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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Posted on 30 December 2014 by William Gatevackes

2014 comic book films2014 was supposed to be a warm up year of sorts, a rest period before the big year of 2015 arrived. After all, Avengers: Age of UltronBatman v. Superman: Dawn of JusticeFantastic Four and Ant-Man was supposed to be joining other geek-friendly films such as Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to create one big festival of pop culture magnificence.

However, it would turn out that 2014 would be great in its own right–and 2015 might not be as good as it seemed.

captainamericawintersoldierposterGoing into this year, Marvel Studios seemed primed for a stumble, if not an outright fall. While 2013’s Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World were box office successes, creatively they were the weakest of Marvel’s offerings to date. This was troubling because 2014 promised a sequel to a franchise that didn’t light the world on fire with its first installment and featured a character that conventional wisdom said wouldn’t play well overseas and the start of a brand new concept featuring characters all but unknown by the general public, characters that included such silly offerings as a talking raccoon and a sentient tree who could only speak its own name. If Marvel didn’t bring its A game, it could have been in serious trouble.

Well, Marvel brought its A+ game. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a taught political thriller that doubled its predecessor’s worldwide grosses and changed the landscape of the Marvel film universe forever. And that unproven concept? That was Guardians of the Galaxy, which only became the highest grossing film of the year domestically and the second highest grossing film worldwide (behind the inexplicably popular Transformers: Age of Extinction). And that film’s two breakout stars? You guessed it, the talking raccoon and the walking tree.

edgar wrightBut it wasn’t all champagne and roses for Marvel. In May, the studio parted ways with Edgar Wright, the director who had been shepherding the studio’s Ant-Man adaptation for the better part of a decade. The break came after Wright had already cast the film and production was set to begin. This parting of ways was especially shocking considering that the official party line Marvel put out up to that point was that the only reason there would be a Ant-Man film at all was due to Wright’s vision. However, it was Marvel’s fiddling with that vision–including a rewrite done without Wright’s input–was what broke this particular camel’s back.

Wright was replaced as director by Peyton Reed. Reed had shown inventiveness with his breakthrough film, Down With Love, but had become over recent years a journeyman director of sorts, helming films such as The Break-Up and Yes Man. While this might seem like a step down from Wright in a lot of people’s eyes, many others might consider Reed a better choice. With Wright, you might have gotten an inventive take on the character filtered through the eyes of an auteur, albeit one that might not have meshed well with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Reed, you have a competent director with an individual style that is malleable enough to bend the way Marvel wants it to bend. Still, in my eyes, Wright’s moving on is a disappointing missed opportunity.

big hero 6Disney had another hit based on a Marvel comic book, although not one put out by Marvel Studios. Big Hero 6 was based on a Marvel comic, yet the concept was kept in house by Disney Animation. While the creative minds at Marvel had input, Disney want to put their own spin on the boy meets robot tale. The result is a charming film chock-full with more Marvel Comics’ Easter Eggs than you’d find in most Marvel Studios offerings. The film has made over $320 million and counting worldwide, coming close to doubling its production budget back.

Moving onto Marvel properties at other studios, X-Men: Days of Future Past marked a revitalization of Fox’s X-Men license. Bryan Singer returned to the franchise with this film, which came up with the brilliant idea of merging the cast of the original trilogy with the cast of X-Men: First Class in a quasi-adaptation of one of the best stories from the comics. If that wasn’t enough fan service, the film served as a soft reboot of the franchise, removing two of the lesser films of the franchise–X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins; Wolverine–from film continuity.

The film went on to make over $740 million worldwide and jump started Fox’s efforts of creating a shared universe out of the X-Men universe. Another sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse has been announced, another Wolverine film is in the works, and we might finally see Channing Tatum’s Gambit and Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool on the big screen.

Andrew Garfield;Paul GiamattiWhile Fox is well on its way to building a shared universe with its Marvel license, Sony has had its plans for a similar shared universe with its Spider-Man license, which it announced with films based on Venom and Sinister Six last year,  thrown into turmoil over disappointing returns for Amazing Spider-Man 2. And by Sony standards, the film making only three and a half times its production budget worldwide was a disappointment. I still can’t get over that. I’d love to get that much return on any investment I made. For Sony, that is a failure.

Regardless, the studio appeared to go into panic mode over this spanner in the works, with rumors of a spin-off featuring Aunt May, a film focusing on a team of females from the Spidey mythos, and a potential crossover with Marvel Studios being spread around.

But depths of Sony’s desperation truly became known during the Great Sony Hack of 2014. E-mails amongst top executives leaked during the hack showed a studio grasping at any straw that came their way when it came to Spider-Man. The crossover idea with Marvel Studios was confirmed. Inviting Sam Raimi back to take over the franchise was suggested. Another full reboot was offered up by Jeff Robinov, with an older Spidey and an adaptation of Kraven’s Big Hunt being part of it.

The result of all this is a sense of uncertainty of where Sony will be going with the Spider-Man franchise. As of right now, the studio still has Sinister Six scheduled for November 11, 2016. Whether or not that film will see the light of day, or if we will see Spider-Man hanging with Iron Man and Captain America before then, is anybody’s guess.

upcoming-dc-films1Warners had a quiet year when it came to comic book films in the theaters–no DC Comics films were released this year–but it more than made up for it when it came to its future plans. First was the scheduling brouhaha over Superman v. Batman. Warners moved it out of 2015 to May 6, 2016. The only problem was, Marvel had a then-unannounced film scheduled for that day. Instead of backing off, Marvel announced that that Captain America 3 would fill that spot. A tense game of chicken developed until Warners blinked and moved its film to March 25th.

While Marvel won that battle, DC scored a major victory in October when Warners announced a series of 10 DC Comics films, coming two a year from 2016 to 2020. Outside of Batman v. Superman, no solo Batman or Superman films were announced. Instead, we get DC’s B-team. Wonder Woman finally gets a film. Green Lantern gets another chance at charming audiences. Little known concepts such as Suicide Squad and Cyborg get films. And Aquaman hits screens only 12 years after it was mocked on Entourage. The rest of the list is made up of the long-rumored Shazam film and the optimistic Justice League and Justice League 2.

In contrast, Marvel’s announcement of their film slate two weeks later seemed a bit anti-climactic. Outside of Captain Marvel, arguably Marvel’s biggest female hero, getting a solo film, there were no big surprises. The Thor and Captain America sequels got subtitles (Ragnarok and Civil War respectively), Doctor Strange and Black Panther finally got official release dates. Long in development The Inhumans gets a slot and the third Avengers film will be broken up into two installments.

Frank_Millers_Sin_City _A_Dame_to_Kill_For_172014 proved to be a bad year for Frank Miller. There was 300: Rise of An Empire, the sequel to 300 that was supposed based on a Miller comic called Xerxes, a comic Miller never got around to writing. The filmmakers decided to go on without Miller, focusing on the Greek fighters instead of the Persian leader. International grosses helped the film overcome disappointing domestic grosses to earn three times its budget.

A film that Miller was personally involved with was Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Miller returned to co-direct the sequel with Robert Rodriguez, and provided an original yarn to fill out the adaptations from his legendary comic series. What should have been an eagerly awaited follow-up was welcomed by lukewarm reaction from critics and an even worse reaction from audiences. The film couldn’t even break the top five in its release weekend, and ended up making $26 million less worldwide than its relatively modest $65 million dollar budget. Can we call Hollywood’s dalliance with Frank Miller’s officially over?

As for the rest of the comic book films, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles followed the Michael Bay formula. Even though Bay only served as producer, the film suffered Bay’s trademark of overcoming a lambasting by critics yet to become a global success. Hercules also became a modest success when international grosses were taken into account. And I, Frankenstein was a disappointment.

As for next year? Well, we won’t have Batman v. Superman, since that has been moved to 2016. Fantastic Four could either be a trainwreck or a risky venture, depending on what leaked plot summary you believe. Kingsman: The Secret Service could become the latest hit adapted from a Mark Millar comic. Marvel should rake in money hand over fist with Avengers: Age of Ultron, and audiences should come to Ant-Man even with the tumultuous backstage drama. All of this will set the stage for the next 6 years of comic book films, much to the chagrin of the medium critics.


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EW: “Everyone Won” DAWN OF JUSTICE Date Shift, Which Was A “Brilliant Maneuver”

Posted on 08 August 2014 by William Gatevackes

entertainement-weeklyWhen Warner Brothers rescheduled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice for May 6, 2016, which Marvel Studios had already staked claim to with an unnamed project, it was viewed as an act of war. Here was Warners, a studio with a deep reserve of superhero IP through their sister company. DC Comics, but one that they were never able to fully capitalize on, using the blockbuster success of Man of Steel to take on the master of the comic book film, Marvel Studios, on what would be close to the start of the summer 2016 movie season. It was a statement of how serious they were about starting to take their comic book properties and showed that they believed that they could stand up anything the competition had to offer.

Of course, many fans and journalists didn’t actually believe that both Batman v. Superman and Captain America 3, what Marvel eventually announced as their May 6, 2016 film, would actually come out on the same day. While comic book fans would probably see both if they had the chance, having them open the same weekend would pretty much guarantee that the opening weekend grosses for both would be lower than they should be. It seemed logical that one of the studios would swerve out of this game of chicken, and many were hoping that it would be DC/Warners that would blink due to their audacity at claiming a spot that already belonged to Marvel.

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyPosterWell, Warners did blink, moving Batman v. Superman to March 25, 2016. The Internet, being what it is, started proclaiming Marvel’s victory in this war. The release date move seemed like an act of cowardice on Warners part, especially considering it came after Captain America: The Winter Soldier surpassed Man of Steel in all-time worldwide grosses and Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel concept with little or no recognition amongst the general public, opened to a whopping $24 million over projections, tipping the potential clash ever so slightly into Marvel’s favor. To some, this added up to Warners tucking its tail between its legs and running after they realized that the pairing of Batman and Superman might not be enough to win that war.

Not so fast, claims Entertainment Weekly. With a column on their website today titled ‘Batman v Superman’ versus ‘Captain America’: The superhero showdown that everybody won, they quote a Warners executive and a film median analyst saying that the move was a “brilliant maneuver” and go on to devote column space to proving that point.

From media analyst Paul Dergarabedian:

There’s that perception [that Warner Bros. retreated], but I think at the end of the day, he who wins is just the one who’s smart. They’re going to have an incredible amount of playing time before the Marvel movie kicks off. Putting this movie on a non-conventional date is going to pay big benefits for Warner Bros., for the theater owners—who love films that have legs—and for the audience. [Customers] will have a really cool movie to go out and see in March.

From Warners’ president of domestic distribution, Dan Fellman:

The reality now is there really isn’t a bad week to open a movie. If you look at the summer box office this year, you can see that there were so many movies, one after the other. You can start with Spider-Man, two weeks later Godzilla, and then Maleficent, and then Edge of Tomorrow, and then Jump Street and Transformers. And the one thing they all had in common, not one of them did over $250 million. We’ll be the first one up [in 2016], which is very important, and we’ll have six weeks before Captain America comes in.

Nowhere in the text is any dissenting opinion that questions the date shift as anything less than genius, nor is there the typical disclaimer EW usually runs in Warners stories that they and Warners are both owned by parent company Time Warner. These omissions make the article seem less like a defense of a savvy move by Warner Brothers than a piece of corporately mandated spin propaganda.

If there was a little bit of even handed reporting, Dan Fellman’s statement might have been challenged a bit more. Such as:

  • The $250 domestic total as a marker of a hit  has some issues. For instance, domestic tallies alone to not make hits anymore. Yes, Transformers: Age of Extinction has made less than $250 domestically (so far, as I will discuss below) but has already made more than a billion dollars worldwide, quadrupling its budget.
  • Speaking of multiplying its budget, the true test of a films success is how much it makes over its budget, not how much it makes altogether. If the benchmark for success is making two times its budget, then all those examples Fellman cites can be considered a hit because they have all doubled their budget in worldwide grosses. Yes, even the “disappointing” Edge of Tomorrow. Heck, by this yardstick, 22 Jump Street is a smash success. It made five times its budget back.
  • Name dropping Malificent and Transformers: Age of Extinction is not something Fellman should have done. Both are still in theaters and are within striking distance of Fellman’s legendary $250 million domestic mark. Granted, the former is at $235 million and nearing the end of its theatrical run, so it passing the $250 plateau is slim, but Transformers: Age of Extinction is at $242 million and should be around for a few more weeks. It seems a given that it will surpass $250 before it leaves theaters.
  • That being said, there have been 83 films to make more than $250 million at the domestic box office to date. Of those 83, only 6 were released outside of the summer months (May through August) or the holiday season (November and December). Of those six films, 3 were released in March–the aforementioned The Hunger Games and Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Alice in Wonderland. So while it is possible to make $250 million domestically in March, it is a whole lot easier to do so when the kids are home from school.

So, while it is possible that Batman v. Superman will make $250 in its March release date, the date itself will have very little to do with its success. It will have to be a quality film that viewers want to see bad enough that they are willing to see and see again, scheduling it in when school is not in session if they want to bring the kids in. And Fellman’s argument that a summer release is no longer lucrative might save face, but it doesn’t really hold water.

batman-vs-superman-dawn-of-justice-logoWe do get an explanation from Fellman as to why Warners felt confident in scheduling Batman v. Superman head-to-head against Marvel’s film. It was because they didn’t think there would be a Marvel film to go head-to-head with:

In terms of going back and reviewing the situation, it looked to us—and maybe our reconnaissance wasn’t great—that they were not going to have a movie [ready] on that date. Just that they held onto it and they might not be able to deliver. But they took another position.

Yes, they took the revolutionary position of delivering on a release date they promised. Granted, holding firm to a release date must be a foreign concept in the halls of Warners (lest we forget that this is the third release date Batman v. Superman has had since it was first announced, not to mention the false starts and inevitable starts the Superman and Justice League franchises have had) and that Marvel did some release date shuffling early in their existence, this whole brouhaha came about because Warners mistakenly thought that a studio that had pretty much consistently met its release dates for over two years would not meet this one and allow Warners to win the staring contest by default. That is just beautiful, and typical of Warners logic when dealing with all things DC.

The one piece of actual news in the article is that Warners plans to supply names to go with those release dates they announced on Wednesday by the end of the month.

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Mark Harris, Edgar Wright, And The Bursting Of The Comic Book Film Bubble.

Posted on 30 May 2014 by William Gatevackes

harris wright bubbleMark Harris is at it again.

The journalist, known for his work at Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times, and other periodicals, has a column up over at Grantland titled, “Are We at Peak Superhero?” where he acts as the doomsayer for the comic book movie/TV genre.

You might remember that three years ago, Harris wrote a similar manifesto for GQ called “The Day The Movies Died,” where he bemoaned the rise of “brand movies” and how they are forcing quality, original films off the market. I provided a counterpoint here, where I shot holes in his rather ill though-out argument (which essentially consisted of “I don’t like these sequels, remakes, and adaptations here. I prefer those sequel, remakes, and adaptations over there”). His argument here isn’t that much better.

marvelsagentsofshieldHarris theorizes that the comic book media bubble is about to burst. It’s the same theory Cracked’s J.F. Sargent put out last year, although he had more evidence. For Harris, the bubble bursting comes down to one thing: the failing ratings and poor reviews that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. received, which according to Harris was due to poor writing, which was due to the show trying to be the slave to too many masters (Men, women, kids, comic fans, comic film fans, Lost fans, etc), specifically the small number of fans who require inter-connectivity in their comic book media entertainment. Harris believes that this final point is what is most harmful to the comic book movies and TV shows, as it exposes how the individual art suffers as it is more concerned with becoming part of a larger whole.

There are a lot of flaws in this argument, starting with the fact that are many other reasons for AoS‘s lack of success. For instance, I think the fact it aired opposite NCIS and The Voice, two of the most popular shows on TV, might have played a role in the disappointing ratings as much as it’s real or perceived lack of quality.

You also have to take into consideration how hard it is for movies to translate into TV shows. For every Buffy the Vampire Slayer, M*A*S*H, or The Odd Couple, you have countless Ferris Buellers, Blue Thunders, Baby Booms, Uncle Bucks and Starmans. To think that a TV show spun off from the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe would be a great hit no matter what is unrealistic. And to think that the TV show’s success or failure would have any basis on the success or failure of the franchise is wishful thinking at best.

And even though Harris thinks the ties AoS has to the films is what brought it down, an argument could be made that it’s lack of ties could also be a reason for its lackluster performance. I made that argument here.

captainamericawintersoldierposterBut the biggest flaw in Harris argument was that Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out just as AoS‘s ratings were going into free fall. The film opened to the highest April opening in history. It has made over $254 million domestically and over $708 million world wide. That is an increase of about $80 million domestically and $400 million worldwide over the previous Cap film, Captain America: The First Avenger. If the decline of AoS was the beginning of the end of the success of comic movies, shouldn’t Winter Soldier have tanked at the box office? Or, at the very least, have a hard time matching the grosses of the first film in the series? The dip in AoS‘s ratings had no bearings on the success of Winter Soldier, even though they share the same level of inter-connectivity with the franchise as a whole. Therefore, it’s doubtful that the troubles AoS is having is any indicator of the superhero film/TV bubble will burst.

If Harris wanted a Marvel-centric inciting event that might cause the now-legendary bubble to burst, he should have held off a week. If he waited until after the Labor Day weekend, he would have a more realistic event that might cause the end of comic book movies success as we know it.

edgar wrightEdgar Wright and Marvel parting ways over Ant-Man was such a bombshell that even the fact the news was released late on a Friday before a three-day American holiday weekend was not enough to bury it. The story burned up the Internet and became conversation fodder at a number of cookouts over the three days.

In the hours and days after the bombshell announcement, a reason for Wright’s departure has gained a foothold in the gossip press. As confirmed by sources to the Hollywood Reporter, Marvel rewrote Wright’s script for Ant-Man, a script that was in development between Wright and Marvel for eight years, without the director’s input. Presented with directing a script that was not up to his own personal standards of quality, Wright decided to walk away from the project.

If there was ever an incident that would pop the comic book film bubble, it would be this one, especially when it comes to Marvel’s dominance at the box office. Let me explain.

  1. It comes at an uncertain time for comic book films in general…: Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film that was supposed to launch a number of spin-offs and sequels, became the lowest grossing Spider-Man film to date and is viewed as a disappointment (although, I’m sure there are a lot of film studios out there that would love to have a $677 million grossing disappointment on their ledger sheets). Fox has a Fantastic Four reboot in the works that has raised more ire in the fan community than excitement. Its X-Men franchise scored a big hit with Days of Future Past, but the director behind that is embroiled in a messy legal issue, and the franchise does not fare well in the hands of others. And Warners is going all in after the success of The Man of Steel and will be bring the rest of the DC Universe in to play in a big way in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, a move that is seen as both risky and desperate.
  2. …and Marvel in particular.: Of the four films announced on Marvel’s schedule, we had two sure bets book ended by two uncertain films.First, Guardians of the Galaxy is the least-known Marvel property brought to the screen to date, and the jokey tone of the first trailer seems like a break from the typical Marvel film, and not in a good way. On the other side, you have Captain America 3, which would have been a no-brainer hit if it wasn’t for the fact that it will be going head-to-head with Warners’ Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice on May 6, 2016. The only way it could win is if BVSDOJ moves. Since Marvel had the release date first, it would be a sign of weakness if Cap 3 relocates. And if they stay on the same day, it has the chance of losing quite a bit of its audience to Warners. In between, Marvel had relative sure things in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Wright’s Ant-Man. With Wright gone, there’s another question mark.
  3. It shows an ungrateful Marvel: Wright has been attached to Ant-Man since 2006, way before Iron Man hit screen, way back when Marvel starting its own studio was seen as a huge risk. Wright, hot off his breakthrough film, Shaun of the Dead, added legitimacy to the burgeoning studio, and his hiring told the world Marvel was serious about doing its films right. Now that Marvel Studios has become an unstoppable juggernaut, and a big jewel in the Disney crown, they have no need of the buzz Edgar Wright’s name brought them. So, instead of continuing to try to reach a middle ground, they simply let Wright walk away.
  4. It shows an arrogant Marvel: If the prevailing rumors are true, the studio decided it had enough of negotiating with Wright and Joe Cornish over the Ant-Man script, decided to put it into the hands of the less skilled but more agreeable writing group, and gave it back to Wright to direct as if they were doing him a favor. Even if Wright was fresh out of film school, this would still be insulting. But Wright is an imaginative writer/director with a body of great films to his credit and a definite following of fans. This is not the first time Marvel walked away from someone they felt they couldn’t work with (see Terrence Howard, Edward Norton, and Patty Jenkins for other examples), and those worked out, but that doesn’t mean every time will be a change for the better.
  5. It shows a rather short-sighted Marvel: Even back in 2006 with only one film under his belt, one could tell that Wright would not be the prototypical comic book film director. And , as the years went by and Wright began to develop his trademark writing and directing style, it quickly became obvious to movie fans that his Ant-Man would be different from anything Marvel had offered before. Obvious, that is, to anyone other than Marvel, who thought that Wright could be brought into the corporate style. It should not have taken Marvel six years to discover that Wright was incompatible with their house style. And it should have been obvious after those six years that they would not be able to force him into that style if he wasn’t willing.
  6. It reveals a rather dishonest Kevin Feige: Feige is often placed in the role as Marvel’s cheerleader/huckster. And as such, it is his job to generate excitement for Marvel’s slate of projects in any way he can. His rather low-key, earnest delivery gives the impression that he is not one to exaggerate for dramatic effect. But Marvel’s separation from Wright casts a new light on Feige and his statements. Back in 2013, he told MTV  that Wright and his vision was “the only reason” why they chose Ant-Man for a film adaptation.  Just last month, Feige said that Wright’s vision for the film helped shape the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. If these two things were true, then what was the need for Marvel’s brain trust to rewrite Wright’s “vision”? If what Wright wanted to do was so impressive that it forced Marvel to go with Ant-Man over another, better known character and to make all the Marvel films fall in line with this vision, shouldn’t Wright still be attached to direct his script for the film? Why did Wright need to change his script to fit into the MCU when his script is supposedly what the MCU was based on? What changed?
  7. It shows a hypocritical side to Marvel: Of course, Marvel shouldn’t let Edgar Wright mold one of its properties to his own style of film making. That just wouldn’t make sense. And it’s not like Marvel has ever let a director put his own personal stamp on one of their franchises. Well, that is is you discount Iron Man 3, which was so much a Shane Black film that it even was set at Christmas time. It bore little resemblance to the other Iron Man films, made passing references to the MCU at whole, and Tony Stark spent most of the film in the role of a quirky, oddball detective–a role that didn’t fit the character. It also made over a billion dollars worldwide. So you can see why Marvel wanted to move away from that.
  8. Ant-Man is now damaged goods: The film was set to begin production on Monday. The actors have been cast, tech crews hired, and this was all in line with Wright’s vision. With Wright gone and a script not set in stone, all of this is in flux. One expects a delay in production, but it can’t be a big one if the film wants to hit its July 17, 2015 date. Any director that comes in will have to sit at a table already set by Edgar Wright, with a script that will be written on the fly as the production goes on. Both X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine had similar production squabbles, and turned out to be the two worst X-films of the franchise. Expect the same here.
  9. It shows a Marvel that is willing to trade a chance at the spectacular for the safe and mediocre: Not being a big Ant-Man fan, Edgar Wright’s involvement with Ant-Man was the primary reason why I was excited for the film.He is a director with geek cred who is also an auteur. I couldn’t wait to see his style at play in the Marvel arena, with that cast. It would have been groundbreaking. It would have been beautiful. It would have been exciting and fun. But Marvel is not in the mood to take chances. They don’t want an artist to come in and provide a unique take on their characters. They want a handyman who will come in, march to Marvel’s drum, do what Marvel wants in the way Marvel wants it, and if any of the director’s style manages to accidentally make it into the final product, well, good for them. As long as the final project is safe and fits in within their business plan, that’s all that is important.
  10. It shows how Marvel has changed over the last six years: Marvel got a lot of mileage out of being the noble company that decided to raise some funds in order to do their films right. They were all about quality, and hiring the right people for the job. When Disney bought Marvel, people wondered how this was going to change. Now we know. Now quality has gone from ‘being the best that can be” to “being just good enough.” The right people went from the being the talented people who are either underestimated or under-known to being project managers whose only job is to protect the intellectual property the best they can.

I’m not saying the comic book film bubble is about to burst. But if it does, this will be the inciting incident. Marvel can do no wrong in the eyes of many fans, but this could be their first wrong move. And it could be a big one. It could have a disastrous effect on the future of comic book films, bad enough to pop that legendary bubble.


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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Tripping The Dark Fantastic

Posted on 16 May 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, instead of looking towards the past, we look to the future to cover the forthcoming reboot of FANTASTIC FOUR and the serious problems it is already generating in the fan community.

FantasticFourRebootCastJoshTrankAfter a rough start (I’d call having the writer of Batman and Robin as your producer as getting off on the wrong foot, regardless if he won an Oscar since then), the Fantastic Four reboot seemed to be moving in the right direction when they hired Josh Trank as director of the film in 2012. Trank was the director of the 2011 surprise hit Chronicle, a found-footage take on three teenagers who gain superpowers from a mysterious item. It was a realistic take on the superhero genre, and earned the director great praise from fans and critics. It also earned him the honor of being the youngest director to have a film debut at #1 at the box office.

Having such a man at the helm of a licensed superhero movie was considered a good thing. He proved that he understood the genre and was able to bring fresh ideas to the execution of it. Trank’s hiring seemed at the time to be a sure sign that Fox was going to get it right this time around.

Unfortunately, that was the last piece of good news the reboot had. As a matter of fact, what came after turned that good news into bad news.

Michael-B-JordanThe first bump in the road was the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, a.k.a. The Human Torch. The African-American actor being cast as the Caucasian Johnny was sure to raise a roar of outrage in the fan community, as any deviation from the comic book-established-norm would. And it did. Only this time, the counterpoint to the protests brought up a racial element in them–that there was at the very least an underlying element of racism in the criticism of Jordan’s casting.

katemaraI don’t believe in absolutes. Could there be people who hated Jordan’s casting simply because they are racist? Yes. But you don’t have to be a racist to have issues about Jordan’s casting. I believe that Jordan is a great actor (I think it was a big snub that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for Fruitvale Station) and I think that he will do well in the role. However I believe his casting, especially in regards to the casting of Kate Mara, is a dangerous break from what made the source material great.

Every great comic book film adaptation makes changes to the source material in order to make a good movie, yet remains true to the heart of the original concept. And the heart of the Fantastic Four concept is family. In every version, in every parody or homage, the fact that the FF is a family is a main feature of the team. And the family dynamic in the original FF works in many ways. First, you can break the quartet into pairs, each pair being extremes united by a family bond. The rough hewn, not-that-smart Ben Grimm and the scrawny, super-intelligent Reed Richards are not biologically related, yet become as close as brothers through shared experiences. The wild and unpredictable Johnny is the polar opposite of his sister, the calm and reserved Sue.  If it wasn’t for the fact that they share the same biological parents, there would be no connection between the two. And “how could these two come from the same parents” became part of that dynamic.

RegECathey2Now, in the reboot, they haven’t come from the same parents. With the casting of Reg E. Cathey, it appears that Sue is either adopted or a step-sister of Johnny. So that part of the family dynamic is changed for the upcoming film, and I imagine not for the better. It’s not that I’m saying that adopted children are not a real part of the families they join or that merged families aren’t real families. But they are different from a biological family, with a different family dynamic. This wouldn’t be a problem if I thought the film was going to have something to say about that dynamic. But in a big budget blockbuster? It will be a cosmetic change at best.

And an arbitrary one as well. Nothing against Kate Mara as an actress, but you mean to tell me that there are no African-American actresses as good if not better in Hollywood? Casting an African-American actress would have preserved the biological ties between Johnny and Sue and provided another high-profile role model in the film superhero world. Why wasn’t an African-American actress cast? Would an interracial relationship be too hot to handle? Is there some kind of Hollywood law that you can only have one African-American on a superhero team? Wouldn’t having a strong, central African-American female set a good example?

chronicle livestream chatThat is, of course, if Michael B. Jordon’s casting is meant to be a means of breaking down barriers and changing perceptions like his defenders say it is. I think there’s a simpler reason for Jordan getting the role–it’s comfort casting for Trank, pure and simple. As everyone knows, Trank directed Jordan in Chronicle. Jordan has gone so far as call Trank a “good friend” in media interviews. So there is a strong connection between the two.

What novice director (Fantastic Four will only be Trank’s second film) wouldn’t want his friend, a skilled actor who he has directed before, in the cast of the blockbuster film he is directing? At the very least, you have an actor whose style and work ethic are familiar to you, one you’ve already developed chemistry with. At the most, you have an ally working with and for you in the production, someone who will mold the other actors to your directing style and help your vision come through. Having Michael B. Jordan in the cast just makes Josh Trank’s job that much easier.

Having a personal muse, a repertory of actors you frequently use, is not unusual. Heck, Judd Apatow, Wes Anderson, Joss Whedon, and Quentin Tarantino are famous for it. Martin Scorsese has both Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio on his speed dial. But none of the above directors are willing to destroy the spirit, tone and feel of the source material to work with their favorite actors. That takes a certain kind of ego and hubris.

jamiebellAs egregious as some might consider Jordan’s casting to be, I consider Jamie Bell’s casting as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s to be even more problematic. Ben Grimm, in the comics, is the brawn to Reed’s brains. He is a bulky, linebacker sort of man who has the look of someone who would protect a science nerd such as Reed while they were in college.

Jamie Bell simply has a different body shape than you’d expect Ben to have. Granted, at 5’7″, he is the same height as Michael Chiklis, who played the role in the previous films. And the picture to the left shows that he does have a superhero physique. But it’s just not Ben Grimm’s. And if Miles Teller gets into superhero shape, the actor, who is five inches taller than Bell, might just make it  look like Reed’s the one sticking up for Ben.

This might seem like petty griping, but once again the way the characters are portrayed in the comics are what makes them great. Ben Grimm has always been a stocky, Lower East Side, everyman whose inherent goodness cause him to defend and eventually befriend Reed Richards. It’s not that the same dynamic couldn’t be on play here, it’s just that they will have to work harder to show it.

TwentiethCenturyFoxLogoOf course, this is running on the assumption that there will be any dynamic from the comics that make it to the screen. One of the most disastrous things to happen to the reboot was when a casting announcement revealed story elements from the reboot. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to legally quote the plot synopsis verbatim, because that is owned by Fox and a reprinting of it is violation of their copyright according to their lawyers (more on that in a paragraph or two). However, through the “Fair Use” provisions of  US copyright law (specifically section 107 of Title 17 of US Code) we can quote part of it to comment upon and criticize it. And, hoo boy, is there a lot to criticize.

The new story makes substantial changes to the Fantastic Four mythos, including:

  • Reed and Ben get their powers as teenagers, don’t meet an already superpowered Johnny and Sue until later: Every version of the FF’s origin, from the mainstream Marvel Comics one to the Ultimate Marvel Comics one, through every cartoon and film version,  the quartet get their powers at the same time from the same event. This is a fundamental feature of the characters and is what reinforces the family aspect that makes them great. The accident that gives them their powers is a shared experience that brings them closer together. It is the fickle hand of fate that creates an unbreakable bond between the already close foursome. Having them get their powers separately destroys this aspect of the characters, and they are weaker for it.
  • Reed’s genius-level intellect is now a by-product of the event that gave him his stretching powers: Once again, Reed’s smarts have always been part of his pre-accident characterization in every incarnation of the character. It is his defining trait. As a matter of fact, if it wasn’t for Reed’s reckless pursuit of knowledge, the Fantastic Four would not have existed. To have Reed’s high intelligence become a super-power he gains is like instead of having Superman being an alien, he was just some guy who got his powers from some alien rock. That change completely destroys the character from top to bottom and is a stupid move.
  • Reed and Ben are taken into government custody and are used as weapons: While the Ultimate Marvel version of Reed is recruited by the government to join a think tank, nowhere in the history of the FF have they ever been consigned into government service as living weapons. Once again, in what is becoming a reoccurring theme, this is a catastrophic break from the original concept. The FF are idealists who willingly use their powers to help protect their fellow man. Making them government lackeys takes away that nobility and weakens the concept.

Of course, after this hit and fan outrage went through the roof, Josh Trank went on Twitter to say in no uncertain terms that the synopsis was a fake (Trank has since shrunk away from social media since then. His Twitter and Facebook only have a few entries from 2012. Everything else has been deleted. Try to click on a link of one of his tweets and you get a message saying they’re not found.). This would be reassuring if it wasn’t for the fact that at the very same time Fox was sending out take down notices to everyone who posted the synopsis. This caused Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta to ask what many other film journalists were asking:

After this debacle, the FF reboot became a ludicrous train wreck where most any rumor, even ones later proved untrue, could get traction. Josh Gad as the Thing? He’s so not appropriate for the role that it has to be true. A female Doctor Doom? Well, they changed everything else, why not change that too.

Then came the rumor that Josh Trank was about to be replaced in the directorial chair and the reboot would restart over fresh. The rumor was strongly denied at the time and we now know did not come to pass, although it appears at least two directors were asked to replace Trank and refused.

One hopes that the synopsis is not correct, because it seems rather senseless to have a Fantastic Four reboot in name only. As far as I can tell,there has been no official confirmation of what the storyline will actually be, other than Josh Trank telling Badass Digest that “The only truth in that plot description is that there are four characters named Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny” and  “You’ll see in June of 2015.” But even if the film does hew closer to the source material, based on what we have heard from the principles involved in making the film is still enough to cause us concern:

And I think what we’re going to do with Fantastic Four is going to be very grounded and it made sense to me. When I read the script, I didn’t feel like I was reading this larger-than-life, incredible superhero tale.  These are all very human people that end up having to become I guess what is known as the Fantastic Four.–Miles Teller

All I know is it’s going to be a very different take on the film than what probably people expect. I think we’re making a very grounded version of the superhero film.–Kate Mara

This will definitely be a more realistic, a more gritty, grounded telling of the ‘Fantastic Four’ and no matter what people think about the cast.–Simon Kinberg

SimonKinbergThis all has the air of studio mandated episodes of fan reassurance. I mean, they all use “grounded” for goodness sakes. And if they were making The Grounded Four then this would be reassuring. Unfortunately, they are making the Fantastic Four.

This all plays into the popular Hollywood misconception that all comic book fans want is grim and gritty imagining of their favorite heroes, because that was the only reason why Christopher Nolan’s Batman films were so gosh darn successful. What they fail to realize is that not all comic book concepts lend themselves to grim and gritty interpretations. And Fantastic Four is a prime example of this.

I mean, “Fantastic” is part of the teams name! They’re the heroes who face off against giant men who eat planets or insectoid malcontents from other dimensions or superhumans in royal palaces hidden in the Himalayas or a race of monsters that live underground. There have been periods of seriousness here and there, but even in the Ultimate Marvel version of the characters, the team has been about pursuit of the wondrous,  pursuit of the amazing, and pursuit of, well, the fantastic. In other words, the Fantastic Four cry out for a “larger-than-life, incredible superhero tale,” not a “more realistic, more gritty, grounded telling.” And the fact that all involved don’t realize that completely and utterly scares me.

What does this all this chaotic mess add up to? A Fantastic Four film I really am not up for seeing. Either we will get a Fantastic Four film that breaks entirely with the source material, or we’ll get a film that doesn’t not capture the proper tone. Filming has just begun and its debut is over a year away, so maybe there will be more than just Doombots and Mole Men to make fans of the characters happy. But based on everything I have seen about the project up to this point, Fox might be wise to find something else to put in its July 14, 2017 spot, because it’s not likely there will be a Fantastic Four 2 to put in theaters on that date as they planned.

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MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D And The Tyranny Of Expectations

Posted on 18 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

marvelsagentsofshieldMarvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D debuted just like you’d think a TV series that tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would, with a 4.7 rating, 14 share, and 12.12 million viewers. However, as the series progressed, it became a case of diminishing returns. The most recent episode, which feature Jamie Alexander’s Sif character from the Thor films, could only garner half the pilot’s ratings (2.1/7, 5.99 million). Yet, this was seen as a good sign as it was an improvement over the previous episode, which earned a series low 1.8/6 with 5.46 million viewers. Granted, the show has anywhere from 3 to 4 millions people who watch the show on the DVR then next day, but when there are two MCU films in the top five all-time highest grossing films worldwide, having a TV tie-in not be able to win its time slot is a disappointment. And a quick search of the Internet will show you that criticism of the show from fans and professional critics alike increased as ratings decreased.

In an effort to correct this freefall, ABC is airing a special tonight that will mix behind-the-scenes sneak peeks at Marvel’s upcoming film slate with a healthy dose of promotion of the TV show. I’m sure the network hopes that reaffirming the ties the show has with the Marvel Cinematic Universe will bring back those lost viewers. But it might just be that tie, and the expectations that it brought, is what caused viewers to leave in droves.

mayandcoulsonandlolaWhen AoS (as I will be calling the show from here on out) was announced, it raised a number of expectations in what would be the core audience for the show. In fans of the MCU films, it raised the expectation that the TV show would just be a Marvel film brought to the small screen, complete with big names and big budget special effects. Comic book fans expected that this would be another venue for their favorite characters to come to life with living, breathing actors. It turns out that neither group of the show’s core demographic got what it wanted, resulting in a testy and disenfranchised viewership. This made it almost impossible for the show to be taken on its own merits. Every flaw, every misstep was exacerbated by its disappointed viewership as further reason why the show’s creators got it wrong and why the show didn’t work.

However, the question I asked myself is, “Are these expectations realistic?” The answer I found was, “No, and on the surface, yes.”

The most unrealistic expectation was that the films would transfer over to television exactly. This could be chalked up to fans simply not realizing the vast differences between film budgets and TV budgets. The Marvel films cost between $140 million to $225 million to make. The average TV show costs around $3 million to make. Even if AoS carries a slightly higher budget, it is still miles away from what goes into making a movie.

This means no Robert Downey Jr or Chris Hemsworth in a reoccurring role, no CGI characters, and no superpowers that would be cost prohibitive to portray on screen. This is why the series focus on the reasonably cheap adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and not, say, War Machine or Sentry.


Which isn’t to say that there couldn’t be more interplay between the film world and the TV show. This does sound silly when you consider that a driving plot point of the series so far–the Extremis virus–was also a main driving plot point of Iron Man 3. However,  its connection to Thor: The Dark World was simply to dedicate a show to cleaning up after the fact. It would not have been hard to have Fitz and Simmons investigate a separate dimensional aperture breach similar to the one in the movie in an episode leading up to the release date (and work in a reason why S.H.I.E.L.D. was nowhere to be found when a big alien spaceship was tearing up an English city while they were at it) .

skyeandwardPerhaps this is about to change. The current plot line focuses on Coulson losing his faith in the way S.H.I.E.L.D. does business, much like the sentiment Captain America expresses in the trailers for Captain America: Winter Soldier. Hopefully, the parallel is deliberate and is a sign of more synergy between the films and the TV series.

What could very well be more puzzling to fans is why there are not more Marvel Comics guest stars, and when there are, they are of the ilk of Victoria Hand and John Garrett and not Crusher Creel or Carol Danvers. After all, Disney owns Marvel and ABC, so if Marvel owns the rights to a character, ABC should have free reign to them as well. The only thing stopping them would be the cost of bringing their powers to the big screen.

It would be nice if it worked out that way, but no. AoS only has access to characters that Marvel think doesn’t have a chance at film success. This is what Jed Whedon told HitFix before the series premiered:

You said before that whenever you want to use an established character, it’s a process; Marvel’s this big machine. Working with characters you’ve created, how much autonomy do you have to make this show? Or are there layers and layers of bureaucracy you’re going through to do everything?

Maurissa Tancharoen:      There’s some rules, yeah.

Jed Whedon:           There’s some. There are some rules, but part of the process of figuring this out has been finding out what those rules are and where we can live between them. We always talk about how vast the Marvel universe is, so you’re not very limited. Obviously if it’s a huge name, they’d probably flag it for a feature and we aren’t going to get him for one week of television. But there’s plenty of characters. We also can work the other way in terms of coming up with stories we want to tell and then asking Marvel, “Do you have a guy who does that thing that we’re talking about?”

Of course, it doesn’t help that the guys that Marvel gives them are small-timers like Scorch and Blizzard. Either way, it sounds like every Marvel character that AoS wants to use has to go through a vetting process with Marvel, because there is no set rules or list of characters they can use. Now it’s a little bit easier to understand why the show’s villains are characters like Ian Quinn and the the Clairvoyant–it’s easier for AoS to create characters from whole cloth than it is to go through an application process every time they want to bring in a recurring character. It also makes the introduction of Deathlok that much more special because that character was long in development for a feature film. Taking all this into consideration, it’s a wonder he’s appearing in the series at all.

So, while it would be nice if AoS used more characters from the Marvel Universe, it’s not really their fault–it’s Marvel’s. The process of getting Marvel characters into the show should be much clearer and easier.

I believe that the show was burdened with unfair expectations. Expectations that hampered the show getting a fair shot right from the start. Granted, if these expectations weren’t there, people might still find fault in the show (for me, it’s extremely hit or miss. When it hits, it hits big. When it misses, it’s painful to watch.) But the show was handicapped by the successful films that came before it. And that is something the creators can not fix.

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Posted on 07 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, we once again interrupt our regularly scheduled program to cover new information about a film we already covered, Alan Moore’s Watchmen.

silver snyder watchmenIn terms of bringing Watchmen to the big screen, Joel Silver would be the alpha, and Zack Snyder would be the omega. Silver was the producer who first started process of bringing Alan Moore’s seminal work to theaters, but it was Zack Snyder who was able to finish the job. So, the two diverse and opinionated power players will be forever inexorably linked. But this doesn’t mean that they have to get along.

Through a serendipitous coincidence, Silver and Snyder produced films that were released a week apart. Silver is a producer on Non-Stop, which opened last week and Snyder is a producer on the sequel to his film 300, 300: Rise of an Empire which opens today. If the two films were released further apart, Snyder wouldn’t have just a quick turn around on answering Silver’s comments on his version of the Watchmen and I’d be writing about the Alien vs. Predator franchise like I had originally planned.

joel silverJoel Silver was interviewed by in conjunction with Non-Stop‘s release, and, as these interviews typically go, the interview spanned Silver’s entire career. Naturally, the topic of Watchmen came up. And since the bombastic Silver is never one to shy away from expressing his opinions–at length–we get exactly what he thought of Snyder’s version, and how his would have been much, much better:

CS: Speaking of ones that got away, as a die-hard Terry Gilliam fan I have to know if there’s anything juicy you can tell me about his conception of “Watchmen”?
It was a MUCH much better movie.

CS: Than the one Zack Snyder made…
Oh God. I mean, Zack came at it the right way but was too much of a slave to the material.

CS: Agreed.
I was trying to get it BACK from the studio at that point, because I ended up with both “V For Vendetta” and “Watchmen” and I kinda lost “Watchmen.” I was happy with the way “V” came out, but we took a lot of liberties. That’s one of the reasons Alan Moore was so unpleasant to deal with. The version of “Watchmen” that Zack made, they really felt the notion. They went to Comic-Con, they announced it, they showed things, the audience lost their minds but it wasn’t enough to get a movie that would have that success. What Terry had done, and it was a Sam Hamm script–who had written a script that everybody loved for the first “Batman”–and then he brought in a guy who’d worked for him to do work on it [Charles McKeown, co-writer of “Brazil”]. What he did was he told the story as-is, but instead of the whole notion of the intergalactic thing which was too hard and too silly, what he did was he maintained that the existence of Doctor Manhattan had changed the whole balance of the world economy, the world political structure. He felt that THAT character really altered the way reality had been. He had the Ozymandias character convince, essentially, the Doctor Manhattan character to go back and stop himself from being created, so there never would be a Doctor Manhattan character. He was the only character with real supernatural powers, he went back and prevented himself from being turned into Doctor Manhattan, and in the vortex that was created after that occurred these characters from “Watchmen” only became characters in a comic book.

CS: That’s fascinating. Very META.
Oh yeah. So the three characters, I think it was Rorschach and Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, they’re all of the sudden in Times Square and there’s a kid reading a comic book. They become like the people in Times Square dressing up like characters as opposed to really BEING those characters. There’s a kid reading the comic book and he’s like, “Hey, you’re just like in my comic book.” It was very smart, it was very articulate, and it really gave a very satisfying resolution to the story, but it just didn’t happen. Lost to time.

CS: Things happen for a reason, it might have changed the whole landscape of superhero movies right now as well.
But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!

I suppose before I go any farther, I should talk about the Alan Moore’s ending to the Watchmen series, which Silver briefly touches upon above. For as great as the series was, as ground breaking as the series was (more on what I thought here), it’s ending, in my opinion, was pretty damn awful. So, consider this your SPOILER WARNING.

Watchmen monsterIn the comic, Ozymandias’ grand plan to stave off nuclear annihilation was to create a giant, hideous creature, and then teleport the living, breathing creature into Midtown Manhattan, where it would promptly die, killing millions as it releases a psychic backlash as it undergoes its death throes. The nations of the  world would think this was the beginning of an alien invasion, and would put aside their differences to to unite to combat the supposed foe from outer space. The plan goess through and works.

Not only was Moore’s ending a swipe, inadvertent or not, of an old Outer Limits episode, but also it was a garish break from the realistic sci-fi of the rest of the series. Yes, you had a character that was a walking nuclear bomb, but at least his existence was explained by some pseudoscience. The beast’s didn’t get quite the same treatment.

On top of that, the plan doesn’t seem to be one that would work that well. You mean to tell me that the U.S. and U.S.S.R. wouldn’t be back at each others throats when the rest of the aliens failed to arrive? And the beast itself, the government wouldn’t chop it up to see how it worked? They probably find out a lot about it, perhaps even Ozymandias’ role in its creation.

Anyway, the ending did have to be changed for the film, on that I agree with Silver. I don’t agree necessarily that his ending was that much better.

The ending Silver describes corresponds with a Sam Hamm script for the project that I read years ago, one I spoke about here. The only other major changes I recall from that script would have been a tacked on action sequence where the heroes faced off against a superpowered villain at the Statue of Liberty (which would obliterate Moore’s deliberate plot choice of having Doctor Manhattan be the only superpowered being in the story) and removal of all the ephemera (the Minutemen, the Tales of the Black Freighter, etc) from the source material.

But the ending, well, it was a Twilight Zone ending with none of the irony that made Twilight Zone endings great. It kind of laid there on the page. Obviously, we were supposed have our mind’s blown, but the way it was presented, in an almost laughable way, it fell flat.

There are several things to take into consideration with Silver’s statement. One, you have to realize that Joel Silver is a producer in the Hollywood tradition of old, where he is a bombastic promoter of everything he puts his name on. Of course, he would think his version of Watchmen would be better. It’s not in his DNA to say any different. And another thing is while Silver made it sound like this ending was Gilliam’s idea, it definitely came from Hamm. Granted, I wasn’t privy to any communications between the parties in 1988, and how much influence Gilliam had on the script, but the ending came from a script with Hamm”s name, and only Hamm’s name on it. If Gilliam was so enamored with Hamm’s script, why did he bring McKeown in to rewrite it? Because he wanted to change it. Who knows if the ending was one of the things Gilliam wanted to change?

zack snyderBut thanks to Silver, Gilliam was thrown under the bus, and is being viewed as the bad guy in this. Well, at least in Zack Snyder’s eyes. Only one week later, talking to The Huffington Post while promoting 300: Rise of an Empire, Snyder and his wife Deborah decided to address Silver’s words–by taking a shot at Gilliam:

Was “Watchmen” the most “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” project you’ve ever been a part of? Now Joel Silver is criticizing you for being a “slave” to the source material while touting a very different from the source material script that Terry Gilliam was going to film.

Zack Snyder: It’s funny, because the biggest knock against the movie is that we finally changed the ending, right?

Right, you used Dr. Manhattan as the threat to bring the world together as opposed to the alien squid.

Zack Snyder: Right, and if you read the Gilliam ending, it’s completely insane.

Deborah Snyder: The fans would have been thinking that they were smoking crack.

Zack Snyder: Yeah, the fans would have stormed the castle on that one. So, honestly, I made “Watchmen” for myself. It’s probably my favorite movie that I’ve made. And I love the graphic novel and I really love everything about the movie. I love the style. I just love the movie and it was a labor of love. And I made it because I knew that the studio would have made the movie anyway and they would have made it crazy. So, finally I made it to save it from the Terry Gilliams of this world.

In Gilliam’s version, Dr. Manhattan is convinced to go back in time and prevent Dr. Manhattan from existing. But the specter of his existence is the threat to the world, which is kind of what you did at the end of the movie anyway.

Zack Snyder: Right, of course. It’s just using elements that are in the comic book already, that’s the only thing I did. I would not have grabbed something from out of the air and said, “Oh, here’s a cool ending” just because it’s cool.

Deborah Snyder: But it’s interesting because, you’re right, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You have people who are mad that the ending was changed and you have other people saying, “Oh, it was a slave to the graphic novel.” You can’t please everybody.

Zack Snyder: And that’s the problem with genre. That’s the problem with comic book movies and genre. And I believe that we’ve evolved — I believe that the audiences have evolved. I feel like “Watchmen” came out at sort of the height of the snarky Internet fanboy — like, when he had his biggest strength. And I think if that movie came out now — and this is just my opinion — because now that we’ve had “Avengers” and comic book culture is well established, I think people would realize that the movie is a satire. You know, the whole movie is a satire. It’s a genre-busting movie. The graphic novel was written to analyze the graphic novel — and comic books and the Cold War and politics and the place that comic books play in the mythology of pop culture. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with the end of “Watchmen” — in the end, the most important thing with the end was that it tells the story of the graphic novel. The morality tale of the graphic novel is still told exactly as it was told in the graphic novel — I used slightly different devices. The Gilliam version, if you look at it, it has nothing to do with the idea that is the end of the graphic novel. And that’s the thing that I would go, “Well, then don’t do it.” It doesn’t make any sense.

I can’t imagine people being happy with that version.

Zack Snyder: Yeah! If you love the graphic novel, there’s just no way. It would be like if you were doing “Romeo and Juliet” and instead of them waking up in the grave area, they would have time-traveled back in time and none of it would have happened.

Between this and his response to the casting controversy over Batman Vs. Superman, Snyder is coming off as a man with a larger than normal ego but with thinner than normal skin. This is not a good combination for a Hollywood player, especially one whose milieu is comic book adaptations. Reading Snyder’s response, you’d think that Joel Silver accused him of being a being the antichrist and of selling kidnapped babies on the black market. You’d think that Silver’s remarks were a vicious and petty slam on his genius, and that he didn’t say anything nice about Snyder’s Watchmen at all. Well, Silver’s comments are reprinted verbatim above. You can see that that wasn’t the case at all, unless of course, the kids these days consider “But I did like the movie, very much. Zack did great stuff in it!” the biggest diss in the world. OOH, SNAP!

Actually, scratch that. You’d think Terry Gilliam did all those things. Snyder doesn’t mention Silver once. But he is more than ready to place all the blame on Gilliam’s feet. I especially love the exceptional arrogance when he says that he was saving Watchmen from the Terry Gilliams of the world. Listen, Zack. I know this is hard to hear, but you really, how do athletes put it, you can’t hold Gillaim’s jock strap. Uh, uh, I know what you’re going to say. Stop. I have three titles for you. Time Bandits. Brazil. 12 Monkeys. Your argument, no matter what it is, is invalid.

secondwatchmenteaserI will give Snyder credit for one thing. His ending is better than either Hamm’s or Moore’s. He is correct when he says it ties into the story better and is more effective in reaching Ozymandias’ goals. And I do grasp the satiric bent Snyder was going for, and I got it when the film first came out. I knew the costumes in the film were meant to be a commentary on the latex, nippleriffic costumes of the first Batman franchise and others. However, the other changes did not work quite as well. The extended sex scene totally misses the point of the Dan/Laurie pairing from the novel and has the strong odor of crass titillation to appeal to the lowest common denominator (and also shoots a hole in Snyder’s claim about being interested in being true to the tone of his source). And having the heroes, all essentially athletes at the top of human potential, be able to kick bad guys six feet in the air or turn bricks to dust with their punch was very distracting from the narrative.

But outside of this, the film is way to faithful to the source material. That criticism is valid. What many comic fans (or fans of any media that is adapted to film) fail to realize is that films are different from comics. There’s a different machinery at play. What works in a 12-issue miniseries will not work in a 2 hour movie.

I’ll admit, the fanboy in me did get a certain amount of glee from hearing dialogue taken directly from the comics repeated verbatim from the mouths of the actors. However, at times the film was less a film, and more a rote, less visceral recap of the graphic novel. I felt myself forming a mental checklist of the plot elements that Snyder was bringing to the screen instead of getting lost in the story, like I should have. And a lot was lost in the translation. Snyder didn’t adapt the elements from the graphic novel, he presented them. And his visual style took a lot away from Moore and Gibbons’ style. The result? It was a faithful adaptation that lost a lot of the grit and gravitas of the original. That’s my main criticism of it.

Wrapping up, I consider the Terry Gilliam Watchmen one of the classic lost films that we’ll never have the opportunity to see. If he was able to make the adaptation work,I doubt that the final product would have resembled the Sam Hamm script in the least. It might not have resembled the comic either, but it would have been inventive and imaginative. But we will never know what we would have got because we didn’t get it. Therefore, it’s silly for Snyder to say his version is better than the one we would have received from Gilliam. But the fact that he felt so threatened as to say that really says a lot about Snyder and his personality. And what it says is not very nice.

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UPDATE: Stephen Amell Addresses JUSTICE LEAGUE News Stories

Posted on 23 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

stephenamell2Big day on updates to yesterday’s stories, isn’t it?

We have another update to that Justice League story we ran yesterday. Stephen Amell took to his personal Facebook page to rant about how the media twisted his words around to create a story out of nothing:

Something I need to get off of my chest.

When I do press, I try and be open, honest and thoughtful. That being said… I find it incredibly discouraging to see a headline like the ones I’ve been seeing this morning. Headlines that aren’t just a stretch, they’re totally fabricated. At no point, have I had “studio level” discussions about any feature films at Warner Bros.

In this particular instance, when I read articles that take a pretty straightforward answer and slap a title on it that has little to no correlation to what I’ve actually said, it makes it seem as though I’m disrespecting my current position. Which is bullshit. And why would I do that? I mean… I’m not the smartest dude in the world. (After all… I picked a career in acting.) But would I really just casually subvert a process cloaked in secrecy? A process – by the way – being run by the company who currently employs me. C’MON!

We’re making a kick ass show. We will continue to make a kick ass show. And I will continue to interact and provide interesting content for our fans. Because I love our fans. If every once and a while, some dickweed wants to pull a headline out of thin air to generate page views, then that’s the price we pay.

Now, let me preface this by saying that I subscribe to Amell’s Facebook page and I think for the most part, he’s a straight-shooter. I like Arrow and think he does an excellent job on the show. So I have no hidden animosity towards him. But I have to call shenanigans here.

Let me explain. I’ll start off by reprinting the pertinent quote in question, taken word for word from the Fandango site yesterday when I wrote the article:

I have had discussions, but I think the gestation process for this project is a lot slower than most people think. I mean, they haven’t even shot the next one. They haven’t even shot a frame of the movie before the movie everyone thinks is the Justice League movie!

That part of his quote is conspicuously absent from the story on the site as of right now. There is no reason given for why the text was altered or that part of the quote was removed. But the point is that that quote actually was part of that article yesterday, as reported by many, many, many other sources. Having it removed does not mean it was never there in the first place.

Furthermore, that was a direct quote attributed to Amell. It wasn’t a reworking of what he said, it was what he said. And he’s right. He didn’t specifically say that he had “studio-level” discussions. But he did say that he did have discussions. So that part, at the very least, wasn’t fabricated (unless the entire quote was). And it might be a stretch to say that he had these discussion with the studio, but not much of one. That is the context of the quote. I mean, who else WOULD he have discussions about bringing Oliver Queen to the big screen with?

And notice that Amell makes a point of attacking the “headlines,” not the original quote. Granted, the third paragraph of his diatribe seems to go with the idea that his original quote ceased to exist when Fandango removed it, but he never explicitly says that the original quote was a fabrication, just that he didn’t say he had studio level talks, which wasn’t what his original quote said anyway.

And what part of the original article was making it look like he was disrespecting his current position? The part of the quote that remains where he says that the important thing is his TV show?

In other words, I think Amell is dancing a fine line here, trying to show outrage without ever truly saying that he was misquoted. In my opinion, just judging by his overreaction  to his original quote, I think that these talks really did happen. Maybe that original quote was supposed to have been off the record and that Fandango ran with it anyway. That would be a breach of journalistic ethics, but not as big of one if the fabricated the quote out of thin air for page views. And if they did that, Fandango should have ran a retraction and an apology for it, and the writer, Scott Huver, would have been canned. As far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened. But I think, and this is purely speculation and opinion on my part, that Amell said these things, got called in the “principal’s” office (if you will), got read the riot act (up to and including having his job threatened), and is trying to do damage control.

I could be wrong. But that is what my gut is telling me.

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UPDATE: Gal Gadot’s Three-Picture Deal Does Include WONDER WOMAN Film.

Posted on 23 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

tumblr_mc7femyMba1runamko1_1280Yesterday, we reported on the interview that Gal Gadot had with an Israeli entertainment news program where she confirmed that she was signed up for a three-picture deal with Warner Brothers. In the article, we questioned if a standalone Wonder Woman film was one of those three films and if such a small commitment was a sign of little confidence in the actress. Luckily, Variety reported on the same interview, and since their connections are far better than mine, they were able to answer those questions.

First off, they confirmed that Wonder Woman is the third film of the deal after Batman vs. Superman and Justice League. Second, the trade confirms that there was in fact for such a low number of films in that contract:

Limiting the deal to three pictures makes sense for Warners, since the studio still doesn’t know how auds will react to Wonder Woman in the untitled Batman-Superman movie. Since its taken so long to find the right parts to make a Wonder Woman movie work, WB and DC don’t want to rush into a large commitment if fans are still not drawn to a standalone movie featuring the character.

See, just when you think that Warners/DC might have actually gotten their act together and were prepared to make a solid run at Marvel for comic book movie dominance, they pull the same shoddy, half-assed, stupid movie studio tricks they have been doing for decades. Instead of putting the time, the effort and the creative energy into giving us a Wonder Woman that the audiences can’t help to be drawn to, they decide to low-ball with an actress with a limited resume, unproven acting skills, a heavy accent, and whose main assets to the production is that she is pretty and comes cheap. They throw her in the mix, cross their fingers, and hopes it sticks. And if it doesn’t? Hey, they tried. I’m sure they’ll blame the the character. I can almost see the articles now! “Wonder Woman just doesn’t work as a character, says Warners exec”!

Warners might have a lack of confidence in Wonder Woman, but I have a lack of confidence in them. And there’s a whole lot more evidence backing me up.

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Your DOCTOR STRANGE Casting Rumor Of The Day: Jon Hamm IS Doctor Strange!

Posted on 16 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

jonhamm Okay, these Doctor Strange casting rumors have got to stop.

The latest casting rumor is from a site called The Infamous who states that Jon Hamm has been cast, no, not in talks or negotiations, but cast as Doctor Stephen Strange in the forthcoming Marvel film.

Forget about the fact that the last casting rumor was debunked by saying that they were completely overhauling the script. Or that the earliest the film will arrive will be in two and a half years. No, according to this guy’s sources, Hamm already has a contract for a film that probably won’t even arrive for more than three years.

Yeah, I’m not buying it.

Listen, running a news website depends on click, and Dr. Strange casting rumors are high click currency. But there’s got to—

Excuse me, my phone is ringing. Wait a sec…

benedictcumberbatchOh my god, you’re not going to believe this, but I just got off the phone with a woman who used to work with Kevin Feige’s mom, and she says Benedict Cumberbatch has just signed to play Dr. Strange! He’s definitely one of the hottest “geek cred” actors in the biz today, and a name everyone wants on their team.

But what about the rumors he was going to sign up for the new Star Wars films? Well, my source says: he still is!! Then they said something that just about curled my hair. I can’t bear to repeat it, but it rhymes with “smoss smover.” Can you say “Dr. Strange, Jedi Knight?” I JUST DID!

Hold on. My computer just told me I have mail. Which is strange because I don’t have an AOL e-mail account….

hughlaurieOh my stars and garters! I just got an e-mail from a pizza delivery guy who dropped off a Meat Lovers Special to Avi Arad.  The guy got two tips: a crisp $100 bill and a the fact that Hugh Laurie is in talks to play Stephen Strange! He’s moving from Dr. House to Dr. Strange!

What’s more, this casting was a package deal. Laurie would only do the film of he could bring a friend along. Yes, wait for it, Strange’s manservant Wong will be played by…..Stephen Fry! It seems that from Ant-Man on, the Marvel films will be of a more comedic bent. Does this mean we can expect Rowan Atkinson for Baron Mordo? Oh, I certainly hope so!

Ach! Facebook just beeped at me. Let me see what’s up.

tomcruiseGreat googily moogily! A guy who just got arrested for going through Joss Whedon’s garbage just sent me a Facebook message. He says he found top secret documents that the guy Marvel has made an official, no-holds barred offer to is none other than…..Tom Cruise! I feel the need…the need for supernatural screeds!

Apparently,Cruise has been wanting to do a superhero film for the longest time. Remember, he was involved with Iron Man during its early days. And it looks like the stars have aligned to bring Cruise on the project.

The rest of the message was hard to read–the guy obviously had autocorrect problems–but it appears Cruise is requesting some changes to the source material. Based on some pamphlets my source found, Dr. Strange will no longer be the Master of Mystic Arts but a Grand Level in the Study of Science (that’s what -ology means, right? Study of? The message said Science-ology). Also, Strange will not be facing off against Dormammu, but, instead, Dormamm-Xemu.

Oh boy!My phone just buzzed that certain buzz it does when I get a text. Let me check that and I’ll be right back.

merylstreepJumping Jehoshaphat! I have just got a scoop that is so big and so game changing that I would find it hard to believe if it didn’t come from such a trusted source (a guy who bagged Robert Downey Jr’s groceries that one time at Whole Foods).

Ladies and gentlemen, the search for Strange has not just turned serious, it has turned Oscar-winning serious. The latest name at the top of Marvel’s list to play the good doctor is none other than Oscar winning actress Meryl Streep!

While this is certainly going to cause controversy amongst fans of the comics, I have been told that Strange being played by a woman will be explained by in the film by having the character lose a “Gender Change Spell Challenge” to another sorcerer in her early days the Ancient One’s apprentice. This, my source says, is reliant purely upon the availiability of Rutger Hauer to play the male version of Dr. Strange.

My source tells me that all is left to do is to work on a perks package and determining which accent Streep is allow to use for the character and it’s a done deal.

CRASH! Oh, my! Someone just threw a rock with a note tied around it through my window! That’s scary because I live on the second floor of an apartment building with no windows open to the street. That couldn’t have been easy. Well, if they went through all that fuss, it must be something important. I’ll see.

peterhootenHokey smokes! I just got another rumor! It was from someone who wants to remain anonymous, but says he once got an autograph off of Stan Lee! The note reads “Go To Amazon.” Somehow, I know exactly what this means. Sometimes film companies list their films on Amazon even before the film comes out in theaters. You can get good spoilers that way!

And what good spoilers it is! It doesn’t get any more official than this!I am proud to announce, for the first time anywhere, that the actor playing Doctor Strange will be…Peter Hooton! I mean, it says it right there in the Amazon listing! Peter Hooton is Stephen Strange! There’s no way that can be wrong, can it!

I have to admit, this guy is a relative unknown to me. A quick perusal of the Google says that the actor had a role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds ( I think. The film was spelled Inglorious Bastards in the page results I saw, but that has to be a misprint, right?) And, as you can see to the picture to the left, the producers have already made it to the costume testing part of the production. Apparently, judging by Hooton’s hairstyle and clothing, the film will be a period piece, set in the 1970s.

Now, I didn’t bother reaching out to Marvel or these actor’s representatives for confirmation, because I expected nothing but denials all around. Just remember when any–or all–of these actors are your next Doctor Strange, that you heard it here first!

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Would You Buy A Used Car From Bill “Jett” Ramey?

Posted on 08 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

3148BE99-D275-33DD-E2C540EDC63375BANow, the “rumor-mongering sites” do indeed rub me the wrong way. There are FAR too many of these sorts of outlets that make stuff up just to see the reaction online. They are doing nothing more than throwing sh*t at the wall to see what sticks. There are a three or four sites – who shall remain nameless – that are very successful carrying out such illicit endeavors.

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film, THE BOF MAIL BAG, January 4, 2014

I’d bet a year’s pay – in MONOPOLY money, of course – that the “Amazons” of this cinematic DCU will be descendants of those “ancient Kryptonians” who attempted to set up Kryptonian outposts throughout spacedom thousands and thousands of years ago. Furthermore, I say that Wonder Woman will be powered-down, if you will, relative to Superman because these Amazons have evolved and adapted to living on Earth for hundreds of centuries. And since Kryptonians are produced without any “He’n and She’n” – Jor El and Lara excluded – couldn’t this original Kryptonian on Earth have used this reproductive science to create an all-female race? I say yes!

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film, THE BOF MAIL BAG, January 4, 2014

OK, it’s not funny any longer. In the recent mailbag I did with you all, I speculated on how Goyer/Snyder *might* account for the origins of the Amazons: Decedents of ancient Kryptonian astronauts who were able to create an all-female race due to Kryptonians artificially creating their offspring. It was nothing but a guess — pure speculation and my opinion — and nothing more. Now, many outlets have picked up the “story” and have run it as either me claiming it to be fact or me claiming it’s “inside info/rumor.”

BULLSH*T! I get that people are anxious for BvS news, but this was ridiculous! One dude on one badass outlet went on a tirade/rant over the whole thing which pretty much amounted to an online meltdown directed towards WB.

So once again and for the record, the BOF Mailbags are a fun thing between me and the readers of BOF — not for people to pick up and suggest it’s me reporting “news.” – Jett

-Bill “Jett” Ramey, Batman On Film’s Facebook Page, January 6, 2014

This is not going to be an apology post. Yes, I did write about the Bill “Jett” Ramey’s “mailbag” post yesterday, including his speculation that the New Wonder Woman would be Kryptonian. But I was sure to present it as speculation (Actually, I called it a theory), and I buried it in the story. It wasn’t part of the title or the excerpt that runs on the front page of the site (in retrospect, a tactical error seeing how much traction this article got). Yes, I did discuss the possibilities such a change would allow,  but never reported it as fact nor did I even call it a rumor.

But I did say that the blurb would cause a controversy, and cause a controversy it did. We weren’t the only one to run with the story. It also appeared on io9, The Mary Sue, blastr, The Outhouse, IGN, Comic Book Resources,, BadAss Digest, and even more mainstream venues such as Yahoo! Movies UK and Moviefone. And I’m sure that there are many more out their too. And many of these articles rail against the idea as being very, very stupid.

Ramey’s complaints against these sites, saying that they are presenting his speculation as news or insider information, doesn’t sit well with me. All the examples above either make a point to say that this is speculation or copy the paragraph where he mentions Wonder Woman is a Kryptonian verbatim, including the part where he makes it clear it is only a bet (using Monopoly money, no less). Granted, some point out Batman On Film’s great track record and Ramey’s supposed connections, but none say explicitly that this is scoop or news. But even if they did, could you blame them?

Let me explain.

bof-600See that above? That’s the header that ran with the mailbag. Note the words “authoritative” and “definitive.”  This is how the site advertises itself. It is presenting itself as an authority on Batman On Film.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis presentation continues in the mailbox post as well.  Ramey makes the point that he has visited the set of at least one Batman film. He also states he participated in a Burbank press junket for Man of Steel and attended its premiere in New York.  These are all things that typically only people with connections to studios or producers have.

Also, Ramey makes some very definitive statements in the post. Lex Luthor will be in the film, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter will not. There will be a second villain that he knows the name of, but cannot say. There is no equivocation in these statements. Ramey presents them as facts.

And Batman on Film has published scoop in the past that no other site has, most recently the uniforms used in the football scene for the sequel.

This is empirical evidence that Ramey has some connection to the studio or to the production. While this doesn’t mean that his speculation is automatically fact, it does raise it to at least the level of an educated guess. It gives what he says, be it a news item, a rumor or a speculation, legitimacy. It gives it weight. It makes it newsworthy. Ramey should have known that.

And he also should have known how the Internet would react when they heard his speculation. He’s already written an op-ed piece about it on his site.  The fact that news sites, bloggers and regular fans would explode over such a major change to Wonder Woman’s history should have come as no surprise to Ramey.

And don’t get me started on his assertion that the BOF mailbags are not news and just a fun thing just between him and his fans. If that truly was the case, then he should have housed it on a message board or a usenet group (do they still have those?) or through an e-mail chain. No, he housed it on his site for public consumption, right next to other news items, opinion pieces, and rumors. The BOF Mailbag and all content therein became fair game for outside commentary and dissemination.

I’m not saying that the entertainment news media or the comic film fandom is blameless. One feeds off the other, and the food is gossip in any shape or form. But Ramey should shoulder some of the blame in this debacle himself. He threw some chum into the shark infested waters and he should have known better. As I told a friend of mine, the situation Ramey created was like an experienced pyrotechnic who throws a lit match into a bucket of gasoline and then expressed outrage and disbelief that it exploded.

So, in my opinion, Ramey playing the victim card, expressing outrage on how his words were twisted in order to infuriate fans just doesn’t hold true. He should have known his speculation would be widely picked up and distributed, that people would take it seriously, and react poorly to it.

Hopefully he can find a way to work past his anger and learn to enjoy the boost in unique visitors to his site that all this brouhaha will bring.

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