Meet the Guys Who Bring Marvel and DC to Screen | Fanboys Anonymous

Meet the Guys Who Bring Marvel and DC to Screen

Posted by Unknown Wednesday, January 29, 2014
If you're a frequent visitor to this site, you probably know the name Kevin Feige. If you have no idea who that is and this is your first time, welcome! Kevin Feige is President of Production at Marvel Studios, which means he's the guy with his fingers in all the pies, so to speak. He's had some creative input and has acted as producer on every Marvel movie since 2000's X-Men. He got the "President" title in 2007, just before Marvel started slow-cooking their big cinematic universe—to great effect and no little acclaim, one might add. This being Hollywood, it was only a matter of time before someone copied that idea.

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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.

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He helped create Brangelina. That is true power.
Then there's Sony, which took the man-in-charge concept to an extreme. Sony only has one superhero property to call its own—luckily, that property is Spider-Man, one of the most popular heroes in the world and one of the most profitable franchises. This is a property they are going to want to tend and nurture very, very carefully, and it starts for them in forming a "brain trust" for the Spider-Man universe, consisting of Amazing Spider-Man director Marc Webb, ubiquitous blockbuster scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (Transformers, Star Trek, etc.), Jeff Pinkner, Ed Solomon, and Drew Goddard. Currently, this team reports they are plotted out through to Amazing Spider-Man 4 and a couple of spin-offs, reported to be villain-centric movies focused on Spidey enemies Venom and the Sinister Six; and recall, if you will, that Amazing Spider-Man 2 has yet to hit theatres. The writing and directing jobs are split amongst the group; Goddard is supposedly in control of ASM4, the Sinister Six film, and Kurtzman is slated to direct the Venom spin-off. Spider-Man has a deep and rich story history peppered with memorable supporters and villains, and it sounds right now like Sony is willing to tap into all of it.

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.

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I'll take this moment to again plug my OWN preference for Morpheus.
JGL is awesome, but… Cumberbatch.
I will point out, however, that when these properties make it to TV, the patterns shift. Kevin Feige is still involved with everything Marvel Studios creates, which extends to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the upcoming shows Marvel is producing with Netflix, leading to the Defenders event. When it comes to DC, there are a few cards on the table. Smallville was a big hit for DC and WB, and producers Miles Millar and Alfred Gough were set to produce an Aquaman spinoff similar to Smallville, featuring Arthur Curry's life and self-discovery rather than Clark Kent's. The character even appeared in Smallville to pave the way for the new series, but it failed to come together. Similarly, now Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim have a hit with Arrow and will produce The Flash, spinning off of the character's introduction in the former. An outlier exists in the form of Fox's Gotham TV show, which has no ties to anything Warner Bros. is doing with DC's cinematic or television universes. There's no unifying force guiding the DC television properties, like Feige with Marvel Studios—which, so far, actually seems to be to DC's benefit. Smallville had a devoted fanbase while Arrow enjoys good ratings and reviews, so hopefully The Flash can continue the trend.

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.

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Which it is, but come to think of it, we've actually kinda seen that already. 
The cautionary tale to remember is Iron Man 2. The movie suffered from a few ills, but perhaps the biggest was the perceived hit Tony Stark's story took to accommodate some necessary world-building leading up to The Avengers. Movies that pay greater service to the collective franchise story are likely to leave solo stories in the lurch. Again, on the whole the single-hero franchises have stood on their own pretty well, but as these cinematic universes grow—as they must to survive and to keep bringing in money—it's going to be important for the grand schemers uniting these stories to remember that the characters make the team, not the other way around. Avengers should be exciting because we care about the heroes involved. The team-up is cooler when we know the players and can call the game. (Pay attention, Justice League.)

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.

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