Sure-things are hard to come by in Hollywood, but Marvel has almost half a dozen comic book franchises now certified to print money. The Avengers 2, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy are all in production with a new host of talent behind and in front of the camera. With the crop of sequels ultimately setting the stage for 'Phase Two' and beyond, now would be the time that most studios would avoid rocking the boat.
But according to Marvel Studios Head Kevin Feige, that would go against everything that brought them their success in the first place. It was taking big risks and sticking with them that has worked so far, and going forward fans can expect to see - for better or worse - even bolder choices and even bigger risks over the coming years.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but building a successful movie franchise around a universally-adored comic book hero is hard to do. A recognizable star and strong marketing might pull in a big opening weekend, but lasting success - and critical acclaim - are far harder to reproduce. One need look no farther than Marvel's largest competitor, DC, with their flop Green Lantern and the need to start their biggest property from scratch with Zack Snyder's Man of Steel. Yet despite the odds, Marvel has managed to churn out winning picture after winning picture, culminating in this summer's Avengers. In winning the summer blockbuster wars and being named the best superhero movie to date by many, the team-up brought 'Phase One' of Marvel's movie plans to a successful close.
The overall success of the first round of films was due in large part to some bold decisions on Marvel's part. Be it dedicating a large chunk of Iron Man 2 in order to lay the groundwork for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Marvel movie universe, to handing the reins to their biggest film over to the then-un-bankable talents of Joss Whedon, Marvel bet big, and won. In an interview with Moviefone, Marvel's President of Production Kevin Feige credited the company's position as current king of the blockbusters not to caution or concern for stepping on toes, but making decisions they believed in and following through:
"We got to that success because of the risks that we took along the way. To announce four movies over how many years, and being in production on "The Avengers" before "Thor" and "Cap" even came out, the whole adventure was risky. It solidifies our viewpoint that if you take creative risks that you believe in, for an end result, then it can work. I don’t think we can say Hey, now we can be riskier. Each of these movies cost a lot of money already. It just solidifies the notion that for Phase 2, play the long game, stick with what you believe in, and when there is a fork in the road and one seems safer and maybe a little boring, and one seems risky and harder, we always go the risky and harder way. That’s what people will see in "Iron Man 3," "Thor: Dark World," "Captain America: Winter Soldier" and certainly in "Guardians of the Galaxy," which is one of the ones that I’m most excited about because it’s so outside the box and so weird and so different. People like grand experiments and things that haven’t been done before, the unexpected."
No one familiar with Guardians of the Galaxy needs to be told why director James Gunn's "twisted" ideas for the extraterrestrial super-team will be straying from convention. The film may be the one oddball of the coming sea of sequels due to its relatively obscure source material, but whether Gunn's version adheres to the original source material or charts new territory, the studio will apparently go with what seems most likely to get a reaction. Hearing that Marvel is willing to take risks with characters and plots that fans have followed for decades might be worrisome, but the way Feige characterizes their reasoning is a promising sign.
A preference for bold, risky decisions likely means that strong stories have a better chance of being explored without being run through the studio-executive-focus-groups since, as Feige explains in the interview, there are more voices in the conversation than his own. It might also mean that the story Joss Whedon came up with hunched over a notepad in a London pub ends up as the actual screenplay for The Avengers 2. If it was good enough to convince him to oversee the entire Marvel Movie Universe for the next three years, it should be 'risky' enough for Feige as well.
It's hard to hear Feige's commitment to prioritizing creative vision without considering the downside to risk - primarily, losing. Most of the risks being taken have proved to be effective, but with 'Phase Two' going cosmic, Marvel is stepping into a whole new playground. There's no reason to believe that the choices being made will fail, but there's no denying the inherent danger of taking human characters away from their home planet. Iron Man 3 will be bringing star-spangled armor alongside new director Shane Black, Thanos will be introduced as the new, completely alien villain, and Thor: The Dark World will be trying to bring an organic, natural feel to Asgard, while simultaneously exploring far more realms and races. And then there's Ant-Man.
With Marvel's winning streak, it might be easy for Feige and others to think that Marvel can do no wrong, so long as they stick to what they think is right. Of course, it's easy to say that 'we'll be sticking to our guns' when they have yet to misfire. And with the connections between the films becoming more and more intricate, one property that fails to resonate with audiences could create serious problems. Risk is all well and good, but how Marvel recovers should they gamble too much - even in the name of staying true to the original - will be telling.
What's your take on Marvel's perspective? Should they continue to go outside the box and surprise fans, or stick closer to the best stories that their comic books have told with their respective stars? Expect fans to leap even farther away from reality, or err on the side of caution? Sound off in the comments.
The full Marvel ‘Phase Two’ release schedule is as follows: Iron Man 3 hits theaters on May 3rd, 2013, Thor: The Dark World on November 8th, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4th, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1st, 2014, and The Avengers 2 on May 1st, 2015.
Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.
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