“I am Iron Man. Think you are the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe, but you just don’t know it yet,” Nick Fury, director of SHIELD. “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”
Those words, spoken by Samuel L. Jackson at the end of 2008’s Iron Man are words that may have shaken up the way comic book movies are made. On its own Iron Man was a great comic book superhero-based film. It had just about everything you could have asked for in a thrilling, smart, and at times comedic popcorn entertainment action flick. But, those words were the lynch-pin of what Marvel Studio hoped would be the next evolution of comic book movie storytelling. Essentially taking the idea of a fully fledged “universe” and transform that into film.
For years of course comic book character films have been presented as if the characters spotlighted were the only heroes in their world. Oh sure Metropolis got named dropped in Batman Forever, and there is the “This is why Superman works ALONE” quip in Batman & Robin, but in every movie, and even live action television, for the most part (after the series ended, the Incredible Hulk TV show came back in TV movie form a couple of times featuring both Thor and Daredevil, and Smallville has the Green Arrow as a cast member, as well as appearances by other non-Superman supporting characters), done featuring a comic book character whom is part of a bigger comic book universe, it is apparent that for that movie or TV program they are the ONLY super hero on the scene.
Marvel Studios was set to change all of that, and it started in that summer of 2008. Shortly after it appeared Iron Man was a big hit, its sequels were green-lit and pre-production was full steam ahead for other projects that would all go into what will be the first Avengers movie in 2012. The plans were further cemented in that summer’s Incredible Hulk, which included a cameo by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark telling General Ross that he and a “team” that was being formed could help with the Hulk problem. And now Iron Man 2 has given the Mighty Marvel Movie Society even more steam by being a blockbusting success, and setting the stage for next summer’s Thor film. Oh, and next summer Captain America is set to shake off the aftertaste of the 1990 flop as well.
With Ant-Man, another Iron Man film and The Avengers coming down the pipeline as well, it seems things are running smoothly in terms of Marvel Studios creating a “Movie Universe.” Even with its biggest heavyweights; Spider-Man, the X-Men and Fantastic Four, as well as Daredevil still tied up with other studios as Disney seems content with honoring pre-existing deals.
And DC? Well, there is the follow up to The Dark Knight slated for 2012. As well as the next Superman project which is being “Godfathered” by Batman Begins and The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan. Oh, and Green Lantern is coming out next year.
While one can expect the third, and Nolan’s final, Batman flick to be a success, maybe not as wild as The Dark Knight as one could chalk a good percentage of its popularity to the “morbid curiosity” surrounding Heath Ledger’s passing, the fact that it will be the final Nolan directed film in the series should trouble a DC movie fan. Where will the Bat-Franchise go from here? Logic would dictate that the next director could pick up where Nolan leaves off, but hey this is Hollywood, and there is enough of a chance of Warner Brothers rebooting the whole darn thing as there are as them letting the next guy continue what Nolan started.
But where does this leave the various projects that have been speculated, and in some cases even gone through the pre-production stage, only to be shut down like the JLA movie? Good question. The hope is that the Green Lantern film becomes as wild of a success as the first Iron Man was. The proof will be in the pudding of course, but at the same time it was clear that Marvel had all its ducks in a row when Iron Man came out. Right now DC/WB is looking at a Batman movie universe where Batman is the only known costumed hero, and Nolan has gone on record as saying he’d like the Superman movie universe to be the same. Okay, so how are you going to rectify that with a possible JLA film? Oh sure movie audiences aren’t that stupid to realize the Batman in a JLA film isn’t the same as Christian Bale’s Batman, or even Adam West’s, Michael Keaton’s, Val Kilmer’s, George Clooney, or heck even Kevin Conroy’s and Diedrich Bader’s. But the fact is, it’s hard to sell two different continuities going on at the same time. Heck, it’s hard even for DC to sell multiple continuities in comic books! Say what you will about Batman Confidential and Superman/Batman, they probably aren’t selling nearly as much as the other Bat-Titles because they are OOC books while all the others are.
Well, that is the current state of affairs with comic book movies. While the next Batman film should bring in the dough that will make Warner very, very happy, and despite the critical responses to Superman Returns one can still say Superman is still a very profitable on-screen franchise, it does seem that DC is still light years behind Marvel in terms of innovation in crafting big screen storytelling. In some cases it might be fine, as DC still holds arguably the two most popular super heroes of all-time in its arsenal, but if Marvel is able to completely pull of what it hopes to with the Marvel Movie Universe, DC will have to change its game plan in terms of how their properties are treated by Hollywood.
Posted by SteveJRogers