The head of Marvel Studios and one of the masterminds behind their current, stupendously successful franchise building strategy, Kevin Feige, recently did an interview with Entertainment Weekly, and not only did he address all of the plans they have for Marvel Phase II, the series of films that are going to lead up to their next team-up spectacular, The Avengers 2, but he also dropped the bomb that a group of characters who used to be under various other studios’ controls were now back in the Marvel fold.
According to an excerpt from the interview pulled out by Comic Book Movie, Daredevil, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, and Blade are now back under Marvel Studios control—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the House of Ideas has any immediate plans for them. Feige was quoted as saying, “Whenever a character comes back to us, it’s usually because the other studios don’t want to make the movies anymore—and that usually means the [previous] movies may not have been particularly well received. They all have potential, but we’re not going to say, ‘We got it back—make it!’” With all due respect Mr. Feige, screw that. There’s a perfect way to reintroduce all of these abused characters to the big screen, and it’s staring us right in the face.
It’s true that Marvel has a full schedule of superhero movies on their upcoming docket, going all the way through Phase II and Phase III into The Avengers 3, which probably won’t be happening until 2018 or something—but that doesn’t mean that you’d have to fit all of these reclaimed characters into those plans. Why not branch out a little bit and take a different approach with them? Maybe keep them off in their own little corner of the Marvel Movie Universe and have them do their own thing. It sounds like it’s time for Marvel Knights to make its way from the comic book world to the movie one.
For those uninitiated, Marvel Knights was an imprint the comic book company started in the late 90s that took some of their mainstream heroes and told stories with them that were a bit more dark and violent, a bit more gritty and mature than what you get from the usual superhero comic. In addition to that, ‘Marvel Knights’ was a title published under the imprint in which Daredevil and a crew of more street level heroes like Ghost Rider, the Punisher, Shang-Chi, Black Widow, and Moon Knight got together and fought hoards of alien criminals and deadly ninjas. If Marvel’s upcoming summers are already taken up by mainstream superhero fair, why not block an R-rated Marvel Knights movie in for the next four autumns, and why not have them all lead up to a Marvel Knights team-up gore fest?
It’s true that Marvel tried to bust out the Marvel Knights name already to brand movies that weren’t under their full control like Punisher: War Zone and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, but nobody noticed that. Why not make Marvel Knights branded movies a big deal, accentuate how violent and extreme they get, and pick out some of the edgiest, most interesting directors making R-rated movies today to head up the films? There’s no reason why they shouldn’t, so let’s brainstorm some directors who would be good fits for each of their reclaimed characters and get Marvel Knights Phase I under way.
Right before Fox lost the rights to Daredevil, Joe Carnahan was trying to put together a new take on the character that would feel a lot like the gritty, street crime movies of the early 70s. After the deal fell apart, Carnahan posted the sizzle reel he presented the studio with to the Internet, and everybody seemed to love the direction he was going in, so why shouldn’t Marvel just hire him to make the movie for them and retool his approach a bit to fit it into their overarching plans for the rest of these characters? Carnahan’s The Grey was one of the best movies of last year, and it showed him to be a filmmaker with a heck of a lot more depth than we’d given him credit for to that point, so it’s hard to see how hiring him would be a bad choice.
If you want to take Daredevil in a different direction though, how about you really accentuate the fact that his alter-ego, Matt Murdoch, is a lawyer, and build the sort of strong courtroom plot into the film that could lure in fans of network procedurals like Law and Order? If you wanted to go in this direction, the perfect choice for the film would be Kathryn Bigelow. With Point Break she proved that she could knock a straight action movie out of the park, and with Zero Dark Thirty she proved that she could effortlessly juggle dialogue-heavy procedural scenes with action scenes, so any Daredevil movie she made would likely be the best thing ever to happen to our sorry lives.
The Punisher is easily Marvel’s most gratuitously violent creation. He basically exists just to kill criminals in increasingly violent, disgusting, and elaborate ways, so the perfect director to handle his upcoming adventures would be the director of the most creatively violent action movie we’ve gotten in years, The Raid: Redemption. Gareth Evans is the gent’s name, and if you’ve seen The Raid, you know that he’s a filmmaker who not only has a Muppet Babies-level imagination when it comes to coming up with violent scenarios, but he’s also a craftsman who’s super-inventive when it comes to coming up with new ways to block and shoot bloody violence for the big screen. Turning him loose with Frank Castle would be incredible.
If you’re worried that a Gareth Evans-directed Punisher would focus too much on action and not enough on character, you could take the approach of finding a director who’s shown an ability to focus on character just as much as he focuses on sleaze. William Friedkin has been a respected director for a number of years, but he’s perhaps never made anything as twisted, gross, and personality-filled as last year’s Killer Joe. Imagine if he took the talent for bringing refreshingly disgusting characters to life he showed in that film and used it to birth a motley crew of twisted weirdos for the Punisher to kill. There’s a lot of sick humor to be had in the creative ways Frank Castle finds to punish his victims, and Friedkin would probably be the perfect guy to take this kind of material to new lows that no one has ever conceived of.
More than any of these others, Ghost Rider seems like he’s one of the harder Marvel characters to tackle. His powers are kind of ill-defined, his history requires you to get into a bunch of weird religious stuff regarding heaven, hell, and demons, and generally it’s not all that easy to relate to a character who spends most of his time as a flaming vengeance demon who can’t emote with facial expressions. Because of this you probably have to go completely crazy with the movie and turn it into a trippy, immersive experience that the audience can’t help but be engaged in; and the best filmmaker to come up with something like that is Irreversible and Enter the Void director Gaspar Noé. His POV camera work, punishingly psychedelic visuals, and penchant for disturbing violence being married to a character that has a flaming skull and rides a flaming motorcycle would be the sort of thing that would give you nightmares for the rest of your life.
Who else has a weird enough approach to make something like a Ghost Rider movie memorable? How about Ben Wheatley, who showed with the incredible Kill List that he can juggle different genres within the same movie and generally make something so twisted, strange, and shocking that you watch it with the continual sense that you don’t have any idea what in the heck to expect next? Give him the basic Ghost Rider concept, tell him to think outside of the box with it, and you could end up with something that would make half the audience puke and the other half fall in love. Affect people like that, and they’re bound to come back for a sequel.
When you think about vampire movies—and the Blade character in particular—you think about irrepressible urges and the boiling kettle experience of watching someone trying to repress them. Because of his reliance on Serum to subvert his vampire biology, Blade is always a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, and a filmmaker who knows something about building tension could use that to create a really memorable filmgoing experience. Seeing as the most tense, most nail-biting movie that’s been released in a long time was Take Shelter, giving Jeff Nichols the Blade job and telling him to make us squirm as much as he can before all of that tension explodes into bloody, vampire-fighting violence could take this character to places that even fans never imagined he could go. What if a Blade movie legitimately freaked you out?
Of course, one of the hallmarks of the Wesley Snipes-starring original Blade film, which people still remember fondly, was all of the stylish scenes of over-the-top violence. So why not get the guy who’s making the most stylishly violent films of the moment to take on the character? If you’ve seen Bronson or Drive, then you of course know that the guy I’m talking about is Nicholas Winding Refn. Just imagine how trendy the vampire lairs he created would look. Just imagine how aloof his version of Blade would be walking into a vampire orgy. Just imagine how many Halloween costumes Ryan Gosling playing the eccentric head vampire of the film would inspire.
It goes without saying that after successfully relaunching new R-rated versions of these four characters, Marvel would then have to find someone good enough with ensemble pieces to handle their team-up movie. Can we already say that Martin McDonaugh would be the perfect guy for the job, or is there somebody else out there better suited toward being the grimy Joss Whedon? Let us know what fruits your brainstorming sessions bear.