|Dance, puppets, dance!|
The first out of the gate was Fox, which still retains rights to both the X-Men and Fantastic Four—a reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise is slated for a June 2015 release, helmed by Chronicle's Josh Trank. The X-Men franchise is going strong still, with The Wolverine released this past year, X-Men: Days of Future Past coming this May, and Age of Apocalypse in 2016. There was a rumor of a crossover movie in the offing, bridging the FF and X-Men franchises, though Fox has stated this is untrue. To oversee their superhero properties, Fox brought in celebrated (infamous?) comic writer Mark Millar, who has done comic work on both sets of characters. His role is supposed to be similar to Feige's: the man with the plan, who knows what's going on in his "universes," as these properties are increasingly referred to. The official press release states Millar will "serve as a creative consultant on the studio's upcoming projects based on Marvel Comics properties."
However, more recently, Fox also signed Simon Kinberg to a three-year first-look deal, with part of his mandate being to expand the X-Men and Fantastic Four brands like Marvel has, having additional related installments of films wrapped around the "core" franchise (e.g., the Thor franchise being supplemental to and an extension of the Avengers franchise). It's uncertain where this leaves Mark Millar, from whom we have heard little recently about Fox's Marvel properties. Possibly Fox just wants to hold on to Kinberg, who himself may just be happy to indulge an interest in the Marvel franchises while working with a big studio. Fox is likely just happy to have Kinberg, who has probably affected your geek life in recent years whether you know it or not. Starting as a screenwriter and producer, his first major success came with his script for 2005's Mr. and Mrs. Smith. From there he co-wrote X-Men: The Last Stand, and in addition to other work was the final credited writer on 2009's Sherlock Holmes. He produced X-Men: First Class, Elysium, has more in the pipeline (including work on Days of Future Past), and is one of the main writers on the new Star Wars trilogy. Dude's busy, and perhaps more importantly, has proven profitable.
|He helped create Brangelina. That is true power.|
And finally, there's Warner Bros. WB isn't exactly bringing up the rear, but they've been less chatty than others about their adaptations, despite the high level of fan fervor and media interest surrounding their characters. While there's no one "officially" in charge of the Warner/DC superhero films, one name keeps popping up around them, and it's a name that WB recently signed (like Fox with Kinberg) to a three-year, first-look deal. David S. Goyer's career is an interesting one: as a writer, he's dropped bombs like Dark City, the Blade films and Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, as well as Man of Steel; as a director, his record is spottier, with four underperforming features under his belt. But word is he's got a hand in developing additional DC properties for Warner Bros., including lower-budget features to supplement the big superhero films. It's reported that Deathstroke, Team 7, Booster Gold, and Suicide Squad are all either in development or being considered for such (at least one of those properties is redundant, in this writer's opinion), and Goyer is the man working on all of them. NBC just ordered a pilot for a Constantine show that Goyer pitched, and would produce if the show gets picked up. There are even rumors of a Sandman movie in development, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt involved in some creative capacity (perhaps even as writer/director/star). Point being, if there's a DC-related property being considered for film adaptation, Goyer is likely part of it.
|I'll take this moment to again plug my OWN preference for Morpheus. |
JGL is awesome, but… Cumberbatch.
So, after all of that... how helpful is it to have "specialists" like these guys oversee the process of bringing these stories to screen? At first blush: sure it's helpful. At least, Marvel has proven their formula and everyone else sees the dollar signs, which means Hollywood has started replicating it; if the people making money are doing a thing, then we need to be doing that thing also. After Feige, and then Joss Whedon at Marvel, Mark Millar was installed at Fox, and Kinberg as potential replacement not long after; the announcement of Goyer's first-look deal with WB didn't explicitly state that he's in charge of the DC stories, but c'mon; and Sony's brain trust is the most recent. It's absolutely a trend at this point, and I wouldn't be surprised if sometime in the near future WB officially sets Goyer up as their "superhero guy." Keeping everything under one roof is certainly appealing, as it allows for greater control in world-building (more apt, perhaps, is brand-building), the greatest trick Marvel pulled in starting all of this. From a business standpoint, too, it's probably nice to have someone to point a finger at if the movies go south—simply replace him or her with someone more profitable, and start again. It hasn't happened yet, but wait for one of these movies to flop hard and see what happens.
The best part about this, though, which could also be the biggest detriment under the wrong circumstances, is the separation of powers created by the "man-in-charge" position. The position essentially creates another layer between the studio financing a film and the people making it—and ideally, this individual would be cognizant of both the business and creative needs of each film under his or her purview. They can assuage any studio worries while maintaining the creative freedom of the production team. These are people who understand the stories and how they can be made for and marketed to wider audiences. So far, these facts seem to hold true. Marvel had an advantage in that their properties had proven worth when Disney acquired them, so they apparently felt no need to reinvent the wheel. And to Warner Bros' credit, they basically left Goyer and the Nolans alone on their Dark Knight trilogy and on Man of Steel. But as these movies become increasingly common and their budgets grow larger, it's hard to imagine they won't be subject to a greater amount of oversight—and my understanding is that the power of the "man in charge" position is such that true creative differences could result if, say, Kevin Feige thinks it's a bad idea for Oliver Stone to portray Captain America committing war crimes in a third-world country.
|Which it is, but come to think of it, we've actually kinda seen that already.|
The long and short of it is, the superhero film genre is developing and innovating in fascinating ways. They're shaking things up and taking a few risks, and getting bolder every few films. And thanks to the people in charge, the managers of these cinematic universes, there is potential for real artistic merit accompanying the financial lures of these properties. These are business people who know that story matters, or artists that know they're also in business. It's a crucial and enviable position. It'll be interesting to see if or how the role evolves in the future, but right now this is what we have. What do you think might be next? Can you improve on this model? Think it's working? Comments. Make 'em. We'll read 'em.