The James Clayton Column: Making Marvel spin-offs eclectic

With Thor: The Dark World out now, James comes up with his own ways of expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe...

The big blonde thunder god is back! By Thor, it’s Thor and he’s so Thor-some! Chris Hemsworth’s Norse superhero is in cinemas again, wielding his magic hammer and headlining his own standalone-that-isn’t-really-standing-alone feature which is, of course, Thor: The Dark World.

He’s joined by all his old friends and familial frenemies, including Earthling astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), one-eyed Allfather Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and beguiling trickster bastard god Loki (Tom Hiddleston). We like all of them and the supplementary characters that populated the 2011 film directed by Sir Kenneth Branagh. Now for The Dark World we have Alan Taylor at the helm, a fresh antagonist in the form of Dark Elf Malekith the Accursed (Christopher Eccleston) and the promise of a lot more Asgard-based action this time around.

Thus, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU, if you’re into the whole brevity thing) progresses in exciting style and gets a shot of Norsepower as we hurtle on into the future. That future is mapped out and Kevin Feige and his cohorts are masterfully working a grand masterplan that began with a series of solo superhero films that built up to a unifying supergroup shawarma party of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, because The Avengers did assemble).

Commence Phase Two, and following Iron Man 3’s lead it’s now the Thor’s turn to step up to the plate and perform in the spotlight before next year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy take us to The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

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We know the masterplan (and if you didn’t, you do now) and with that knowledge comes an understanding and appreciation of the studio’s deft manoeuvres and approach to the MCU cycle. It’s worked because they’ve succeeded in making consistent, quality films that all harmonise as part of a shared multiverse but yet, within their own individual strands, they have felt appealingly dissimilar. Each character line offers something unique and holds its own idiosyncratic identity and individual voice. The result is a string of highly stimulating, highly compelling commercial and critical hits.

In a way it’s different elements working amazingly in isolation and in combination with other entities when the occasion arises. That’s comic book chemistry, I suppose, and the brilliance of The Avengers was in Joss Whedon’s ability to gather the assorted icons inside one unified vision. The subsequent standalone sequels now have to sustain the momentum and impress audiences as something more than just an underpowered afterword to what was the ultimate event movie – just filler while we wait for the grand get-together-again of Age Of Ultron.

Marvel have achieved this by giving each feature a distinct flavour. To get this, they hire outstanding directors and give them considerable creative freedom. Each standalone sequel, thus, has a different personality and we find the spirit and stylings of different genres underscoring the comic book plot points unrolling before our eyes.

What keeps the Iron Man movies really interesting is the screwball comedy flourishes that Jon Favreau put at the fore. Shane Black’s identifiable subversive irreverence made sure that Iron Man 3 was a invigorating fresh kick to Phase Two that exploded all concerns that there may not be anything interesting to do with Tony Stark after The Avengers.

See also the embrace of vintage sci-fi stylings and Shakespearean drama under the auspices of Sir Ken for Thor and the old-school war movie capering energy of Joe Johnston’s Captain America. This tradition of hiring auteurs and approaching each movie with alternative frames of reference has continued – Alan Taylor is bringing the fantasy feel to Thor: The Dark World, the Russo Brothers are colouring Captain America: The Winter Soldier with 70s political thriller sensibilities and it’s likely that James Gunn’s will Guardians Of The Galaxy will be amped up with off-the-wall cosmic craziness.

Age of Ultron will undoubtedly bear the clear fingerprints of a Whedon production and with Edgar Wright directing Ant-Man, it’s plain to see that Marvel aren’t in the business of employing guns-for-hire, desperate to pump out generic by-the-number blockbusters without any personality of their own.

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Observing the way that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been handled, I’m excited to find out what happens in future phases. I see great potential for a range of fresh standalone spin-offs. Because I enjoy the occasional self-indulgent fan fiction fantasy trip, I’d like to offer up a few ideas to the masterminds behind the masterplan.

To keep audiences entertained and engaged with the MCU it needs to remain eclectic and it needs to be overseen by acclaimed, idiosyncratic filmmakers. Looking far ahead to Phase Three and beyond, here are a few suggestions for future additions to the canon including details on the genre direction they should take and the directors who should be producing them…

The Incredible Hulk – Arthouse psychological drama

You won’t like him when he’s angry but you might like him when he’s gone into a meditative retreat somewhere in South East Asia where his past can’t find him and where he can play out his imaginative psychodramas in private. Bruce Banner – stuck in a rut and all Hulked-up after an unfortunate incident with a bad kebab – thus spends an entire movie studying his subconscious, flashing back and forth through symbol-laden dream sequences, exploring his rage and savage drives. The film ends in a neon-lit Bangkok noodle bar with our hero Hulksmashing a Nick Fury lookalike before he contains his rage inside a satin jacket and just walks out to new horizons in which his tormented soul may find peace.

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, everyone’s favourite artistic action auteur with a penchant for poetic ultraviolence and uncommunicative male antiheroes.

Hawkeye – Quirky indie comedy drama

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The current comics run by Matt Fraction and David Aja has the right idea in focusing on Hawkguy the Avenger when he’s not Avengering. The standalone film for the overlooked archer icon would tap that offbeat vein and follow a detached Clint Barton on his mundane New York City non-adventures alongside a colourful array of kooks. The soundtrack is British invasion pop-rock and all the action sequences are meticulous stop-motion animations.

Directed by Wes Anderson with Owen Wilson stepping in as Hawkguy if Jeremy Renner isn’t up for this gig anymore.

Black Widow – Survival horror

A plane crash over Outer Siberia forces Natasha Romanova to re-experience the harrowing ordeal of her Russian military training. Alone in the wilderness in the worst winter for ages, Black Widow must trek a thousand miles through heavy snow while fending off attacks from wild animals and occasional feral mutants who have escaped from secret gulags where Soviet scientists used to perform gene experiments on prisoners.

Directed by Joe Carnahan, because really we just want to see The Grey with Black Widow and bear attacks instead of wolves.

Nick Fury – Blaxploitation revenge flick

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When Director Fury goes back home to the hood for Thanksgiving he finds that Moms and Pops are dead, that his brother’s hooked up on heroin and that his sister is now a hooker being handled by sick jive-turkey pimp muthas. Thus, the eyepatch-wearin’ mushroom cloud-blowin’ soul brother sets off on a Superfly TNT Black Dynamite vengeance trip that recalls 70s Blaxploitation standards such as Coffy, Foxy Brown and Shaft. We can dig it.

Directed by Samuel L Jackson, because, muthacusser, nobody be directin’ Director Fury but Director Fury.

Maria Hill – Chick-flick

Maria Hill has a stick up her ass and never smiles. She needs help lightening up which is where her girlfriends come in, whisking her away to Acapulco  for her cousin’s hen party weekend. What follows is a wildly outrageous romp high on hedonism and oestrogen. There is alcohol. There are illicit substances. There are teary karaoke scenes where Maria lets her hair down and unveils all that she represses on her sunburned BFFs.

There’s also a love triangle dilemma where Hill has to choose between her two holiday romances – a stereotypical hot Latino lover and a Silver Surfer. Both men ultimately break her heart and she ‘gets over it’ by drinking Hulk’s bodyweight in tequila and joining her girlfriends in another hilarious karaoke scene before finding herself waking up in Asgard, perfectly placed for the crossover sequel, ‘The Hangover: Part Thor’.

Directed by Judd Apatow, or possibly just given some vodka and allowed to direct itself.

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Melinda May – martial arts actioner

Elevated in status from the pilot/babysitter for irritating science duo FitzSimmons position she holds in the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show, here “The Cavalry” gets her own feature to fully expand on her backstory and showcase her fighting skills. Basically, we’re going to go back in time and watch a younger May beat up legions of random goons in the rural China while her august master (he looks suspiciously like Phil Coulson) levitates behind her and feeds her fortune cookie wisdom. She then has a boss fight with Donnie Yen and breaks him by manifesting an extra five arms using enhanced chi focus before simultaneously punching out all his vital chakra points.

Directed by Gareth Evans, because the stylised costume violence of the MCU could do with some raw bone-crunching action right out of The Raid.

Man Who Is Playing Galaga – Sci-fi psychological horror

What is his purpose on the S.H.I.E.L.D helicarrier? Was he hired simply to act as the punchline in another of Tony Stark’s zingers? Is there anything more to his life than just playing this retro videogame, up here in the sky, surrounded by cogs in an uncaring, clandestine machine?

Cue 164 minutes of nothing but a nameless man in existential crisis, looking at pixels, failing to beat his high score while weeping at the sheer pointlessness of it all. Game over, man.

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Directed by Duncan Jones, because he’s really good at making stimulating science fiction films suffused with philosophical bleakness.

I hope Marvel like my ideas. If not, I don’t mind as long as they keep on embracing eclecticism as the MCU masterplan moves on into the future.

James Clayton is going to be playing Doctor Strange in a future Phase Six movie. It is going to be a silent supernatural horror movie that takes a wild turn towards the erotic in the third act because if there’s no Chris Hemsworth or Natalie Portman in this thing the audience is going to need some sex to keep them salivating. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter. 

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