There was much joy and celebration when Marvel Comics formed its own studio for the purpose of producing films based on their extensive library of characters. They would have creative control over how their cadre of superheroes would be portrayed on the big screen – as opposed to handing the rights over to Sony Pictures or Fox Studios.

While Sony did all right with the first two Spider-Man movies, the third was pretty much reviled by hard core fans – and Fox, while they didn’t do badly on the first two X-Men films, the third was a disappointment. And of course let’s not forget Electra and Daredevil which where underwhelming to say the least.

And indeed it seemed like an awesome thing when the first-born film from the studio was the mega-hit Iron Man. Not only did it gross half a billion dollars in theaters, but it set (at the time) records for Blu-ray sales in addition to tons o’ cash from DVD and other merchandise.

Then came The Incredible Hulk, which while not a huge box office success, did (as far as I know) turn a profit for Marvel. For icing on the cake, they made clear they wanted to create an interconnected movie universe, with characters from films appearing in other characters’ movies – all leading up to the penultimate event: The Avengers movie.

Add to this inspired casting choices: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/Hulk, and even Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D.. It looked to continue with casting newly-hot-again Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell in Iron Man 2.

All was right in the world (for comic book geeks, anyway).

But then, cracks began to appear in the house of Marvel Studios. First we learned that Terrence Howard would not be returning to reprise his role as James Rhodes in the sequel. Truth be known, I didn’t shed a tear over that – while Howard is a great actor, he didn’t work for me as “Rhodey.” Then a few days ago came word that Sam Jackson would NOT return as Nick Fury in subsequent Marvel films. We know that Jackson hoped for a larger role in Iron Man 2, but it seems that it is not likely to happen.

The reason behind these two changes? Money.

Now comes word that Marvel has offered Mickey Rourke $250,000 to appear in the sequel. From the unofficial announcent, it seemed that Rourke would play a significant part in the film.

From Variety:

“Then there is comeback kid Mickey Rourke, who is poised to follow his Golden Globe-winning performance in ‘The Wrestler’ with an offer to play the main villain in ‘Iron Man 2′ – but at a lowball opening offer of $250,000 from Marvel; Marvel’s tactics have already prompted Samuel L. Jackson to swear off playing Nick Fury because of a similarly low offer.”

So the knee-jerk reaction is to flail on Marvel, calling them cheapskates, yadda yadda yadda. Now that may very well be the right reaction, but what about the other side of the coin (so to speak)?

What we don’t know (apart from Rourke) is just how much money these actors were offered to reprise these roles. My understanding of the Terrence Howard situation is that he was the first actor hired for Iron Man when the studio was trying to lure in some big time talent – and thus he was paid very highly for the role. More than even Robert Downey Jr. Apparently Marvel wanted to adjust that to a more realistic number which was far lower than his initial pay day and he balked.

Then we have Sam Jackson – I have NO idea how much the man makes, but lets take a look at the last few movies he’s done:

  • The Spirit
  • Soul Men
  • Lakeview Terrace
  • Jumper
  • Cleaner
  • 1408
  • Resurrecting the Champ
  • Home of the Brave
  • Black Snake Moan
  • Snakes on a Plane

The man gets a lot of work, but is he really that big a box office draw? Personally I like him on screen (although I really need to erase his performance in The Spirit from my brain), but who knows what he might be asking for a very small role in the film?

Yes, I know – the studio made a bazillion dollars off Iron Man. But could it be at least a possibility that Marvel is trying to be realistic in pay for these big name stars? I know this will open a can of worms, but for example $10 million for three or four months work on a movie set? Please.

“Oh, but look at how much money the studio makes” I hear you cry… Well yes, you are correct. But when you risk hundreds of millions of dollars aren’t you entitled to a huge reward for all that risk?

Don’t buy that argument? Well then do you think maybe anyone else involved in the film might have contributed to its success? The director, perhaps? Producers who do all the logistics? Computer artists who sit in dark rooms making fantasy photo-realistic?

It’s funny, people talk about how exhorbitant the pay of CEOs is compared to “regular” office workers, but it doesn’t occur to anyone to apply that to the movie industry.

Now I could be totally off base here, and Marvel Studios is just being a cheap tightwad – especially given the fact that you can pretty much guarantee another half billion at the box office.

So what do YOU think? Is Marvel being cheap… or realistic?