By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 17, 2012 at 3:40PM
For a major studio solely in the business of making blockbuster tentpole movies, Marvel, to its credit, does take its fair share of risks. Casting Robert Downey Jr, an actor coming out of a decade or so of drug and alcohol addiction, and whose last film as a lead, "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," made under $5 million at the box office, as the lead in "Iron Man" was certainly a risk, but one that paid off handsomely. Making their next big character a space Viking, and hiring Kenneth Branagh, a helmer known more for his work with Shakespeare than blockbusters, was another roll of the dice. And perhaps the biggest of all was going into production on "The Avengers," a vastly expensive team-up of their characters, before they knew that "Thor" and "Captain America" were hits. And that one turned out to be a $1.5 billion hit. So the risks are paying off.
And Marvel continues to make smart, but potentially troublesome bets that won't necessarily pay off. The studio brought in "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" director Shane Black to helm "Iron Man 3," and the "Thor" and "Captain America" sequels are being looked after by filmmakers who've worked principally in TV. And on Saturday at Comic-Con, they announced arguably their most ambitious film yet: "Guardians Of The Galaxy," based on the space-faring super team that includes among its members a bald, green alien, a badass ninja lady, a tree, and a talking raccoon. It's their biggest gamble to date, without a question. But something at a Comic-Con press conference made that feel particularly sour.
The studio's co-president Louis D'Esposito (who helmed the upcoming "Item 47" short), responded to a question about the possibility of a "Black Panther" film, as was suggested by a report a few months back, and responded "He has a lot of the same characteristics of a Captain America: great character, good values... But it's a little more difficult, maybe, creating [a world like Wakanda, the African country of which the character, T'Challa, is the ruler]. It's always easier basing it here. For instance, 'Iron Man 3' is rooted right here in Los Angeles and New York. When you bring in other worlds, you're always faced with those difficulties."
And Twitch put it better than we ever could with their headline: "Marvel: We Can Make A Movie About A Talking Raccoon But A Black Man Is 'A Little More Difficult.'" Given that "Thor" managed to involve, again, a space Viking from Asgard, and the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" will presumably have to introduce characters from all over space, it feels spectacularly disingenuous of D'Esposito to say that it's harder to set up Black Panther's world.
Marvel is, of course, under no obligation to make "Black Panther." They can make whatever they like, it's their money. But there seems to be a definite fan base out there to see a "Black Panther" movie (our piece on potential casting for the film is one of our most popular of the last few months), and it would certainly be less of a headache for the studio than a CGI space epic. And yet "Guardians Of The Galaxy" came first, and given D'Esposito's response, it seems that the studio, as risky as they've been, are actively afraid of making a "Black Panther" movie.