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How Marvel's Movie Risks Paid Off & How The Studio System Could Stand To Pay Attention To Them

by Drew Taylor
May 1, 2013 11:00 AM
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Marvel RIsks, feature

In Steven Soderbergh's state of cinema address earlier this week, he remarked that, "Art is a very elegant problem solving model." He went on to describe his ideal model for a studio: "I think if I were going to run a studio I’d just be gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters." Now, the point of his impassioned address, which included such other applicable witticisms as "it's about horses, not races," is about what the studios should be doing versus what they are doing. But there is a studio that has followed his exact advice and it's not one you would expect: Marvel Studios.

When the comic book movie craze was starting out, Marvel had licensed its characters out to various studios (this happened for a number of reasons, and we refer you to Sean Howe's excellent, encyclopedic "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story," for a better grasp of the hardships that befell the company right before its soaring comeback). Blind vigilante "Daredevil" fought crime in Hell's Kitchen but was stationed at Fox; rage-choked scientist-cum-monster "The Hulk" was detained at Universal; and "Spider-Man" swung through the urban canyons of New York City but always came back to Sony. After the success of "Spider-Man," Marvel started to develop the characters that it still retained the rights to (second-stringers like "Iron Man" and "Captain America"), in house. Without the help of a bolt of lightning from Asgard or a radioactive spider-bite, Marvel Studios was born.

Jon Favreau

From the beginning the studio was making bold choices and positioning itself as a different kind of machine. They hired Jon Favreau -- an independent director who had steadily risen in the ranks in Hollywood and whose most Marvel-like project to date was "Zathura," a little-seen, space-set sequel to "Jumanji" -- to direct their first big tent pole, "Iron Man." What made this proposition even iffier was the fact that Favreau would be tasked with introducing this character to the masses, since at this point Iron Man was still relatively obscure. They needed someone who could not only anchor the Iron Man movie but give the studios an air of unpredictability and coolness – enter Robert Downey, Jr.

Not that Marvel was initially sold on Downey, Jr., who had just come off a history of high profile drug busts and until a few years prior was virtually unemployable due to insurance premiums and general unpredictability (RDJ's career is a whole other story). In a recent GQ article, they recount that Favreau wanted Downey, Jr. for the part, but the studio wasn't budging. (Their official verdict: "Under no circumstances are we prepared to hire him for any price.") Downey Jr. prepared himself physically, intellectually, and spiritually and eventually blew them all way. Marvel Studios had put their faith in the relatively unproven Favreau, but they knew the talent was there. They took another shot with Robert Downey, Jr. Both paid off big time.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Chris Evans

Since then Marvel has followed a similar formula – they zero in on talent they know are capable of handling these franchises, under certain economic and creative limitations, and let them have their way. They buffer these filmmakers, some of whom, like Favreau, have very little experience in this type of thing, with the best pre-visualization artists, concept designers, and animators in the business, who help them finesse their ideas into a cohesive, workable execution. Ego isn't allowed – these movies, while massively budgeted compared to your favorite Sundance darling, aren't extravagant when compared to most studio fare. The deadlines are tight (especially when, starting this year, Marvel will get even more aggressive, releasing two major movies each year) and hubris isn't tolerated. The kind of vast creative over-world established by the cinematic Marvel Universe may seem restrictive but it actually freeing in some bold ways since whatever happens in one movie can ripple out through a half-dozen more. The Marvel Universe is wide open.

The chances Marvel takes are myriad – from allowing Kenneth Branagh, best known for his austere adaptations of William Shakespeare, to helm "Thor" (another marginal Marvel character whose introduction was of chief importance to the studio and the Universe) to assigning Joe and Anthony Russo, two obsessive comic nerds who had been stuck in television after a couple big screen misfires, to a highly anticipated, present-day "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" – the Soderbergh fantasy edict of "gathering the best filmmakers I could find and sort of let them do their thing within certain economic parameters" is followed pretty strictly. (It is also worth noting that Soderbergh, who had a history with Marvel, help facilitate the Russos getting hired for the "Captain America" sequel.)

Which brings us to "Iron Man 3," this weekend's big Marvel movie. The first "Phase Two" Marvel movie (following the events of last summer's "The Avengers," a $1 billion-grossing smash directed by Joss Whedon, a hardcore geek whose only other movie was a failed attempt at resurrecting his own defunct television series), "Iron Man 3" sees Downey, Jr. return to the robotic suit that Marvel was, at one time, so dead set against him wearing. It was directed by Shane Black, once the toast of Hollywood due to his high concept spec scripts for things like "Lethal Weapon" and "The Last Boy Scout," who had written and directed one movie prior to "Iron Man 3" – 2005's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" (also starring Downey, Jr.), a studio-backed, Joel Silver-produced detective story that barely made a ripple at the box office.

Iron Man 3, set photo, Shane Black

Black's approach to the material was less than orthodox and among the surprises we're actually comfortable with giving away – he made Iron Man alter ego Tony Stark riddled with anxiety following the cosmic climax of "The Avengers" and instead of teaming him up with another superhero (or superheroes), most of the movie he's alone and without his suit, struggling desperately to stay in the game. The movie is full of reversals and weird reveals, told in a jazzy, freeform style that is everything that "Iron Man 2" (overstuffed, needlessly complicated) wasn't. It's strange to praise a $200 million superhero epic, designed to sell pajama bottoms and inspire theme park attractions, for economy of scale, but you can heap that kind of praise upon "Iron Man 3." It's not at all what you would expect and that's exactly why it's so great. Not every Marvel movie is as good as "Iron Man 3" but they're all competent, well-made entertainments.

Other studios could adopt a similar approach to the Marvel model and be all the better for it – more modestly budgeted projects, with unproven but artistically sound talent, and surround them with the best pre-production people. (Black, for his inexperience with this kind of scale and size, said he was never nervous on "Iron Man 3" thanks to the team Marvel already had in place.) They keep making bold choices and taking risky chances, which will continue as the Marvel Universe expands and deepens in complexity. Some of the next few films are being shepherded by Edgar Wright ("Ant-Man"), James Gunn ("Guardians Of The Galaxy") who's made weird-ass independent genre fare like "Super" and "Slither," and Alan Taylor, a dude most known for his episodes of HBO series "Game of Thrones." These are all exciting choices coming from one lone studio – Marvel. As Soderbergh said: it's not about the race, it's about the horse. Even if the horse turns into a giant green monster when provoked.

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  • anonymous | May 7, 2013 7:11 AMReply

    I always think that honesty is the best policy! But seriously alot of people in which are making videos upon Iron Man 3 are correct. The movie IM3 did suck and I agree with all those people that made videos upon it and voted thumbs down on other websites. Bottom line is that people were disappointed on the Mandarin and other parts of the movie. I mean seriously, what were you guys thinking when the comic books portray this Mandarin character as a bad ass and one of Iron Man's toughest enemies. As far as comic books go they are there to establish the origins of a perticular characters and their abilities. Basically to kick of that character for a movie. But the problem with these producers and directors are that they do not stick to the characters origins. But as we all know the third installment of a trilogy movie ..."Always sucks". Why is that! And... of course people are going to say ..."but it broke box office records"...of course they will say that because it was the most anticipated movie for that month! If you ask me...take a poll and you'll see that the movie gets more thumbs down than up. Sad!

  • Hector | May 6, 2013 7:27 PMReply

    Right on the money! Marvel respects their source material and trust the filmmakers will do so, I can't imagine someone like Michael Bay subduing his ego for the good of the franchise, and that's one of the reasons why DC doesn't have a clue.

  • Freddie | May 6, 2013 5:35 PMReply

    I think an aspect of Marvel creating their own films is that they care about the property. Many Marvel characters have been abused by studios looking to make quick money off of fan boys and not even considering that what they had were characters so interesting and well-developed over years comic-book writing that could convince the non-comic-book reading cinema goers to fall for them as well. In other words, Marvel wanted to do their material justice.

  • Chadams | May 4, 2013 4:27 PMReply

    Great piece. What helps Marvel do all of this is that as a comic book company, they're used to calling on fresh talent (writers and artists) and churning out content that is held to a standard. There's a built-in emphasis on talent that doesn't yield to box office numbers when picking directors. Those that read the comics want a good story since the explosions can only look so good on paper. Maybe the audience isn't as mindless as those going to Pain and Gain or Transformers? They're certainly an audience rabid for story scoops and tidbits.

    Plus, there's a divine match in having comics as the source material in that it is the pre-visualized storyboard art, before the actual storyboard, of course. That's gotta count for something.

    Also, does the pre-constructed universe count in Marvel's favor over a studio that has to search for separate franchises and filmable material?

  • Adam Scott Thompson | May 2, 2013 11:07 PMReply

    I feel as though "Blade" never gets its due for being the film that kicked off this cavalcade of (mostly) successful comic book movies.

  • RRA | May 4, 2013 11:19 AM

    You're right, it doesn't. Its because it came out 2 years before X-MEN made money and got attention for making money. Back in the 90s, comic book movies were a ghetto genre. Sure you had Batman movies that made money, but you know who else makes a ton of money? Prostitutes, and those Batman movies were about as much respected.

    BLADE was important for that genre going forward, but sadly forgotten because its timing. Then we got an even better sequel from this Del Toro guy that Hollywood seems to love right now.

  • RRA | May 2, 2013 7:26 PMReply

    Marvel is more like the big budget blockbuster Roger Corman than Soderbergh's dream studio.

    Corman produced B-genre films, you know "junk" whether monster movies or blaxploitation, etc. He knew that under a certain (cheap) budget, profit was guaranteed. As long as that budget didn't go over and a genre quota was reached (action scenes, nudity, etc.), why not let hungry ambitious wannabe filmmakers do their own thing? Why they're so hungry to have a movie on their resume and prove their directing salt, they'll work for pennies! He did this with Coppola, Scorsese, Ron Howard, Dante, etc.

    Now doesn't all that sound very familiar? Maybe the notable difference (asides from budgets and supposed "A" movies being produced) is that Marvel sells themselves to upcoming talents and A-list actors by saying that while we'll (probably) pay you pennies, you'll be in popcorn movies seen across the world which will boast your careers and hey just maybe, JUST MAYBE, you'll get your own spin-off blockbuster franchise series!

  • RRA | May 4, 2013 11:36 AM

    Asides from RDJ (from my knowledge), those chaps are contractually obliged to be paid in pennies pretty much. The real payoff comes from the positive effect these global blockbusters have on their careers.

    Take Chris Hemsworth. Notice how many big movies he's been attached to lately, working with Michael Mann and Ron Howard and maybe Spielberg. He did that (not so good) Snow White movie last summer which did decent business and is getting a sequel which he's contractually obligated to.

    Or Jeremy Renner. Sure BOURNE LEGACY (more like BOURNE LETHARGIC) the masses didn't care for, but this (and that Snow White movie) both came out in the same summer that AVENGERS ruled the world. Then he had his long-delayed tongue & cheek HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS which got bad reviews but with a modest budget (and perhaps Renner's Hawkeye rub) made a big profit and is also getting a sequel.

    Imagine if somebody in Hollywood gives Mark Ruffalo a popcorn movie to lead after AVENGERS 2 (and inevitably his own Hulk picture)? Ka-ching!

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 3, 2013 12:07 AM

    Well, they're not lying. Robert Downey Jr. made $60 million off the back end of Avengers, and Evans, Ruffalo and Hemsworth will probably get a nice chunk of change out of all their sequels. I would consider getting underpaid for my first movie with Marvel a very smart investment in my future if I was an actor.

  • Triny | May 1, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    You know what would have been a real risk? Making a Black Panther or Black Widow movie. I don't see what is so innovating about making superheros movies about straight white men, lord know they're not in need of representation in the media. Marvel panders to white teenage boys like every other studios.

  • RRA | May 4, 2013 11:23 AM

    How about trashing WB as well for producing countless Batman/Superman movies but not one Wonder Woman film?

    Thing is, I have no reason to believe this, but I truely believe WW and Black Panther films will happen or be in production within the next 5 years.

    But can we mock DC/WB for a moment? We're getting a Guardians of the Galaxy movie before we're getting a WW film. That's hilarious in a sad way.

  • THOOM | May 2, 2013 2:21 PM

    Not only did they do 3 Blade movies, Blade was movie that restarted the whole comic book superhero movie craze, after the dismal failure of Batman and Robin. Spawn, another black super powered comic book character, also was a financial success in the same year.

  • EM | May 2, 2013 12:27 PM

    @ Triny

  • Sean | May 1, 2013 5:38 PM

    I'll give you Black Panther. He's got a good backstory/lore and it would be a great movie.
    But Black Widow? No. Not enough for an actual movie. Plus with ScarJo, I wouldn't want a 90 minute feature of me scoffing at her awful acting skills.

  • BANE | May 1, 2013 4:54 PM

    Uh...they did 3 BLACK Blade movies. So come off your high horse...

  • Les | May 1, 2013 1:18 PMReply

    A lot of the things that Marvel Studios is doing right are actually concepts practiced by the Bond producers for decades -- keep costs under control, hire talented people but not superstars (the brand comes first). Soderbergh's statement that it's not about race it's about the horse doesn't quite apply because auteur-type films are first, last and always about the filmmaker, but if you're working for Marvel or Bond for that matter that's never the case -- they don't hire auteurs. It'll be interesting what happens to Marvel's lauded formula once the top tier Marvel characters (basically all the ones they're using now) are exhausted and have to dip to second and third tier characters -- will they be as successful?

  • RRA | May 4, 2013 11:31 AM

    Before 2008, most people never heard of Iron Man. If they did, only as a member of the Avengers. At best. Definately most of them would go "huh" if you mentioned Tony Stark. Now everybody knows Iron Man and his real name.

    To create a property everybody knows, you have to present it out there so everybody can you know, actually get to know it. Its why anymore blockbuster sequels tend to do better than the originals: Those ticket-buyers are already sold on the concept.

    If rumors are correct, Marvel is doing a Black Panther film in their Phase 3 series after AVENGERS 2 (which means 2016-2017). I actually hope they do that, or as an alternate Luke Cage with a HEROES FOR HIRE movie where he teams up with martial artist Iron Fist and fight crime as mercenaries. Then again IRON MAN 3 as the superhero buddy movie was that HFH film of sorts already.

    For that matter, I'm also up for a Ms. Marvel movie. C'mon Marvel, do it!

  • Charles | May 2, 2013 5:32 PM

    Yo @bane. Yeah that's three movies about a black guy but how many movies about white superheroes. Don't get me wrong, I loves these guys and this company, but it's time for another black superhero movie and a black hero to shine.

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 1, 2013 1:30 PM

    The thing is, what makes a character top tier is being featured in a movie that people like. Nobody knows Ant-man and Rocket Raccoon now, but they sure will after Edgar Wright and James Gunn finish their movies and the Hollywood marketing machine has had it's way.

  • Rob | May 1, 2013 12:30 PMReply

    Good article and very true.

  • andrew | May 1, 2013 11:26 AMReply

    It's weird to look back when Iron Man was a fairly irrelevant super hero to the casual movie goer. I love what Marvel Studios has done with their property. They may just be popcorn flicks, but they're fun as hell. Can't wait for phase 2!!!

  • RNL | May 1, 2013 11:21 AMReply

    I doubt a series of middling superhero movies is what Soderbergh had in mind when he imagined his ideal studio and 'letting the best filmmakers he could find do their thing within certain economic parameters'.

  • RNL | May 2, 2013 5:19 PM

    I've lost track of what you're arguing at this point. You're talking about how much kids love superhero movies. What in the world does that have to do with this discussion? This discussion had two stages: at first it was claimed that Marvel is the already-existing realisation of Soderbergh's ideal studio. We've put that ridiculous notion to bed. Then the more reasonable claim was made that Marvel are *more* risky and *more* auteur-oriented than their competitors. I think that's pretty dubious, given how totally pedestrian these films are, and the only risks you could point out were purely financial ones associated with their long-term series plans, as opposed to creative ones. I pointed out that this was nothing compared to something like New Line's gamble on the LOTR trilogy. But it would be completely ridiculous to claim that New Line are some especially adventurous studio backing particularly innovative projects, let alone that they're approximating the ideal situation Soderbergh is talking about. And how risky are these films anyway, taking each individually? We're in the middle of a superhero boom - is Captain America a risky venture? Come on. So what if he's not as well known as Spider-Man. Even Blade and Hellboy got sequels. Making a generic superhero movie is not a financial risk in itself. And you're overstating the financial risk involved in the long-term plans. All of these films are profitable individually and they work as standalone films. Marvel hadn't financially committed to The Avengers when they made Iron Man and Hulk. It's no more than the innate risk associated with making a big budget movie. I didn't say Annapurna met the ideal either, I'm just pointing out that they're *way* closer than Marvel. You could say the same of who-knows-how-many other production companies.

  • Glass | May 2, 2013 5:02 PM

    RNL has been right from the beginning, no matter how many tl;drs say the contrary. Marvel is a blockbuster assembly line. There's a FEW instances where there's an 'auteur' involved, but it's probably the antithesis of what Soderbergh was saying there. RNL's right, Annapurna Pictures is pretty damn close to what he's actually talking about (I'm surprised he didn't mention Megan Ellison in his speech there)...

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 4:59 PM

    Everybody will always have to pitch a project first if they want money to make a movie. No one ever says " Here's 5 mil. Come back with whatever." All the directors you mentioned had a screenplay and probably actors attached before they got the go-ahead to shoot their movie. If they didn't, whoever's running Annapurna Pictures is insane. Soderbergh seems to be saying that directors should just be given money on faith that they won't spend it all on cocaine and send back 90 minutes of footage of clothes spinning in a dryer saying it's a commentary on the economy.

    And as much as I'd like to see many of the projects you mentioned, many of them haven't happened because no one's been able to work out a deal where they'd be profitable. Simple as that. Even the most high-minded of studio executives needs to think that they're going to get a reasonable return on their investment. And it's not that some of those projects weren't able to find any backing at all--it's that the filmmakers weren't able to get as much money as they felt they needed to do the projects properly. Del Toro, for instance, wanted over $100 million for At The Mountains Of Madness, not 30. If it was 30 (or even 80), Universal would have probably pulled the trigger.

    Also, comparing Marvel to whatever Spike Jonze and Andrew Dominik are doing is apples to oranges. There a reason I stuck to comparing Marvel to other family-friendly franchises, and that's because that's the specific thing they do. You know, for kids. I'd probably enjoy a crazy R-rated John Hillcoat version of Wolverine better than the movie that's about to come out, but I know these characters are important to kids and they should be allowed to experience them in a way they can process. And there's no arguing that kids fucking love these characters and movies, and probably will as long as they continue to make them. Superheroes are primal, and if you stick to the material, the past 75 years has proven that there will always be a willing audience for them. So working with that, I am going to take the controversial stand that Marvel does a good job, insomuch as their product is more often than not critically well-received, enjoyed by their intended audiences, and profitable. You don't like them, which is fine, but shouldn't be a part of any discussion of their value. Just like my disinterest in Harry Potter wouldn't keep me from admitting that those movies did their job well, and the studio did a remarkably consistent job cranking them out.

  • RNL | May 2, 2013 2:47 PM

    In fact, it seems like Annapurna Pictures is much closer to what Soderbergh is talking about than Marvel. John Hillcoat, PTA, Andrew Dominik, Spike Jonze, Kathryn Bigelow, Bennett Miller, Kar-wai Wong, David O. Russell - all doing exactly what they want within certain economic parameters.

  • RNL | May 2, 2013 1:30 PM

    There's no reason there couldn't be an auteur-oriented studio that 'gathered the best filmmakers they could find and let them do their own thing within certain economic parameters'. Those economic parameters don't have to be $200M budgets. Like I said, it could be 5, 10, 20 million. You could have a studio that gave Jodorowsky the paltry $7.4M he needed to make King Shot, for instance. It boggles my mind that something like that can't find financing. Or let Verhoeven make his Jesus movie. Or Cronenberg's Red Cars. Or even put up the $30M Del Toro needs for Mountains of Madness. Or whatever other abandoned projects you can think of, and of course thousands of other great ideas by unknown filmmakers. As far as Marvels' risk taking - okay, fair enough, but again, that's purely financial risk taking, and in fact it's probably a major contributing factor to how safe they play it creatively; they're afraid of these films flopping because they're the foundations for future films, so they make them as broad and pedestrian as possible. Additionally, if this is the extent of Marvel's risk taking (we're past the idea that they're some maverick auteur haven), then it pales in comparison to New Line betting their shirts on Lord of the Rings. At least Marvel are making superhero films in the middle of a superhero boom; New Line made a high fantasy movie 10 years after that genre basically died.

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 12:23 PM

    I'm not saying Marvel lives up to Soderbergh's platonic ideal, I'm saying his ideal is either naive or disingenuous because it's something he knows will never happen and he doesn't have to worry about being proven wrong. Is Marvel the ideal studio set-up Soderbergh was talking about? No, because nothing will ever be. Because it's a fantasy.

    And where Marvel is a risk taker is in their commitment to future projects that depend on the success of other movies that haven't come out. Remember that they announced their slate of movies leading up to The Avengers right after the first Iron Man came out, crossing their fingers that Captain America and Thor would be successful. That's taking a risk, and a big reason they're successful now is that the audience has confidence in Marvel not leaving them high and dry, like so many other potential franchises that never delivered on their promised future installments.

    I will agree that hiring tv workhorses like Alan Taylor or veteran craftsmen like Joe Johnston is not exactly pushing the auteur envelope, but sometimes you need a guy who can just get the job done. And remember that Taylor came on board after Patty Jenkins dropped out and they needed someone, like, yesterday, to get the machine rolling. I can't blame them for that. And shit, I would have hired Joe Johnston for Captain America too.

    I agree that there are few things further apart on the graph than Soderbergh's dream slate of big-budget experimental art movies and Marvel's output of superhero movies. But one is made of pixie dust and rainbows and one is real, so it was never a fair comparison in the first place. So I guess we should both gang up on Drew?

  • RNL | May 2, 2013 11:25 AM

    Since you bring it up, Bubble is actually my favourite Soderbergh film. But anyway, there seems to be two separate things being claimed here, one of which is completely ridiculous, the other of which isn't quite. Firstly, as I've been saying, it's completely ridiculous to claim, as this article does, that the 'ideal studio' that Soderbergh is talking about already exists in the form of Marvel. Would you agree with that? Is Marvel facilitating the kind of breadth of creativity, originality, innovation Soderbergh is talking about? Is it not completely and utterly ridiculous to even suggest that a studio that *only makes superhero movies* (and pedestrian ones at that) is the realisation of this ideal situation that Soderbergh is talking about? Secondly, the question of whether Marvel's approach to pedestrian blockbusters is *more* auteur-oriented than their competitors. That's a much more reasonable claim, and it appears to be the one you're making, while Drew was making the former. I think you're exaggerating the degree to which these people can meaningfully be thought of as auteurs (Joe Johnston, Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, some TV directors from Game of Thrones and Community?)--more like cheap and reliable--and having seen Iron Man 3 I can report that it feels more like Shane Black struggling to be heard than being given creative control. I will admit to looking forward to seeing what James Gunn and Edgar Wright get to do. I also think Drew overstates enormously the amount of risks Marvel are taking. I'll concede that making a big-budget movie aout a second-tier character starring Robert Downey Jr was a financial risk (not an artistic one, to bring it back to what Soderbergh is talking about), but where are the other risks? They hired Jon Favreau, who had just directed a big CGI family action movie, to direct... a big CGI family action movie. Action director Louis Leterrier to direct... The Incredible Hulk. Action director Joe Johnston to direct... Captain America. Thor is an odd choice for Kenneth Branagh, but it's only odd from his perspective; you'd wonder why he wanted to direct Thor, not why Marvel thought he'd be well suited to the job - who would doubt veteran director Kenneth Branagh's ability to pull off that movie? The Thor sequel will be directed by one of the Game of Thrones directors. What is so risky and outside the box about all of this?

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 1:38 AM

    Here's another thing. Of all Soderbergh's movies, which ones have the most lasting value? The independent, no restrictions, low-budget art-house experiments, or the big-budget, studio controlled, creatively reigned-in crowd-pleasers? Would you rather have Bubble, Schizopolis, Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience, or Out Of Sight, Traffic, and Erin Brockovitch?

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 2, 2013 1:31 AM

    I don't want to get into a discussion of aesthetic value here, because it's not relevant. You don't like Marvel superhero movies, which is certainly a valid position to take. I don't like Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings movies. But I'm not going to argue that they aren't crowd-pleasers and generally critically acclaimed. i would think any reasonable person would make the same allowance for most of the Marvel movies.

    Where Marvel gives creative autonomy on a level beyond most other franchises is that many of the directors they bring in are allowed to develop their own stories. Note that Shane Black, James Gunn, Edgar Wright and Joss Whedon are all writer-directors. These are not the sort of people you see the Bond, Potter, or Twilight franchises bringing in. Sure, there are restrictions with telling an Iron Man story, like, it has to feature Iron Man, but if they're hiring people with an affinity for the characters (which kind of makes sense), their natural impulse would be to tell a story appropriate for the character, and they wouldn't feel like they were handcuffed because they can't spend $200 million filming She-Hulk and The Scarlet Witch having a lesbian tryst at the Republican National Convention.

  • RNL | May 1, 2013 2:02 PM

    ... fill in whatever other boring superhero franchise you want in that unfinished sentence.

  • RNL | May 1, 2013 2:00 PM

    @Jeff - I'm not asking *why* there are creative restrictions. I'm just stating that there are, very strict ones. Soderbergh's ideal studio imposes no creative restrictions, only economic ones. So, ideally, a studio would give you 5, 10, 20 million dollars and let you do *whatever you want* in terms of content. Marvel does absolutely no such thing, which is why Drew's claim that Soderbergh's ideal studio already exists in the form of Marvel is so ridiculous. The irony is that Marvel is actually one of the more creatively risk-averse studios around. Their superhero films are as pedestrian and formulaic as they come (compared to, say, Nolan's Batman films--which, for the record, I'm not all that fond of, but they are undeniably distinctive--or something like Chronicle). Big samey CGI video-gamey blockbusters. One is certainly no more different from the next than the Spider-Man films are from the X-Men films, or the Fantastic Four films are from the . They're even afraid to make a Black Panther movie. Is that the kind of breadth of creativity, originality, innovation Soderbergh is talking about? I mean, to even suggest that a studio that *only makes superhero movies* is the realisation of this ideal situation is so crazy.

  • Jeff Mclachlan | May 1, 2013 1:37 PM

    There are creative parameters at Marvel because they're making mainstream movies about characters that already exist. There are creative parameters to doing a James Bond or Sherlock Holmes movie too, but that doesn't mean there aren't intellectual muscles that can be stretched trying to make one work. Also, every movie ever made was made with creative restrictions of one kind or another, be it budgetary, censorship, or lack of time. The trick has always been finding ways to be creative within your restrictions.

  • alynch | May 1, 2013 1:16 PM

    I agree with RNL. They make outside-the-box hiring decisions, but by no means are they allowing creative freedom. If Joss Whedon had decided that he'd like to kill Tony Stark, I kind of doubt Marvel would've given him the okay.

  • RNL | May 1, 2013 12:55 PM

    Eh? What exists? Marvel? Yeah, Marvel exists. But it's not the ideal studio that Soderbergh is talking about. Marvel decides what movies it will be making, it sets strict *creative* parameters, determines broadly what the *content* of those movies will be. By no means does Marvel simply 'gather the best filmmakers they can find and let them do *their* thing within certain *economic* parameters'. Not by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever is Marvel at all like the kind of creativioty-centric, auteur-oriented ideal studio that Soderbergh is talking about. It is a superhero movie production line.

  • Drew | May 1, 2013 12:22 PM

    It doesn't matter what he imagined, RNL. It exists. And it's Marvel. And that's really, really fucking cool.

  • Alan B | May 1, 2013 11:12 AMReply

    "Kenneth Branagh, best known for his austere adaptations of William Shakespeare" I wouldn't call his work austere, with the possible exception of 'Henry V'. They are more robust and energetic than anything else.

  • Skippy | May 3, 2013 8:59 PM

    I thought the same thing--austere isn't the word I'd use at all. "Henry V" may just look a little low-budget in comparison to what followed, but it remains an incredibly entertaining movie, one of my favorite Shakespeare film adaptations.

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