Marvel’s been releasing amazing stories since 1939, under the company Timely Comics. Even though Timely was founded 5 years after their competition, DC Comics, they beat the race to the big screen with their 1944 short film Captain America (6 years before the first Superman movie; which was actually a pilot episode for the series shown exclusively in theaters). Although “first” is only better on the playground, that never stopped Marvel from trying for theatrical adaptions for the next 70 years. That’s right. This year is marking Marvel’s 70th year anniversary on the big screen, even though the short is nothing they’re proud of. They should be.
Of course it took them 42 years to make another attempt with Howard The Duck (1986), they never took pride into a retelling of their story until the 1989 direct-to-video release of The Punisher. So I’m sorry if I got your hopes of 60+ years of movies you’ve never heard of, because there really wasn’t one. After The Punisher, the studio really laid low.
Making another Captain America (1990) direct-to-video, and a Fantastic Four (1994) movie that was never released; the studio didn’t really receive any positive feedback until their 1998 release of Blade. Any boy of my generation loved Blade and it quickly became a household name. Ah, the nostalgia of how vampires used to be evil, and hunting them was something only the most badass could do. Although comics were sill popular in the 90’s many of my school yard chums had no idea that Blade was produced by Marvel studios, or even featured a comic protagonist from the Spider-Man series (well, he was in my generation anyways). This was great for us comic book nerds. Our lonely nights of reading these fictional stories finally paid off. We knew so much more than everybody else, and finally got the feeling of being elite thanks to Hollywood’s over budgeted productions. That’s not what it was about though. It was a great story in it’s own, and it was amazing to see the moving pictures we could only imagine come to life.
Of course Batman & Superman movies were being produced for years, as well as television shows for both of them and Spider-man being on the rise; Blade was different story. This was the first time we really got to see a side-character take the stage. Everyone loved Batman, everyone loved to hate Superman, and Spider-Man has been a household name since the 60’s. Blade on the other hand, was something only us nerds knew about. Of course The Punisher had a VHS out, but this was the first time Marvel really took a chance giving us a reason to line-up in front of theaters. It paid off too, giving us 2 more sequels.
With the success of Blade, soon came X-Men (2000) the original Spider-Man trilogy (2002) the less loved Daredevil (2003) & Elektra (2003) movies. Notice, I paused at the Daredevil & Elekatra combo. Although critics didn’t seem to enjoy the movies as much as I did, they had something that no Marvel movie had until now. A tie-in! That’s right, Ben Afleck (Daredevil) and Jennifer Garner (Elektra) were featured in other’s movies giving us something new to geek out about again. Not only did we get to see two amazing characters’ origins stories, we got to watch them meet, fall in love, and have enough of their own problems to call for a full feature length movie. Even if you don’t love Afleck’s first comic book role (he’s the new Batman if you didn’t know); you have to applaud the tie-in that opened new doors throughout the Marvel universe.
While Darelektra (my own name) was doing their things, Marvel was also allowing more greatness to come out using their stories. Blade got the first sequel (2002) followed by X-Men 2 (2003), the ‘bad Hulk movie’ (2003) and our first official reboot; The Punisher (2003) also known as my favorite comic book movie to date. This, in my opinion was Marvel’s peak and I still feel that way. I mean, we were getting sequels, tie-ins, reboots, and everything we could want. Well, besides a X-Men & Spider-Man tie-in which is something we still want to this day. Sure, not everything was great. I mean, Hulk, and Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker were both frowned upon by critics, I was too carried away with the greatness of seeing my childhood heroes thrown at the big screen in such a positive way.
With so many movies being released in such a short period of time it was easy to overlook all of the damage they were causing. Even though these amazing stories were being compiled with these amazing characters, Marvel was glorifying the comic book industry in a mainstream way. This was a double edged sword. We were getting these well budgeted films to love and appreciate, but at the same time they were veering far from the origin stories we came to expect with our favorite characters and they were being spoon fed to us, using sex and big name actors to sell them.
Between Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Nick Cage (Ghostrider), Ben Afleck (Daredevil), Tobey Maguire & Topher Grace (Spiderman), Jessica Alba (Fantastic Four), and then the now-well-known Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) in 2008; we were given movies that piggy-backed on their actor’s, despite giving them a new claim to fame. Although Blade (Wesley Snipes) started it, the trend didn’t seem obvious until now. We no longer had movies that were being promoted using their original story, or even a well written story anymore. We had movies that were being promoted solely for the actors in them. If you don’t believe me, do a quick Google search of their movie posters.
The original Spider-Man trilogy was the last Marvel movie to be promoted using the actual character in a mask, instead of an unmasked Iron Man; despite being in an obvious action seen. At first, I didn’t mind them using Downey’s face to sell movies. After all, the women loved Tony Stark’s sarcastic intelligence and that opened a whole new world of comic book fans, mainstreaming our fictional world once and for all. These stories going mainstream is not where my beef lies. It’s the way these movies are being sold to us. Marvel already hooked the 13 year old girls with Tony Stark, Thor, Loki, and a now ripped Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, Guardians Of The Galaxy), I think it’s time to step back and focus on the characters at hand.
I know it’s a lot to ask, especially since they already cast Paul Rudd to play Ant-Man. I honestly think this should have be the real eye-opener for us, but it doesn’t seem like it matters to anyone. Everyone loves Rudd, including myself, so much that we’re going to go spend $30-40 opening weekend to see the uneventful story of Ant-Man, Marvel’s second most useless character (Next to Howard The Duck). The next 4 years of Marvel movies are planned, it looks like the Untitled Fantastic Four reboot is the only movie we have to look forward to that isn’t riding on Downey, Jackman, or Rudd’s back.