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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Man And Iron Man

Posted on 01 August 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, we cover the event that changed the world of films forever–the formation of Marvel Studios.

MarvelStudiosLogoIn 2004, films based on Marvel Comics characters were lighting up the box office. Once a laughing stock in Hollywood, where if a Marvel film actually got made it it was a flop, the Marvel characters became cinematic gold. However, through the deal Marvel made to get its characters on the screen, they did not have complete control of the films being made, only got a sliver of the profits and were at the whim of other studios as to when the films were scheduled. Marvel decided that it was time to take more control of its cinematic output.

MarvelCharactersMarvel brokered a loan with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. for $525 million dollars with the rights to ten movies as collateral. Today, this deal looks like a can’t miss proposition. But back then, it was incredibly risky. The main reason why it was so risky can be seen in the ten properties Marvel used as collateral/intended to make films out of. The biggest name of the ten was Captain America. The rest of the list were filled by B-list characters such as Nick Fury, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Cloak & Dagger, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Power Pack and Shang-Chi. The tenth concept was The Avengers, Marvel’s supergroup which likely would bear very little resemblance to comic book version of the team.

Why? Because at the time the loan was taken out, the rights a majority of Marvel’s most popular characters, including many longtime members of the comic book Avengers, were owned by other studios. Fox owned the rights to the X-Men and Marvel’s mutant characters, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Sony/Columbia owned Spider-Man, Ghost Rider and Thor. New Line held the rights to Blade and Iron Man, Lionsgate the rights to the Punisher and Black Widow and Universal the rights to the Hulk. And the nature of these rights agreements, signed by a Marvel that was desperate to see its characters in movies, was that the studios would hold the rights as long as they kept making films with the characters, unless they were willing to give up the rights or sell them back to Marvel.  This left Marvel with a catalog of little known characters and the prospect of and Avengers film that would not feature founding members Hulk, Iron Man or Thor.

Perhaps Marvel knew something the world didn’t, as the film rights to some of their characters started coming back to them. They got Iron Man back in 2005, Hulk and Thor in 2006, and Black Widow sometime after. While these weren’t Spider-Man or the X-Men, characters that might never revert back to Marvel Studios, they were characters that were more known by the general public than Hawkeye or Shang-Chi.

Marvel knew this and almost immediately put Iron Man into production. The film would be the first released through Marvel Studios’ distribution agreement with Paramount Pictures.

ironman-posterNot that Iron Man was a slam dunk option. The property had spent 16 years in development hell before Marvel got the rights back, being dumped from Universal to Fox to New Line in the process. Directors ranging from Stuart Gordon to Nick Cassavetes had been attached to the project, but no one could seem to capture the essence of the character. However, this all changed when Marvel got its hands on it.

The formula Marvel used to become a cinematic juggernaut is on display from the very beginning. It picked Jon Favreau for a director, whose limited resume at the time had fans complaining about the selection. For Tony Stark, a role that had caught the eye of such highly-paid luminaries as Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise, Favreau hired Robert Downey Jr., an Oscar-nominated actor who was in the midst of climbing out of the deep hole his noted drug abuse had left his career in. Before the film came out, these seemed like incredibly risky choices. After the film came out, they were seen as strokes of brilliance.

The film also establish the trend of casting actors with Oscar-pedigrees in supporting roles, in this case Jeff Bridges as villain Obidiah Stane, Terrence Howard as best friend James Rhodes, and Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow as assistant/love interest Pepper Potts.  It also established that while Marvel would be making changes to the source material to make a better film, it would keep the tone of the work intact.

ironmanThe film features arms developer Tony Stark in Afghanistan, demonstrating a new weapon he designed. Things take a turn for the worse when his caravan is attacked and he is kidnapped. In the attack, a piece of shrapnel is lodged close to his heart, and he has to design a reactor to keep it in place. This reactor, which he wears on his chest, also comes in handy when he needs to build a suit of armor to escape his captors.

Stark returns home a changed man. He decides to move his company away from building weapons of war while he continues to refine his armor to use as a weapon of peace. But doing away with weapons manufacturing does not sit well with  Stark’s mentor and partner, Obidiah Stane, especially since he was illegally selling arms to terrorist organizations around the world. Stane decides to build an armor of his own and confront Tony in order to finish the job the terrorists started.

The film also started another trend in comic book films–the post-credits button scene. Iron Man ended with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) telling Tony Stark about an “Avengers Initiative.” Regular audiences were intrigued and comic fans swooned.

The film was an enormous success, both critically and financially. It made $585 million worldwide against an $140 million budget, allowing Marvel to pay back a big chunk of that loan almost immediately. It also set the world on notice–Marvel Studios would be a force to be reckoned with.

incredible hulk posterThe next Marvel hero to get the Marvel Studios treatment was Hulk. Marvel got the rights for the character back after Universal missed the deadline to put a sequel to Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk film into production. Universal would still retain the distribution rights to the film, but the movie would become the second Marvel Studios production.

While Hulk made a profit of about $107 million, Ang Lee’s artistic choices did not sit well certain fans or Marvel executives. So Marvel decided to take the risky choice of doing a reboot of a film that had just released only five years prior.

Actually, The Incredible Hulk was less a pure reboot than an ipso facto sequel to the popular 1970’s TV series, with tone and plot elements similar to that work. The film also could work as a soft reboot/sequel, as the character is in hiding in a foreign land at the start of the film, which was where the character was at at the end of Ang Lee film. That is, if you were eilling to ignore the changes made to the origin to fit with Marvel’s shared universe.


Louis Leterrier stepped into direct and Edward Norton signed on to replace Eric Bana as Bruce Banner as well as take a pass on Zak Penn’s screenplay (this will become more important later on). Once again, Marvel looked to the list of Oscar winners and nominees to fill their supporting roles, casting Oscar nominee Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/Abomination and Oscar winner William Hurt replacing Sam Elliot as General Ross.

NortonHulkHeader1The film tells that Bruce Banner was experimenting with gamma radiation in order to replicate the experiment that gave Captain America his powers during World War II (an easter egg later deleted from the film showed the Hulk passing by a block of ice in Antarctica that looked like it had Cap in it). Unfortunately, an accident exposes Banner to a great deal of radiation, cursing him to become a large green behemoth every time his heart rate goes up. Banner goes on the run to try and find a cure for his condition, while General Ross chases after him to bring him back as he considers the Hulk to be government property.

Robert Downey Jr. turns up in the tag scene as Tony Stark, informing General Ross about the Avengers initiative, thereby officially creating the shared universe the Marvel films reside in.

The film was more of a conventional comic book film than Hulk–no split screens, no exploration of daddy issues–and was obviously intended to lead to a sequel. However it became the only Marvel film in release not to have one. The film was just about as much of a success as the 2003 version, and sequels were talked about, but none came from it as of yet.

Part of this was might be due Norton’s insistence on being involved in the writing. Norton was replaced in the role of Bruce Banner in The Avengers by Mark Ruffalo, and Norton’s wanting a hand in the creative side of the film was rumored to be the reason. However, Norton had company as being an actor that was replaced by Marvel.

IronMan2PosterIron Man 2 introduced James Rhodes’ alter ego War Machine into the films, but it was Don Cheadle, not Terrence Howard donning the armor. Marvel parted ways with Howard in October of 2008. Howard said in a 2013 interview, still stinging from the dismissal five years later, that Marvel came to him to force him to reduce his salary. Howard was the first person signed for the film, and therefore received the highest salary. He balked at the idea of a pay cut, so Marvel got someone else to play Jim Rhodes.

Howard blamed his ouster on a cash grab by Downey Jr. (“It turns out that the person that I helped become Iron Man, when it was time to […] re-up for the second one took the money that was supposed to go to me and pushed me out,”he said in the above interview), but other sources claim that Jon Favreau, who reportedly did not like working with Howard, was the “villain” in this piece. But, in the end, Marvel simply replaced one Oscar nominee with another, with Cheadle providing more in the role than I think Howard would, in my opinion.

Cheadle was not the only new face in the film, and not the only one who would have a bigger role to play in the cinematic universe.

ironman2blackwidowIn this one, Tony is dealing with the repurcussion of announcing he was Iron Man at the end of the last film, a process made more difficult as he discovers that an element in arc reactor that keeps him alive is killing him. His life is further complicated by Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of a former partner of Tony’s dad who blames the Stark family in his family’s misfortune.

Vanko is aided by Stark’s business rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) who hopes to eliminate his main competition. Luckily, Tony has some new allies on his side as well, including his buddy Rhodey in a version of Stark’s armor dubbed War Machine and a seductive S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. the Black Widow played by Scarlet Johansson. The tag scene begins what would become the trend in these sort of scenes from then on. It features Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) in the middle of the desert, finding what would be Thor’s hammer. From then on, the tag scene would act as a tease of the next film in the line.

The film didn’t do as well in reviews (although, it had a hard act to follow) but did well enough financially to get a sequel. We’ll talk about that in two installments, but next we wrap up Phase I when Cap and Thor join the party, and The Avengers are finally united.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER Fallout – Where Does The Marvel Cinematic Universe Go From Here? (Spoilers)

Posted on 04 April 2014 by Rich Drees

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If you’ve already seen this weekend’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier you know that the film kicks over a lot of apple carts in terms of the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And if you haven’t seen it already, you should probably stop reading right now because we’re going to spoilers in the very next sentence.)

As a result of the film’s storyline, the Marvel Universe’s spy organization SHIELD lies in tatters, broken apart after Captain America discovered that HYDRA, the Nazi splinter organization founded by the Red Skull in the first, World War Two era set Captain America film, had spent the last 60 years or so infiltrating its ranks, preparing a long game to seize control of the country. But since SHIELD has been a visible presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the first Iron Man film (2008) to this point, their absence is just one dangling plot point at the end of the film that will hopefully be addressed in upcoming films. Let’s take a lot at a few –

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1. No more SHIELD. That this is also a rather monumental turn of events for a couple of reasons. On the creative side, this, and to a lesser extent the death of Frigga last year in Thor: The Dark World, clearly shows that Marvel is not afraid to shake up what might appear to be the status quo of their films, giving future films a sense of danger you might not normally find in other franchises that are less adverse to upsetting a winning formula. On the story side, we’ve seen in both the films and on the Agents Of SHIELD TV series that the spy organization has also been tasked with policing the world’s superheroes. With them out of the picture, that lack of oversight is bound to raise concerns with the general public. As most comics fans will tell you, concerns about powerful vigilantes running amuck and endangering civilians’ lives is one of the motivating factors in Marvel’s big Civil War miniseries from 2006-2007, which many fans seem to want to play out on the big screen.

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2. Nick Fury has gone underground. With Fury seemingly no longer a player on the superhero scene, there doesn’t appear to be anyone to advocate for them to the World Security Council and presumably various national governments. Iron Man 2 and The Avengers hinted that those in power are nervous about the heroes and the strength the posses. (Though granted some of that fear could have been stoked by HYDRA.) Without his reassurances, some of those governments’ nervousness might grow and we could very well see a resumption of the superpower arms race we saw in Iron Man 2. It should be noted that Fury has gone off the grid before in the comics, most notably in one of the lead ups to the Marvel’s Secret War even from 2004-2005. And the fall out from that storyline led directly into Civil War.

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3. Captain America knows who killed his old friend and SHIELD co-founder Howard Stark, Tony Stark/Iron Man’s father. One of the big reveals of the extent that HYDRA had been silently shaping events in the Marvel Universe was that the Winter Soldier was the one who killed Howard Stark, making it look like the automobile accident everyone thought it was. What kind of threat Stark posed to HYDRA isn’t delved into further, though it might be an easy guess to assume that he was close to discovering HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD. It will be interesting to see how Tony will react when he learns the news, but I can easily see how he can come into conflict with Cap/Steve Rogers, who is dead set on seeing the Winter Soldier/his old friend Bucky Barnes redeemed.

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4. Might Avengers 3 not be the confrontation with Thanos that everyone is assuming that it will be? As you can see from the previous three points, it certainly can appear as if Marvel is putting some pieces into places very similar to the way things were at the start of the Civil War comics miniseries. But does that mean that we’ll being seeing that particular superhero versus superhero conflict on the big screen? Maybe, but I would not bet money on it. I still think we are fully on our way to Avengers 3 being the throw down between Earth’s mightest heroes and one of the universe’s biggest despots. The reasons are twofold and both have to do more with business considerations than storytelling ones. First is that next month’s X-Men: Days Of Future Past is going to cover some similar story ground covered in Civil War in terms of public fear and distrust of superheroes leading to registration laws and outright conflict and devastation. My feeling is that Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige will want to steer clear of such comparisons in favor of bringing fresh stories to the big screen. Also, Avengers 3 marks the end of the current contract for Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr and it has been hinted that they may want to give the character a bit of a rest before possibly bringing him back with a newly recast actor. I think that an Avengers 3 that draws more from the classic The Infinity Gauntlet comic storyline which featured Thanos as the Big Bad may be the more fitting way to give Downey his last big hurrah over doing Civil War. Besides, the fallout from Thanos attacking Earth in Avengers 3 would be the demonstration of why the planet needs an organization like SHIELD to begin with, opening the door to their re-establishment.

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5. What are they going to call TV’s Agents Of SHIELD now? And what direction is the show going to take? Will Coulson (Clark Gregg) and his team of agents now become some sort of freelance, Marvel version of the A-Team or be considered rogue agents on the run from whomever? Will they be tasked with rebuilding a new SHIELD? The early part of the show’s season was a bit rocky as they took some time to figure out exactly what type of show it was going to be. Now that it seems to have found its groove it would be a shame to see the rug pulled out from under it, forcing it to spend several episodes redefining itself at the beginning of a second, as-yet-unconfirmed, second season.

But perhaps, Agents Of Shield can continue in an unexpected way. Following the positive reception the Marvel One Shot short film Agent Carter got when it was released on the Iron Man 3 blu-ray, there has been some discussion of a possible TV show that would highlight Hayley Atwill’s character of Sharon Carter from 2011’s first Captain America movie as she helped to found SHIELD in the late 1940s/early 1050s. Could Marvel be looking at resetting the show’s second season back in the early days of the spy organization? If so, perhaps subsequent seasons could even be set in different decades with new casts and new storylines, ultimately sketching out a whole secret history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There is a successful precedent for changing characters/location/storylines every season in FX’s popular American Horror Story, so why not steal a page from Ryan Murphy’s playbook here?

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6. Hydra has now been established as the Big Bad terrorist organization of the MCU. Given that Iron Man 3 pretty much saw Tony Stark dismantling the terrorist organization Ten Rings (although the Marvel One Shot short All Hail The King throws that into some doubt), it is conceivable that some other group will be stepping up to fill that void. Winter Soldier gives us Hydra, quietly growing and stretching its tentacles into all manner of government. We know that frequent HYRDA leader Baron Von Strucker was going to be making an appearance in next summer’s The Avengers: Age Of Ultron and now thanks to one of the tag scenes in The Winter Soldier, we know that HYDRA know has Loki’s scepter from the first Avengers film. That is definitely going to be playing a factor as we go forward into Marvel’s Phase Three films starting in 2016.

This week it was announced that Marvel has a broad outline for its films that runs through 2028, which by my estimation means another three “Phases” past the three we already have seen and know upcoming details about. This weekend’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier definitely sets up a new paradigm with the Marvel Cinematic Universe which we’ll see play out into the future, though I suspect that even this new status will be only temporary and as we march through Marvel’s films in the coming years we’ll be seeing more such big shakeups.

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Deconstructing MARVEL: ASSEMBLING A UNIVERSE

Posted on 19 March 2014 by William Gatevackes

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If you saw last night’s Marvel: Assembling a Universe, you probably know what this post is about. If you didn’t here is a list of things that I noticed about the special that will either make to angry or glad you missed it.

1. It was a giant bonus features mix tape: Now, I didn’t go through all my DVD’s and Blu-rays of the Marvel films, but just dealing with the ebb and flow of Robert Downey Jr.’s facial hair, it seems that most of the content of the special was culled from interviews that appeared in bonus offerings with the original films. Granted, there had to be some original content in there, but a lot I know I saw before. I know the special was meant to be a cheap form of advertising, but still…

2. Samuel L. Jackson’s agent’s cold call was the spark that got him cast as Nick Fury: I always believed that Marvel was the one who initiated Jackson’s casting, especially since the Nick Fury character in The Ultimates was based on his appearance. But the special revealed that it was Jackson’s agent calling Marvel and asking if they had anything for him that led him to be cast as Fury. What would have happened if they didn’t make that call?

3. Edward Norton is persona non grata at Marvel: The actor is absolutely nowhere to be seen in any of the clips from The Incredible Hulk. We get several looks at the CGI Hulk from the film, numerous shots of William Hurt’s General Ross, even a brief shot of Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, but no Norton whatsoever as far as I can tell. Even Terrence Howard, whose split with Marvel redefined the term “acrimonious,” is shown in a scene from the first Iron Man. What did Norton do to be so shunned?

4. Bobby Moynihan is apparently a comic book fan and wrote the Avengers sketch when Jeremy Renner hosted: Moynihan pretty much came out and admitted than he wrote the sketch just so wardrobe would build him a Hulk suit. Here is the clip:

5. It didn’t tell us much about Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s starting to trouble me: Marvel has been playing things close to the vest with GotG, and that continues with this special. The film is less than five months away, and this special would be the ideal time to give us more of the plot or what the team is up against. But no, we get the same spiel about them being criminals uniting for a common threat, and 98% of the footage is what we already saw in the trailer. Even the concept art, included below, doesn’t show us anything we didn’t already know. This gives me a bad feeling about the film. Why are they being so coy unless the film is not terribly good and mystery is the only thing that would bring people in?
guardians-of-the-galaxy-star-lord-rocket-raccoon-concept-art

GOTGrocketgrootconcept6. That being said, it seems like Karen Gillian is going all out in her role as Nebula: We do get a better look at Nebula and we see the amount of make-up work Gillian had to do to get into character. This isn’t the type of role that will win her an Oscar, but she should get some recognition for the lengths she has gone for this part.

7. In contrast, we get enough stuff from The Avengers: Age of Ultron to learn a thing or two: Even though only a small amount of filming has been done, we did get a legitimate sneak peek at the film through concept art,which includes:

avengers-age-of-ultron-hulk-black-widow-concept-artHulk and Black Widow fighting back to back with a building up in flames behind them.

avengers-age-of-ultron-quicksilver-concept-artOur first look at Quicksilver, which is in line with the comic book look but with a more realistic feel to it. It looks like Marvel is steering clear of the white hair for their version, which, after seeing in on X-Men: Days of Future Past‘s Evan Peters, seems to be a wise decision. Also notice that it seems like he is speeding his way through a battalion of robots, another indication of how Ultron will make his presence felt in the film.

avengers-age-of-ultron-scarlet-witch-concept-artAnd we also get a look at the Scarlet Witch. Her costume is quite a break from any comic book version of the costume, but still has a European gypsy feel to it. I’m also getting a “Dark Phoenix” vibe off of her.

avengers-age-of-ultron-iron-man-hulk-concept-artFinally, it appears that the bromance between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner is at an end, as their alter egos square off on the streets of Johannesburg, South Africa. Is Tony trying to being an out of control Hulk in, or is the Hulk being attacked by an Ultron controlled Hulkbuster Iron Man suit?

8. We get little from Ant-Man: I can understand the logic of going light on the Ant-Man stuff,since the film is over a year away. But I was expecting a little more than bits and pieces of the special effects test reel. I would have liked interviews with Edgar Wright, Paul Rudd or Michael Douglas. Oh well.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Non-Comic Book Superhero, Part VII

Posted on 17 May 2013 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 examine why original superheroes are the best choice for film comedies.

If the Batman TV series taught us anything, adapting a comic book in a humorous way is a dicey prospect. Comic book fans still wince whenever that series is mentioned because it dared to make a joke out of Batman in particular and comic books in general. We comic book aficionados are pretty sensitive when it comes to people not taking the medium we consider sacrosanct seriously.  We don’t want Jack Black playing Green Lantern. We don’t want Bat Credit Cards. And while we don’t mind humor where humor is appropriate (see The Avengers), we don’t want Hollywood to create a comedy out of something that was never intended to be funny.

blankmanThis isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of tropes and trademarks in comic books that lend themselves to comedy or parody. That’s where original heroes come in. When filmmakers use original concepts to point out the humor inherent in comic book conventions, not many comic fans get up in arms. If the film is good or bad, a hit or a flop, it doesn’t mean one of their beloved comic book properties is affected in any way.  And the hit to flop ratio typically favors the flop side of the equation with a lot of these comedies.

1994’s Blankman was a parody that took skewered look at the science-based superhero origin. Like Batman, Blankman lost a loved one to violent crime (his grandmother). He, like Batman and also Iron Man, is a technical genius with a skill for building gadgets and gizmos. However, unlike those heroes, he is not a suave millionaire who lives in a mansion, but rather a socially inept appliance repairman who lives in a crime-riddled inner city neighborhood. He doesn’t have hi-tech Batarangs, he has a boot on a stick attached to some rope. He doesn’t have a computerized suit of armor, he has a robot sidekick named J-5 he jury-rigged out of an old washing machine.

While there is humor in the concept and one part of the ads did make me chuckle (the part where Blankman telling his brother/sidekick that he is certain J-5 will come rescue them, then quickly cuts to the awkward robot unsuccessfully negotiating a flight of stairs, sure to be reduced to a pile of gears at the landing below), I have to admit that I never saw this film. Damon Wayans, who co-wrote the movie with J. F. Lawton, plays Blankman in the manner of a more ribald Jerry Lewis. Blankman was more supergeek than superhero, and in the most annoying way possible.

ExgirlposterThe horrible ex-boy/girlfriend is a film staple, in both comedies and dramas. There is a lot of humor to be mined from a relationship gone wrong, a reminder of a mistake that you made or a messy break up that you repeatedly have to pay for.  But what if your ex was a superhero? What if the aftermath of your break up comes with collateral damage and if your jilted ex-girlfriend says she will kill you, it’s well within her power to do so.

That’s the concept behind 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Luke Wilson plays Matt, a man who enters a relationship with a woman named Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman) after rescuing her purse from a purse-snatcher.  It doesn’t take long before Matt realizes that dating the possessive, clingy and passive aggressive Jenny was a mistake, and he breaks up with her. Big mistake, as Jenny is a crimefighter named G-Girl who has Superman-esque powers, a quick temper, and little or no impulse control. Jenny soon decides to devote every second she is not saving the world to making Matt’s life a living hell.

Your enjoyment of this film would probably depend on how willing you were to overlook the fact that Thurman’s character is composed of the worst qualities of every bad girlfriend stereotype there is. Thurman does do her best to try to make a real human being out of the bundle of neuroses, insecurities, and rage, but even at 95 minutes it gets to be too much. Jenny is less a woman scorned and more a shrewish harridan, and the film would have been much better if she was the former.

MPW-33159Not that it mattered. The film doubled its budget in worldwide grosses, so it might have not been that big of a flop in the long run. Its mixed reaction from the critics didn’t keep people away, although it didn’t do quite as well as our next film, which overcame mixed reviews two years later to earn over $624 million dollars worldwide at the box office.

Hancock was once a dark and gritty look at a Superman-like hero who balances his obligation to protect humanity with giving in to his basest instincts—watching porn, alcohol, the whole nine yards. That was when it was called Tonight, He Comes and before it went through the development hell that left us with the neutered result that made it to theaters. In Vincent Ngo’s original script, Hancock was a character that made Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Bad Santa look like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.  The original Hancock was a cop-killer and an attempted rapist, not the kind of character you’d expect Will Smith to play. As a matter of fact, it took even more creative editing to keep the watered down version from getting an R rating.

A miniscule amount of Ngo’s Hancock remains. The character is now a self-loathing, amnesiatic alcoholic whose superheroic deeds often come with multi-million dollar property damage. He is pretty much hated by the whole city of Los Angeles, and the city wants a word with him about all the damage he causes. A chance to improve his image comes when he saves the life of Ray (Jason Bateman), a public relations guru who offers work to improve his negative standing in the community as a sign of gratitude.

Being a comedy up to this point, logic dictates that the story should follow Hancock’s path to redemption.  Maybe a couple of positive PR opportunities Hancock screws up either through fate or his own arrogance. Perhaps a few dark secrets from Hancock’s past that Ray would have to deal with. But it would all lead to Hancock facing off against a threat that is a danger to his city and/or world, a threat he has no chance in overcoming, but he faces it anyway to save lives of the people that hate him. He is eventually victorious—at a cost—but ends up winning over the people who once hated him.

Hancock1Predicatable, yes, and I am anything but a professional Hollywood screenwriter, but that would be better than what we actually received—a turgid 90 degree turn into melodrama.

Ray introduces Hancock to his wife, Mary (Charlize Theron), who, surprise, also has superpowers! Not only that, but comes from the same race of immortals that Hancock does! But wait, it gets better! It turns out that Mary is actually Hancock’s “wife.” Yes, she and Hancock are star-crossed lovers who must remain separate in order to save their lives. Because whenever they get near each other, they lose their invulnerability! That’s why Hancock has amnesia, because he was jumped by a racist in 1928 for daring to be seen in public by his white wife Mary (She left him so his powers would come back and he could heal. Although it seems he didn’t heal completely)!  Now, both of their lives are in danger!

I have no idea why Vince Gilligan, John August and whoever else reworked Ngo’s script tacked on this ending. Maybe they thought it would help humanize Hancock as a character. Or add a bit of social commentary into the mix. Or maybe they sincerely thought the new ending was great. They were wrong on all aspects. No plot points in the second half of the film are properly developed (especially the “becoming vulnerable while being close together” plot point. Don’t get me started on that one).  The second half has a tenuous connection to the first half of the film. So much so, that it’s like Hancock is two separate films awkwardly stitched together, with a garish piece of duct tape put over the seam to keep it together. Hancock could have been a better film, even if they didn’t follow Ngo’s original script to the letter. But as it stands, it is a disappointment. Well to me at least, it has done well enough to earn a sequel, that has been in the works for years.

Speaking of films that are stitched together from other films, let’s talk about Superhero Movie, a 2008 film that parodied the superhero genre.

shm1The film uses Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man as the framework to hang their parody on. It focuses on Rick Riker (Drake Bell) who gains superpowers after being bitten by a genetically altered Dragonfly. He soon comes into conflict with Hourglass (Christopher McDonald), an industrialist who can siphon the life force from other humans to use to make himself stronger.

The film is a step above the typical modern-day parodies such as Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie (not that it’s a high bar to leap over) due to the involvement of Airplane’s David Zucker as a producer and the parody being based around an actual plot. But it pales in comparison to Zucker’s other parodies Airplane, Top Secret and Naked Gun.

If there is an “auteur” of the non-comic book superhero comedies, it is James Gunn. He has been involved in two films that employ a darkly comic look into the superhero archetype in a realistic setting, albeit in two very opposite ends of the spectrum.

In 2000, Gunn wrote The Specials, a film (directed by Superhero Movie’s Craig Mazin)which paints a more corporate world where superheroes are judged less by their abilities that their marketability.

movie3643In the film, the Specials are a lower tier super group. They get to fight the crappy villains, they get no movies made about them, and the only toy company who will make dolls of them doesn’t care enough about them to get their costumes, or even their genders, right. On the day their toy line is introduced, the team’s leader, The Strobe (Thomas Hayden Church) finds out his wife/teammate, Ms. Indestructable (Paget Brewster) is having an affair with the group’s most popular member, The Weevil (Rob Lowe). This causes the team to break up right on the cusp of their greatest (by default) achievement.

The film has a pretty good cast for its budget (@ $1 million). Gunn has a role in the film himself as The Strobe’s brother, Minute Man. The film had a brief life in the theaters before moving on to home video.

The Specials might be a cynical look at what the real world might really have to offer a superhero, but it was a cheery Saturday morning cartoon compared to Gunn’s 2010 film, Super, which Gunn wrote and directed.

super-movie-posterSuper is by far much darker than The Specials, as the black comedy is filled with a world people caught up in the spiral of drug addiction, female on male rape, and where deaths happen in a quick and gruesome fashion. If Gunn has one skill, it would be his ability to get great actors to work with him—at scale no less. This film features Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Kevin Bacon, Liv Tyler, Michael Rooker and Nathan Fillion in its cast. That’s a line up any director would love to have, and the cast raises Gunn’s film to a higher level.

Gunn, of course, is set to direct Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. I am curious to see if Marvel lets him apply his cynical black humor to the property.

Finally, we have Defendor, a film similarly themed and similar in tone to Super.

defendor-posterThe 2009 film is a twisted take on the Batman mythos (and also that of Rorschach of the Watchmen). When he was a kid, Arthur’s mother died after an extended period of drug abuse and prostitution. Arthur’s grandfather blamed his daughter’s death on the “captains of industry,” meaning that a society that favors the rich forced his economically poor daughter into her downward spiral. Young Arthur mistook his grandfather and thought he was saying one person, named Captain Industry, killed his mother. Arthur turned that a lifelong quest to bring his mother’s”killer” to justice through vigilantism.

Aided by a strong lead performance by Woody Harrelson, and with a underrated cast that featured Kat Dennings, Sandra Oh and Elias Koteas, the film did fairly well with critics. However, problems with U.S. distributor Sony caused the film to have only a limited theatrical release in the States.

Next, we finally get back into covering films actually adapted from comic books with a look at everyone’s favorite mutants.

 

 

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Rumor: Renner Being Dropped By Marvel Studios

Posted on 15 May 2013 by William Gatevackes

The-Avengers-Jeremy-Renner-Hawkeye
If ComicBookMovie is correct, it appears that Jeremy Renner did not learn the lessons of Terrence Howard and Edward Norton and will now pay the price for it.

The website is quoting “Hollywood sources” in saying that the actor who played Clint Barton/Hawkeye in both Thor and The Avengers is being dropped by Marvel Studios, mainly due to negative comments he made about his role in the latter film.

Renner was candid in his feelings about the way his character was portrayed on screen in an interview with Total Film magazine:

“For 90 percent of the movie, I’m not the character I signed on to play. It’s kind of a vacancy. [He’s] not even a bad guy, because there’s not really a consciousness to him. To take away who that character is and just have him be this robot, essentially, and have him be this minion for evil that Loki uses … I was limited, you know what I mean? I was a terminator in a way. Fun stunts. But is there any sort of emotional content or thought process? No.”

To be fair to Renner, he does have a point. On the other hand, Hawkeye pretty much serves the same purpose as Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow character, and since Johansson joined the Marvel family first, she gets to play the hero and they had to find something else for Renner to do. That being said, even in the 10% of the film where he WAS the character he signed on to play, he really didn’t make that much of an impression. His quiver had more personality than his Hawkeye did.

But regardless, Marvel has made a point not keeping any actor who is unhappy or unable to work the Marvel way. Terrence Howard was rumored to be difficult to work with during Iron Man. so his role as James Rhodes was minimized in the sequel and he was asked to take a substantial pay cut. He balked and was allowed to walk and Don Cheadle (who was rumored to be Marvel’s first choice originally) took his place. Edward Norton was supposedly so hands-on during The Incredible Hulk that rumor has it he even did script rewrites on set. This didn’t sit well with Marvel or Joss Whedon, so in The Avengers he was replaced with Mark Ruffalo (who was rumored to also be Marvel’s first choice for the role). Hugo Weaving has also been very vocal about  not being excited about his role as the Red Skull in Captain America: The First Avenger and has expressed not being interested in reprising his role in the future. Well, everyone from Toby Jones to Hayley Atwell to Dominic Cooper will be back for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but not Weaving.

All of this makes the rumor very plausible. And all things considered, this might be the best thing for Renner. He has a burgeoning franchise in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters(which made an inexplicable amount of money overseas), appears to be in line to take over the Mission Impossible franchise in the event Tom Cruise ever lets go of it, and while many view The Bourne Legacy as a disappointing entry into the franchise, it made enough money worldwide that he might be in the mix if they continue with it. While, at Marvel, his next appearance would have been in a similar, low-key capacity in The Avengers 2. Hawkeye wouldn’t be even considered for a solo film until 2016, and there are a lot of characters, concepts and ideas in development ahead of him.

The source also brings up the possibility of the character being recast and appearing on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series. If the role is recast, it will probably be with whoever Marvel’s first choice for the role was.

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Iron Man’s Toughest Foe Yet…Ike Perlmutter

Posted on 08 May 2013 by William Gatevackes

Robert Downey Jr. You got to hand it to the Film News Media. They gave Marvel a couple days to bask in the $174 million domestic opening for Iron Man 3 (which brings the worldwide gross to $711 million) before it started addressing the big humongous elephant in the room. The honeymoon is over, however, because Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline all had articles yesterday speculating on the future of Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man.

Iron Man 3 was the last film that Robert Downey Jr was contracted for, and negotiations are set to begin for at the very least Avengers 2 and 3, if not more Iron Mans as well. But Downey might not be just negotiating for himself. The actor, who supposedly got anywhere from $50 million to $80 million in back-end  money from gross points for The Avengers, might be fighting to get his co-stars in that film, some who made as little as $200,000 for their work, a little better payday.

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The reclusive Ike Perlmutter….in 1985

While this might not seem like an unreasonable demand (after all, The Avengers made $1.5 billion worldwide), you have to consider that Marvel is run by the notoriously stingy Ike Perlmutter. Perlmutter’s frugality helped Marvel rise like a phoenix from its bankruptcy to become a vibrant company once again. But he did so by cutting expenses to the bone, including getting rid of everything he deems unnecessary, from booths at comic book conventions (which only came back when the Marvel films started gaining popularity) to extra bathrooms in Marvel offices (only one per gender).

In Downey’s favor is the fact that his three  films earned almost $850,000,000 more than any of the other solo Avengers movies combined, a fact that many pundits attest to Downey’s popularity here and overseas.

However, Marvel hasn’t been shy about replacing troublemakers, especially those clamoring for more money. The studio replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle in Iron Man 2 when Howard asked for more money. And it was rumored that Edward Norton’s penchant for taking a hands-on approach with the script and directing of The Incredible Hulk made him expendable for The Avengers.

Add to this the fact that Downey will be turning 50 by the time Avengers 2 rolls around and 53 if Avengers 3 follows the same release pattern. You figure that Marvel isn’t going to want Downey to play Tony Stark for ever, and if you are going to replace him, why not now?

All this adds up to what sure will be one fascinating contract negotiation. It will probably have more action and excitement than Iron Man 3 (which isn’t saying much).

Developing.

 

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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Highest Of Highs, The Lowest Of Lows.

Posted on 07 December 2012 by William Gatevackes

Back in May, I couldn’t wait to write this column. I started this yearly recap of comic book films mainly as a counterpoint to the number of articles in the mainstream media bemoaning the fact that comic book films exist at all and the journalists who are trying to speed up them going out of favor.

So, when The Avengers broke big, setting all sorts of box office records and becoming not only the highest grossing film of the year, but also the third highest grossing film of all time, I thought 2012 was going to turn out to be one of the best years for comic book films in their entire history.

And it was. But it was also one of the worst years as well.

In the early morning hours of Friday, July 20, James Eagan Holmes entered the crowded Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. The theater was full of fans eager to be the first to see The Dark Knight Rises, the last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. They would become victims of one of the most violent crimes in recorded history. Holmes, dressed in armored clothing and carry numerous firearms with him, opened fire in that crowded theater. By the time shooting had stopped, 58 people would be injured, and 12 people would be killed.

It is impossible to talk about the year in film in any context without talking about the Aurora shootings. The joy of seeing a film in a crowded theaters full of your fellow fans is forever tainted. This type of exuberant film fan became prey that night.

Now, four months on, it is still easy to look back on that night and see only the darkest part of human nature. An evil man methodically came up with a way to kill as many people as he could. It doesn’t get more sinister than that.

But I found that when great darkness shows its face to the world, there is always a bright and shining light that rises up to greet it. It’s natural to focus on Holmes and his despicable acts. But I also look towards the example of Matt McQuinn, who shielded the bodies of his girlfriend and brother with his own, sacrificing his life to save theirs. I look to Jarell Brooks, a young man who was wounded getting a woman and her two small children, people he didn’t know, to safety. I look to Emma Goos, who stayed in the theater to tend to the wounds of an injured victim while the shooting was going on. I look to All C’s Comics Collectibles, the Aurora comic shop that started the Aurora Rises charity to help benefit the victim’s and their families and I look to the numerous comic artists and writers that helped make that charity an ongoing endeavor  I also look to Christian Bale, who, on his own with no fanfare and publicists in tow, visited the Aurora area after to shootings to give his fans whatever comfort he could.

Yes, the Aurora shooting gave us a glimpse of the worst that humanity had to offer, but it also gave us a glimpse of the best that humanity has to offer as well. And while we filmgoers will never be free of the paranoia that night in July caused (especially when just two weeks ago a plot to do a similar shooting in Missouri during a showing of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 was, thankfully, stopped before it could be put into fruition), we should never let that fear stop us from doing the things we enjoy. We might never be able to stop bad things from happening, but we can always be there to help each other out when they do.

Now that I’ve said what I needed to say on that, let’s go back to the frivolous world of comic book films.

List taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com (http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2012&p=.htm)

As of last night, comic book adaptations hold three of the top five spots on the yearly highest grossing films list. I’m sure Skyfall and the aforementioned Breaking Dawn, Part 2 might have some say if The Amazing Spider-Man stays in the Top 5, but even if it does fall out, we will have three comic book adaptations in the Top 10. And that has never happened. The closest we came to that was in 2008 when The Dark Knight and Iron Man were one and two and the original superhero comedy Hancock was number four. Add to that the fact that a sequel to another comic book adaptation, Men in Black 3, was #11 this year and you have a very good year for the comic book film.

Even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a film with a well-deserved 18% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes and which debuted an underwhelming third in its opening weekend was able to make over $132 million worldwide against a $57 million dollar budget. Yes, I am a fan of comic book movies and even I am stunned by that fact. That’s why Nicolas Cage keeps on getting to make movies.

The only true flop of this year’s six comic book adaptations was Dredd, whose $30,931,946 worldwide take was considerably less than its $50 million budget. I can only assume that the Sylvester Stallone version killed just about any interest anybody might have had in the character, which was a shame. I found the film a faithful adaptation of the original source material which held up well as a film on its own.

As lucrative as this year was for the comic book film, it is a year in flux. The Avengers marked the end of the first phase of Marvel’s film slate, and Phase 2 begins next year with Iron Man 3 in May and Thor: The Dark World in November. It will be interesting if they can carry any Avengers momentum over into those releases, or will fans force the studio to prove itself all over again.

And The Dark Knight Rises closes the Nolan era on DC/Warners’ Batman property. They start anew with their Superman franchise with The Man of Steel in June. There’s a lot riding on this new take on the character, as Warners is looking to not only get a franchise to replace Nolan’s Batman films on their docket, but also potentially use the film as a springboard into their planned Justice League film and to bring other DC comic heroes to the big screen.

In addition to those three films, there are at least nine other comic book adaptations scheduled for next year, including Hugh Jackman returning as Logan in The Wolverine, sequels to Red, Kick-Ass,300 and Sin City, and properties from publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom! and other smaller companies. 2012 proved that people still are willing to go to see comic book films. However, odds are that not all of the films released next year will be great successes, so we can expect the mainstream doubters to start the chorus of the comic book films doom next year. But for now, let’s bask in the highs the comic book film rose to, and take a moment to contemplate the lowest lows they experienced this year.

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Open Letter To Warner Brothers: My Reaction To Frank Miller On The JUSTICE LEAGUE Film.

Posted on 26 September 2012 by William Gatevackes

Dear Warner Brothers,

Hi. How are you doing? Good I hope.

My name is Bill. I’m a comic book fan and have been for thirty years. I have been a film buff for almost as long. And I’ve been writing about both worlds for about as long as the Internet has been around, give or take a year or two.

I say this just to provide a little background to you. Because I have been meaning to speak with you in regards to your philosophy towards comic book films. And an article I read today compelled me to not wait any longer.

Over at Bleeding Cool, Rich Johnston relayed an experience from an anonymous comic store employee whose shop was visited by a “fan” who had a pronounced lack of knowledge of comic books, but an overwhelmingly odd knowledge of DC Comics films. This fan, no, wait, let’s call him what he likely was–a badly disguised marketing researcher, asked questions such as “what superhero films have had good Facebook pages?”, “Do you think comic fans would accept a superhero film without Nolan’s involvement, would him serving as a producer suffice?” “What do fans think of Aquaman? He’s lame isn’t he?”, “What is regarded as the strongest lineup of the Justice League and would work as a film?” The marketer closed his survey with an intriguing question: “What would fan reaction be to a Justice League movie with Frank Miller’s name attached?”

I don’t pretend to speak all fans or comics, films, or comic book films. I speak for myself and hopefully other fans agree with my opinion. And my reaction to this news is that it could quite possibly be the worst in a long line of bad decisions your studio has made in regards to its comic book properties.

Now, I understand that you’re in a difficult position. You once had the superhero film market all to yourself with first the Superman films then the Batman films. Then Marvel went from being a laughing stock to becoming the dominant producers of comic book films and you ended up playing catch up. Marvel has just had their most successful film to date with The Avengers and the DC Comics film slate is in a state of chaos. You are rebooting the Superman franchise for the second time in ten years. The Batman franchise is coming off a successful reboot by Christopher Nolan and is in a state of flux. Sure fire franchise starters such as Jonah Hex and Green Lantern ended up D.O.A. at the box office. Suddenly, playing catch up became being so far behind that there is a danger that it isn’t even a race anymore.

And, to be brutally honest, it’s all your fault. The list of failed attempts at rebooting the Superman franchise before you settled on Superman Returns is legendary for how bad the attempts were. I read the original script for Jonah Hex and while it might not have been a hit, it would have been closer to source material. But reading that script, it was easy to see what the studio mandated reshoots got us–Hex’s superpowers and the campy “weapons of mass destruction” plot line. I also read the Green Lantern script and thought it had the potential to be a fun film. Unfortunately, what we got was a film lacking a sense of awe and wonder.

Listen, I can see why you think Frank Miller might be an exciting choice for the Justice League movie, a film that needs some excitement because it meant to act as The Avengers in reverse (Instead of individual superhero films leading up to one big team up movie, you’re having one big team up movie that will hopefully lead to individual superhero films). Miller is a legendary comic book creator and has become a filmmaker as well. He even works with green screen techniques in his directing, which is quick, cheap and one of the reasons why you hired Zack Snyder to do Man of Steel.

But there is one flaw in the idea. the present day Frank Miller is just terrible at what he does. He just is. Now, I have nothing personal against Miller, despite how Wikipedia might make it look. I came in a bit after his storied run on Daredevil, but I was right on time for his Batman:The Dark Knight Returns. I consider that series to be the second best comic book story of all time. But since 2000, Frank Miller has become a case of diminishing returns. I don’t know if it’s because of the auteur syndrome (where creative individuals have been told that they were genius enough times that they figure anything they create is automatically genius so they stop trying) or something else, but Miller’s output in the new millennium–Dark Knight Strikes Back, All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Holy Terror–has been awful.

I mean, have you seen The Spirit? Obviously not, because if you did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Watch it. Okay, that might be asking too much. How about you just go on Rotten Tomatoes and read some the reviews for the film? No, that probably won’t work either. How about you take a look at the earnings for the film?  Money, you’ll pay attention to that. I’ll give you a hint: the reviews were as bad as the grosses–completely horrible.

The Spirit shows what happens when Miller is given free hand to write and direct a comic book film adaptation. He took one of the most quirky and iconic comic book characters in history, paid no respect to the original version, and married traces of the character to his fetishes (namely, film noir and hyper-sexualized femme fatales), a Calvin Klein ad, and force fed the concoction through a MacBook. The result is something the was as awful as you would expect it to be.

And this was a character created by his friend and mentor, Will Eisner! What would he do to the Justice League, a concept he has no emotional attachment to? Well, we do have some idea based on how Miller portrayed the team in All-Star Batman, The Dark Knight Returns and Dark Knight Strikes Again.  Superman will be an ineffectual wimp incapable of independent thought, preferring to be led around by weaker men. Green Arrow will be a raving lunatic hippie. Wonder Woman will be a man-hating harridan. Batman will be a psychotic bastard. And the rest of the League will be made up of either sociopaths or feeble weaklings. In other words, nothing like the casual fan remembers them as being and not the type of characters that would be appealing to everyday moviegoers.

What’s that you say? You’ll never let that happen? Gosh, the only worse thing I can think of other than a Frank Miller Justice League film is a Frank Miller Justice League film after heavy studio meddling.

That fact that you might be considering Miller for this job tells me something I’ve always suspected–you think there’s some hidden secret to doing a successful superhero movie, and, by gum, you’ll try everything until you find it. Jonah Hex doesn’t have powers? All Marvel’s film characters have powers. Let’s give him some. Iron Man was a cocky and arrogant who is unfazed by whatever life throws and wields a powerful weapon. That characterization would work exactly as well for Green Lantern! The Nolan Batman films were dark and gritty. So, making the Superman film dark and gritty would mean that it will be just as successful! Joss Whedon, a Hollywood director who wrote comic books, leads The Avengers to over a billion dollars in box office receipts? Man, then fans would really flip if we got Frank Miller, a comic writer who is a Hollywood director, to do Justice League!

You are right though. There is a proven method of doing a comic book movie right, but it’s no secret. You get a talented and proven director. You get a great cast of actors. You get a great story that respects the source material while standing on its own as a film. You work with the comic book company to make sure the films stay on point. You don’t interfere unless it is to make any of the four prior things happen.  It’s rather simple, but it’s not easy. You need to invest the time, do the due diligence, and trust the people you’ve hired when your only instinct is to overrule them and make unnecessary changes. But if you do that, your films might just be the quality of Marvel’s or Nolan’s.

Thanks for listening to me, Warners. I know I might have come on a bit too strong. After all, you were just pooling opinions. But I just think hiring Frank Miller for Justice League would annihilate any chance you have of ever competing with Marvel’s film output. I felt I had to say something, as a friend, before it was too late.

Stay in touch!

Bill Gatevackes.

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Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists

Posted on 03 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

In this day and age, if you are a form of media that covers another form of media, eventually you will come up with a list. Rolling Stone has put out special, oversized volumes about what songs, albums and guitarists are the best in their eyes. Entertainment Weekly can be counted on at least one issue a year feature a list of some kind, most recently it was the “50 Best Films You’ve Never Seen” and “25 Best Cult TV Shows From the Past 25 years.” And VH1 and E! have made it a staple of their programming.

The reason why they turn to list making is simple–because it’s popular. In a world full of opinionated people, any collated list  that represents the authoritative ranking of anything will get attention. People want their tastes validated. Or, they want to see how wrong these media outlets are. These lists sell copies.  They garner high ratings. They get shared on Facebook. They get linked to. And the more controversial the better, For example, take Sight and Sound‘s yearly poll’s swapping of Citizen Kane with Vertigo and the furor that kicked up.

But sometimes, it appears that there’s more that goes into constructing these lists than just picking the best or worst of a particular medium. Some lists seem to be compiled just to garner controversy. Yes, there will be “no brainer” items on the list, but there will also be notable omissions as well. There will be items included that seems to serve no other purpose than to make people angry. And even if you agree with every item put on and left off, you have the rankings themselves to quarrel over.

A sterling example of this are two lists that have appeared on Newsarama.com, one of the oldest comic book news sites on the Internet, over the last week. One was the “10 Best Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES Of All Time” and the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES of All Time.” Both lists were compiled by the “Newsarama Staff,” and both are controversial in their own right. At best, the lists were sloppily compiled with mind-numbing gaps of logic, at worst, the list were compiled deliberately to anger comic book movie fans and generate controversy.

Here is Newsarama’s 10 Best List:

  1. Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
  2. Robert Downey, Jr, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, & The Avengers
  3. Gary Oldman, Commissioner Gordon, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class
  5. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  6. Tom Hiddleston, Loki, Thor & The Avengers
  7. Chloe Grace Moretz, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
  8. Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
  9. Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Chris Evans, Jensen, The Losers
And here’s their 10 Worst:
  1. Most Everyone and Anyone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies
  2. Halle Berry, Storm, X-Men & Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Catwoman
  3. Billy Zane, The Phantom
  4. Matthew Goode, Ozymandias, Watchmen 
  5. Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  6. Julian McMahon, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four & Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
  7. Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet 
  8. Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  9. Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh, Clark Kent/Superman, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns 
  10. January Jones, Emma Frost, X-Men: First Class

I have serious problems with these lists, problems that go way beyond differences of opinion (although I’ll have to comment on one glaring disagreement because if I don’t, my head will explode). The problems cause me to question the validity of the lists and Newsarama’s intentions. I’ll create my own list of where Newsarama’s logic went wrong, perhaps deliberately.

The lists are “best comic book-based performances” not “Best SUPERHERO comic book-based performances”: Granted, Newsarama focuses mostly on the mainstream superhero genre, and adding another word to the already gangly title would have made it even ganglier, but we have to take the titles of these articles to heart. That means, this should be the definitive list of ALL performances from ALL movies based an ALL kinds of comic books. Yet, there is no Paul Giamatti from American Splendor on this list. Nor is there Thora Birch or Steve Buscemi from Ghost World or Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or anyone else from Road to Perdition. 

I could go on. But what these titles are doing is advertising one thing and selling us another. And that is a recipe that is custom made to generate the kind of “you left XXX of the list” controversy that builds up links.

The Green Hornet? The Phantom? Comic Book-Based?: You’d think a news website with 10 years of independent coverage of the world of comic books would be able to tell what films were made from comic books and which ones weren’t. Baring that, you’d think they’d be able hire writers with an active connection to the Internet and the ability to access Google from it. Newsarama apparently is able to do neither.

The Green Hornet was based on a radio program that began in January1936. The Phantom was based on a comic strip that began in newspapers a few weeks after the Hornet made his first broadcast. . While both were adapted into comic books, neither originated there nor were their comics their most remembered incarnations. Calling The Green Hornet and The Phantom “comic book-based” would be like calling Star Wars and Star Trek comic book-based. And you can find far worse actors than Seth Rogen and Billy Zane in those franchises.

This might seem to be just a matter of semantics. But I believe it is indicative of the hap-hazard way these lists were constructed. Because you don’t have to look too hard to find two more bad performances in a film that was actually based on a comic book.

To Newsarama, “all time” means “within the last 12 years”: With the exception of The Phantom, the Schumacher Batman films, and the early Superman movies, all the films on the list were made after 2000. That means out of over 70 years of comic books being made into films, only a little over a decade of films were being seriously considered.

Yes, there have been a whole lot more comic book films to chose from in the last 12 years. But, as I realized doing my History of the Comic Book Film feature, the comic book film did not begin with X-Men. What? Newsarama couldn’t find a top ten worthy bad performance in SheenaRed Sonja, Howard the Duck or in Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher? And on the good side, what about Brandon Lee’s Crow, Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Wesley Snipes’ Blade? The fact that there wasn’t one performance from the above that made either list is a disservice to what Newsarama was trying to create. It shows tunnel vision, something that handicaps any attempt at creating a comprehensive list.

Their selection process is dubious and abitrary at best:  They pay lip service to the quality work Chris Evans has done in a number of comic book films, yet make a point of telling us that they can pick only one performance of his for the list (and the pick his least well-known role at that). Yet, Hallie Berry gets slammed for playing both Storm and Catwoman. They lump the combined casts of two films as one entry, and two actors who had played the same role almost 20 years apart as another selection.

You get the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along. Or, rather, constructing the rules of selection so that it suited them best.

Take, for instance, this “ground rule” from the introduction to the worst list.

…it would be way too easy and frankly not all that much fun to pick-on a lower class of Hollywood actor in barely feature-quality train wrecks like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or the 1980s Captain America. So yes, Shaquille O’Neal, you get immunity this day.

Okay, I’m no fan of Shaquille O’Neal, and I’m sure he would want his being left off a list of bad actors argued, but the reason Newsarama left him of the list just doesn’t make sense. When Shaq made Steel, he had already made two feature films (Blue Chips and Kazaam). And Steel was a $16 million dollar film made by Warner Brothers, not some film made for $200 and a bag of potato chips in someone’s basement. Could Shaq be considered a “lower class of actor”? Probably. But so could Billy Zane, king of the B-movie. Maybe if Shaq had a small part in Titanic, then Newsarama would have considered him worthy of inclusion.

This is how they defend their position:

Well, Tobey’s Peter Parker was naive and earnest enough, but he just didn’t have Parker’s inner beauty.

Yes. Really.

Putting Christopher Reeve on the list of worst actors might have been done just to anger people: I’m trying not to believe that they’d do something so wrong just to generate site hits, but Newsarama is not making it easy by how they open their defense of their opinion:

Yes, we’re going there, and in advance, we’re genuinely sorry you’re upset.

Yes, they went there, but did they go there thinking their opinion would be controversial, or knowing it would be controversial and get a lot of reaction?

Listen, whenever you have a list like this, there will be items on it that butt up against conventional wisdom. But seldom has there ever been a case where something flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion like Newsarama is is doing here.

If you are going to “go there,” then you’d better have an incredibly strong argument to back up your position. Unfortunately, Newsarama doesn’t.

…Reeve just wasn’t that accomplished a film actor.

In defense of this position we could point to his lack of much of a post-Superman resume, but the truth is now 30-plus years later with a more critical eye we simply don’t find his portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent very much like any Superman or Clark Kent we know… or like, for that matter.

His Clark wasn’t mild-mannered, he was a cartoonish buffoon. His Superman far too earnest and eager-to-please for someone with the power of a god. In short, he was a mild-mannered Superman, frankly lacking in the charisma you’d expect from an actor playing a cultural icon. A more theatrical rather than natural actor, Reeve’s Superman was a caricature of a comic book Boy Scout superhero and not a fully developed character.

Where to begin. Hmmm.

I wonder who this editorial “we” is? Perhaps it is someone who  is 12 and has only known the John Byrne interpretation of Superman. But, the character was around for 50 years before Byrne revamped him. Back when the film was made, the comic book Superman was a more staid version of the one found in the film. The mental image the editorial “we” has of Superman is so contrary to what the character’s image really is that it makes it seem that this entry came from a website that wouldn’t know a comic book if it fell in their lap, not a “respected” comic book news site.

I’m so glad they didn’t use Reeve’s lack of a post-Superman career as their only defense for their position, because is a defense that could be swatted away with one word–typecasting. Typecasting is the reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had less than stellar careers after Star Wars, and why Harrison Ford’s post-Star Wars career is so extraordinary. It is what the cast of the Harry Potter films are struggling with now, and what the cast of Twilight is working hard to avoid. Once you become so associated with such an iconic character, it’s hard for Hollywood to see you in any other role. This was the reason for Reeve’s lackluster post-Superman career, not lack of talent.

But Reeve’s performance was pitch perfect as Superman. I don’t know what the editorial “we” was thinking, but Superman doesn’t stand “Sarcasm, Bullying and Badassery”, he stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Yes, Reeve’s Superman was earnest–and honest and forthright–but that IS Superman. And Reeve played him in such a way that he never was hokey or corny.

As for Clark Kent, Reeve played Kent as a role Superman was himself playing. Superman portrayed Kent as an awkward and bumbling fool so no one would see through the flimsy disguise and put two and two together. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, and if you aren’t able to pick that up, then you have no business talking about acting performances whatsoever.

I have to laugh at the  “30-plus years later with a more critical eye” part. Like that is supposed to win us over, that they’re looking at the performance in a serious manner as an adult, and therefore, he is right. That might have held more water if Chris Sims and David Uzumeri didn’t take a similar look back on the first Superman back in March for rival comic book news site Comics Alliance.  They ripped the film to shreds, but still called Reeve’s performance, and these are direct quotes, “amazing” and “darn near perfect.” So much for that argument.

Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to not believe the trashing of Reeve was done purely to garner controversy. If so, at least it worked. Not only am I talking about it, but also many comic book professionals, the people Newsarama make a living covering, took umbrage with the list as well.

Creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker:

And legendary comic writer Mark Waid:

That tweet set off a Twitter war between Waid and Newsarama editor Lucas Siegel,which is not the behavior you expect from an editor who should be keeping a journalistic distance from one of people he would be covering, but it is the kind of behavior you’d expect if you want add more controversy to the already controversial matter.

Another sign that this whole thing might be hit bait is that they spun of the controversy to another article on the site, an OP/ED piece by frequent Newsarama contributor Vaneta Rogers , glorifying Reeve’s performance and giving yet another page full of ads for Newsarama from the controversial list.

I hope this isn’t the case, that Newsarama is manipulating the popularity of lists to gain hits for itself. Presenting honest, well-formed and well-thought out opinions is always something that should be striven for. But putting out incendiary opinions in a clumsy and hap hazard manner isn’t. And it looks like Newsarama did the latter and is trying to pass it off as the former.

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PHASE ONE: AVENGERS ASSEMBLED 10 Blu-Ray Set Coming Soon

Posted on 01 June 2012 by Rich Drees

Kevin Feige has been fond of noting that the films leading up to the release of The Avengers have only been “Phase One” of Marvel Studios’s overall plan for their cinematic superhero universe. And soon you will be able to own all of those movies on blu-ray in one big 10-disc box set.

The collection, titled Marvel Cinematic Universe – Phase One: Avengers Assembled, has been officially announced yet, but it does have a page over on Amazon where it is available for preorder. Full details won’t be available until July 15, but Amazon is listing that the box will include-

  • Marvel’s The Avengers (Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray)
  • Thor (Blu-ray 3D and Blu-ray)
  • Iron Man 2 (Blu-ray)
  • The Incredible Hulk (Blu-ray)
  • Iron Man (Blu-ray)
  • Bonus Disc – “The Phase One Archives” (Blu-ray)
  • Collectible packaging with exclusive memorabilia from the Marvel Cinematic Universe

When this was first rumored a few weeks back, I have to admit that I was skeptical about it coming to pass considering that the distribution of the films was split between Paramount and Disney. Well, it appears that they have worked out some arrangement and have packed the set with some extra goodies that seem inticing enough that those of us who laready have a majority of the films on blu-ray may think about double-dipping.

No release date has been announced, though I wouldn’tr be surprised if it hit shelves the same day that The Avengers blu-ray does, September 25.

Via Comic Book Movie.

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