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Sunday, January 12, 2014

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Fifteen (2011)

THOR




Two new additions the Marvel Cinematic Universe were churned out in 2011. The first was Thor, based on the longtime Avenger. Thor was first seen in Marvel Comics in 1962, adapted from Norse mythology by Stan Lee, scripter Larry Lieber, and penciller Jack Kirby.

Thor was originally considered as a project by Sam Raimi in the early 1990s. This fell through and nothing more transpired on it until the early 2000s. Other directors considered were David S. Goyer and Matthew Vaughn.

Eventually, Marvel Studios chose Kenneth Branagh. Branagh is noted for having directed and starred in several well-received Shakespeare adaptations. To portray Thor, they chose relative newcomer Chris Hemsworth, surrounding him with big names such as Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, and Rene Russo.

Thor connects to the greater MCU in multiple ways. It features the features a cameo by Hawkeye in his first cinematic appearance. Of course, Hawkeye would go on to play a large role in The Avengers. Then there's Agent Coulson, who appears here after being established in Iron Man and Iron Man 2. He even has a comment directed towards him asking if the Asgardian Destroyer armor is "one of Stark's".  At one point, Dr, Selvig refers to a colleague that studied gamma radiation, AKA Bruce Banner AKA, The Hulk. There's also an after credit scene  that sets up The Avengers.

The film stays generally faithful to the comic Thor but it sort of combines elements of the 616 and Ultimate versions. Thor doesn’t have his alter ego of Donald Blake, although this is briefly referred to when it is used as a false identity to break him out of SHIELD custody.

Thor did quite well. The budget was a moderate $150 million, and it totaled over $449 million in B.O. by the time everything was said and done. It was a critical success as well, earning itself a 77 percent on the good ol' Tomatometer.


Many comic fans consider it somewhat mediocre, but I think it's one of the best superhero films ever made. The visuals are amazing and Loki is easily in the top 5 villains from comic movies.

A sequel, Thor: The Dark World was released in November 2013. A third film is likely, hopefully featuring Surtur as the villain.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER




The next entry in the MCU was Captain America: The First Avenger. Captain America was created in 1941 and the film stays true to his roots as a WWII-era character that gets frozen until modern times.

The First Avenger stars Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, and Toby Jones. It was directed by Joe Johnston, who also made Jumanji, The Rocketeer, and Jurassic Park III.

Evans had plenty of experience in comic adaptations prior to this. He appeared in the two Fantastic Four films, as well as The Losers and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

As with Thor, Marvel Studios decided to take aspects of the character from both the 616 and Ultimate continuities. The personality is similar to the 616 version (as opposed to the racist, jingoistic Ultimate version), but his appearance takes cues from the Ultimate Captain America.

Captain America's most famous nemesis, Red Skull was picked as the villain. As with many comic book movies, his code name isn't really used. The term "Red Skull" is only used once, and as an insult.

This was the last MCU film before The Avengers. Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers, rewrote the script the include more references to the greater universe. The final product has a lot of connective tissue to the MCU. For example, this film introduces the Cosmic Cube, which is crucial to the plot of The Avengers.

Furthermore, Howard Stark, Tony's father, is a pretty significant character in CA: TFA. Thor is also referenced and Nick Fury appears at the end when the film skips ahead to the present.

The Marvel Studios effort was decently successful. It raked in over $370 million all told on a budget of only $140 million. It ended up being the third highest grossing movie that was set in World War Two. The critical reaction wasn't bad either. CA: TFA has a 79% at Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 66 on Metacritic.

A sequel is being released on April 4, 2014, titled Captain America: The Winter Solider. It will feature the return of Sebastian Stan. His character, Bucky Barnes, appeared to die in the first film. However, as in the comics, he survived to come back as the brainwashed villain known as the Winter Soldier.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS




After mixed reactions to X-Men 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, FOX was looking breathe fresh air into the franchise. To achieve this, they would go with a prequel that also could be seen as somewhat of a reboot. Most of the main characters from the main trilogy, like Storm, Jean Grey, Cyclops, and Rogue would not appear at all. Wolverine only had a quick cameo.

Instead the story would focus on the younger versions of Professor X (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The story-line has some issues with previously established backstory of the original films, but it's clear these are supposed to be younger versions of McKellen and Stewart. A younger  Mystique also appears, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Director Matthew Vaughn reportedly only referred to the first two films in terms of continuity. Many issues seem to arise when comparing First Class to X-Men 3 or Origins. In The Last Stand, Magneto and a bald, able-bodied Charles Xavier meet Jean Grey as a child. However, in this film, they have their falling out in the 1960s before Jean is even born and Xavier gets his injury as a younger man who still has hair.

Furthermore, we have Emma Frost, who appeared as a teenager in Origins, which is set decades after First Class where she shows up as an adult woman played by January Jones.

Quality-wise, the film is one of the better entries in the X-Men franchise. Fassbender and McAvoy are both really good in the leads. First Class was a modest success at the box office, making over $350 million. Decent, but perhaps not the massive success FOX was looking for.

The cast of this film will be in the same movie as the original actors next spring in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

GREEN LANTERN

The biggest comic book movie misstep of 2011 came from DC. When it came to movies, DC was known for being reliant on Superman and Batman, and still is in some respects. The only live action film that was based on a DC character before 1997 besides the big two was Swamp Thing, and that was pretty low budget. 1997 saw the release of Steel, which was a massive failure. There were no DC movies until 2004's Catwoman, which was also terrible. The only other DC characters to get film adaptations were Watchmen (kind of an exception as it was based on the famed Alan Moore graphic novel) and Jonah Hex, a minor character that flopped at the box office.

DC still hadn't made a film out of most of its major characters, such as Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. Marvel was a bit slower out of the gate than DC, but by 2011, many major Marvel characters had films (Spider Man had 3, X-Men had 5, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk each had 2). Even many minor characters had been adapted. Blade had a trilogy, Iron Man had 2 movies, Thor had one, hell even Elektra and Ghost Rider had big screen versions.

DC needed to catch up, and fast. So they went with one of their heavy hitters that had never been seen on screen, Green Lantern. Green Lantern was supposed to start a DC cinematic universe the way that Iron Man did for Marvel films. Sadly, Green Lantern flopped and this didn't take place. The role of the kickstarter for the shared universe went to the 2013 film Man of Steel.

Green Lantern had been one of the major players in the DC universe for decades. The original Green Lantern was Alan Scott, but Hal Jordan became more well known. The character of Green Lantern became known partly through his animated appearances. Hal appeared in the 1960s cartoon, The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. Another Green Lantern, John Stewart had a very significant role in the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited shows.

COWBOYS AND ALIENS

Finally we come to Cowboys and Aliens, based on the 2006 graphic novel of the same name. It was written by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Fred Van Lente, and Andrew Foley, and illustrated by Dennis Calero.

The movie version was made by Iron Man and Iron Man 2 director Jon Favreau. The cast included Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, and Daniel Craig. It was somewhat of a flop, barely making more than the budget at the box office.



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