation on finding someone who is lost), but did no one notice that Toy Story 3 the exact same damn movie as Toy Story 2? Pixar has a working forumla and they keep to it. Maybe Brave will be different, I dunno'.

Doopey said...

I like what Marvel Studios is doing, but to call them a live-action Pixar is giving them a wee bit too much credit.

Woodrow Dolarhyde said...

Have you seen Captain America yet, Cory? I'd be interested in seeing what you thought of it. I loved it and think you might as well. Not every film has to be dark and edgy with revenge filled characters.

I saw Cowboys and Aliens the other night, don't bother. Booooring.

Anonymous said...

I think that Honor is trying to say that they are protecting the quality of the films from lame brained executives and that it is a more creative culture than you would find in most studios in Hollywood today. That is his reference to Pixar. Of course they haven't been around that long, but the turnout so far is impressive.

Cory Gross said...

Not every film has to be dark and edgy with revenge filled characters.

Why does everyone assume that the good-bad axis is identical to the lighthearted-dark'n'edgy axis? I'm asking for good, not necessarily dark'n'edgy.

I'm still on the fence about Captain America because I've heard far too many bad reviews of it. I might wait for the cheap theatres if I see it at all. I'm seeing Cowboys and Aliens on Thursday though.

Len said...

Toy Story 3 the same movie as Toy Story 2???? That comment is a major head scratcher....

Anonymous said...

"I'm seeing Cowboys and Aliens on Thursday though."

Your loss. Captain America beats it in spades.

Abraham Erskine said...

I think when the commenter was talking about "dark and edgy" he was referring to the people that didn't like it and gave the film bad reviews. That's the reason they didn't like it. Because it was sincere and earnest, not because it wasn't good. It wasn't like all the other heroes out there with all their baggage,both internally and external.

J said...

Cory, why don't you give us some examples of films (animated or live action) that you do like. So far we've only heard you complain about Pixar and Marvel studios. I'd like to hear some of the films you like.

BTW, Captain America has gotten far better reviews then Cowboys and Aliens so your argument is pretty much a head scratcher.

Doug said...

I've seen Cowboys & Aliens and Captain America. Liked both, but Captain America blows Cowboys & Aliens out of the water.

Cory Gross said...

I don't know what to believe anymore. Of reviewers that I trust (i.e.: I know share my tastes) I've heard predominately damning reviews of Captain America and okay reviews of Cowboys and Aliens. Honor and y'all are the other way around. But I just got back from Cowboys and Aliens and I enjoyed it. Yes it painted by numbers and yes there were some silly bits (Testing our weaknesses?!? So far, punching, biting and shooting us seems to be working pretty well), but I had a good time. So now I know I can't trust bad reviews of Cowboys and Aliens.


Len: Both films were about the angst of growing up and leaving old toys behind and both featured disgruntled old toys making appeals to that angst. That was above and beyond how Pixar is just recycling every movie anyways. I get it, they're funny because they're like us.


J: Okay, animated films I do particularly like (in no particular order, save for the order in which I looked at my DVD shelf)...

It's a given that I'll like most things by Paul Grimault, Studio Ghibli (not just Miyazaki), Leiji Matsumoto, Makoto Shinkai and Shoji Kawamori. I'm sorta' just getting into Sylvain Chomet (I know, a bit behind). I also like Fantasia, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, The Three Caballeros, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Planet, Dumbo, Night on the Galactic Railroad, Simoun (series), The Adventures of Mark Twain, Prince of Egypt, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (series), Tale of the White Serpent, Gertie the Dinosaur, Transformers: The Movie, Batman: The Animated Series (series)...

Live action... oh goodness... It's pretty much a given that I like any film by Georges Melies, Karel Zeman, Tarsem, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Baz Luhrmann, Darren Aronofsky and the Wachowski Bros. (in spite of themselves). I also have a thing for movies from the interwar period, especially Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate, King Kong, The Black Cat and I have a soft spot for Roy Rogers. I did like Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Michael Todd's Around the World in 80 Days, and Harry Levin's Journey to the Center of the Earth. And the original Japanese version of Gojira, and Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast. The most recent movies I've seen that I thought were good-good (not counting above-mentioned directors) were The Prestige, The Dark Knight, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Donnie Darko, Repo! The Genetic Opera and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Does this meet with your approval? If you search for the website "Network Awesome" you'll even find articles I've written about Winsor McCay, Paul Grimault, and an upcoming series on early Japanese animation.

Cory Gross said...

Forgot to reply to Abraham...

No, the reviews I've heard didn't like Captain America because it was bad. I think Red Letter Media did the best job of summarizing everything I've been hearing:

James Buchanan Barnes said...

Now I don't trust your reviews, Cory. While I didn't think Cowbows and Aliens was awful, it was just ok. Enjoying it would be a little high on my grade.

They underused Ford and I've never liked generic aliens (See: Independence Day). Most of the people we saw it with thought it was boring. My review would be: Ehhh.

Seeing Captain America was different all together, though. It had a solid script with many compelling characters, not just Cap, but all the supporting actors. It was great. It was the most enjoyable film I've seen this summer. I like Honor enjoy old serials like Spy Smasher and Captain Marvel, ect. This film was a swooning love letter to those chapters.

If you don't want to pay full price Cory, then go to a matinee of it. Shouldn't run you more than six bucks or so. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Dr. Totenkopf said...

If you liked Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow then you need to see this film, dude. It runs circles around what that film tried to accomplish. While I loved the tone of that film, I didn't like the casting and didn't care for the main characters. The designs of that world were amazing though. SERIOUSLY, if you liked that film see it simply for comparison.

Cory Gross said...


Fair enough on my reviews... I have the audacity to dislike Pixar and Lord of the Rings, so it was never worth much to begin with...

It didn't bother me that Ford was "underused." I actually enjoyed his scenery chewing, especially at the beginning. I do think that the alien ships should have been flying saucers, just for ol' times sake, but I'll let that pass.

I think Cowboys and Aliens worked for me because I actually like the Weird Western genre as a whole. In doing so, one quickly comes to recognize the difference between good movies and enjoyable movies. A good movie would be something like High Plains Drifter while enjoyable is more of a matter of individual taste... After many years of kvetching about it, I finally learned to enjoy Wild Wild West as just a big, dumb, pretty popcorn movie. My favorite of the whole genre, going back to your serials, is The Phantom Empire, not so much because it's good, but because it's awesomely insane. It might be a rule that's true of Western movies in general... Unforgiven is good, Maverick is enjoyable.

My only real fear going into Cowboys and Aliens was that it would be both bad and unenjoyable. On a relative scale I don't think it was as enjoyable as some, and it was too paint-by-numbers to be good, but it wasn't Jonah Hex, thanks be to God. I don't regret spending the money.

And matinees are $6 where you live?!? Holy smokes. Here I'm looking down a minimum $12 investment no matter when I go.



Bad comparison man. I can already tell from the trailers that it's no Sky Captain. There's a difference between movies that look like they were made in the Thirties and comic book franchise movies that happen to be set (inexplicably) in the Forties.

Honor Hunter said...

That's not really the case, Cory.

I too like "The Phantom Empire" and have it on DVD. If you like "Spy Smasher," which is my favorite, btw, or "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" then you will love "Captain America."

And I agree with the above statement about "Sky Captain." While enjoyed the world it was set in, I feel that the casting of Jude Law was wrong for the part and I also would have had them do a rewrite on the script. The characters didn't compel me, but the universe they lived in did.

Go see the film so everyone will shut up. Quit being so skeptical and see an early showing of it.

This whole comment section seems to be devoted to getting you to see the film. You should be proud you've hijacked the thread.

And I enjoyed it far more than "Cowboys & Aliens," which I expected to be far better than what it turned out to be.

Cory Gross said...

This whole comment section seems to be devoted to getting you to see the film.

If it's any consolation, I find that kinda' weird too.

Anonymous said...

Take it as a sign to see the dang movie! Now shut up criticizing it and go see it. You went and saw that boring piece of yawn known as C&A, now go see a film with a script that actually works and characters you actually care about.

Anonymous said...

If Marvel's doing so effing well, why did it sell itself to Disney?

Mirage said...

Pixar was doing pretty good when it sold itself to Disney.

So your question really doesn't work if your trying to establish that it did so because it was in trouble.

They did it simply because it's nice to have a sugar daddy. Someone with deep pockets that can fund you and help absorb the risks.

Anonymous said...

Marvel went bankrupt not too long ago. Its movie record is extremely spotty. I think Iger only bought it because he thought it would be cheaper than having the Mouse House try to create boy-friendly content on its own. Thus establishing that Iger is a non-creative corporate butthead who is destroying the Disney legacy of self-generated content. I hope he gets pushed out soon. He certainly paid too much for Marvel - at least Wall Street thinks so.

Stanley Timeley said...

Marvel went bankrupt in the late 90's before the current crop of films. The films that Marvel themselves have done are quite good, the only thing spotty is your memory.

As for self-generated content? 101 Dalmatians? Winnie the Pooh? Jungle Book? I could go on with all the properties that Disney has bought the rights to use, but I think I've proved that you're the butthead.

Disney's Marvel said...

Let's not hate Iger. Creative people are not good managers and vice versa. I don't think the Disney Corporation can start its own version of Marvel so they did the next best thing. Besides, the past is the past. We can only look into the future.

Cory Gross said...

Incidentally, a review of Cowboys and Aliens from the same site I posted the Captain America review from. They nicely articulate why I liked it:

Anonymous said...

I take it Cory still hasn't gone to see Captain America, yet still sings the virtues of mediocrity that Cowboys & Aliens was. I had thought that film would be a great summer flick and it just fell flat.

I'm not a big comic book fan, but went to see Captain America with a couple friends. I thought it was wonderful. I'm not a big DC versus Marvel fan so I had to have my group explain to me the Marvel history after it was over. But it's a really good film that just happens to be a superhero film.