Friday, May 07, 2010

Bleak, Pessimistic, and Hopefully Wrong

I'm a bit worried about the future of Marvel's movie division. I don't think it even needs saying, at this point, that Marvel's track record at making movies of their characters is much better than DC's; even counting high-profile misfires like Elektra and Daredevil, they've had more and better films than DC--the latter has really only had two major franchises that they've managed to translate into movies, and those have both had long fallow periods (between Batman and Robin and Batman Begins, and between Superman IV: The Quest for Peace and Superman Returns.)

Why? If you study the disastrous history of DC's film franchises, the answer becomes pretty obvious; as a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Entertainment, DC has not been in a position to exercise control over their intellectual properties. Despite a long and relatively successful track record of managing their characters well ("Identity Crisis" notwithstanding) they're forced to bow to the whims of studio executives who don't necessarily understand the appeal of the characters. Everyone has their own set of demands to impose on the next Superman movie, and there's nobody with a strong, singular vision behind the wheel to keep those demands from tearing the film apart in a mess of confusion and conflicts between fanboyish enthusiasm ("Dude, we've got to put in the Eradicator! It'll be an easter egg for the fans!") and outsider indifference ("Why do we really need to have Superman in costume, or flying? Seems kinda corny to me.")

But Marvel...they're the client, not the employee. They're the customer, and the customer is always right. By demanding script approval when they sell the property, they can ensure that the brand isn't diluted by incompetent or indifferent adaptations. They can make the movies a strong translation of their original stories, instead of a vague, generic, corporatized blockbuster (like, say, the GI Joe or Transformers movies.) That power is something that they should not surrender lightly, because it's a big part of what makes the movies work.

But, um...they did, didn't they? They're now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Disney. Marvel Studios is possibly redundant, and even if it survives, it'll be as part of a larger company. Admittedly, a company that's downright famous for being ferociously protective of its intellectual properties, but nonetheless a company that views Marvel as just one of its many projects. Marvel will no longer have the same leverage it once had when dealing with directors, producers and screenwriters, and I'm worried that this might translate into weaker films. I hope I'm wrong, of course. As I say, Disney is quite protective of its characters, and might at least be willing to listen to people who think like they do. But if Thor has a wacky, jive-talking robot as his sidekick, you know who's to blame.


Dean H. said...

But that echoes what has been a key difference between DC and Marvel since the Silver Age. DC Comics was always a collection of voices. Gardner Fox, John Broome, Bob Kaninger, Julius Schwartz, Mort Weisinger, Otto Binder and others were writing and editing the various DC books during that critical period.

At Marvel, it was mostly Stan filling those roles in the early days. The folks that replaced him when he left were trained by him. As a result, Marvel had an authorial voice that it has retained to some degree.

E. Wilson said...

In fairness, DC has had remarkable luck with their television series, the DCAU being the most well-known example. Marvel's never really reached that level of quality with their own cartoons.