Marvel’s guide to making a good superhero movie

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Marvel knows how to make a superhero movie. With Thor 2 currently tearing up the box office, here’s a short guide to the studio’s success.

Ahh, The Incredible Hulk. Sticks out like a sore thumb, doesn’t it? Arguably the only duff film Marvel (MVL Productions to be precise) has ever made, depending on your view of Iron Man 2. For the most part, Marvel has been something of a specialist when it comes to making superhero films. It says a lot that Marvel’s worst film isn’t anywhere near as depressingly diabolical as Fantastic Four or Ghost Rider. The massive gulf in quality between the Marvel films and the rest has never been as obvious as it has been this year though, where Iron Man 3 spanked Man of Steel and The Wolverine at the global box office. Yes, it’s fair to say that the likes of Warner Bros and co could learn a lot from Marvel about how to make a decent superhero movie. Here’s how.

 

Get your casting right

thor-chris-hemsworth

It may sound obvious, but sometimes an actor can make or break a film; so far, Marvel has had an uncanny knack of hiring the perfect actor for its franchises. Take Thor as an example: he could have been a massively camp, overblown cheeseball if it wasn’t for Chris Hemsworth’s mix of self-aware humour, charm and unpretentiousness. You can’t deny the success of superhero castings elsewhere, such as Hugh Jackman or Christian Bale, but then you do also have Kirsten Dunst as MJ, Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and the entirety of Fantastic Four. Oh, and Ben Affleck as Daredevil, so there’s that as well.

 

Hire the right director

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but why in all that is holy did Warner Bros choose Zack Snyder over Darren Aronofsky? These are the types of decisions that Marvel wouldn’t make. Kenneth Branagh was an inspired choice to direct Thor, with its slightly Shakespearean relationships, whilst only Joss Whedon could have united six different superheroes with such ease in The Avengers. You can’t imagine Marvel would ever have hired a director like Brett Ratner, can you? Well, actually they did, with Louis Letterier (on The Incredible Hulk), but at least it looks like they’ve learned their lesson.

 

Keep it light

avengers shawarma

I know I’m probably in the minority when I say that Christopher Nolan’s Batman films aren’t very good, but they’re just so over-burdened with doom and pretentious, pompous dialogue that means fuck all. The constant, smothering seriousness may have worked partially for Begins and Dark Knight, but by Rises it was just tedious, especially after the swashbuckling The Avengers ended up earning nearly £500 million more at the box office. You’re a superhero movie, not a Lars von Trier film. The hard part is to not go too light, and end up with a Fantastic Four on your hands.

 

Plan it out

THOR (Chris Hemsworth) (L) and CAPTAIN AMERICA (Chris Evans) (R)

The Avengers was only possible because Marvel had been patient enough to sow the seeds early on in Iron Man and established the Marvel universe properly through cameos, and Nick Fury with Coulson. So by the time Thor came face to face with Captain America, it didn’t seem ridiculous, but natural. X-Men is a good example of not planning, with the tangled web of contradicting stories and timelines. Marvel has a phase one, phase two and phase three all planned out, and it’s because of that that Marvel films don’t necessarily feel like solo outings anymore, but more like different strands of a much larger film set in the same universe. Or you can just do what DC are doing and throw everyone into one film and see what happens.

 

Mix things up a little

IRON MAN 3

Whilst some might say that continuity throughout a superhero franchise would be best, Marvel has taken a different approach. Only Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon have lasted more than one film. And for the most part, it has worked. Iron Man 2 was much of the same as the first Iron Man, but with Shane Black stepping into the director’s chair for Iron Man 3, the dynamic changed to make the best Iron Man film yet – it seemed fresh and new. The same goes for Thor 2. Whilst the first was all shiny and a fish out of water tale, the second is thematically very different, both in how it’s shot and what it’s trying to achieve. By the ends of the original Spider-Man trilogy and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it was all getting a little bit stale, and it’s not much of a surprise that Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight Rises were both the worst in their respective trilogy.

 

Featured image: Marvel

Inset images: Melinda Seckington (via Flickr Commons); all other images Marvel

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