State of the Comic Book Movie Part 2: Marvel Characters at Other Studios
With Marvel Studios’ Thor: The Dark World set to open this week, it’s a proper time to assess the state of a film genre that has come to dominate the global box office and popular culture for over ten years now. In this three part series we’ll look at who’s doing it best, who’s making big plans for the future, potential trouble spots, and films to start geeking out about.
Part 2: Marvel Characters at Other Studios
It goes without saying that Marvel Studios could not enjoy the success it has had without some of the groundwork being laid by other studios using their characters throughout the years thanks to licensing deals. And although we can probably assume that Marvel Studios would prefer to have everything under their own roof now, the fact of the matter is that many of their most historically popular and bankable characters remain in the hands of other film studios where they have little to no control over the final product. In fact, I think it goes without saying that this has lead to uneven – and sometimes TERRIBLE – results in the past with the likes of Fantastic Four, Elektra, and The Punisher (just to name a few) marring the good name of Marvel for many years.
But with Marvel Studios’ giant success in creating a cinematic universe for their characters, these other studios now see that there are profits to be reaped from bringing iconic characters together on the big screen and are making plans to follow suit with what they have available.
20th Century Fox
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, the current comic book movie trend probably wouldn’t be with us today if hadn’t been for the success of Bryan Singer‘s X-Men back in 2000. The success of that film showed that comic book characters other than Batman and Superman could be viable at the box office, which led to a string of others being greenlit. The X-Men themselves got two sequels, two spinoff movies about Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman (talks for a 3rd started this week), and a prequel called X-Men: First Class in 2011.
But even with six films already under their belt, the X-Men are poised to have their biggest film yet next year when Bryan Singer returns to the franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Based on a classic comics storyline, the plot will see the classic X-Men from the original films traveling through time (sort of) to meet up with their First Class counterparts to stop a threat in the 1970s before it has a chance to destroy their future. The cast is packed to the gills with superstars to a point where you wonder if there is enough story to hold them all, but early buzz is great and that first trailer did nothing to dampen expectations.
The X-Men were previously joined at Fox by Daredevil (2003), Elektra (2005), and two films featuring the Fantastic Four (2005 and 2007) but none of these caught on in a big way with audiences and were mostly ripped apart by critics and fan alike. And without any sequels being developed Daredevil and all associated characters have now reverted back to Marvel Studios for potential use in any of their own movie or TV products. This leaves Fox with the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, which is now on the road to rebootville thanks to young director Josh Trank who had previous success in the genre with Chronicle. At this time no official casting announcements (Michael B. Jordan is considered to be locked in to play The Human Torch) or specifics have been revealed but it has been announced that this film will exist in the same universe as the X-Men, which means that a crossover film can only be years away from reality.
To make this team-up a reality, Fox has hired famed comic book writer Mark Millar to oversee the creation of Fox’s own cinematic universe which is also said to include an X-Force film written and directed by Jeff Wadlow who previously brought us this year’s highly disappointing Kick-Ass 2. It is not yet known which characters this X-Force film will include but many seem to think this is where we’ll see the return of Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool character previously seen in X-Men Origins: Wolverine rather than the long-rumored solo film to be directed by Tim Miller.
It’s obviously too soon to compare Fox’s Marvel universe with the one at Marvel Studios but given their track record its somewhat hard to imagine it being pulled off any better. The biggest detriment here actually seems to be Fox’s strength: the X-Men world is already so big and full of characters on its own that its hard to imagine much extra wow factor being generated by throwing the Fantastic Four into the mix. Just look at Days of Future Past, which is already poised to juggle four times the number of characters seen in The Avengers! Would they really ever need any more?
Only time will tell.
If Fox and the X-Men are responsible for putting comic book films back on the map for the current generation, then surely Sony and Spider-Man are responsible for knocking them into the stratosphere of popular success. As the first film to gross over $100 million in its opening weekend, director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) blew the lid off of expectations and launched a trilogy that would become mostly beloved by audiences and comic fans with the exception of the overstuffed third installment in 2007.
Sony unfortunately didn’t have much else to work with in terms of licensed Marvel characters but gave it their best effort with two Ghost Rider films starring Nicholas Cage. Yeah…I didn’t see them either. But thanks to less than impressive reception you probably won’t have to worry about seeing another one any time soon now that the rights have reverted back to Marvel Studios as they did with Daredevil away from Fox.
So that leaves Sony sitting tight with just little old Spider-Man. No big expansive universe to create here, right?
In the summer of 2012 Sony released director Marc Webb‘s The Amazing Spider-Man, which was a complete reboot of the series with a whole new cast and a retelling of the origin story. Next summer will see that film get a sequel in the creatively titled The Amazing Spider-Man 2 but whats teased in that film will supposedly lead to eventual offshoots beyond the two Spider-Man sequels that are already on the release schedule past Part 2.
Rumor has it that instead of creating multiple films about different heroes, Sony will take advantage of Spider-Man’s expansive rouges gallery in a multitude of ways. One path hints at films about anti-heroes like Venom, Black Cat, or Morbius, while a more certain route points to the formation of The Sinister Six. The membership of this villainous team has changed in the comics over the years but with Lizard surviving the first film and Electro, Rhino, and (potentially) Green Goblin being introduced in the next film there is reason to believe that more and more villains are on the way. Hell, with Felicity Jones and Colm Feore cast in mystery roles we may even see more villains in play before the second film is over!
I actually find it a bit refreshing that Sony might want to put this added emphasis on the villains as long as it doesn’t sacrifice proper storytelling. Spider-Man’s rouges gallery is second only to Batman’s in terms of popularity and familiarity so it should definitely be used to the fullest. It would also be a nice change of pace from what is being built at Fox where they have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to heroes, but maybe not as many recognizable bad guys.
And honestly, the more Marc Webb can break free of what has already been done by Sam Raimi the better. We don’t need any more rehashings so let’s hope things only go upwards from here.
Upcoming Confirmed Releases
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 May 2, 2014
X-Men: Days of Future Past May 23, 2014
The Fantastic Four March 6, 2015
X-Force Unknown date 2016
The Amazing Spider-Man 3 June 10, 2016
The Amazing Spider-Man 4 May 4, 2018
Check back tomorrow for the 3rd and final entry of this series on DC Comics on film!
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Images courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Sony Pictures.