Saturday, 25 April 2015

Caping mechanism

There used to be a time when Marvel could only get Lou Ferrigno in a ripped shirt and kids' cartoons on-screen... 

March 1941: who'd ever have thought there'd be any kind of future
for a character like this after WWII, much less in 21st century cinemas?

I'm still processing my thoughts about seeing Age of Ultron, last night.  But initially my reactions are that :
A) It does confirm that the first Avengers film was something very special indeed
B) Despite more smiting and exploding then I've ever seen packed into any film before, it was the character moments and humour which I enjoyed the most.

In the meantime, here's an article I wrote earlier this week for the Ultron premier.

Superheroes have soared from comics and Children’s television to consistently top world-wide Box Office returns for the last decade and a half.

Masked marvels have flitted across movie screens since the 1940s, and the profusion of Marvel comics adaptations packing them in at the multiplexes now could merely be seen as the third age of superhero cinema.

DC comics' (Marvel's perennial competitor) flagship characters: Superman and Batman, first appeared on celluloid in their own Columbia serial adventures between 1948 and 1950.
These same two characters later stormed the cinemas anew, each in their own four part film series spanning the late seventies to the end of the 1990s, this time with vast budgets and star names to bring a new credibility to the genre.

So where was the now-ubiquitous Marvel while Superman and Batman were hogging the limelight?  Apart from the fondly-remembered Incredible Hulk television series and a couple of modest Spider-Man TV movies they focused mainly on animated adventures and very gradually built up the public recognition of their characters beyond comic book pages.

A sophisticated animated series featuring Marvel's mutant heroes the X-Men had done well for Fox studios during the 1990s, attracting a sizeable adult audience. When Fox paired the property with a young director who had just scored a major hit with a modestly-budgeted ensemble film, the Usual Suspects, it was the beginning of a cinema revolution.

Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000) was a surprise hit, launching Marvel onto the mainstream big screen, (as well as the career of an Australian stage performer called Hugh Jackman). When Sony Pictures launched their phenomenally-successful Spider-Man film franchise two years later, a costumed stampede from the comic book page to the multiplexes began, with mixed, but generally highly-successful results.

Marvels' pride at the how well their licensed progeny were doing in the 'real world' must have been tempered by the fact that they were only seeing a portion of the enormous profits . Buying back the under-performing Hulk from Universal, the recently formed Marvel Studios put an audacious plan into motion. Beginning with a title which had little public recognition: Iron Man, they launched what has become known as MCU - (the Marvel Cinematic Universe). This was to be an interconnected series of movie adaptations of various other characters, with the intention of combining them all in a huge multi-hero spectacular, four years later.

Not only did each of these films pack cinemas, but their climactic combination in The Avengers (2012), became the third highest-grossing film in history.
Three years on and the world shows little sign of tiring of the exploits of these powered-up wish-fulfillment figures. The old guard from DC: Superman and Batman, are also drawing their own latest generations of film fans for the third time.

But these films are certainly not cheap to make, (the Avengers cost $220 million), and could it be that even super-budgeted heroes have to come back down to Earth eventually? Industry legend Steven Spielberg warned in 2013 that the film industry could be in for massive changes ahead:
 "... there's eventually going to be an implosion, or a big meltdown... where three or four, or maybe even a half dozen, mega-budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm."

Time will surely tell, but in the meantime it's certain that Marvel's finest will have more than enough to occupy themselves with in the latest cinema juggernaut opening today: Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It's early days for Avengers: Age of Ultron, but for now Spider-Man is Marvel's biggest-earning movie property at $3.9b. (and I don't think that even includes Nicolas Hammond's contributions)


  1. A lot of people would technically put Blade in 1998 as the start of the Marvel Comics on Screen period, not X-Men. Blade showed that a serious comic movie was possible, and that led the way for X-Men.

  2. Hi Jamas. Yes, I debated about Blade, but would argue that X-Men was far more of a mainstream breakthrough. I doubt Blade could ever have launched Marvel into cinemas the way X-Men did.
    Given the fact that this feature was for a newspaper readership, I needed to keep it pretty mainstream. Personally, I'd love to have covered Marvel's earlier efforts (like the Captain America films you've written about), and television series - but had to draw the line somewhere.
    Of course, Captain America also had his own movie serial in the 1940s...