The Avengers: Age of Ultron cast poster

With the roaring success of 2015’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron, many assume Marvel can do no wrong. They have become the golden egg laying goose of Hollywood, but they have laid many Howard sized duck eggs too.

Marvel’s dominance of fantasy-action movies means that many good quality new original scripts don’t have a prayer. They turn out superhero movies like McDonald’s turn out burgers, and with similar cynical glee. ‘Would you like fries with that?’ becomes ‘Would you like a man who flies with that?’ The movies have hijacked the comics. The look and feel of the characters in the comics has changed to make them look more cineastic, in the hope of movie makers picking up on them. Comic-cons are now often really movie and TV media cons. Guests are more likely to be the actors playing comic heroes than the struggling but dedicated artists who drew them, despite the movies having more holes in them than freshly shot Bonnie & Clyde.

The strength levels actually fluctuate for the heroes. Captain America is a glossy super-soldier advertisement for steroid abuse and patriotic jingoism who can take on monsters, but he still struggles in fist fights against ordinary human henchmen when it seems apt for dramatic tension. Thor can command the lightning, so why doesn’t he use it all the time?

The heroes are mostly a product of a 1960’s comic era launch, rebooted for a 21st century multiplex audience. They have a great deal of future tech, including a flying aircraft carrier with cloaking technology borrowed off the Romulans, and Tony Stark’s sophisticated CGI, and yet they interact with real world celebrities such as Joan Rivers (Iron Man 3, 2013). This begs the question of why they weren’t around to help prevent 9/11/2001. The film makers want to put the heroes in a real world here and now backdrop and add ludicrous fantasy elements like gravity defying battleships and Hawkeye’s never emptying quiver full of arrows. They should not be allowed to have it both ways.

Many of the stories deal with superhero origins, especially Spider-Man where the change of actor (from Maguire to Garfield) meant we had to watch him agonise over the death of Uncle Ben yet again, while Aunt May offered more homely wisdom, and served him a meal (presumably using Uncle Ben’s Rice).

Once a character is established and we have suffered a long look at an expensive CGI montage of them jerking around irresponsibly with their new skills, we start the race through the greatest hits line up of their villains. Spider-Man fans would be happy to see John Craven (sorry, Kraven) The Hunter, or Mysterio take on Spider-Man, but we got The Green Goblin turning up four times (sometimes just in the background, but always present) – once was enough.

The real villain out there is of course the God of capitalism, Mammon, at whose altar Stan Lee, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Downey Junior, Joss Whedon, Chris Evans, etc. all worship. Their growing monopoly over the box office, with another fifteen films at least in development, leaves little room for other movies to breathe. We need a new hero to break their strangle-hold; a hero able to poke fun, and point out the flaws and pitfalls in the domineering franchise, a hero able to show that the movies are much more shallow and two dimensional than the comics. The hero must show us that the new Superhero costumes are just The Emperor’s New Clothes and that the sacred cow that can do no wrong in Hollywood is really just sucking ass big time.

Here are just five reasons why we need to kick this particular sacred cow right in the udders.

5. For Every Avengers Movie There’s A Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider
Photo: Columbia Pictures

There is no doubt that Marvel have been responsible for many Marvel-lous entertaining movies, but there is also much to lament and decry. Several of their movies have been less than successful. There are some they would rather we forgot about. Let’s remind everyone.

Their first foray into movie production was for a 15 episode Captain America serial in 1944, when Marvel were still officially known as Timely Comics. They did little more than invest timely money in the over-expensive over-budget propaganda project which proved to be an unmitigated disaster and even resulted in the death of the leading actor, Dick Purcell.

Purcell was badly miscast as he was seriously overweight for playing the athletic super-soldier.  Timely protested at this in vain, and over Steve Rogers being renamed Grant Gardner. Two weeks after a gruelling filming schedule and doing many of his own shield-free stunts, Purcell dropped dead with a heart-attack. No cryogenic thawing out in the 21st century for him. The serial dealt with the good Captain fighting The Scarab for control of a ‘dynamic vibrator’ – they should have sent the Sex & The City girls in instead.

Marvel produced the low budget 1970’s Spiderman movies and TV-series starring Nicholas Hammond who squirted silly-string and crawled on the floor as if he was offering us state of the art special effects.

Marvel then wisely kept a big chunk of their money aside waiting for a big movie director willing to touch their property and do it with serious CGI and major production values. The chance came in 1984 from George Lucas. Marvel must have been congratulating themselves all the way to Stan Lee’s bank.  After Star Wars what was the worst that could happen in Lucas’s hands? Answer – Howard The Duck. It was absolutely quackers.

Other half-cooked turkeys followed. In 1990 Marvel had another doomed attempt at Captain America, this time with Matt Salinger in the lead role.  The mistake this time was giving the directing and writing duties to Michael Winner who treated it as a wartime remake of his Death Wish movies.  Winner was finally ousted in favour of director Albert Pyun, but the remaining excessive violence killed the movie. Other fiascos included Roger Corman’s 1994 stab at The Fantastic Four with Mr Fantastic’s elasticity captured less convincingly than that of Stretch Armstrong diapers. On the bright side, Corman didn’t have to work with Jessica Alba.

There was a 1998 attempt to do a Nick Fury TV series starring David Hasselhoff as the best-eye-patch wearer since Dangermouse. The series mercifully never got past its own pilot movie length episode.

1998’s Blade was Marvel’s first successful big movie, despite being even more violent than the Winner / Pyun Captain America. It was spoilt by uneven nonsensical sequels. In the second movie, Kris Kristofferson conveniently returns from the dead having committed suicide in the first film). He died for the second time in the third Blade movie. If they ever do Blade 4 they’ll probably dig him up and brush off the maggots again.

2002’s Daredevil was rightly treated as an embarrassing joke by most critics and comic fans, but Marvel failed to take a hint and turned out the belated (2005) sequel, Elektra, which just provoked anger rather than scorn.

2003’s Hulk ought to have been great, but Ang Lee wanted to make an art-house movie rather than a fan-boy superhero-porn fest. We barely see The Hulk for over half of the movie. If there was one action hero who shouldn’t have been just plain boring it was the Hulk. Even Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno kept it entertaining.  The Incredible Hulk (2008) helped redress the balance but fans didn’t trust it enough after Ang Lee mistook Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for Anton Chekhov.

Nicholas Cage’s 2007 Ghost Rider has to be the worst comic book adaption Marvel directly fed money into. It should have been dark and brooding with its fiery Dantesque hero, but it was incredibly wooden and cheap looking, with Cage sleep-acting his entire performance. It made Howard The Duck look like a sequel to Citizen Kane. Bizarrely, Cage declared that he could do it again properly in 2012 and some idiot believed him. Ghost Rider – Spirit Of Vengeance proved the need for a good exorcist to make sure we never get Ghost Rider Three.

2002’s Spiderman’s success stopped the chain of bad movie investments killing the comics, though more crap would follow including; 2007’s Spiderman 3, and 2008’s Punisher; War Zone. The big movie successes make us forget these embarrassments, but somewhere, movie makers are probably already seriously pitching a Squirrel Girl movie – yes there really was a Marvel Squirrel Girl out there too. Sooner or later, Kate Winslett is going to read the script. Mark my words.

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