Once upon a time, there were comic book movies like 1989’s The Punisher (starring Dolph Lundgren), 1998’s Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (starring David Hasselhoff) 2003’s Daredevil (starring Ben Affleck & Jennifer Garner), and 2011’s Green Lantern (starring Ryan Reynolds). Many fans don’t like to even think of those movies as existing within the comic book movie universe(s), as they were – to be honest – pretty terrible.
However, with the recent blockbuster releases of Guardians of the Galaxy (vol. 1 & vol. 2), Deadpool, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, it would seem that Hollywood is really hitting their stride with the translation of comic book stories from the page to the big screen. All of these movies have seen their box office gross reach higher levels than previous superhero films, and comic book fans old and new are rejoicing at seeing their favorite characters brought to life with all the due respect given to their original stories.
When we examine why this phenomenon might be occurring, several things come to mind. The PCU crew asked around to a few of our fans, and we got some really decent answers. Let’s examine what some of you had to say.
James B. had some choice words about casting & character development to start us off.
“Marvel’s most successful stories, be it comics or other media, have been its character pieces dealing with growth. Take for example Iron Man 1 (the “repair” we’ll call it,). Its theme is the growth of Tony Stark from playboy to morally bound superhero (with missiles… Morals!) It showed his growth as a person. Flipside that with Ironman 2 which was more about his downfall (and in many ways every story since has been Tony Stark’s A Series of Horrible Decisions.) The films were about failing and getting back up, as opposed to learning about yourself.
So that brings us to the new Marvel lineup starting with Guardians, where people with various backgrounds and scars come together and form emotional bonds, develop character, and overcome flaws. Though Guardians 1 had many fun moments, there was always an underlying emotional tension between the characters, the scars showing through. In Cap: Winter Soldier, a great spy thriller on its own, the same development was seen as Cap has to come to grips with his organization becoming corrupt, he grows. Even Doctor Strange, by far the worst film of phase 3, has its growth moments and those moments actually push the film forward. Each movie in Phase 3 has had these moments.
Flip that onto the cinematic sh**pile that is DCCU, the characters are stuck in a darker version of Tony Stark’s hell. Except none of them realize it (Except Wonder Woman…). Overall, Marvel has growth. It shows the struggles of normal people (regardless of power) trying to do some good and move forward. Every Marvel movie you leave feeling like you’ve had a positive experience, a small part of you has grown with those characters and you feel an accomplishment. Even Tony. God love that sh**head.”
Bryan M. took a similar route, and addressed the smash-hit Deadpool movie as an example of how more actors are better committing to their roles as superheroes.
“To be honest I believe a lot of it has to do with vision and people directing the film. I also believe it has to do with people not committing to the role as much as actors are now. Take Ryan Reynolds, for example. That man is literally the physical incarnation of Wade Wilson. He loves that character. He put forth so much effort making sure he nailed [Deadpool], whereas early 2000’s, late 90’s, and even earlier than that, It was not viewed as socially acceptable to like comics or superheroes. On the flip-side of that, let’s take Daredevil from when Jennifer Garner was Elektra, Colin Farrell was Bullseye and Michael Clarke Duncan was Kingpin. While all of them ARE great actors, none of them really connect/give a sh** about comics. This was just another gig to them. Jennifer garner didn’t care about her role that much. It was money, sure, but she wasn’t into the comics at all. The vision of that movie was trashy, too (like Bullseye’s get-up? Come on…) None of them cared about their roles that much to offer a convincing performance, and the directors’ vision of Marvel movies back then was…well…terrible.”
Ben K. took a different route, giving us some insight into brand recognition & directors as his thoughts on why things are improving.
“With the initial releases, like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, fans knew the characters, but your average guy on the street didn’t have much interest. Pre-Robert Downey Jr, you’d be hard pressed to find ANYONE that would say their favorite comic character is Iron Man. But, with the investment in creating excellent special effects and the commitment to using high quality actors – as well as the direct involvement of the studios – in ensuring that the stories at least reflected the comics, if not following the stories exactly, they developed a reputation for being quality movies that also happened to be about comics. Once that reputation was established, they were able to take even ancillary characters like Ant Man or the Guardians [of the Galaxy], and turn them into successful ventures. They’ve also been timing their shift from indie directors making high budget films into blockbuster directors well. For instance, when they moved from Favreau to Whedon. As the Iron Man franchise got more grand [SIC], they went with a blockbuster director that was able to handle the scale. Favreau was great in the beginning where they were working through the exposition. He was able to really navigate the initial character development and show us who these people are, but once you reach a point like Iron Man 3, it is more about the action because the characters are not needing to be further developed. We know them, we can anticipate how they will react, and how they will change moving forward. When the gears shifted to battles of 100+ robots? Bring in the guy that deals with that sort of thing. I really do think that the biggest reason that Marvel movies have seen the increase in success that they have is that Marvel is directly involved in them. They’re not just money grabs. They aren’t turning Black Widow into a lesbian to put butts in seats, and they aren’t making Captain America into a dark anti-hero. They’re giving us a coherent storyline with a specific goal in sight.”
So what have we learned here today, fans and true believers? I think we’ve learned that, if Hollywood keeps putting their money behind writers, directors, and actors who truly have a love for the source material and characters, their future in comic book movies is pretty bright. With more coming out soon, like Justice League, Black Panther, New Mutants, Venom, and of course Avengers: Infinity War, comic book fans have a lot to look forward to. That being said, we would be remiss if we didn’t quote RuPaul on this and remind Hollywood: “Good luck…”