12 June, 2008

Intern Sweatshop: This summer, Robert Downey Jr. IS Tony Stark in...The Incredible Hulk?

This nod-slash-wink to comic book fans across the globe is one of many steps Marvel is making in their movies to bring all their big-screen characters together into the same movie universe, much as it is in the books. It’s the promise of a very, at the least, interesting movie-going future.

Most people who stayed through the end credits of Iron Man were rewarded with this scene featuring the holy badass himself, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury:

And Monday, the comic-movie powers that be released a new Hulk TV spot featuring Downey as Tony Stark making some shady deals with William Hurt.

This all adds up to one hell of a marketing strategy. So far, Iron Man sits as the reigning box office champion of 2008. With the introduction of Nick Fury, Marvel introduced another character, one that does not have his own film, but possibly may in the future. Downey has also been relaunched as a major leading man with bankability. His presence in The Incredible Hulk only solidifies the movie as being a Marvel brand title. The first Hulk film, directed by Ang Lee and released in 2003, had a less than spectacular performance at the box office or with fans. It was the same story with Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and The Punisher; all coming from different studios and different producers with varying views on the material.

Iron Man was the first movie to be directly produced by Marvel, as are all other adaptations set for the future, meaning Marvel exercises total creative control over the content, unlike before, when studios snatched rights to keep titles to themselves. This is the reason why we never got to see Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman fight evil-doers side by side with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Different studios means “hands off!” in Hollywood.

By bringing all of their heroes under their creative control, the films can have stronger continuity between one another, ensuring audiences, “keep your butts in your seats!” The writers, directors, and stars may change, but coming from the same people who hold the source material so near and dear insures a sort of quality control. The idea is to put on the screen what has been in the books for years--the heroes fighting side by side on one cinematic canvas.

DC, that other comic publisher, has been poised to make this kind of move for years. All of their major characters, including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are copyrighted to Warner Brothers. No red tape there. But Marvel got to it first.

It is quite a feat as well for Marvel as a company, moving ahead into the movie business full steam ahead. Authors have trouble retaining any control over movies based on their books once the rights are signed over. Marvel however is an entity, a name that stands for superheroes and all the cultural fanboy-ism behind it. So I’ll give Marvel a pass on a Ghost Rider. Finally, they’re beginning to get it right.

--Aditya Desai, Intern

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