What’s to be done with Marvel's less successful film franchises?

News Andrew Blair 7 Sep 2011 - 15:37

With Thor and Captain America hitting big this year, Andrew charts the Marvel films that didn't excite in quite the same way. Do they deserve more love?

Let's start with this: the Fantastic Four films were fine.

They were not intended to be pitch-noir behemoths of thematically driven sense drenching. They are intended to be breezy hokum for children and adults, and in that respect, they are ideal matinee films, respecting their source material. Have you read the early Fantastic Four strips? They're full of dialogue like, “Gee Colonel, who'd have thought that Mr Id was The BOOMerang all along?”

Incidentally, if there hasn't been a supervillain whose main gimmick is exploding boomerangs, then I fully expect to see one in 2000 AD. Forthwith.

The other good thing about the Fantastic Four movies is that you don't need to buy them on DVD, as Film 4 appears to repeat them at least twice a day. It's not like you need the extras anyway – we all know what the extras are like on superhero films: Jessica Alba talking about Sue Storm in the style of a gushing liar, as you think, “I know this already. I know that already. Who are you even making these for?”

The main problem with these films is that they're just bog-standard, average movies. There are thousands of those. Maybe spending such large amounts of money on such films and entertainers' wages is an insult to public sector workers, but that's a problem with society. I am here to write about comics.

If you're going to make a Fantastic Four film now, it needs to be a lot more fashionable than the previous two, and it's going to have to integrate with the new Marvel film universe. Also, it's going to have to be an adaptation of Warren Ellis' Ultimate Fantastic Four N-Zone arc, because if it isn't, I’m going to find and hurt Kevin Feige's brain.

Meanwhile, I would put it to you that there is a place for a PG-rated family film with superheroes in. It could be done better than these two films, but let's not denigrate them for not being The Incredibles. Most films are average, dispensable things, but at least some don't have the pretence of being anything else.

Slightly harder to defend though, is Daredevil. Having only seen the reputedly superior director's cut, I can state, very simply, that the problem with this film is Elektra. She's terrible. Whenever she's on screen the film is embarrassing to watch. Rather than attempt to trade on the goodwill the new cut received, contractual obligations resulted in a spin-off featuring a character who was both dead and annoying.

Director Mark Steven Johnson followed Daredevil with Ghost Rider, which actually did better, commercially, than many give it credit for. Despite the financial rewards being less, a second Ghost Rider is being made before a new Daredevil, even though the latter is also the more popular comic. While the Daredevil film failed to make the most of the comic’s major theme of Catholic guilt, Ghost Rider failed to even make a film starring Nicolas Cage, who plays a character with a flaming skull, insane enough. Fortunately, the new Ghost Rider film is being brought to you by the makers of Crank. Problem solved.

Daredevil, meanwhile, is back on the rumour mill in terms of new casting and new directors. It's got enough depth to tempt people on board who can bring enough intelligence and verisimilitude to it to make it great. This summer’s movies have proven that such people exist within mainstream cinema. It's not like they need to get in someone known primarily for art-house cinema to achieve this. Like Ang Lee.

That the film Hulk exists is amazing. An art house superhero film with lots of quiet, mumbly dialogue and seemingly endless montages of scientific processes, in no way does Hulk treat its audience to an easy ride. It isn't that complicated a film, but it is a slow-paced and thoughtful. It does also have several incredibly vicious set pieces set in unusual locations, and the dialogue in the early part of the film is refreshingly realistic.

However, a superhero with daddy issues is not novel, so is it even worthwhile turning such a trope into a two hour long Greek tragedy with added mutant poodles? Even if you're going over the concept with a fine-tooth comb, it's already a ploughed furrow. Being ball-achingly pretentious about it isn't actually that impressive. It then ends with a combination of cod-Shakespearian shouting match and a scientifically-bollocks-but-thematically-strong-character-moment soon to become familiar to Doctor Who fans.

I'm not likely to watch it again. I'm perversely glad it exists, and that it cost and made roughly the same as the far more mainstream The Incredible Hulk film of 2008. Hulk was rebooted after a single outing, but one thing we can agree on is that it never plumbed the depths of Spider-Man 3 in the process.

I was working in a cinema on the opening night. Five-hundred people decked themselves laughing at the unsubtle insertion of the Stars and Stripes, and Kirsten Dunst's wobbling lip. It's a film that simply can't be forgotten.

This shows, though, that even producing a film with a large fanbase and a decent return in investment is not enough to guarantee a continued series. Certainly, a line has been drawn under earlier movies that doesn't fit into the current Avengers arc as easily, but even franchises like Spider-Man have been restarted after receiving a lukewarm response. Putting most of their eggs in one basket is a risky move, considering the lukewarm response to Iron Man 2. I can imagine a scenario involving Stan Lee, a Mickey Mouse costume, and a drill if this summer's releases had flopped.

It'll be interesting to see how the new Ghost Rider does. It's being released under the Marvel Knights banner, although it was rumoured to have a PG-13 rating (or, in other words, it’s been compromised in terms of its content in order to make more money). Seeing as the previous Marvel Knights film was Punisher: War Zone, you'd expect it to be a bit more violent than that, although ideally it'd also be, you know, good. Possibly the poor box-office showing from the last Punisher film has put them off doing a hard-R film, although that's surely partly based on the fact that the last Punisher film was, by most accounts, terrible. Honestly, how difficult is it just to adapt a Punisher Max arc? You'd think after three goes they'd have worked it out.

DC is ploughing on with Green Lantern, though, but has decided to start again with the Superman franchise. Interestingly, it’s acting on income as a reason for this, despite Green Lantern's poor showing. If you look at the figures, Green Lantern and Superman Returns cost about the same to make, but the latter made nearly twice as much at the box office.

Clearly, DC isn’t following the same reasoning as Marvel when it comes to relaunching franchises. Although, instead of Elektra, DC has Catwoman. Compared with this, Marvel has an embarrassment of riches to pick from. They have the Fantastic Four and Daredevil open to rebooting, and a host of other characters to work with.

Seeing as he dies in almost every single story arc, how about a Captain Britain film starring Doctor Who’s Arthur Darvill, then?

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