Marvel’s Deals with the Devil

Blame, blame is such an easy game. Why, with such an incredible universe to draw from, is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. such a bore? There is quite a lot of blame to go around but it lies rooted in Marvel’s financial woes in the 90s. There is a great article on Marvel’s trip from bankruptcy to billions here so I won’t go into too much depth.

The Incredible Hulk

Marvel had a big television hit with The Incredible Hulk. It was a wonderful formula: take a well liked actor (Bill Bixby), add a champion body builder (Lou Ferrigno), and simply retell The Fugitive, a popular television series from fifteen years earlier. It worked great. They then attempted to repeat this success with Captain America (painfully bad), Dr. Strange, and others. They didn’t pan out so Marvel tried to launch a few more from within The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk Returns featured Thor and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk featured Daredevil.

As part of the recovery from bankruptcy in the 90s, numerous licensing deals were made.  It is great that Marvel was able to climb back out of the hole but many of the terms on the deals were ridiculous.


Twentieth Century Fox made a fantastic version of X-Men (2000) and the even better X-Men 2 (2003). Unfortunately, the deal allowed X-Men movies to be owned by Fox in perpetuity as long as the movies kept being made. That would be bad enough but the deal included all of the standard X-Men, their standard villains, and even extended to the term mutant.

Attempts had been made during the 90s to bring Spider-Man, Marvel’s most iconic character, to the big screen and while that failed, the rights were tied up for quite some time. Once the rights were untangled, Columbia (Sony) locked them up again, including a rogue’s gallery of Marvel’s best villains. Once again, a really good blockbuster was made, Spider-Man (2002) followed by an even better sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004).


Apparently, it took a long time for Marvel to catch on that they were selling the cow instead of the milk. Essentially the same deal was made, again with Twentieth Century Fox, for Daredevil. Daredevil, Elektra, The Kingpin, and even Ben Urich were tied up. Ditto Lionsgate with The Punisher (2004) and The Punisher: War Zone (2008).

Finally, the Fantastic Four rights were locked up, again by Twentieth Century Fox. This wouldn’t be so bad as they were usually self-contained but it also included Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer. Not just that but Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and the reboot Fantastic Four (2015) have all been pretty dire.

Not only did Marvel practically give away their entire roster of characters but many others such as Iron Man were locked up in deals where the movie simply never came to fruition.


The Not Even Remotely Fantastic Four

Recently I took one for the team. I saw Fantastic Four in theaters so you don’t have to.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four (2015) – Rated PG-13

Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.”

There is no Victor, there is only Zu’ul” – oops I mean “Doom!”

Fantastic Four has always been a Marvel property that is lighter in tone than their other titles. It speaks to family friendly, Spider-Man to teens, X-Men and the mutants to the outcast, Captain America to the patriotic, etc., etc.

The 2005 big screen version and its 2007 sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were pretty lousy but did jibe with the lighter, family-friendly vibe. Chris Evans was fun as Johnny Storm but wasn’t given much to do. I’m glad that the role led to him becoming Captain America.

Prior to this new Fantastic Four coming out, writer/director Josh Trank had been fast-tracked to direct one of the new Star Wars movie. His debut feature, Chronicle, surprised a lot of people and made quite a bit of money. It applied found footage methods and teen angst to a superhero origin story.

Cue 2015 and Fantastic Four is rebooted as a teen angst superhero origin story. There are some very intriguing ideas here. Thankfully we don’t have found footage because of the large budget. Unfortunately the execution of the Fantastic Four as tortured souls is very ummm tortured.

Pacing is just awful. We have to wade through a fairly long origin story, including Richards’ and Grimm’s childhood. Sue doesn’t even go with them but is infected upon their return. When we finally get to the villain (and the villain is Doom strictly in name only), it’s just one and done, roll credits.

Strangely, there was a lot of pushback on casting Michael B. Jordan, an African-American actor, as the caucasian (in the comics) Johnny Storm. I certainly applaud the move as the Fantastic Four was pretty much as white as it gets. I mention strangely because I don’t remember any commotion about Jessica Alba playing Sue Storm in the first two movies.

Samuel L. Jackson took over the traditionally white role of Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Mark Millar, in writing the Ultimates, changed Nick Fury to an African-American setting the precedent BUT the movie Avengers are not drawn at all from their slightly satirical Ultimate counterparts.

Josh Trank claims a lot of studio interference, which I can believe, but the movie is so much like a big budget version of Chronicle that I feel he must shoulder a good portion of the blame. The Star Wars gig appears to have evaporated as well.

Two of the three writers on the movie (Trank and Jeremy Slater) have essentially no real writing credits. The third, Simon Kinberg, has a hodge podge but it does include work on the last two X-Men movies which have had fairly decent scripts. Still, it also includes this movie, This Means War, and Jumper so there’s that.

The funny thing is that before Fantastic Four (2015), before Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and before Fantastic Four (2005), we already had a near perfect movie of the Fantastic Four. It was called The Incredibles. Go rent that one – you’ll be glad you did.

Friday This ‘n’ That – RCC, FF, The Mart of Walls

Just a few notes while I have a brief respite.

Regal Crown Club

I have always aspired to the near mythical Elite status of Regal Crown Club. Supposedly sometime after you reach the 10,000 point mark (a serious milestone given that, in general, a point equals a dollar spent), Regal extends you an invitation to their secret reward club with lots of goodies.

Sadly I have to mourn now as a reader who was in the club said that it was summarily ended last year. /sigh well between two Regal cards (one each for my wife and I since they have caps on points per day) and cards to Carolina Cinemas and Epic Theaters, I was not going to reach 10k points any time soon. Say, those grapes over there look nice.

Fantastic Four

Wal-Mart has a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays that have various movie moneys on them (Fantastic Four, Man from Uncle, etc.). They also have some $5 DVDs and Blu-Rays that have $8 in concession cash on them. Yes, that’s right, Wal-Mart will actually PAY you to buy their movies. The Blu-Rays that were $5 included Last Stand and Empire State.

I’ve heard from others that they also have $8 Fantastic Four movie money on $5 DVDs. Unfortunately, some Grimm reviews seem to indicate that you will be doomed to a poor experience should you choose to see this movie.

X-Men Apocalypse

I am not of the camp that Marvel can do no wrong (Thor: Dark World, I’m looking at you!) but the first two Fantastic Four films were dreadful and this one does not look better. I sure would love to see these rights revert to Marvel like Daredevil and Punisher. I think it is neat that Marvel reached an agreement to have a Spider-Man cameo in Captain America.

I have really enjoyed the X-Men films (the Wolverine movies less so) though I do wonder what would happen if Marvel had those rights. It certainly seems odd that none of the Marvel Universe movies can use the word mutant.

I am really looking forward to X-Men Apocalypse and Deadpool looks promising. I love that we get all these superhero movies now that would not have been possible when I was growing up (Christopher Reeve on a wire was my experience) but it also seems to choke the big budget movie calendar so we get fewer non-superhero blockbusters.