August 15, 2012

Daredevil, Fox and Marvel: Is This a Good Thing?

In recent months 20th Century Fox has been in a bit of a race to get production started on a new Daredevil film. They already produced one take on the Marvel comics character back in 2002, directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Ben Affleck. While that version wasn't particularly well liked, and didn't set the global box office on fire, it did succeed enough to inspire a spin-off starring Jennifer Garner (Elektra) and a decade-long sort of vague intention on Fox's part to revisit the character and give him another shot.

The problem Fox has is that the time to give Daredevil another shot is rapidly running out. Marvel Studios, who since selling Fox the rights have become a fully fledged mini-studio within Walt Disney Pictures, refuse to extend Fox's option. This makes sense: since launching their own film franchises Marvel have struck box office gold with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Thor and this year's mega-hit The Avengers. Why give away a popular character, and its likely box office revenue, to one of your competitors? If Fox don't commence shooting on a Daredevil sequel or reboot by the start of October, they lose the ability to make Daredevil at all. There have been a few hurried attempts to kickstart a new Daredevil project, most recently involving director Joe Carnahan (Narc, The A-Team) and promising a deliberately gritty, 1970s-styled take on the character. Today Carnahan's noted on his own Twitter that his project is almost certainly dead in the water.

So come October it's relatively certain that Fox will be letting their option lapse and Daredevil is heading back to Marvel. Great news for Marvel and Walt Disney, and great news for comic book fans worldwide, right?

As the Gershwins said, 'it ain't necessarily so'.

On the one hand, it looks like nobody can adapt Marvel superheroes for the big screen as well as Marvel can. They've been remarkably canny about it, utilising their biggest strength in the comics - obsessive over-arching continuity - and finding a way to adapt that strength to motion pictures. They've also cast very cleverly, following very much in the style of Disney mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Got a dumb action flick that you want to make smarter? Cast smart actors against type. Robert Downey Jr. was never widely considered as Tony Stark in the years leading up to the production of Iron Man. Actors like Nicolas Cage and Tom Cruise were attached to the role as it bounced from studio to studio. Downey Jr's casting seemed left of field at the time, but his performance has demonstrated that it was an inspired decision. Look at a list of the leading and supporting actors in Marvel Studios productions and you don't get a list of stars; you get a list of actors.

Here's an example: Wikipedia lists the 10 stars of last year's Thor as Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan SkarsgÄrd, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Idris Elba, Kat Dennings and Rene Russo. Among them, these 10 actors collectively have three Golden Globes (from 10 nominations), two Oscars (from six nominations), two Emmys (from seven nominations), three BAFTAS (from seven nominations), one NAACP award (from three nominations) and a Logie. Now fair enough, half of those awards and nominations are due to Anthony Hopkins (not the Logie, though), but you get my point. Marvel cast cleverly and they cast well, and the proof of their efforts are in the quality of their finished product.

So if you're a Daredevil fan, moving the character back to Marvel must seem like a great idea. They'll likely cast a strong actor in the role, and get great actors to play Foggy Nelson, and Elektra, and Bullseye, and the Kingpin. Great stuff. They'll likely pick up a strong director as well. All things go.


Let's look at this from another perspective. Superheroes are best suited for Summer blockbusters, and a Walt Disney/Mavel Studios Daredevil would almost certainly be an early or late Summer contender. So we're looking at a release schedule of between March and August. This year that period included 26 weekends, and Hollywood released about 50 major (or major-ish) feature films in that time. In 2012 Walt Disney Pictures distributed five major films over the Summer, including animated and live-action product: The Avengers, Brave, John Carter and so on. The maximum any studio released was Universal Pictures, who released nine this year, and I'm pretty sure even Universal would agree that was probably too many.

We already know that Marvel Studios are releasing Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 in 2013. We also know that they're releasing Captain America 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, and very possibly Ant-Man as well. We know that The Avengers 2 is scheduled to hit in 2015, and - let's be honest - in all likelihood Iron Man 4 or Thor 3 as well. The Incredible Hulk 2 has been mooted as well. Add in an annual Pixar feature (Monsters University in 2013, for example) and Disney's own live-action films (The Lone Ranger, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, et al), and it's a pretty chock-solid schedule for the Walt Disney Company. I'd say the earliest fans will see a Disney-produced Daredevil movie in cinemas is August 2015, and that's the earliest they'll see it. I'd personally expect to see one in about five years' time, or about mid-2017. So if Daredevil shifts over to Marvel Studios, it does give fans the possibility of the character popping up in the Marvel cinematic universe while massively reducing the chance of seeing a Daredevil movie any time soon.

Marvel's enormous cast of characters works in comic books, because Marvel publish more than 50 titles a month. They currently release one or two feature films a year, and their schedule is already mostly full of demonstrably successful characters. The best chance for a lot of other Marvel heroes is actually to be produced externally by a rival company. Sure, if The Amazing Spider-Man had been produced by Marvel and not Sony, we could see Spidey in the team for The Avengers 2 - and that would be great. It would probably also mean that we never get a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Or Ant-Man. Or (now that they'll likely have the rights) Daredevil.

The Marvel Studios franchise is great. It's absolutely brilliant. That said, I am immensely grateful that previous film production deals successfully took a lot of prominent characters off the table before they started. I say keep the X-Men and Fantastic Four at 20th Century Fox. Give Fox another year or two to develop a new Daredevil. Leave Spider-Man and Ghost Rider with Sony. As a fan I want all the superhero movies I can get, and I'm not going to get as many if there's only one kid playing in the sandpit.


  1. Ah, but what if they fold ol' hornhead into the mooted Marvel TV series? This is pure speculation, but a street level show, set in Marvels' New York, with a multi-strand/semi-anthology narrative, would let them showcase a good half-dozen plus characters and see who and what pops with the audience. Daredevil, Black Panther, Dr Strange, The Punish, Power Man, Iron Fist....

    Holy fuck, they should make The Defenders.

    1. I can see a Dr Strange series working much better than a Daredevil series, to be honest. There's a lot more opportunity for TV-style storytelling there.

      Certainly I think an anthology format would be a kiss of death: contemporary audiences don't respond to them.

    2. Hence my use of a certain prefix. "Sprawling" might be a better word - something with an overarching structure that allows them to draw on a large pool of characters.

  2. Remember it's for ABC: the sort of sprawling multiple-story arc series you seem to be thinking of is more of a cable idea.


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