Recently, co-host of Rage-Quit Radio and contributor Terence “Literally” Gavin and I got into a debate about the new Avengers movie coming out this summer. He was expressing his disinterest in the film and how there is no need for an Avengers movie in general. I took the other approach, and it sparked a digital debate that touched on a few key issues that we feel Marvel is guiding their movies by, and that D.C. will probably be soon to follow.
Terence’s argument was that the characters who have had films leading up to the Avengers were made with a “cookie-cutter” tone; one that hasn’t allowed for too much creativity or diversity in the character vehicles (such as Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America). He explained that, because of this factory-type production, we the audience are being cheated out of what could be a much better movie-going experience with these heroes. Let me give an example.
Captain America was a film that went through a lot of changes over the years. It wasn’t until the Marvel and Hollywood team decided on a build-up to an Avengers movie that things finally started to roll on it’s production. I will agree, there is a similar tone and style to the Marvel hero’s films. A tone that was set, in my opinion, by the success of Iron Man.
Iron Man was the first solo character act that Marvel successfully distributed to the movie-going audience. It was fun, action-packed, and had the charisma and bravado that Robert Downey Jr. brought to the role. Audience’s ate it up. If Iron Man had not performed well then it would have put a serious strain on the possibilities of the Avengers movie ever being made (example : Green Lantern and the optioned Justice League film). Fortunately, the movie was a hit, and Marvel began to produce more films based on this principle tone.
Thor was another film that was a must-have for the Avengers movie. Terence argued that the film wasn’t good, citing my phrasing of “decent” not as an endorsement, but something that is watchable via Netflix on a rainy day. Quite the opposite. Historically, super-hero films have been either hits or flops. This can even happen in a successful franchise, as during the Christopher Reeve Superman films once the third installment was released. When I phrased Thor as “decent” I was implying that the film was worth seeing in theaters, but it wasn’t up to the standards that Batman Begins or The Dark Knight had created in the comic book to movie industry.
We were both in agreement on that point, however I cannot argue that what has been done for Batman by Christopher Nolan could be done for any of the Marvel characters, for a few key reasons. Marvel doesn’t have a watershed character like Batman in the limelight of it’s titles. Batman differs from all of the other super-heroes for the very reasons people rank him as one of their favorites (me included). Bruce Wayne is a human, devoid of super powers other than his own intellect and bank account. Where he excels is in his drive and motivation. He is smart, in peak human condition, and has a contingency for just about any situation. He is also the only character that could exist in a world that is also devoid of super powers and abilities. Therefore, creating a believable, tangible environment for the darker tones and emotional constructs of this character to be brought to life.
Marvel’s only close relative (thematically) to Batman is the Punisher. Frank Castle (his real name for those who don’t know) has been brought to the big screen on 3 famous occasions. One with Dolph Lungeren that was about as good as any film with Dolph could be expected to perform, another with Thomas Jane, where he tortured a man with a Popsicle in one of the weirdest attempts at modern Shakespearean revenge out to date, and the last with Ray Stevenson that didn’t perform up to standards at all. So, Punisher is out, and that’s why Marvel has no equal to the type of voice that can be given to D.C.’s Batman.
Because of this Marvel must go a different route, and as I stated previously, they found it with Iron Man. From a business standpoint — and movies are a business, make no mistake of it — if the formula isn’t broken, don’t fix it. They also run into the problem of amalgamating all of these different heroes into one film without pissing off all of the fans of the individual heroes themselves. This is why the tone of these films must remain similar, so that when they are finally brought together it doesn’t feel forced for the sake of an ensemble movie.
Unfortunately, this creates a reciprocal effect in the solo films, where some of them feel forced just to prep the audiences for the ensemble. The case and point is Captain America. The movie suffered from poor dialogue, shotty narrative, and some major plot holes that can be found on just about any discussion board on the interwebs. Even the title (Captain America : The First Avenger) suggests that the movie was shoehorned into existence merely for the Avengers “main course.” Yet, we are all familiar with the breaking of eggs for omelets adage that I feel this movie personifies for the sake of a larger franchise.
When it comes down to it, not every hero can be like Batman, and not every comic-book movie can get Nolan behind the camera. Terence felt that because of the need for amalgamation that we were getting fed the creative table scraps for the eventual Avengers film to come. Because of this, the heroes that we have come to know and love (whose fanbase spans generations) are not getting their fair shot at achieving their individual voices or stories that they might be entitled to. When it comes to Captain America I agree, but I think the Iron Man and Thor story lines are being given a fair shot, especially considering that the latter deals with a Norse god living on Earth.
Eventually, D.C. might attempt this grouping of heroes for a smorgasbord of action, but it won’t be with Nolan’s version of Batman. Instead, it will hinge on the success of the upcoming Superman reboot by Zach Snyder (300, Watchmen), seeing as how the Green Lantern couldn’t seem to illuminate anything worth while.