Marvel Vs. DC: In Comics and in Movies

Jan-29-09

I know that things have been quiet around here. The beginning of this week was extremely busy for both Jason and I. Jason is still piled under work, while I have managed to clean my desk off, at least to some extent. Jason won’t be back until next week, and rather than allow the blog to continue to sit without any new content, I thought that I’d throw out something I’ve been thinking about lately. Sadly, you’ll just get an essay from me, rather than our usual back and forth, although perhaps, when Jason returns, he’ll want to throw some of his ideas on this topic onto my essay. In any case, I hope to post something tomorrow as well, and failing that, we should be back on track next week.

It’s Oscar time of year, and if you are someone who follows the Oscars at all, then you’ve no doubt been inundated with the talk about the possibilities of The Dark Knight being nominated for a best picture (which didn’t happen) and Heath Ledger being nominated for his performance as the Joker (which did happen). Many critics have posted The Dark Knight on their lists of the best movies of the year, and it was the top money-maker of the year in movies. Most comics fans have nothing but praise for the movie, and indeed, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and am thrilled that it seems to have given comic book movies the respect and mainstream recognition that they deserved.

The movie with the second largest box office take this year was Iron Man, which didn’t receive anything more than a smattering of technical Oscar nominations. While it did receive glowing reviews when it was released in May, it has not made many Best Of lists from the ranks of the critical elite. While it was undeniably popular, it wasn’t seen as a breakthrough movie, nor was it heralded by many as ushering in a new era of serious comic films. It invariably gets ranked behind The Dark Knight in most discussions of favorite movies of the year. Most discussions, except for mine, that is, as I will unequivocally say that I found Iron Man to be much more enjoyable than The Dark Knight. This actually makes perfect sense, since to me, 2008 became the year when DC and Marvel movies truly reflected the comics companies themselves.

Let’s start with the movies first. I saw both movies on opening weekend, although I was vacationing in Vermont when Iron Man opened, and didn’t get to see it with my normal, geek-culture savvy friends. Instead, I saw Iron Man with someone who doesn’t read comics, knows next to nothing about pop culture, and has no interest in superheroes. And he loved it. From beginning to end, he was absorbed, he was transported, and most of all, he was entertained. We both were, as was the entire theater, judging from the reactions of the crowd. As a movie, Iron Man is simply fun. The script is smart, the acting is engaging, and the pace is brisk. There are no egregious plot holes, and I don’t believe actions seemed forced. Characters behave logically, and the movie stays faithful to the spirit of the comic while making the necessary changes to appeal to a mass audience. Robert Downey Jr. gives a wonderful performance, one full of life and energy as the titular hero, and he’s quite ably supported by his fellow thespians (Jeff Bridges deserves special mention for simply disappearing into the role of Stane; I wouldn’t have realized it was him had I not recognized the voice after a short while).

I also enjoyed The Dark Knight when I saw it. It’s a great movie. I think the actors are all exceptional, although I am not sure that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination. I believe his performance would have generated some heat in any circumstances, but his tragic death (and make no mistake; I do view his death as a tragedy. Ledger was phenomenally gifted, and while I may not be on the “Joker-Love Bus” that surrounds his performance in this movie, I’ve enjoyed him in every movie of his I’ve seen) has lifted a good performance far above its merits in the eyes of many people. To be honest, by the end of the movie, Ledger’s unique verbal style was beginning to seriously irritate me, and had he been without reach, I’d have been mightily tempted to smack him. Had I chosen the actor to be most rewarded for his work in the film, I may have singled out Gary Oldman, a supremely skilled actor who so often gets thrust into the role of villain (a role he performs remarkably well to be sure) that it becomes incredibly refreshing to see him here in the guise of a hero. If only we could see that more often.

I believe there are a few reasons that I didn’t enjoy The Dark Knight as much as many people. The first is its length; I’m a firm believer that most movies could stand editing, and The Dark Knight stretches out for 152 minutes, which I thought was a little long. Iron Man, for its part, is almost 30 minutes shorter, making for a more tightly paced experience. I also was very disappointed that Aaron Eckhart, who did a fantastic job as Harvey Dent, had his character’s entire arc told in this film. Harvey Dent is too interesting and complex to be completely explored in the space of one film, especially when he is not the main focus of the picture. They could have cut thirty minutes from the film, and had an excellent villain for the next picture, but not dealing with the Two-Face character in The Dark Knight. They could have allowed Eckhart to develop Dent fully in this film, turning him into a character that the audience truly cared for and was invested in, and then his fall in the next movie would have been that much more heartbreaking.

Again, I enjoyed The Dark Knight. But I realized that these movies reflected the way I read comics. I’ve always been more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. There was a short time in my life when I read move DC than Marvel, but for almost my entire comics reading life, I’ve always enjoyed Marvel more. I believe that these movies are very reflective of the companies from which their characters sprang. Dark Knight is serious, dark and packed full of detail. It’s smart, and it knows it, and it prides itself on that. In the end, it takes itself a little too seriously. That is how I saw DC comics of the 60’s through the 80’s, and to an extent, I still think it’s true today. The comics, like the movie, are gorgeous, and they’re good, but there’s almost a clinical detachment to them.

Marvel, and Iron Man, on the other hand, are bright, colorful feasts for the eyes and imagination. Things happen fast and furiously and there is a light touch to the material; the movie (and comics) know that the events they’re depicting are larger than life, and they play it as real as possible, but they wink at their audience to let the audience know that the creators are indeed, in on the joke. There’s a life and energy in Marvel’s comics, again particularly zeroing in on those from the 60s to the 80s, but still continuing to today, that DC simply can’t match. I believe that the Iron Man movie captures that energy perfectly.

In the end, it’s not about trashing one movie to elevate another. Dark Knight is a wonderful piece of cinema, and everyone attached to it should be proud of their achievement. My point is simply that, in 2008, Marvel and DC finally managed to shine their unique brand onto the silver screen, and in that instant, my old comics buying habits came roaring back to me. I’m glad to have both types of movies available, just as glad as I was to have both types of comics to buy. I just know, in the end, where my true fondness lies.

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Casting Call: Hawkeye

Sep-17-08

Back in the day, when Wizard magazine used to be relevant and informational (says the writer who still has a slavish devotion to the magazine’s fart-and-boob-joke-filled pages), they used to run a two-page spread about fantasy casting calls for turning current favorite comics into other media applications…television or movies, specifically.

In order to spread our site’s wings a bit, and perhaps put some imagery into readers’ heads in lieu of neither John nor I having relevant artistic skills, I thought it might be fun to do a fantasy casting for one of our Marvel revamps. And, still being fresh in my mind (and not having a HUGE cast), I thought we’d go with the Hawkeye pitch first.

So, who would you like to see play Hawkeye in a movie version of our idea? Who would best fill the roles of Black Widow, Hank Pym, Taskmaster, members of the Night Shift and a possible love interest for Mr. Barton?

This could be fun.

I’m going to avoid the fact that you read Wizard; I prefer my mental image of you to be smarter and have better taste. Ok, ok, I used to read the magazine as well, and their Casting Call feature was always a really neat feature. This is a game that anyone can play, and Hawkeye and his cast are as good candidates as anyone else, since they lend themselves to a movie.

For Hawkeye himself, we need someone who can play cocky and roguish, and still retain a very likable presence. I’d be tempted to cast Justin Hartley, who has been playing Green Arrow on Smallville, but I’m not sure if he’s got enough presence to anchor a movie. A young Cary Elwes may have been a good choice, but those days are past him. I’m going to have to suggest (and I can hear the groans before I type his name) Leonardo DiCaprio.

Look, I’m not a fan of Titanic either, but the fact of the matter is, DiCaprio is actually a good actor. Moreover, anyone who saw Catch Me If You Can knows he can play a dashing rogue, or a con man, and isn’t that what Hawkeye is, a con man with arrows? Plus, DiCaprio needs a movie like this. He seems to enjoy playing morose characters in more serious movies, and playing a lighter character in a fun movie would show a completely different side to him (and if Iron Man proved anything, it’s that super hero movies can be fun and good at the same time, so he shouldn’t worry that it would lessen his career).

I think that our Dr. Pym should be someone a little older, to show that he’s been at the hero game for a little while. I’d love to say Robert Downey Jr., but that’s a simple cop-out, since I think he could play every part in this movie, including the Black Widow, and do it brilliantly. Besides, I’d like to fit our movie into the Marvel Universe movies that have already been released and he’s a perfect Iron Man. Hmmm. You know, perhaps Cary Elwes would be good in this role. He might be a little too old, but he’s got the weight (quite literally) needed to play someone who’s best super-heroing days are behind him. I didn’t expect to cast him, but I think he could do it. It’s quite a different interpretation of Dr. Pym than I was originally considering, but there’s potential there, I think.

The Black Widow is easily one of my favorite comics characters, and were this a few years ago, I would have cast Michelle Pfeiffer, one of my favorite actresses, without even blinking an eye. I think that Pfeiffer can do anything. Natasha is supposed to be a little older as well (I always imagine her in her early 40s), but I’m not sure if Pfeiffer has the bad ass streak she would need to truly capture the spirit of the Black Widow. Sorry Michelle. You’ll still always be my favorite.

If not Michelle Pfeiffer, then who? Unfortunately, Hollywood is not kind to middle age actresses, either favoring very young starlets (and Lindsay Lohan will not be playing the Black Widow) or preferring more mature actresses (and as much as I love Sigourney Weaver, she’s a little too old). I’d love the idea of someone like Amy Adams playing this role, but she’s just too young. If this was animated, I’d say we could just have Susan Sarandon do the voice and be done with it. But we need an actress who can kick butt, be beautiful, and make you very afraid of her when needed. She has to have the gravity to make you believe she’s a world class spy, but still be athletic enough to look like she can perform the sorts of stunts the Widow performs. In the end, I’m going to go with Kate Beckinsale. She’s a little younger than I was hoping for (mid-30s), but she can kick butt, she looks great in leather, and she honestly deserves a good movie.

Whew! It’s much easier to pick someone else’s choices apart than to create your own. Quick! Come up with some ideas so I can do just that!

Wow. Not the direction I was thinking you’d take at all. Of course, I’m having the same problems you were when it comes to finding relevant actors who can fill these roles. Maybe we’re just getting too old for this stuff! Hell, if this was posted 15 years ago, I could’ve easily seen Val Kilmer playing Hawkeye, with Susan Sarandon as Black Widow and an experienced yet plucky Robert Redford as Pym. In the interest of full disclosure, let me be the first to say that I was also pushing for Tom Selleck to play Tony Stark…back in 1984.

Cary Elwes would’ve made a great Clint Barton. He’s got the right amounts of suaveness and bravado. Or at least he did. Val Kilmer used to as well, until he ate a baby elephant. However, I’ve never felt that DiCaprio brought anything to his roles other than some sort of simmering immaturity. I’m just not a fan. And, regardless of how much he ages, I just don’t think Leo looks old enough or experienced enough (or ripped enough) to pull off the role with any sort of believability.

No, I was thinking of someone more along the lines of Kevin McKidd:

First of all, he’s Scottish, which instantly gives him swagger. Secondly, he’s played the adventure-type roles before…starring in HBO’s Rome series and in NBC’s Quantum Leap update Journeyman. He’s blond. He looks a bit older, grizzled and war-weary. And he’s a pretty fine actor.

Cary Elwes might make a good Pym. But, in fair play, I have to throw my own pick out there: John Slattery. Slattery has become the go-to guy for supporting actors (at least on television). He’s currently got a great role on Mad Men, and he has portrayed all types of men on shows as widely varied as K Street, Ed, Desperate Housewives and Will & Grace.

Filling Black Widow’s skintight suit is a bit more difficult. The actress we choose has to be a bit older and wiser, but she also has to be gorgeous and flexible. A redhead wouldn’t hurt. And she should probably be some sort of foreigner. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Kate Beckinsale (one of my favorite females on the planet), but I agree that she’s probably too young (I also agree that she looks mouth-watering in leather). I can think of a few competent actresses who sort of fit the mold for the character…Rhona Mitra, Carla Gugino, maybe even Famke Janssen…but I’m going to lob a name out there and see if it sticks: Saffron Burrows.

A lot of people think she’s a stiff talent, but I think she has the requisite vacant, who-gives-a-damn look and attitude needed in the character. You may remember her from such instant classic films as Wing Commander (with Freddie Prinze, Jr.), Deep Blue Sea (costarring LL Cool J) and Troy. Or, you may recall her most recent role in The Bank Job, alongside my pick to play Taskmaster…

Jason Statham. I think this guy is fabulous. Amazing fight skills. Gritty demeanor. And, from what my wife tells me, he’s not bad to look at either. Of course, his face would be covered in a skullface, so that may not count for much.

Those are my picks for the Big Four roles in this little venture. Start tearing them apart in 3…2…1…

The ripping shall now commence….to an extent.

I love Kevin McKidd and agree that he’s a fine actor. Moreso, as we learned when he was in Rome, he really can sell the idea that he can kick your butt. I’m not 100% sure that I see him as Hawkeye, as I’m not sure if he has the cocky swagger that you think he has, but you know, he’s such a good actor that I have no doubt he could pull the part off. I still think that you’re being too unkind to Leonardo DiCaprio, and doing what so many people are doing, which is judge him by his early years and the awfulness that was Titanic. I think that he’s taken so many dark and serious roles simply to distance himself from that image. But fine, Kevin McKidd it is. He’ll be cheaper, and we can spend the money on special effects.

Did you enjoy the part where I agreed with you? Good, because it won’t happen again for awhile.

I like John Slattery, but for Dr. Pym? I’d rather have the heavier Cary Elwes play him, as Slattery looks old. It’s the grey hair, and it’s not fair, but neither is life, or casting calls. I simply think that he ages Pym into his 50s, whether you want him to or not, and that simply doesn’t work for me. He’s great, and perhaps we can find something else for him to do in the movie (no, I don’t know what). If I’m throwing him out, and you’re throwing Elwes out, we need another choice, right? I’m going to nominate Doug Savant.

You may know him from Desperate Housewives. I think he works. He’s two years younger than John Slattery, but looks ten years younger. I think he looks the perfect age; older than Hawkeye (although, with Kevin McKidd playing Hawkeye, we’ve skewed Hawkeye a little older than I would have liked), but still young enough that, if given the chance, he could still hold his own in a fight. He has a certain world-weariness that is good for the character, but he hasn’t let life beat him yet, which is important.

Now, we come to the Black Widow. You suggested Saffron Burrows. You couldn’t have surprised me more had you suggested Dom DeLuise play the Black Widow. Or, at least, I would have been surprised had I any clue who the hell Saffron Burrows is. The really scary thing is when I looked at her filmography and noticed that I’ve seen her in quite a few things. Now, I’m someone who knows actors and actresses to a decent extent, and I didn’t know this woman? She was so bland and boring that she didn’t leave any impression on me through everything in which I had seen her? Sorry, no. Plus, if we’re looking at age, Burrows is exactly one year older than Beckinsale, so we’re not gaining much there. I’d still pick Kate Beckinsale FTW, but, in the spirit of trying to be helpful, let me suggest another option.

Darn. I wish I had another option for the Widow. Every actress I think of is either too old or too young. Or, in many cases, too willowy (yes, that’s probably not a word. A high percentage of my brain function is being spent trying to cast the Widow, so I don’t have enough left to think of actual words. If this continues, my grammar will continue to deteriorate, and new words will spew from me higgeldy-piggeldy. Soon it will look like Dr. Seuss posted this, with new crazy nonsense words all over the place). By too willowy, I mean they look like a stiff breeze could blow them over, and the Widow needs to look like she could kick some butt. Like Beckinsale can. But I digress.

I was going to originally suggest Maria Bello, but I’m actually not a fan of hers. Then I saw The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and I’m now convinced that she should never work again, nor should anyone in anyway connected to that film. Oh, my head hurts just recalling it. So, I’m going to move onto someone that will, no doubt, create some more nasty comments, but I’ll stand by my choice (unless you have a better one….Saffron Burrows? Sheesh!). I nominate Lucy Lawless.

Yes, she played Xena. But since then, she’s popped up all over the landscape, and she’s shown a very wide acting ability. She is blond, but as the picture above shows, she can do red hair. She’s beautiful, but she’s also 40 years old. Plus, she not only looks like she can kick your butt, but she actually CAN kick your butt.

As for Jason Statham….brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. He’s a great actor who can be serious as hell, still play lighter moments, and again, he can kick your butt all over the place. Great choice.

Once we agree on Pym and the Widow, we can move into a few minor characters.

I apologize…for some reason your photos weren’t coming up correctly, so I replaced them all willy-nilly. The new shot of Lucy Lawless is actually pretty hot (and I always thought of her as being pretty butch). I guess I had an impression of her as a bigger woman. Must’ve been all that Xena armor she wore. I could see her in the role of Black Widow. But I still can’t believe all the hostility that everyone seems to have towards Saffron Burrows. I wonder how the poor girl gets out of bed in the morning. No, seriously, I want to know. Better yet, I’d like to be in the bed with her when she gets up…

I digress.

The picture of Doug Savant that I put in there really shows his age more than any image I had in my head. I still picture the young, idealistic guy from Melrose Place. Looking at him now though, I could almost see him playing Hawkeye! See, I put Slattery in there because I was envisioning Pym as an older dude, someone who put in his years as a hero but was now content to just sit back and help out. Kevin McKidd is younger than me (by a year or two), but has a certain experience in his face. If you want to skew Hawkeye younger, we could consider other options. How about Jesse Spencer?

He’s blond, Australian, almost 30 and costars on House. Relative newcomer. Not too hard on the eyes (I suppose). Definitely has a cockiness to him. And his awesome hair makes me jealous. What do you think?

I think that I agree. I am also jealous of Jesse Spencer’s hair.

I admit to not watching House (and I don’t have time to, so all of our hundreds of readers….ok dozens of readers….ok, my mom, don’t have to waste their time writing in and telling me how great it is) so I know nothing about Spencer. All I do know is that, when I type his name, I want to put …For Hire after it. This means nothing, except for the fact that I am old.

He certainly has the look of Hawkeye, and the picture shows the perfect Hawkeye cockiness. While I really like Kevin McKidd, I think that if we paired Spencer up with Savant, we’d have a better feel for the age of the characters. So, we have Spencer as Hawkeye, Lawless as Black Widow, Savant as Pym, and Statham as Taskmaster. Hmmm. Not bad. Who else would we need to cast? Do we want to cast all of Night Shift or is that too many people? I’m thinking it may be a bit much for our movie. Perhaps we should think TV series, since, with the exception of Statham, these actors have most of their popularity from television.

Well, I can see no reason why these folks shouldn’t branch out to a big bad comic book movie. I always favor the Star Wars method of casting anyway…pick established actors that don’t have a lot of exposure and see what they can do. You always throw a ringer in there (like Billy Dee Williams or, to some extent, Harrison Ford) just to prove you understand the process. I think Statham does that for us — he’s a fairly hot commodity right now — and I’d love to have him as an older, more experienced villain type versus a fresh-faced hero who’s still being backed up by his journeyman friends.

We should probably restrict ourselves to these four characters though. If we start casting other roles, then we end up slipping into multiple conflicts that would be best exploited in an episodic television setting. I prefer to look at the Big Picture!

Of course, if we were to attempt to launch a Hawkeye film, we’d have to more or less start from scratch. The story arc we developed for an ongoing comic title wouldn’t hold water on the screen. I say we use the trick Marvel has been using lately of having other characters appear as crossover appeal in their movies. This ties in perfectly with Hawkeye’s origin too, since Iron Man pretty much launched his career and Black Widow played a huge part in his direction too. We could start off showing him catching some common crooks or something and then do a flashback scene with Tony Stark…maybe even Nick Fury. Then they could approach him (and Widow) about joining some SHIELD Special Ops team (like in Ultimates). Taskmaster is the hardest part ot get in there if only because he’s never had a real origin in the comics. The funny thing about him, and something maybe we should discuss in another post (seeing as how he’s my favorite villain), is that no one knows his real identity and yet the government has been able to contact him on numerous occasions and use his services. Weird.

Anyway, that’s how I see things. Hawkeye is young and ready for action. Widow and Pym offer wisdom and assistance. Taskmaster is some sort of weapons runner or government assassin or something. And this is our cast: