An article posted by my friend Andrew Wheeler (here) examines which female characters Marvel could potentially adapt to film following the success of the AVENGERS, and another article posted on DC WOMEN KICKING ASS (here) highlights Joe Quesada's disappointing lack of enthusiasm for investing in developing a franchise around a female character.
AVENGERS has changed things signficantly for Marvel...not only is it the highest grossing film this year (I'm going to go out on a limb and just call it now, as I don't think anything coming up is going to surpass it), but at over a BILLION and climbing in revenue, it also has the significance of being the highest grossing film EVER. Even up to a few years ago making a superhero movie was still seen as taking a chance...you were pretty much assured to do some bank, but it was with your fingers crossed. For every SPIDER-MAN or THOR there's a GHOST RIDER or GREEN LANTERN. Hell, even X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, a personal favorite of mine, only did respectable box office as compared to the rest of the franchise, making more the the first movie in it's opening weekend, but less than it's sequels and spin-offs (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND and WOLVERINE: ORIGINS).
So every movie was a risk...AVENGERS proves that it's not. Marvel has created something new in cinema; a shared universe with a diverse cast of characters spread across various franchises, all loosely interconnected and interacting with each other. If you want to see the next movie, chances are you'll see every other movie tied into it, and with AVENGERS, every Marvel movie is now tied together, compelling the audience to constantly anticpate the next film and which of their favorites characters will be pop up next.
Not only that, but Marvel Studios has also stumbled upon a bankable formula for their films;
1) Cast a charismatic actor, usually someone with a low, but growing profile (remember; IRON MAN is the movie that reinvigorated Robert Downey...he's always been a good actor, and has a great body of work, but he wasn't a bankable start until IRON MAN reminded people of how talented he is) such as Hemsworth and Chris Evans, both character actors looking to make the jump to Leading Man. Content is King in Hollywood right now...a good actor breathes life into the character, but before THOR, you weren't going to see that movie for Chris Hemsworth...you were going to see it for Thor. Thor made Hemsworth just as much as Hemsworth made Thor (my friend Andrew Wheeler will disagree of course, but he's hugely biased by how sexy Hemsworth is. :B)
2) A tight script rooted in character as much as plot. Character is key, and always has been for Marvel. In my opinion, it's the thing that Marvel has always had over DC's properties. DC characters are iconic, and often flounder when not in costume. There's very little Bruce Wayne in BATMAN BEGINS or DARK KNIGHT, and SUPERMAN RETURNS main failing was that it was about Clark Kent instead of Superman...and among GREEN LANTERNS MANY failings is that Hal Jordan just isn't an interesting guy. Iron Man is about Tony Stark...he barely even referred to as Iron Man in ANY of the movies he's been in...he's Tony, or Mr. Stark, or just Stark. The armor is referred to as the Iron Man. Thor has no dual identity, he IS the character, so he has to be someone you're willing to both suspend your diselief for and fall in love with for about 2 hours. Same with Captain America; while he physically changes from frail to superhuman, all the qualities he has as Steve Rogers are still there when he becomes Captain America.
3) Humor. It's a very simple thing that is often overlooked; Marvel makes FUN movies. IRON MAN roots it's comedy in character; Robert Downey is a funny guy playing a manic, cocky, loudmoth with a self assured swagger. THOR rooted it's comedy in situation, making the most of the Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land theme to make for some great phsyical comdey and some hilariously awkward situation. CAPTAIN AMERICA's humore was more tongue-in-cheek and came up naturally. AVENGERS was a combination of these, filled with one-liners and sight-gags (GALAGA was my favorite). BATMAN is dark and the injection of humor undermines that gritty, unyielding, seriousness. SUPERMAN was meloncholy. GREEN LANTERN attempts at humor, despite having cast the usually hilarious Ryan Reynolds, were insincere and out of place. The same can be said of early Marvel attempts like DAREDEVIL and ELEKTRA, while BLADE II made sure to inject some humor (I'm convinced that this is what inspired Marvel to adopt this approach to future films) that was absent from the first movie (though BLADE TRINITY took it WAY to far...). The reason people are turning out in droves for Marvel movies is because they know that they're garunteed a GOOD TIME.
4) Show people something they haven't seen before. How GOOD do Marvel movies look? How exciting and visually distinctive are they? How diverse are the directors that have worked on them? From the slick, Spielbergian, production design Jon Favreau brought to IRON MAN, to the majestic, Kirby inspired, set and costume design of THOR, and the color, serial film, slightly camp feel of Captain America. Each film has it's own distinctive look and feel, and some brilliant and impressive special effects and action. Iron Man doesn't look like Thor doesn't fight like Captain America. Yes, you are garunteed to see certain things in a Marvel film, but you're also garunteed to get a movie experience that is unique to that film
With this in mind, what is really keeping Marvel from applying the above to any of their stable of female characters? There's nothing there that is not applicable to a movie with a female lead.
One theory suggested by DC WOMEN KICKING ASS was that while Marvel has a diverse and well represented cast of female characters, they have also traditionally treated them with much less respect from a publishing standpoint. At the time I'm writing this, Marvel has NO solo title with a female lead (thought Carol Danvers is sheduled to get a promotion from Ms to Captain Marvel, which I'm looking forward too), and it always seems like any book featuring a female lead is the first to get cancelled and the last to get a second or even third chance (why no She-Hulk book? She's supported long runs before, and Dan Slott established the PERFECT way to handle her in a series, one of my favorite runs of comics of all time). Most every female Marvel character is either affliated with a team or is a female version of a male hero, and thus inevitably tied to that character in some way (She-Hulk and X-23, for example). As such, most characters are less developed on an individual basis, making it hard to build a movie around them as individuals rather than as part of a team...most of their villains are shared with their teammates, and any standout characters arcs are also tied into their teammates.
Still, given the success Marvel has had, I believe they may be in a very good position to start taking some chances and put the effort into developing and distinguishing these characters as a way of raising their profile and reaching a demographic that is woefully underserved. I have a number of my own ideas on how you'd approach doing so, and since it's my blog, I'm going to indulge myself in some speculation. I usually find this kind of thing self-indulgant because, well, who am I to say, "This is what they should do", but that's the thing...I'm the audience Marvel is targetting, and this is something I WANT to see, and right now Joe Quesada is telling me that it can't be done, and I find it ridiculous that Marvel's Editor-In-Chief has so little faith in the characters he's supposed to be promoting.
Here I will examine both the Pro's and the Con's attached to each character, as I see them.
Black Widow would be the best bet. First off she's already established
in the Marvel movies, they've got a bankable actress who has proven
capable of doing both the drama and action, and there's a lot of cool
stuff to mine in her backstory (THE RED ROOM!). Black Widow has a great and
very cinematic origin, and as she's the female character most grounded
in reality (even moreso than Captain America) it'd be an easy film to
make on a more reasonable, less risky, budget; a globe-trotting spy thriller, a la THE BOURNE IDENTITY or a female James Bond, with a little bit of a sci-fi for flavor, given her origins as a human experiment. Tie her into S.H.I.E.L.D. or maybe even CAPTAIN AMERICA by introducing the Winter Soldier.
The only thing Black
Widow really lacks is a definitive villain...it's usually just evil
Russian guys in uniforms or suits, or her dead husband, though I suppose
you might be able to elevate Snapdragon or Iron Maiden somehow...Iron
Maiden would make for a great visual. Or, perhaps introduce the second, blonde, Black Widow as a villain; it worked in the comics. Other characters that could possibly be worked in are personal favorites of mine that never get respect; the Soviet Super Soldiers, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, the Gremlin, etc etc. You've gone too far if you get to the Presense, though. ^_^;;;
She-Hulk would make a better TV series taking cues from Dan Slott's
awesome run...I don't really think there's enough there for a big summer
movie, particularly since the Hulk movies (INCREDIBLE HULK was actually
the perfect Hulk movie to me, but other disagree) tradtionally don't do
well to begin with. She's a great character and there's a lot to play
with in a more intimate and decompressed story, but as a big summer
tentpole, I don't know what you'd do with her in a standalone movie...but as a TV show, it's LAW AND ORDER with a big, sexy, green woman who fights monsters and aliens and is both intelligent and funny.
The other good thing about a TV show is that you don't need a 'mastermind' villain to define She-Hulk...you have the entire gallery of Marvel's loser villains and super-thugs to draw from, and while Titania doesn't have enough movitivation to carry a movie, she'd be a great recurring foe in a TV show!
Casting this would be next to impossible, and even CGI would be difficult as She-Hulk is much more human looking than the Hulk. Hulk is distorted and there's a lot more room for suspension of disbelief in a CGI Hulk than there would be for a similarly CGI created She-Hulk. But where are you really going to find a 6'6" plus woman with a body builders physic who both looks beautiful and can act? Then there's the problem of Jennife Walters...do you cast another actress? How do you make the same actress less impressive as Jennifer Walters than as She-Hulk? Can people suspend their disbelief if Jen Walters and She-Hulk are two different actresses? Can you have a show where Jen Walters is just She-Hulk all the time? There are a number of logistical issues to overcome in adapting a live action She-Hulk...not to mention how much you want to tie her into the Hulk. The Hulk is most probably not going to be doable on a TV budget, and the Hulk cameoing in a She-Hulk movie isn't going to do her any favors, considering he can't even carry his own movie.
A live action She-Hulk is something I'd love to see, but almost impossible to produce from a practical standpoint.
Ms Marvel could be rebranded (as they're already doing so in the comics)
as Captain Marvel. She's a character I'd take a lot of creative
license with in terms of adapting to the big-screen to streamline her
origin. Plus with the failure of GREEN LANTERN, you already know what
things to avoid when doing a more cosmic type of character. Lots of
good stuff to mine with Ms Marvel though...you can bring in the Kree,
she's got a great power-set that would make for some awesome action
(lifting tanks, blowing up space ships, and even when she doesn't have
powers, she's still a highly trained and decorated soldier and pilot
which would allow you to open the movie with some action). The real
problem here, again, is that she has no definitive villain...unless you
count Mystique, Rouge, and the Brotherhood of Mutants, who are all
attached to another franchise at another studio. Maybe you can adopt
Ronan the Accuser?
In terms of who I'd cast for Ms Marvel...Michelle Rodriguez would be
great, but I'm not sure that Marvel, or fans, would accept the idea of
casting against ethnic type, which is BULLCRAP, but I can't think of a
blonde actress that could carry both action and the toughness. Maybe
Eliza Dushku with a dye-job? That has potential.
Getting a 'star'
isn't a big deal for these movies, as they tend to MAKE stars. Look at
Hemsworth or Jackman, for example. Get someone right for the part with
that Marvel Movie Star quality of charisma and humor, and you've got
yourself a movie star.
HEROES FOR HIRE feat. MISTY KNIGHT and COLLEEN WING
I'm cheating a little here, as the best approach in my mind would be for and ensemble TV show, but how sick would it be to see Misty Knight and Colleen Wing share the screen with Luke Cage and Iron Fist to solve a super-mystery every week? Four great characters who all have proven chemistry in the comics, and an easy to adapt formula, with a possible arc that you could touch on in every episode and pay off in the season finale! Plus, all of these characters are very grounded in reality, and easy to cast and adapt on a TV budget (as terrible as it was, NO ORDINARY FAMILY at least proved that you could do a good looking superhero effects on a TV budget). A little make-up for Misty's cyborg arm, some wire-work for Colleen Wing and Iron Fist, and some CGI for Luke Cage tossing around cars and bouncing bullets off of his well defined chest (which would inevitably become bare for the ladies and the gays. ^_~).
Sexiness is what would be the greatest sell for this show...four attractive people having tense relationships and being in close proximity to each other...it's like superhero MOONLIGHTING! I know that only Misty and Danny Rand (Iron Fist) have chemisty in the comics, but you could either manufacture a will-they/won't-they thing for Luke Cage and Colleen Wing, or introduce Jessica Jones (this is presuming that AKA JESSICA JONES never gets green-lit, which would be sad).
That's not to say that the show wouldn't work with just Misty Knight and Colleen Wing...or maybe even adapt Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray's run and add in Black Cat and a few other b-string female heroines to round out the cast and make it a VIP type show (yes, I know that VIP was terrible, but it was also POPULAR, and it's formula is applicable here). I just like Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and I like those characters together, and I also think tha tif your goal is to appeal to a (straight) female audience, you need a little man-candy in there for them to oogle (also for the gay nerds, of which there are many).
It might also work as a movie, but I really feel like that formula would be wasted on a movie, when it could be so well served as a weekly TV show.
HANNA was already sort of the prototype for X-23, but HANNA isn't tied to what is arguably Marvel's most popular character, and she has a great origin, much like Black Widow. Make no mistake...it would be a very dark movie, but hopefully with a little heart. I like the idea of a very serious and hardcore female action movie though. Some will inevitably see it as torture, but it's about the strength to ENDURE such torture, and to rise above it. There is a lot of depth to X-23 that would make for a great movie.
The problem is that she's female Wolverine, and anything involving X-23 is going to be introduced in a Wolverine movie before it'd be introduced in her own movie...unless, of course, you had Hugh Jackman serve as second banana to a young, untested, actress. The thing is...he'd do it. Hugh Jackman is one of those rare actors that is humble enough to take a lesser role in service to the character rather than making sure that that anything involving the character is in service to him, and he's proven time and again that he is one 'down' cat, willing to do almost anything if he thinks the fans will enjoy it. The problem, then, is that, even in a secondary role, Wolverine would potentially overshadow X-23 in her own story. It would take some very clever writing and directing to make X-23 on her own merits.
Here's something no one has suggested, as it's usually decried as heresy; why not take a well known, but otherwise b-sting character and reinvent them as a woman? There is nothing that says that Nova (the Human Rocket, not the Herald of Galactus) has to be a man. You can even call her Richie Rider. The main problem is that Nova is a little too simliar to Ms Marvel, and has only one debatably good villain in the Sphinx. Still, there's a lot of good stuff there...a teenage girl accidentally inherits amazing alien powers and has to juggle highschool with preventing intergalactic war; that's some fun suff! Everything about Nova's character is as appliable to a female protagonist as it is to a male protagonist, and he's undeveloped enough in the comics that there is room to create something new and worthwhile from the character. There is no definable love interest, and there is no great, character defining, story-arc that I can think of that would stand in the way of making Nova a rigidly male character.
All that really stands in the way of doing so is that nerds are way to precious, uncompromising, and myopic when it comes to adapting characters to other forms of media. The only real argument for Nova not being a female character is that Nova has never BEEN a female character. Nova's being a man does not make him a better character, and being recast as a woman would not make him a worse character, it's as simple as that. Plus, there's already precident for recasting Nova without fan outcry in ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, as Nova went from being bland, white, Richard Rider to cocky, non-white (I'm assuming he's hispanic or dominican in the show, though they haven't clearly defined that), Sam Alexander without people being weird about it for once. Nova has his fans, but they aren't so vocal as to stand in they way of his being recast for a potentially positive outcome.
I could play this game all day, but the sad fact is, if Marvel doesn't want to do it, they won't, and that is a sad fucking story.
The most important thing that should be taken into consideration when making a female lead superhero movie is this; don't just make it for the boys...make it for the GIRLS. Get a female director; Karen Kusama made a perfect example of what a female superhero movie should be in adapting Aeon Flux to the screen...the only problem with that movie really is that it's not a good Aeon Flux movie, but it IS a good female superhero movie. She's strong, proactive, self-assure and intelligent, and most importantly, at no point in the movie is ANY woman ever a VICTIM. The only person that ever actually threatens Aeon are OTHER STRONG WOMEN. She dispatches every male villain and is never at their mercy.
But beyond that, make something sexy and sleek, throw in some man-candy. THOR is probably one of Marvel's most female friendly movies; the only one that is objectified in that movie is THOR! Staight-white-males like myself have more than enough to satisfy our various lusts and cravings; give your female (and homosexual) audiences something to oogle...because I know for a FACT that it works (looking at you Wheels. ^_~). A little romance never hurt anything, but just because your lead is a female doesn't mean we need to see her breasts...the only tits in a female lead superhero movie should be Chris Hemsworth's.
Women deserve their heroes too, and everything that makes a good male lead superhero movie is applicable to a female lead superhero movie...serve your audience, Marvel.