Humor: Marvel Studios’ Not-So-Secret-Sauce

For awhile now other studios have been trying to crack the Marvel Studios formulato varying degrees of success–though as far as I can tell their greatest problem is that they’re approaching it in that fashion (like so great mystery waiting to be solved), when in truth there’s isn’t any secret at all.

In a sense a lot of the heavy lifting has already been done for Marvel Studios in that they haven’t had to convince a large segment of the population to love their characters, since millions of us have grown up doing just that by reading comic books (something Warner Bros, the owners of DC Entertainment, are for some reason only just beginning to get).

So all Marvel had to do was essentially adapt their characters as true to the comics as common sense (a drawing and a actual person aren’t the same things, duh, so allowances had to be made or maybe the story of that character doesn’t quite fit in the framework that currently exists for Marvel features) would allow.

And there needs to be humor.  I’m not talking about the pratfalls you might get from The Three Stooges or anything like that, but the often unintentional comedy that comes from people just interacting with each other.

Here’s an example from the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok.

What makes the scene work is that the humor’s derived not from some sort of pratfall, but from the natures of the chraracters involved.  

Thor is typically depicted as mighty, noble, kind and headstrong; the latter bordering on egotistical.  Combine his own nature with the Hulk (one of the stronger beings in all of Marvel) then you’re definitely going to get all sorts of friction, which can play out in various ways. 

In other words, in the earlier scene Thor is acting true to his nature (in the second scene he’s just an object for Hulk’s ire).

 It doesn’t make the movies comedies, but what it does is make them more naturalistic and less of a slog.

Because isn’t just living day to day difficult enough that just maybe you don’t want the movies you watch to get away from things for a little while to reflect that same esthetic?

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Hellboy Returns (Sort of…)

This is an image of Ron Perlman as Hellboy from Guillermo Del Toro’s 2008 movie, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

If anyone could be said to be destined to play a character it’s Perlman, who’s Hellboy looked like he was pulled from the pages of Mike Mignola’s comic.

Flash forward to 2017 when the third film (Del Toro always intended to make a trilogy featuring Hellboy) was for a time considered, then abandoned.

For awhile it appeared that that was the end of Hellboy movies for the foreseeable future, till we learned that there would indeed be another, though without the participation of either Del Toro or Perlman.

This time around Hellboy will be directed by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent, Doomsday) and played by David Harbour (Stranger Things).

And I admit that it bothered me.  Guillermo Del Toro is for my money one of the most visually interesting directors working today and to have someone else do what would have been the final chapter in his penultimate Hellboy story somehow felt…wrong.

And to be sure, the way Del Toro either abandoned projects or had them fall apart for one reason or another didn’t exactly assuage my unease.

I mention all the above because today an image was released of David Harbour as Hellboy and it looks…pretty damn good!

He’s certainly more vascular than Perlman’s version of the character.  And for me he visually gives off a very Conan-vibe, circa 2011 and Jason Momoa.

I also like the moodier way he appears to be photographed.  With Guillermo Del Toro I felt that he made sure that you were aware that you were watching a comic writ large, which was his intention.

Neil Marshall may be taking an entirely different route in that the producers are working with a hard-R, as opposed to a PG-13 rating–thanks Deadpool though Blade should get the real credit–so a more visceral, physical feel is likely what the new producers are looking to achieve.

Del Toro’s Fantastic Voyage

Guillermo Del Toro ranks among my favorite directors, though what I have seen–which is exclusively the trailer–of The Shape of Water left me underwhelmed.

Color palette-wise it feels a lot like Blade II, while story-wise and visually it feels like The Further Adventures of Abe Sapien (though part of me hopes the movie is a backdoor way for Del Toro to delve deeper into the worlds of H.P Lovecraft).

In other words, despite never having seen the movie, I feel like I have, which is never a good thing.

Now, Del Toro directing a remake of 1966’s Fantastic Voyage?  Now that I’m interested in!

By the way, this is how you do remakes!  Most people don’t even remember the original–though there also was a cartoon based on it two years later, never mind the novel–so it’s going to be new to most, which should give the producers room to veer from the source material if necessary.

Though there’s a fly in the soup, namely David Goyer, who’s writing (though to be fair Goyer also wrote Blade II and Del Toro was apparently able to reign in his hackier tendencies, so hope springs eternal).

By the way, Guru!?  Notice how everyone on the team has an actual name, while the Indian character doesn’t (A guru is ‘a religious teacher and spiritual guide in Hinduism…’).

That’s like naming someone ‘teacher’ or ‘bar keep.’  And I won’t even start on the ‘master of mysterious powers’ malarkey.

Marvel’s The Punisher – Teaser Trailer

There have been three movie incarnations of The Punisher since he was created by Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr. in 1974, and while a popular character in comics, his movies never quite seemed to connect with audiences.

The first movie was in 1978, with Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle/The Punisher.  It was okay, though he never displayed the the iconic skull emblem the character is known for (this lack of fidelity to the character was made up by it being somewhat gory).

The next version was in 2004 with Thomas Jane (who while physically is probably a bit short, he brought acting chops beyond Lundgren’s). It was okay, but failed in some really peculiar ways, such as as some underwhelming special effects and odd story beats (what I like to call the ‘fire hydrant scene’ is pretty bizarre).

Though at least he wore the iconic skull.

Thomas Jane also appeared in a short as The Punisher in 2012 (The Punisher: Dirty Laundry).

The Punisher next made another appearance in 2008 (This time played by Ray Stevenson) in Lexi Alexander’s Punisher: War Zone.  

Easily the best interpretation of the character in movies–though some of the violence was way over the top and more cartoonish than anything seen prior–Stevenson brought the size of Lundgren, and the acting chops of Jane to the role.

Though it still underperformed in theaters.

Enter 2017, and the Punisher is back.  Introduced in season two of Marvel’s Daredevil and graduating to his own series (a better format for the character than movies) Jon Bernthal brings us a Punisher worthy of the name.

The DCEU Finds Redemption

There a story on Superherohype where Ben Affleck says that the portrayal of Batman in Warner Bros/DC Films upcoming Justice League would be a more ‘traditional’ portrayal of the character.

What!?

The fact that Affleck has to tell viewers this is indicative of perhaps the greatest problem the DCEU has (yet) to overcome: namely a loss of support from their core audience, which are the people who grew up reading the comics these characters first appeared in.

Which is such a weird place to be because it’s a problem of their own making in that all they needed to do was to make their superheroes more faithful (I understand that no character translates wholly intact from the printed page to the movie screen but it’s almost as if Warner Bros wasn’t even trying) to how the characters appeared in the comics, then literally sit back and rake in the cash.

But if Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad have shown us anything, it’s seemingly not quite that easy.

Or does it?  Maybe the greatest problem with the three aforementioned movies has less to do with their their fidelity to the source material (though that’s certainly there) than an attempt to be visually and esthetically different from Marvel Studios.

And on some level that’s understandable.  What isn’t is creating such an esthetically and morally unappealing interpretation of Batman and Superman (though what’s worse is that there’s nothing wrong with such portrayals per se.  It’s more a question of starting with a more traditional interpretation then have events turn the character dystopic–which was said, but never shown in reference to Batman).

That’s an important journey viewers would have not enjoyed embarking on, and would have shown the seminal events that resulted in a murderous Batman (something the character studiously avoided during for the bulk of time he has existed).

Wonder Woman–for the DCEU–is literally a game changer in that it not appears more faithful to the comics than the aforementioned movies, yet managed to appeal to both critics and the bulk of the moviegoing audience.

It may not have quite restored faith in the fledgling cinematic universe that is the DCEU

Inhumans – Trailer 2

The more I see trailers for Marvel Television’s Inhumans, the better it’s starting to look.  The FX is fine (and while Lockjaw himself looks great; his transport effect?  Not so much) and while I’m hardly waiting with baited breath, I am interested enough to catch it in theaters (mainly because I am curious if it looks cinematic enough to warrant the involvement of IMAX.

The Defenders – Trailer 2

Marvel Television, as far as I can tell, is in a bind entirely of their own making.

While I enjoy the series that have done thus far–with a particular emphasis on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.–I do feel a certain reluctance on their parts to embrace the fantastic wholeheartedly (which is an interesting, though odd, problem to have).

This has a lot to do with why why the only costume we’ve seen of the four superheroes that make up The Defenders is Daredevil (which is less a costume than tactical combat armor in varying shades of red) and why the upcoming The Inhumans looks so grounded.

And so ordinary.

Comicbooks are a celebration of the fantastic, the weird, the uncanny and the strange;  a perspective that seemingly ill-fits with the Nolanesque esthetic that Marvel has created for television.

Which isn’t to say all characters should wear costumes.  I get why Jessica Jones and Luke Cage don’t–Jones tried the costumed superhero route; it didn’t take while Cage has always had less a costume than accoutrements (a tiara–there has to be another name for that–coupled wits a chain for a belt and a yellow shirt) that was more indicative of a 1970’s fashion esthetic–the character was created in 1972 by Archie Goodwin, John Romita, Sr. and George Tuska–than anything else

But Iron Fist?  He’s a character where a costume would actually make sense.  It would protect his identity–and by extension that of his family–as well as give him clothing in line with someone who engages in martial arts combat on a (more or less) regular basis.

And that’s not necessarily to say that they have to go with the spandex body suit, though something along those lines would really be appreciated.