In the last six months, there's been some big developments over at Fox in regards to their Marvel Comics properties. The success of Marvel Studios' The Avengers changed the game for comic book movies everywhere - including Fox's next round of comic book movies, which include X-Men projects like The Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past, as well as the Fantastic Four reboot that Chronicle director Josh Trank is working on.
Aside from X-Men movie producer Lauren Shuler floating invitations for an Avengers and X-Men movie crossover, there was the big announcement that Kick-Ass and Ultimates creator Mark Millar will shepherd the Fox Marvel Universe - a move that echoes Marvel Studios' appointment of Avengers director Joss Whedon as the manager of the "Phase 2" Marvel movie rollout. Read on for the latest from the outspoken Millar, about what's going on with the revitalized FMU.
In speaking with Word Balloon, Millar was pretty candid (as he is wont to be) about everything from Fox's 'borrowing' of the Marvel Studios approach, to Fox's gross mishandling of some of its Marvel properties:
"The job at Fox is officially "Creative Consultant" and if there's a comparable job, I guess it's probably what Joss is doing over with Marvel Studios. It's very, very exciting. Just as a fan, to be at the heart of something like this is wonderful."
"There have been some poor decisions in the past, but you also have to remember that there have been some excellent ones too. Bryan Singer's X-Men for example, I think revolutionised superhero movies. It pre-dated Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, and I think you forget how close that was chronologically to Batman and Robin! To open with a Holocaust scene in a superhero movie was just unheard of. Fox get a lot of flak for the films which didn't work out, and quite rightly, but you forget that they've done some really great stuff too. I'm thinking specifically of X-Men, X-Men 2 and X-Men: First Class."
There's a lot of truth in what Millar said, though it's not exactly fair to credit Fox itself with those accomplishments. The three films he names are also the ones that were not-so-coincidentally conceived and crafted by X-Men and X2 director Bryan Singer; when the Studio (rather than a creative shepherd) was in the primary position of pulling the strings, we got films like Daredevil, Elektra, Wolverine, Fantastic Four, and the ever-controversial X3 (with Brett Ratner instead of Matthew Vaughn). In 20/20 hindsight, it's clear that from the starting point Millar referenced (X-Men in 2000), the creative shepherd approach was the right way to build a comic book movie universe. But instead of, say, Singer being appointed to head the new FMU (granted, he's a busy guy), we have Millar. But I digress.
As for how the future of the FMU will be different from its (very) checkered past? Millar attributes the new era to being a matter of personnel - both on the creative and executive fronts:
"The team who is running the show over there now I'm very comfortable with. I actually really like everything that they're doing, and they recognise more than anyone the mistakes that they've made in the past and they just want to do right by the fans. Hiring myself was a first step in a number of things that they're planning and they just really want to be respectful to the material I think. X-Men: First Class, which I absolutely loved, just feels like planting the flag for what they're planning to do over the next few years."
Josh Trank is directing 'Fantastic Four'
Sounds promising, but in the eyes of jaded fans the world over, the new batch of films will likely be considered guilty until proven innocent of being terrible. And no franchise will bear that weight more than the rebooted Fantastic Four. The two FF films released in the mid-2000s were considered misfires by just about every comic book fan - from the directing (by Think Like a Man helmer Tim Story) to the storylines and the casting (with the exception of Michael Chiklis as Ben Grimm and Chris Evans as Johnny Storm, they were fine).
So what is Millar's take on Chronicle director Josh Trank's version of the Four?
"Hiring Josh Trank for Fantastic Four...it could just not be more different than the first Fantastic Four movie from what I've seen so far. Even just as a fan, I'm very, very excited by the level of talent they have on the directors side of things."
Finally, there is the X-Men movie universe, which currently sees Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold working with star Hugh Jackman on the Samurai-themed Wolverine 2. Meanwhile, X-Men: First Class director Matthew Vaughn and Bryan Singer are using time travel story mechanics for the iconic X-Men storyline (and First Class sequel film) Days of Future Past, which is expected to be a kind of reset button for the convoluted X-Men movie continuity - possibly the launchpad for the entire shared FMU.
Millar doesn't reveal anything new or startling about the upcoming X-Men films, he basically tows the company line - as is his job as the new frontman:
"I can't say too much about it right now, but The Wolverine has only just started shooting really, I mean it's been shooting for a few weeks now. I really do like it and I'm really impressed by it. Days of Future Past, which is being written at the moment, is the next one up and at the same time, Fantastic Four is being written right now. In a weird way, it's just the easiest job in the world as I'm surrounded by people who are so good!"
We can't argue with the level of talent at work on the films: Mangold's a proven and skilled director with a strong track record (we'll forgive Knight and Day); Trank is a breakout talent who clearly "gets" superheroes and how to ground them in compelling films; Vaughn knocked out two great comic book flicks in a row (Kick-Ass and XM:FC) and will have actual time and budget (for once) to create Days of Future Past - while Singer is back where he belongs, guiding the X-Men flagship. No problems there.
Whether or not Fox actually relaxes with its notorious meddlesome ways, and lets these creators actually create remains to be seen - as does Millar's ability to captain a ship this large. Could we see a Fox Marvel Universe that will soon rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of quality and enjoyment? Part of me wants to hope, but the other part remains guarded, not wanting to be heartbroken all over again. As the zen master said: "We shall see..."
The Wolverine will be in theaters on July 26, 2013.
X-Men Days of Future Past will be in theaters on July 18, 2014.
The Fantastic Four reboot is in active development but still awaiting a release date.