Iron Man leads the pack for this year's Marvel Comics releases.
It’s no surprise that many of the first Marvel Comics characters to get their own movies were the most universally popular: Spider-Man, the X-Men. Left untouched (or protected, you might say) for many years, however, were many of the various characters that make up the Avengers, Marvel's top super team: Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, etc. Wouldn’t it make sense, then, for Marvel to produce on its own a movie for each of those heroes, leading up to an eventual Avengers movie?
The comic giant’s newly created Marvel Studios plans to do just that. Formed specifically to handle adaptations of Marvel superhero characters (outside of the previous relationships with movie studios that led to movie franchises like Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four), the studio hopes to put out at least two movies a year. First up was last week’s release Iron Man, starring Robert Downey Jr., to be followed by The Incredible Hulk and The Punisher: War Zone later in ’08. [Editorial Update, 05/05/08 - Marvel just announced release dates today for many of the projects noted below.]
One of the elements that always made Marvel stories special (indeed, Stan Lee knew this from the get go in the early 1960s) was the way Marvel characters bounced about from comic to comic, creating more of a sense of a Marvel “universe" than their competitor, DC Comics. This sense of connectivity will get started in The Incredible Hulk
, when Downey Jr. makes an appearance as Tony Stark, aka Iron Man. Let’s see what the studio has in store for 2009 and beyond….
After Iron Man, the three Avengers who are most likely to get their time in the spotlight before the team's movie comes out are Thor, Captain America and Ant-Man. Not coincidentally, the original lineup of The Avengers in their very first appearance in 1963 included Iron Man, Thor, The Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp (Ant-Man's girlfriend), with Captain America joining in #4. Looks like Marvel is definitely focusing on the team's core, and not later characters like Black Panther or Hawkeye, although movies about both of those heroes are in the works too (and an animated Black Panther series will premiere on BET this fall).
Of the Thor, Captain America and Ant-Man movies, we don't know for sure which one will be produced first, as all three projects are subject to all of the usual factors that can be the difference in a movie being a hit in the summer of 2005, 2008 or 2012. Thor, which tells the story of the powerful Norse God of Thunder, departs from the comics a bit by not telling the "duck out of water" story of how a disabled, frail doctor discovers a stick that turns him into Thor. Instead, the movie, to be directed by Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake), will focus just on Thor's actual adventures in the fabled land of Asgard, his battles with trolls and giants, and the evil schemes of his brother, Loki. The live-action film, scripted by Mark Protosevich (I Am Legend), was reportedly estimated to cost $300 million, which is part of why the movie didn't get a fast greenlight. I'm guessing that filmmakers will end up using extensive CGI similar to 300 (or even Beowulf?), as that kind of budget signals an attempt to do with "real sets" what could be done a lot cheaper in the magical land of "See? Gee! Aye!"
Most early talk of Captain America made it sound like some distant project, but lately, the (technically second, after a cheap 1990s direct-to-video movie) adaptation of the classic patriotic superhero has been getting some buzz as potentially getting made a few years before his 70th anniversary in 2011. Screenwriter Zak Penn (X-Men 2 & 3, The Incredible Hulk), who is also working on the Avengers script, is penning Captain America, which has long been rumored to focus on the superhero’s Nazi-fighting adventures during World War II. Like Thor, I think it is too easy to make a Captain America story a stereotypical "duck out of water" story—in the comics, much is made of Cap being frozen in an iceberg for decades and then discovering how much the world has changed. To make him part of a modern Avengers team, the movie will somehow have to transport him from the 1940s to the 21st century, but I think the trick there is not to dwell too much on the "gee whiz, things sure have changed" jokes.
Speaking of jokes, the third Avenger whose movie might be imminent is Ant-Man. Although not really a comedic character (indeed, the first Ant-Man, aka Dr. Henry Pym, later became a dangerous psychopath who tried to kill the other Avengers by creating killer robots), he's being handled by British director Edgar Wright (the darkly funny Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), in what may be his next project. What we know is that Ant-Man will indeed by comedic, but not to the degree of being a spoof, and that it will feature both characters.
As for the actual Avengers movie, the studio is a long way away. Penn told movie site IESB in March that he hadn’t even discussed it with the studio in awhile, saying much of it depends on the success of Iron Man and Hulk.
Besides The Avengers and the movies leading up to it, Marvel Studios has a slew of other characters they are developing: Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme; street-savvy superhero-for-hire Luke Cage; martial arts champions Iron Fist and Shang-Chi; super spy Nick Fury; runaways Cloak and Dagger; and the controversially cute family of super kids called Power Pack.
And finally, there are the properties indirectly being produced by Marvel Studios: Silver Surfer, a spin-off from the Fantastic Four series at 20th Century Fox (which itself appears to have been halted after movie No. 2); a fourth Spider-Man movie at Sony (and potentially Venom, a spin-off as well, featuring the anti-heroic character that got its cinematic start as a villain in Spider-Man 3); and three spin-offs of X-Men at 20th Century Fox. Next year's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman with Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth), Taylor Kitsch (Gambit) and Ryan Reynolds is already almost done filming. There are plans for another prequel likely to be called X-Men Origins: Magneto, about the young man destined to become the X-Men's greatest (mutant) villain, and a new X-Men group movie that would focus on some of the younger characters seen briefly in the first three movies.
All told, that adds up to more than 15 potential movies in the next five years or so based on Marvel Comics superheroes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. The comic publisher has bragged for years about the limitless potential of its characters, claiming to have over 4,900 characters that could be licensed in some way for movies, TV shows and videogames. If that's their goal, it looks like they have another 4,800 movies yet to announce.
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