Marvel; Warner Bros.
The dawn of the legitimate comic book movie adaptation could arguably be traced back to Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. Since then, the journey of the genre has had its ups and downs but we are living in the Golden Age and Marvel is at the forefront. Since Iron Man they have created a strong universe that has gone beyond movies and taken over television. Sure, Marvel has projects that are better than others, but overall, they know how to make good comic book movie — and there is a reason for that. At the Austin Film Festival, four Marvel minds gave us some insight into what makes their projects so darn good.
Cort Lane, Senior Vice President of Animation & Family Entertainment at Marvel, described why Marvel is so good at what it does with what he refers to as a corporate term. It’s all about the “core attributes” of the titular heroes.
“Marvel’s priority is not the villain, but the main character,” says Lane. “If the audience connects with the core attributes of the character, they can connect with the movie.”
“(Core attributes) are things about these characters that we like,” says X-Men: First Class screenwriter Ashley Miller,” and when (movies) don’t get them right, we reject them.”
Miller begins to talk about the most polarizing superhero movie of 2016: Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. “When the movie is about Batman versus Superman, it’s good, but when it’s about Batman versus Doomsday, it doesn’t work.”
Consulting producer and writer for Jessic Jones, Edward Ricourt chimes in and says, “No one wants to see a Superman that gets beat up — that’s not the Superman I know.”
The panel, which also included Hulk screenwriter John Turman, were and still are comic book fans. Since their childhoods, all of them have read the books, know the lineage of the characters – are bonafide “geeks” — and that’s exactly the kind of writer that should be writing these movies. They actually care about these characters and know how to navigate the stories so that they connect to audiences. At the same time, they know how to handle what fanboys want and the expectations of non-comic book fan moviegoers.
“Fan service is a pitfall,” says Miller bluntly. “The movie has to feel organic so you have to put ideas and expectations of fans away. You have to write a story that’s a story to you.”
Ricourt agrees, saying that adapting these characters for the big or small screen is all about knowing how much you can keep what’s sacred in the comic book and what feels like a good story.
And the good story is all about character — something that is a brand promise to the Marvel name.
“It’s about telling a story — the superhero powers are window dressing,” says Lane. “It’s about a character’s story.”
Lane couldn’t be more right. Miller points out that the heroes work because people relate to their stories. We have seen a phenomenal character arc for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers over the course of many movies which culminated in a clash of their political beliefs in Civil War and will most likely continue through Avengers: Infinity War. We have seen a fantastical journey of sibling rivalry for Thor and his brother Loki and gone through struggle and oppression with the characters from the X-Men. Marvel also has a strong foundation for Black Panther with the death of his father — and we will see his story play out in a standalone movie in 2018. Even characters without their own movies like Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Scarlet Witch have seen formidable development in the canon.
On the TV side of things, Netflix puts the spotlight on the Marvel “street team” which includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the upcoming Iron Fist. The four will combine forces in the series The Defenders. Unlike the movies, these shows are grittier and more violent – not exactly PG.
For Ricourt, he was glad that ABC passed on Jessica Jones because it was fun and exciting for him to explore the darker side of superheroes. The quartet of Netflix shows can also go into specific topics that aren’t suitable for Disney audiences. Ricourt penned the sixth episode where Jessica Jones addresses abortion with a realistic and sensitive point of view. “After a special screening of that episode, a lot of women came up to me and told me, ‘thank you for writing something I recognize.”
Marvel may not rely on fan service, but they think about their audience all the time — and the success of their entire universe is a testimony to that. Not only do they keep things relatable with their characters, but as Turman says, “these films work because they connect with universal emotion.”
Marvel’s slate is planned well into 2019 and with Warner Bros. roster of DC movies and the numerous graphic novel adaptations in the works, the comic book adaptations are here to stay. Whether or not they are good or bad is left up to argument. But perhaps it shouldn’t be considered a genre anymore.
“Superhero is not a genre,” says Lane. “It’s a way to tell stories in other genres.”
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer