24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Marvel

'The Avengers': Seven lessons of Marvel's box-office success

May 7, 2012 |  6:00 am

'The Avengers': Seven lessons of Marvel's box-office success

With a huge opening overseas, Joss Whedon's "The Avengers" was poised for a smashing weekend in the U.S. But no one knew just how big the Marvel film would be. Distributor Disney's estimate of $200.3 million (even taking into account potential slight revisions when official figures hit Monday) shatters the previous opening-weekend record of $169.2 million, held by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- Part 2" last summer.

What are some inferences to be made from the massive haul of the film starring Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Chris Hemsworth? Here's our handy rundown.

The branding/superhero era isn’t ending anytime soon. In the last year or two, a drumbeat has slowly started that maybe moviedom's comic book era was winding down. Look at the critical and even commercial sag of several of last summer's movies, said skeptics. "The Avengers" may be sui generis, but expect a reversal of that trend now. Every studio with a superhero license is, as of Monday morning, doubtless checking into how they can wring more out of it--or, if they have several such licenses, perhaps even rolling several characters into one movie.

Television creators can rock too. Coming into this weekend, Whedon had hardly been a force in the movie world, having helmed just one tepidly received  film (“Serenity”), spun off a canceled television series. In fact, as a breed, few TV creators have made a quick, successful leap to the big screen. But "Avengers" changes that. If you have the fan base (Whedon was of course a geek god after cultural events like “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” and the Internet sensation “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along”) you can have a massive blockbuster at the multiplex too.

PHOTOS: 'The Avengers' Hollywood premiere

Geek-speak isn't a turn-off. "The Avengers" didn't shy away from the geek. In fact, the movie embraced it, filling the screen with in-references and dense language about comic book items like the Tesseract. And the Marvel movie was directed by Whedon, the ultimate insider.  Yet that didn't put a cap on its numbers—in fact, it only seemed to inflate them. Which may be connected to...

Critics do matter. Fan sites often like to say that the critics don't have much to say about whether a film will succeed. That may be true for a certain kind of generic action movie. But the strong critical support for "The Avengers" (there were some voices of dissent, like the New York Times' A.O. Scott and this eloquent protest, but they were few and far between) helped extend the movie far beyond the  base.  Telling stat: The two superhero movies with the biggest opening weekends, “The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight,” are also, with Rotten Tomatoes scores hovering around 93%, also far and away the best-reviewed.

The villain isn't necessarily the thing. Every great movies needs a memorable villain, a bravura performance by a known actor, like Jack Nicholson’s Joker--or Heath Ledger’s Joker, for that matter. Except perhaps to his most ardent supporters, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki won’t, it's safe to say, go down as one of the iconic villain performances of all time. Yet that was hardly a hindrance to the movie's runaway success.

Art house stars can cross over. Just two years ago, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner were collecting Oscar nominations for small, independently-made movies (“The Kids Are All Right” and “The Hurt Locker,” respectively). Cut to 2012, where the actors were linchpins of "The Avengers" (as the Hulk and Hawkeye, respectively).

Sometimes Hollywood logic is actually logical. It's easy to laugh at the unwritten rules of Hollywood, which say things like 'an unlikable character never works' or 'pre-awareness works every time." But sometimes the saws are saws for a reason. Like, say, "The Avengers," which is based on the supposition that if you combine more than six known characters from a  bundle of previous comics and films, you'll get pretty much six times the box office.


Movie review: 'The Avengers'

PHOTOS: All-time box-office leaders

''The Avengers' as top U.S. debut ever with $200.3 million

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Chris Hemsworth, left, and Chris Evans in "The Avengers." Credit: Disney

'Avengers' explained: Who's that mystery villain?

May 7, 2012 |  5:01 am

The Avengers
Presuming you're among the record-breaking throngs who turned up at the multiplex this weekend to check out "The Avengers" and made sure to stick around for the end credits -- and if you're not, you should stop reading this right now -- you might have a particular question bedeviling you. And, no, it's not "What's shawarma?"

Plenty of moviegoers not schooled in Marvel Comics lore were left wondering -- who exactly is that lizard-looking fellow who turns up in the first bonus scene during the film's credits and why does he seem to be positively gleeful about the idea of winning dominion over Earth?

His name is Thanos, and he's a Marvel villain introduced in the totally cosmic storylines of the 1970s. He desires to win the affections of Death, who in the Marvel Universe is personified as a hooded, skeletal female. He wants to give her every living thing as a token of his affection instead of just going with, you know, a See's Candies variety box. Which is why the "courting death" line makes him chuckle.

In the comics, Thanos coveted objects of power such as the Cosmic Cube (which prominently popped up in "Captain America: The First Avenger") and his appetites set him directly on a collision course with the Avengers.

So, does that mean we'll soon be hearing casting rumors about who will play Thanos in "Avengers Part 2"? Let's meet at Zankou Chicken a little later to discuss. 

-- Geoff Boucher and Gina McIntyre


'Avengers' clip: Scarlett Johansson breaks out Joss Whedon's wit

'The Avengers': Superhero fun for many critics, and Fury for one

'The Avengers': Joss Whedon fills the screen with heroes and humor

Photo: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) in "The Avengers" Credit: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel


'The Avengers': Superhero fun for many critics, and Fury for one

May 3, 2012 |  6:18 pm

The Avengers
You'd think a tough guy like super-spy Nick Fury, the ringleader of the titular all-star superhero team in "The Avengers," would have pretty thick skin. But it turns out Fury, or at least the actor who plays him, Samuel L. Jackson, took exception to the New York Times' mixed review of the Marvel comic adaptation, in which A.O. Scott wrote that the film's "failures are significant and dispiriting." Scott added that the film is dragged down by "grinding, hectic emptiness" and "bloated cynicism."

In response, Jackson wrote the following tweet: "#Avengers fans, NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!"

Jackson needn't get too worked up, as many critics are finding "The Avengers" to be an entertaining comic book romp. The Times' own Kenneth Turan writes that "this film just might make a believer of you" — even if you've been frustrated by previous Marvel adaptations or generally uninterested in them. Turan says writer-director Joss Whedon "is the key reason why this $220-million behemoth of a movie is smartly thought out and executed with verve and precision. It may be overly long at two hours, 23 minutes, but so much is going on you might not even notice." The action scenes are "crisply done," the dialogue is often "genuinely funny," and the chemistry is "pleasantly convincing."

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Producers Guild of America honors Stan Lee

November 9, 2011 | 12:01 pm

The Producers Guild of America announced Wednesday that Marvel Comics' Stan Lee, whose co-creations include "Spider-Man," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Iron Man," will receive the 2012 Vanguard Award at the 23rd Annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 21 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Lee, 88, has also executive produced such films as those of the "Spider-Man" franchise, the "Iron Man" films, "Thor" and "The X-Men" franchise.

The Vanguard Award recognizes achievements in new media and technology.

"Stan Lee's creative vision and imagination has produced some of the most beloved and visually stunning characters and adventures in history," said PGA Awards co-chairs Paula Wagner and Michael Manheim in a statement Wednesday.

Previous recipients include George Lucas, John Lasseter and YouTube founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Will Wright.


"Patt Morrison Asks: Comics genius Stan Lee"

 "'Romeo and Juliet: The War': Stan Lee's Cosmic Shakespeare"

-- Susan King  

Photo: Stan Lee. Credit: Vince Bucci/Getty Images

'Captain America:' Falling back in love with WWII and the Cold War

July 25, 2011 | 10:07 am


The comic-book movie has had, to say the least, an up-and-down year. But with the success of "Captain America: The First Avenger," the mid-20th century couldn't be doing any better.

Among Hollywood's purveyors of action and adventure, World War II and the Cold War were settings supposedly best left to yesterday. Yet several times in 2011, we've not only accepted Nazi- and Soviet-era environments; we've embraced them.

The latest example came this weekend, when "Captain America"  and its 1940s flag-waving took in $65.8 million, the best opening for any non-sequel this year. In some foreign countries, marketing materials downplayed the context in which Chris Evans' super soldier was fighting.  But anyone seeing the movie couldn't miss the WWII flourishes -- the military ambitions of Evans' Steve Rogers, or Hugo Weaving's Wagner-listening Third Reich leader.

Other period American crucibles have been peeking out at the multiplex this summer: the Cuban missile crisis of "X-Men: First Class," where Americans and Soviets take turns being the bad guy (there's also an evil Nazi tossed in for good measure), and "Super 8," where Brezhnev-era paranoia hangs heavily over the proceedings. Like "Captain America," both of those movies performed solidly: "X-Men" sits in the top 10 among all releases this year, and "Super 8" has garnered $124 million to date, second only to "Bridesmaids" among live-action movies based on an original concept.

Two of these films, of course, are based on comic books, and most moviegoers are no more likely to see them because of their history lessons than they would for the Oscar bona fides of the third male lead. But it's notable if not even a little odd that the Cold War and World War II have proved a kind of safe haven for Hollywood. It wasn't long ago (Tom Cruise's "Valkyrie" eyepatch, anyone?) when the mere whiff of Nazism was considered lethal at the box office. Director Joe Johnston and Marvel executives themselves faced the skepticism of  box-office pundits when it was revealed that "Captain America" would remain in period.

The decision to use these throwback eras is hardly a matter of deep ideology. But then, that may be the point. Contemporary geopolitics are sufficiently fraught that if you're going to root villains in a national identity (and plenty of action movies, like the Jason Bourne series, largely avoid that, going to shadowy international groups instead), you better go pretty far back.

What's interesting is that, whereas the Cold War and WWII were once popular because they carried a certain aura of mystery and fear, the current vogue is driven by the opposite: by just how non-scary these periods are to 2011 eyes. In a lot of ways, these settings represent the reverse of the moviedom phenomenon of a few years ago, when Hollywood couldn't get enough of contemporary enemies. Then, big-budget movies such as "Body of Lies" and "The Kingdom" sought to put a decidedly more timely spin on the action movie and give villains an Islamofascist face. But filmgoers balked; apparently we want our movie enemies a little less familiar than our real life ones.

Even in this retro craze, there are still limitations, of course. The Russians can't be outright villains -- Moscow's box-office potential is too great. But when it comes to nemeses, Hollywood has figured out that giving us cinematic types a lot more common decades ago is perhaps the surest, and safest, way to make money today.


Captain America outmuscles Harry Potter

Captain America tries to win over the world

Critical Mass: Chris Evans saves Captain America

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Chris Evans as "Captain America." Credit: Paramount Pictures

Critical Mass: 'Thor' swings his hammer and the critics scream

May 6, 2011 |  2:55 pm


Bridges are the key theme of this weekend's "Thor," a film that bridges us from the doldrums of spring releases to the flashier, if not better, world of summer blockbusters. It also serves as another step in the bridge from the first "Iron Man" in 2008 to next summer's superhero all-star jam, "The Avengers." And within the film itself, a superhero actioner about the Norse god of thunder and his adventures in his home of Asgard and on Earth, a rainbow bridge connects the well-regarded Asgard sections of the film with the less successful Earth sections, set in Puente Antiguo, N.M. (which means "Old Bridge").

According to Times critic Kenneth Turan, the film also attempts to bridge director Kenneth Branagh's high-minded Shakespearean intentions with Marvel Entertainment's bottom-line-oriented need to crank out entertainment product. However, Turan doesn't exactly see it as a bridge: "Think of 'Thor' as the ultimate Superhero Smackdown." Surprisingly, he finds no winner. Both titanic forces fight to a draw in his estimation. He writes, " 'Thor' has its strengths, but it is finally something of a mishmash with designs on being more interesting than it manages to be."

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'Captain America' begins to exact his revenge [trailer]

March 23, 2011 |  8:33 pm

The full "Captain America: The First Avenger" trailer hit the Web today. And while it only fleshes out a little more of the summer movie's backstory — Chris Evan's Steve Rogers is the puny victim who joins the army for reasons of toughness, before becoming the super soldier of the title — there's still enough to keep the buzz above the "Green Lantern" line.

The Marvel film has an unusual challenge: it has to satisfy the modern appetite for superhero movies while staying true to the 1940's setting and all we're conditioned to know about it.  So far it seems to be dancing the line.

The World War II vibe here is considerably more straight-laced than the last time we saw it in a summer movie, in "Inglourious Basterds." But the Joe Johnston film still manages to convey a sense of rise-of-Hitler importance without skimping on the flashy weaponry, origin story and mysterious villains now common to Marvel movies. (There's also a notable absence of American flags and other jingoism, no doubt a function of the movie's need to travel.)

Comics die-hards may parse each frame for details, but basically the trailer doesn't offer much more than a man becoming a soldier to fight Nazis and other enemies. It does provide the opportunity to watch Tommy Lee Jones bark orders to troops "Fugitive"-style. And the ever-versatile Stanley Tucci gets his Erskine on, even getting off perhaps the first antibiotics joke in the history of summer tent poles.

— Steven Zeitchik



Tom Hooper could direct Les Miserables musical, could have directed 'Iron Man 3'

February 23, 2011 |  5:15 pm

EXCLUSIVE: Of all the filmmakers to see their stock boosted this Oscar season, none has enjoyed the Google-like jump of Tom Hooper. Like any director with an Oscar nomination and a $100-million hit on his hands,  "The King's Speech" helmer has been wooed by numerous studios in town.

Perhaps the most interesting offer that we've heard about? It comes from Marvel and involves some shiny gizmos. According to a person who has worked closely with Hooper but who asked not to be identified because the director did not authorize this person to speak on his behalf, the Brit was offered the director's chair on "Iron Man 3," the latest installment in the Robert Downey Jr. franchise. He turned it down, and "Lethal Weapon" writer Shane Black wound up landing the job several weeks ago.

While Hooper won't be steering Stark Industries, another person who has worked closely with him said he was weighing an offer to direct "Les Miserables," a new version of the classic novel and Broadway musical set in 19th-century France. The movie, which is being developed by "Atonement" producer Working Title, is conceived as a big-budget musical.

A "Les Mis" movie would mark a return to the big screen for the story of Jean Valjean after a 1998 non-musical version (which, coincidentally, starred "King's Speech" star Geoffrey Rush as the villainous Inspector Javert). If Hooper accepted the gig, it would continue a European trend for the director: His "The Damned United" was also across the pond.

Hooper has not taken a new job since "Speech" wrapped shooting about a year ago.

When we interviewed him earlier this season, Hooper said he wouldn't mind continuing the "Speech" pattern and directing another historical or period story. "I'm certainly on the lookout" for something like that, he told 24 Frames.

A representative at Hooper's agency International Creative Management did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the two projects.

The "Iron Man" offer is reminiscent of last year's bid by Sony for "The Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow -- another filmmaker who saw her fortunes polished by Oscar season  -- to direct its reboot of "Spider-Man."  She turned it down to make "Triple Frontier," an action-movie passion project.

--Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling


Photo: Tom Hooper at the Berlin Film Festival. Credit: Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images



'Thor' trailer promises full brunt of Chris Hemsworth's strength, Marvel's postproduction budget [video]

February 21, 2011 |  5:19 pm

"The battle comes to Earth," the intertitles in the new "Thor" trailer promise, though how enthusiastically Earth will want to watch remains an open question. The marketing spot for Kenneth Branagh's Marvel movie begins with some "Harry and the Hendersons" moments (most of them played with Natalie Portman as the straight woman) as Chris Hemsworth's brutish visitor from another planet adjusts to American customs like drinking out of a mug. Then it gets to the real business at hand: CG monsters threatening a planet that Hemsworth's armor-wearing Thor, cast away from his own planet, will (presumably) come around to save. There are explosions, and plenty of disaster-movie dialogue -- "these people are innocent" and "I have no plans to die today" -- and some more explosions. The movie hits on May 6.


-- Steven Zeitchik



'Ant-Man' crawls forward

January 12, 2011 |  7:53 pm

Marvel Comics fans who've been clamoring for Edgar Wright to get to the insect-like business of writing "Ant-Man" may have a reason to feel happy. The director this week picked up the pen on the movie's script for the first time in more than two years.

Wright, who came on in 2006 to write and direct a take on the arthropodal superhero, said Tuesday in an interview with 24 Frames that with much of the international promotion for "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" now behind him, he's free again to write on "Ant-Man" -- the first time he'll do that since he started developing "Pilgrim." (He had previously written a first draft of the script.)

In fact, the director had just come from a dinner meeting with Marvel production head Kevin Feige, where the subject of the offbeat Marvel property was in the air.

Speaking by phone from London -- in an interview about a program he's curating at the New Beverly; more on that in a separate post -- Wright was coy about plot details for "Ant-Man." (In the past he's described it as not quite a comedy but with humorous elements.) The film centers on Marvel scientist Hank Pym who, in various incarnations of the comic, could shrink down to the size of an insect to solve crimes, in one iteration with a female companion named The Wasp.

But Wright did say that the "Ant-Man" script, which he's writing with "Adventures of Tintin" collaborator Joe Cornish, can afford to be more offbeat and, well, small.

"This one's not about about the urgency of summer tentpoles and things going into production without a script," said Wright, who approached Marvel with the "Ant-Man" idea. "It's slightly different than that. "

Among the creative issues facing Wright and Cornish: making a character that diminutive seem larger than life. (Humor-inflected superheroes -- especially insectile ones -- will face a key test this weekend with the opening of "The Green Hornet.")

Meanwhile, for those who love the genre sendups created by Wright and Simon Pegg -- "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" -- Wright said that he and Pegg "have a [new] idea" and that "at some point I've got to sit down with Simon and write something."  But after, Marvel fans may hope, Wright finishes "Ant-Man."

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Edgar Wright. Credit: Rogue Pictures



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