Dear Marvel Studios,
Let’s face it, the MCU is killing it lately. You’re making hit after hit, and you don’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. Thor: Ragnarok seems like a lot of fun, Black Panther looks amazing, and you’ve still got Avengers: Infinity War on the horizon. You’re obviously doing almost everything right.
I doubt you’re looking for advice from another random yahoo on the internet, but I have some thoughts about how you could make things even better and sustain things going forward. So don’t consider these demands, exactly. They’re more like friendly suggestions, okay? Here goes:
1) Have Luis Recap the MCU in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR
By the time Infinity War hits in May 2018, the MCU will have been around for ten years and a staggering 18 movies. That’s unprecedented. Even the James Bond series only turned out one film a year during its 1960s heyday . But even though the MCU has some of the most devoted fans around, not everyone has seen every movie. How do you make sure that everyone gets up to speed?
Simple. Have Michael Peña’s Luis explain it all.
Michael Peña was one of the highlights of 2015’s Ant-Man, giving a terrific performance as Scott Lang’s old cellmate Luis. He was funny without ever crossing the line into obnoxious. And one of the coolest things he did was tell long, meandering stories with little bits of vital information. But instead of just illustrating Luis’ stories with simple flashbacks, we’d see the actors lip-syncing along with Luis’ narration, like an episode of Drunk History:
I think it would be terrific to have Luis summarize the previous 18 Marvel movies this way. Tell me you wouldn’t love to see Robert Downey Jr. mouthing along with Peña going “Hey, I’m Iron Man, yo.” Or hear Luis’ voice coming out of the Black Widow or the Scarlet Witch. Or see the Hulk fighting Thor with both of them voiced by Peña. It would be awesome and hilarious.
Do it as a part of the film or, if it doesn’t fit with Infinity War‘s tone, release it as its own featurette on YouTube the week before the premiere. Guaranteed viral video. Hell, I’d settle for it just being an extra on DVD/BluRay. But one way or another, Luis recapping MCU continuity is a thing that needs to exist.
2) Get the FANTASTIC FOUR Back From Fox
By hook or by crook, this needs to happen. I’m fine with the X-Men being shunted off into a separate movie series — they honestly make more sense in their own universe — but we could really use the FF in the MCU.
The Fantastic Four are some of the greatest characters in the Marvel Universe, but they’re 0 for 4 when it comes to movies. After three failed attempts, it’s pretty obvious that Fox has absolutely NO idea what they’re doing with the property.
So rather than continue to make disappointing FF movies just to keep the rights, it’s time for Fox to cut a deal. Fox, swallow your pride like Sony did with Spider-Man and admit that Marvel knows how to handle these characters better than you do. Give Marvel Studios creative control over an FF movie, you distribute it, sit back, and watch the money roll in. Because if you give it to people who how to do it right, you can milk this property forever. That’s much better than doing horrendous reboot after horrendous reboot.
The FF have almost limitless potential. They’re the explorers of the Marvel Universe, the ones who find new and unusual corners of it to play in. These characters let you do mind-bending science fiction, high adventure, superhero action, romance, comedy, and tragedy all in one movie. Reed Richards could become the MCU’s new scientific genius once you no longer have Tony Stark. Sue would provide another powerful female hero (We need more than just the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch, the Wasp and Captain Marvel for female representation) and an opportunity for dazzling special effects sequences. Johnny would add in youthful energy and a bit of derring do, and Ben Grimm gives you both comedy and tragedy in the character of the Thing.
And if nothing else, maybe we could finally get definitive film versions of two of the greatest antagonists in comics:
I mean, c’mon… how dumb do you have to be to screw these two up? Doctor Doom was Darth Vader 15 years before Star Wars and Galactus could be a menace like nothing else seen in cinema. Don’t give Doom electrical powers or turn Galactus into a cloud. Have faith in your material. Look at what Stan & Jack did, and just do that. If Marvel can bring Thor, Rocket Racoon, and Groot to the screen convincingly, they can certainly get these two right. And God knows the MCU could use some stronger villains.
But Doom and Galactus are just the tip of the iceberg:
Doctor Doom, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Watcher, Alicia Masters, Wyatt Wingfoot, Agatha Harkness, the Skrulls, the Mole Man, Annihilus, Blastaar, Diablo, the Psycho Man, the Frightful Four, the Puppet Master, Dragon Man, the Mad Thinker and his Awesome Android… the FF have one of the deepest benches of great characters in comicdom. They could revitalize and sustain the MCU for decades to come.
3) Recast, Don’t Reboot
One of the things I find fascinating about the MCU is that they’re telling stories with something akin to comic book time, but with actors who age one year for every year that passes in real life.
Sooner rather than later, though, these actors are going to start aging out of their roles. When Robert Downey, Jr. was first cast as Tony Stark, he said that he wanted to do a superhero movie now, because in ten years he’d be too old for it. That was in 2008. Avengers: Infinity War will mark the MCU’s 10th anniversary in 2018, and Downey will be 53 when it comes out. Sure, he looks great for his age, but the day is coming where RDJ will decide that he either doesn’t want to play Tony Stark any more, or that he won’t be believable in the part any more. Same with Chris Evans as Captain America. And when that day comes, Marvel needs to have a plan in place.
One school of thought says that we should just retire the characters along with the actors and gradually have other characters take over. Have Riri Williams become Ironheart, have Bucky Barnes or Sam Wilson take over as Captain America, have Jane Foster take over as Thor, and so forth. While I think that could be fun for a movie or two, eventually it would feel more like a bunch of substitutes and second-stringers than Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sooner or later people are going to want to have the original characters back.
So I think the better long-term solution is to just gradually recast the characters. Don’t reboot, don’t change the continuity, don’t shift the MCU over to a parallel Earth or the Ultimate Universe, and most importantly, don’t comment on the characters looking any different. Just recast and let the new actors find their own interpretations of the roles. The James Bond films were smart enough to do this, and it’s become a tradition for the Bond series to get a new lead actor every decade or so. What used to be a bug has become a feature.
So if you see a way to bring Iron Man or Captain America’s storylines to a temporary end, do it. Give the characters a rest for a film or two. Find a Roger Moore to RDJ’s Sean Connery. And then, when the time is right. bring Shellhead and Cap back into the MCU. Think of it as putting a comic book on temporary hiatus and then relaunching it with an all-new creative team. It gives the characters — and the franchise — a shot in the arm. Because ultimately the characters are more important than any one actor.
I do, however, have one exception to the recasting rule, and it’s this:
4) Keep J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson
Face it. We’re never going to do any better.
J.K. Simmons has owned the part of J. Jonah Jameson ever since his first moment on screen in 2002’s Spider-Man, and it’s a crying shame that he’s only played the part three times.
Even in a voice cameo on The Simpsons, he absolutely nailed it:
And Marvel and Sony obviously KNOW that Simmons nailed it, too. Why else would they omit JJJ from the last three Spider-Man movies? Because they know that can’t cast anyone else as perfect as Simmons.
So… Why try to reinvent the wheel here? Just use Simmons again. Since the MCU is going to have to recast at least a few of their heroes at some point, some familiar faces among the supporting cast could help ease the transition. There’s even precedent for it: when the James Bond movies recast Bond in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, they kept the same actors in place as M, Moneypenny, and Q.
Bernard Lee played M and Desmond Llewelyn played Q until they each passed away. Lois Maxwell played Moneypenny until she was noticeably older than Timothy Dalton’s James Bond. And Dame Judi Dench continued playing M right through a series reboot. There’s no reason you couldn’t do the same thing with J.K. Simmons as Jameson. So what if Peter Parker and Aunt May are different now? Audiences love Simmons in the part, and they’d love to see him back. Let him play JJJ for as long as he wants to. Simmons is certainly game for it:
So c’mon, Marvel. Lock him down and make him an offer, already.
5) Make a SQUADRON SUPREME Movie
I don’t think it’s any secret that the Justice League movie has been a troubled production. It started shooting just after the horrible buzz about Batman v. Superman started to build, and that handicapped it right out of the gate. Since then, we’ve heard stories about extensive reshoots, characters being cut from the film, and Henry Cavill having his mustache removed via CGI. At this writing we’re about two and a half weeks out from the premiere, and audiences still don’t seem to be very excited about it. The trailers are provoking a reaction of “ehh” rather than “Oh my God, we HAVE to see this!”
And let’s face it, that makes sense. When it comes to movies, DC is flailing. Some of their casting has been great (Gal Gadot, Margot Robbie), some of it has been downright awful (Jesse Eisenberg, Jared Leto), and some of it has just been bizarre (Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa). Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad all had their moments, but overall they weren’t very good. Wonder Woman was a hit and very well-reviewed, but it’s not enough quite yet. At this point, we still don’t know if DC has truly turned the ship around, or if Wonder Woman was just a one movie exception. We don’t know what to expect from DC. People are gunshy.
But DC has definitely made some bold moves. When Zack Snyder dropped out of Justice League due to his daughter’s tragic suicide, DC made the audacious move to recruit Avengers director Joss Whedon to complete the film. And before that, Snyder made a similarly audacious move by poaching J.K. Simmons from Marvel to play Commissioner Gordon.
So what should Marvel do to counter that? Be even MORE audacious and make a Squadron Supreme movie.
The Squadron Supreme, in case you don’t know, is a Justice League-like superteam from one of Marvel’s parallel Earths. At various times in their career, they’ve been a JLA parody, a straight JLA pastiche, a Marvel MAX version of the JLA, an evil JLA, and everything in between.
And since DC still doesn’t seem too sure about how to make a Justice League movie, maybe Marvel should show them how it’s done.
There’s a few different ways you could go with a Squadron Supreme movie. You could use them as villains in an Avengers movie. For that, I’d recommend loosely adapting Steve Englehart and George Pérez’s mid-70s Avengers story where the Squadron is brainwashed into becoming stooges of their world’s military-industrial complex, until a speech by the Beast (disguised as President Nelson Rockefeller) sets them straight:
That was a pretty daring storyline for its time, and sadly, it’s still relevant today.
Or you could give them their own film and go with an adaptation of the 1985 Squadron Supreme maxi-series by Mark Gruenwald, Bob Hall, and Paul Ryan, where the now-unbrainwashed Squadron resolves to turn their ruined world into a utopia, whether the world wants it or not:
Heck, if you can make an unknown property like Guardians of the Galaxy a hit, a roman à clef of the Justice League should be child’s play.
And if the Squadron movie does well, follow it up with Marvel’s The Imperial Guard and steal DC’s thunder on a Legion of Super-Heroes movie.
Well, Marvel, those are my thoughts. Like I said, they’re just suggestions, but I think they’re good ones. So think it over, okay?
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Lastly, for the past few years I’ve worked with Alzheimer’s New Jersey. They’re a great organization that provides care and support for families in New Jersey affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. They’re also working to fund research for a cure. This past Sunday I participated in the Northern Regional Walk to Fight Alzheimer’s in the memory of my father, who suffered from dementia. Although the walk is over, we’re still taking donations until Nov. 30th. If you’ve enjoyed my column here at the AJS over the past year, I hope you’ll consider donating to my fundraising page here. Any amount is appreciated. Thanks very much.
See you next week, folks.