Superhero films coming your way: The Marvel slate

Two weeks ago, I posted the first of two blog articles about the various superhero films coming our way based on titles from the two major comic book publishers, DC and Marvel. This is the second post.

After a decade of massive box office success, the superhero action-fantasy genre is at a crucial turning point. Where to from here? Well, in moving forward, the trend seems to be in two directions: 1) ambitious projects with an epic scope and characters who function at a level beyond the super-human, and 2) reboots and reimaginings of superhero franchises that never quite achieved their potential, or have grown stale.

In the latter camp, we can include rumoured reboots of The Fantastic Four, Daredevil and Ghost Rider as well as a few other film projects that will be discussed below. However, this post is less about whisperings and more about the films that are definitely heading to cinemas from Marvel in the next five years - with cast and crew already attached.

Now Marvel has taken a far more hands-on approach to movie adaptations of their comic properties than DC, which falls under the powerful Time Warner banner. Marvel Studios is Marvel's own film and television production studio, specifically devoted to bringing Marvel superheroes to the big, and small screen, in a way that is profitable, but still maintains fidelity to the Marvel universe.

Marvel's only big superhero release this year is Iron Man 2, which has already debuted in most of the Western world. Next year, however, facing off against DC-Warner Bros' Green Lantern are three Marvel comic book adaptations. The first is Thor, arguably Marvel's most ambitious movie project to date. Set for release in the United States on 6 May 2011, Thor centres on Marvel's version of the Norse god of thunder, who is cast down to Earth as punishment for his arrogance by his father Odin. While stranded on Earth, Thor - wielding his mystical hammer Mjolnir, and using his incomparable strength and storm powers - has to defend the planet against the most dangerous beings that are suddenly invading from the god-realm of Asgard, no doubt at the urging of Thor's malicious adopted brother, Loki.

What's exciting about Thor? Well, just as Green Lantern is bringing galactic sci-fi scope to superhero-dom for the first time, Thor is bringing the epicness of mythology, and (almost) limitless power of the gods. This may of course alienate the average cinemagoer, who apparently likes their superheroes terrestrial and more reality-based. However, if the superhero movie genre is going to avoid becoming tired, it does need the injection of something new, and different, and grand.

Which Thor potentially offers.

Thor, the movie, is a highly pedigreed affair. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who knows how to film battle scenes and certainly demonstrates a flair for majesty in his Shakespearean adaptations, Thor's cast includes Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as Frigga, Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Rome's Ray Stevenson as Volstagg and Natalie Portman as Thor's human love interest Jane Foster. For the record, Thor is played by Aussie hottie Chris Hemsworth, who is probably most recognisable to audiences as James T. Kirk's father in the opening scenes of last year's Star Trek.


Following Thor's release in May next year, 22 July 2010 sees the opening of Captain America: The First Avenger. Starring the Human Torch himself, Chris Evans, this comic adaptation has been on the cards for a while now. Not only is Captain America one of Marvel's most popular, and iconic, characters, but there have been hints of his presence in other recent superhero movies. You see Cap's shield in Iron Man 2, and the Super Soldier Serum that helps empower otherwise very ordinary Steve Rogers is used in 2008's The Incredible Hulk to give special ops commander Emil Blonsky enhanced strength, speed, agility, endurance and healing so that he can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk.

About to commence filming, Captain America: The First Avenger is directed by Joe Johnston, the man responsible for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji, The Rocketeer and Jurassic Park III. So you know this Captain America origin tale will be fun and action-packed! Set predominantly during World War II - which refreshingly makes the film the first period-set, non-contemporary superhero film - Captain America: The First Avenger pits Cap against his most famous nemesis, devious Nazi agent Red Skull.


Frankly the decision makers could have been a bit more creative with their casting than Evans - who already has an comic icon on his filmography. This said, the creative team have made the spot-on choice with Red Skull. He will be played by geek favourite, The Matrix, V for Vendetta and The Lord of the Rings' Hugo Weaving, who certainly knows how to play a memorable villain. Rounding out the rest of Captain America's cast are Sebastian Stan as Cap's sidekick Bucky Barnes, and Hayley Atwell as love interest Peggy Carter. Dominic Cooper will apparently also appear as Tony "Iron Man" Stark's inventor father, Howard.

Of course, S.H.I.E.L.D. representatives will also appear in Captain America, and Thor, as they have already done in Iron Man 1 and 2, AND The Incredible Hulk. The presence of these agents has been important in establishing that all of these Marvel characters exist in the same fictional universe. This is in turn part of preparations for the biggest superhero team-up film of all time, The Avengers! Based on the popular all-star comic series - Marvel's equivalent of DC's Justice League - The Avengers will feature all the heroes recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Samuel L. Jackson's S.H.I.E.L.D. head Nick Fury), including Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. The Hulk will also play a part in the film, although rumours suggest he'll be a "villain" that the heroes need to subdue - or a destructive free agent they have to bring to their side.

Although unconfirmed at this point, regular Avengers squad members Hawkeye and Ant-Man also have a a decent chance of appearing in The Avengers film, with rumours that The Hurt Locker's Jeremy Renner is a strong contender for the role of Marvel's greatest archer. Ant-Man (gifted with the power to shrink himself), meanwhile, is due for his own solo movie after The Avengers' release in 2012. The lighthearted sci-fi adventure will be written and directed by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz's Edgar Wright. Although being hotly denied at this point, Firefly's Nathan Fillion may be portraying the first Ant-Man, brilliant biochemist Henry Pym, in both Ant-Man and The Avengers adaptations.


Plot details are at this point very sketchy about The Avengers, but even without a storyline on which to comment it's obvious that the film will be a very ambitious project. Captain America, Iron Man and Thor are all very different heroes. One is old fashioned. Another surrounds himself in slick technology. And the final one is a god. Somehow they all have to appear convincing as they share the screen and unleash their very different powers. For the record, all the stars of the various individual hero films are contracted to appear in The Avengers, so it will be Robert Downey, Jr onscreen as Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Chris Evans as Captain America - defrosted for present day heroics. Although it has yet to be confirmed, Edward Norton is likely to be back as well as the Hulk's human alter ego, Dr. Bruce Banner, despite Norton's much publicised conflict with Marvel over The Incredible Hulk's editing process.

Straight from Iron Man 2, Don Cheadle will also be present in The Avengers as War Machine and Scarlett Johansson returns as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Black Widow.

The director (and co-writer) with the mammoth task of making The Avengers a reality is Joss Whedon, who has a massive geek following thanks to his work on TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, as well as his writing of assorted Marvel comics. Whedon's love for comics will certainly hold him in good stead, but his big screen directorial experience is severely lacking - which could be a massive problem. Movies are not the same as quirky television series after all, where Whedon has previously excelled. He will need incredible vision and strength to keep The Avengers under control - lest it become a chaotically crowded, noisy and ultimately unsatisfying mess (X-Men: The Last Stand anyone?). If Whedon does pull it off however, and can resist the urge to make The Avengers all "talky", the film could be absolutely fantastic.

The Avengers is set for release on 4 May 2012. If it is successful, expect multiple sequels. If it isn't a hit, audiences will still be able to enjoy Iron Man 3 (promised by 2013, with the Mandarin as the film's villain), Ant-Man and at least two Captain America sequels.

Of course, at the same time that Marvel is working on characters within a shared Marvel cinematic universe, its other big name superheroes are not being neglected.

X-Men fans have a host of projects to look forward to. The most high profile of these - and the one I'm most excited about - is X-Men: First Class, based on the limited comic series. First Class will focus on the first mutant teens enrolled at Charles Xavier's school for the gifted - including Cyclops, Beast and Jean Grey. The film will also more closely examine the souring of the relationship between Charles and Eric "Magneto" Lensherr.


Set for release next year, on 3 June (which suggests a worryingly rushed production schedule), X-Men: First Class is being produced by the director of the first 2 X-Men films, Bryan Singer, and directed by Kick-Ass's Matthew Vaughn. Having just helmed a superhero film with a teen focus, Vaughn is the perfect man to oversee this new "young" X-Men project - especially since the high school scenes in Kick-Ass were amongst the strongest in the film. Endearingly honest, they avoided cliches, and that's exactly what a new X-Men film needs. Unfortunately there has been no word yet if Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen will return as Professor X and Magneto respectively. However, if Singer is involved in the project, they could easily, and happily, be back.

As for other X-Men spin-offs, despite being mediocre, the massive box office success of X-Men Origins: Wolverine guaranteed a sequel. As hinted in the post-credits sequence of the first film, Wolverine II will be set in Japan and, heavily influenced by Frank Miller's famous 1982 miniseries, will focus on Logan's love for Mariko Yashida, who is involved with the Yakuza. Brace yourself for adamantium claws being pitted against samurai swords and other martial arts weaponry in some intense, if no doubt bloodless, hand-to-hand combat. Damn Fox's decision to make Wolverine PG-13.

Hugh Jackman will naturally be back as Logan for the fifth time onscreen, and Wolverine II is set to begin filming in 2011 for a likely 2012 release. For the record, South African director of the first Wolverine spin-off, Gavin Hood probably won't return.

As for other X-Men spin-offs, the most likely to go before the cameras at this stage is Deadpool, with Green Lantern Ryan Reynolds. Having already briefly appeared as Wade Wilson, the "Merc with a Mouth," in the Wolverine movie, Reynolds will once again be playing the character in a spin-off that (largely) ignores the events of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and is essentially a reboot. As written by the screenwriting team behind Zombieland - assisted by Reynolds - the character of Deadpool will be closer to his comic book origins. In other words, he'll be a mentally unstable, smart mouth mutant with accelerated healing, unparalleled combat skills and a tendency to break the fourth wall.

Deadpool, the movie, if allowed to be unconventional and "unsafe", could be a lot of fun. It is currently listed as due for release sometime in 2011, but seeing as there is no director attached to the project, and Reynolds is still filming Green Lantern, Deadpool is far more likely to be in cinemas sometime in 2012.

If it happens at all...


You see, other X-Men projects that once enjoyed a great deal of momentum in the development stage - including X-Men Origins: Magneto (essentially The Pianist with superpowers), X-Men Origins: Gambit and even X-Men 4 - have all stalled, and may never be made.

Personally I have the suspicion that the same fate awaits Spider-Man spin-off Venom, of which there have been no announcements since October 2009. Although the film is certain to portray Spider-Man's most popular foe as a tormented anti-hero, the script has already been rewritten a handful of times, and it is unclear how the movie will fit into the cinematic Spider-Man universe. It's even unclear at this stage which symbiote host will be the central character, considering the fate of the first and most famous Venom, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace), at the end of Spider-Man 3.

While the future of a Venom film looks doubtful, there is no way that Marvel is going to neglect moving forward with movie projects based on Venom's web-slinging arch-enemy. Spider-Man, after all, is Marvel's most famous character - and, if toy store merchandise is anything to go by - their most profitable creation. So yes, cinema audiences will be able to watch a new Spider-Man film, in 3D, from 3 July 2012.

I've written extensively about Spider-Man 2012 before, but to summarise, when Sony and Marvel clashed with Spider-Man director Sam Raimi over a delivery timeline for Spider-Man 4 the already scripted project (with John Malkovich on board as The Vulture) was cancelled. Raimi, and series stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst walked. Undeterred, Sony Pictures announced that the new Spider-Man would be a reboot of the series in every single way. With 500 Days of Summer's Marc Webb in the director's chair, and an entirely new young cast (Percy Jackson's Logan Lerman as Spidey is still only a casting rumour at this stage), the new Spider-Man will focus on Peter Parker coming to grips with his powers as a hormonal high school student. Not unlike X-Men: First Class then. Or the Ultimate Spider-Man comic series.

All involved in the new Spider-Man are promising a movie that is grittier; more realistic and tonally very different from the first three Spider-Man films. Personally, I'm not opposed to the reboot decision. After Spider-Man 3 concluded a major story arc, it was unclear where the increasingly whiny series could go. And a high school setting offers a lot of potential for drama and emotional complications - which director Webb has proven he can handle expertly.


As a result, I'm honestly looking forward to the new Spider-Man, and a good chunk of the other films on Marvel's adaptation slate.

So, in an American release date recap:

  • Thor, 6 May 2011
  • X-Men: First Class, 3 June 2011
  • Captain America, 22 July 2011

  • The Avengers, 4 May 2012
  • Spider-Man, 3 July 2012
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine II, 2012
  • Deadpool 2011/12

  • Iron Man 3 2013
  • Ant-Man 2013/14

Comments

MJenks said…
Thor is being done by Kenneth Branagh???

Okay, sign me up. I wasn't even going to give it a sniff until I read this.
Pfangirl said…
I honestly think that out of all the films above, Thor is the one I'm most excited about - for the same reason.

This "pedigreed" directing decision makes way more sense than Ang Lee tackling The Hulk.

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