CCI, Day 3: The Future of Marvel's Film Franchises

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Borys Kit from the "Hollywood Reporter" served as moderator for the first-ever Marvel Studios panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. First to appear were the Marvel Studios execs: Kevin Feige (President of Production), Avi Arad (Executive Vice President) and Ari Arad (Producer). When asked about the new venture, the Arads explained that while they've had very positive relations with the studios they've worked with on Marvel projects for a good long while, "We think it's time to do it our way."" Kit characterized the new ventures as "very expensive independent films."

Before bringing out the directors of the decidedly more imminent projects, Feige announced a few of the on-deck projects, currently at script stage: "Captain America," "Nick Fury" and "Thor." When asked how they select which characters to bring to the big screen, Ari responded, "There's been a couple we always wanted to make. We pick the ones we think will make the best movies."

Next, Borys introduced Edgar Wright, brainchild behind cult hit "Shaun of the Dead," and director of the upcoming "Ant-Man." Wright explained there had been talk of his involvement in the "Ant-Man" project since before "Shaun of the Dead" was ever written. Wright had perused a list of lesser known Marvel characters, and took a shine to Ant-Man. He had fond memories of the classic Ant-Man from John Byrne's run on "Marvel Premiere" in the late '70s. Nothing came of it then, but two years ago when Feige offered Wright the opportunity to helm a Marvel project in the wake of "Shaun of the Dead," the fact that Wright had written an "Ant-Man" treatment three years prior was news to them.

Best known for his comedy work, Wright assured fans, "The last thing I want it to be is a spoof, or a man-in-tights film." He said, rather, he thinks of it as an action movie version of "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

Wright insisted it was too early in development to say very much definitively about the plot, but he does intend for the film to feature both Henry Pym and Scott Lang. Ant-Man's origin is not the story Wright is interested in telling. Rather, it is Wright's intention to focus on Scott Lang's progression from criminal to unlikely hero.

Wright expressed his desire to incorporate parts from both the "Tales to Astonish" era and the more recent incarnations of the one-time Avenger. He admitted a certain affinity for the "Tales to Astonish" costume, but rightfully observed that the costume really hasn't seen too much of a change over the course of the character's history.

Wright also said it was too early in the process to comment on casting. One audience member brought up Garrett Morris' infamous portrayal of Ant-Man in a "Saturday Night Live" sketch. Wright told those assembled that before he'd had a chance to see the sketch, he'd been lucky enough to see it re-enacted verbatim by director Quentin Tarantino. "Maybe Garrett Morris should do a cameo," Wright mused.

Wright further told fans, "I don't want to gloss over 40 years of Marvel history. But the last thing I'd want to do is try to cram too much in and fail." He does not intend to incorporate any other Avengers, and whether or not any other members of Ant-Man's supporting cast make it into the film remains to be seen.

It's a "huge special-effects bonanza," Wright said, "Which is one of the things that attracted me to the project." Most films that deal with shrinking focus primarily on how scary it is to be small. Wright wants "Ant-Man" to illustrate how "bad-ass" it could be.

It was at this point that Borys introduced Louis Letterier, a man who only just signed on to direct the Hulk sequel three days ago. "I've known these guys for a while," Letterier said of the Marvel Studios execs. "We've been running around each other like dogs in love."

Letterier admitted that he was initially apprehensive about following in the footsteps of Ang Lee, who helmed the first Hulk film, but after a meeting with the Arads, he was convinced that there could and should be another Hulk movie.

"I had to convince myself," Letterier explained, so he took it upon himself to draw up storyboards and conceptual art. This kind of initiative, Avi said, was how they knew they'd picked the right man for the job.

"The incredible Hulk will be born again," Avi said.

When asked how this film will differ from Ang Lee's vision, Ari said their intent was to make the "Hulk action-adventure movie" they'd always wanted to see.

"More hulk as hero, more savage transformations," he said. It will hearken back to the Hulk TV series, portraying Banner as a man on the road, struggling with his curse. General Ross was the only character from the first film that Letterier would confirm would be returning, but he did confirm the identity of the film's villain: The Abomination.

"We needed an anti-Hulk this time," he said. "You have to believe the hero is in jeopardy."

Now that Marvel Studios is an autonomous production company, one fan asked about the chances of seeing characters cross-over from one film to another. Avi said the "possibility excites all of us." It's no coincidence, he said, that the films they currently have in development could one day lead to an "Avengers" movie.

When asked whether the Hulk sequel will have any connection to the first film, Letterier avoided directly answering the question. "The good thing about sequels," he began, "Is that you don't have to deal with the origin." It's not the origin that interests the director, so much as "the struggle, Banner's hate for this monster."

The degree to which the monster will or not talk remains up in the air, but Letterier did recount his recent meeting with TV's Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno. "I wanna do the voice!" the bodybuilder had said. Ferrigno also reportedly gave Letterier his blessing.

Letterier characterized his vision of the Hulk as "Frankenstein meets [Doctor Jeckyll] with a little bit of 'Edward Scissorhands.'"

Then Jon Favreau, the director of the forthcoming "Iron Man," took the stage. "Iron Man" will be the first Marvel Studios film to hit theaters and is slated for a May 2008 release. "Where were all of you when I was talking about 'Zathura' last year?" Favreau chided the audience.

"Clearly, Ant-Man was taken. What's the best of the rest?" Favreau quipped, when asked how he became involved in the project. He'd been in talks with the Arads to helm a Marvel movie since he played Foggy Nelson in the "Daredevil" film. Foggy, he noted, has been known to represent Tony Stark on more than one occasion. "Not saying anything's gonna happen. That's if I don't play Iron Man."

Favreau first became aware of Iron Man during the character's early years with the Avengers, and he's excited that the technology finally exists to "present Iron man doing the things he does in the books."

Not as familiar with the latter-day Iron Man, Favreau did his homework, and created a MySpace page for the "Iron Man" movie, to take suggestions from the fan base.

"At first it was interesting. But it became like drinking out of a fire hydrant," he said.

The one piece of fan advice Favreau could not ignore, he said, was the unanimous call for artist Adi Granov's involvement, and this was Granov's cue to join the panel. The audience was treated to a teaser image crafted by the artist in residence. Granov was quick to throw his support behind Favreau.

"Jon is looking to the comic books to make a really good comic-book movie."

Favreau said he wanted to play up the "Robocop" quality of Iron Man. He's a fan of Granov's designs, which are very technology based. He assured fans there would not be any "martial arts, Power Ranger style fighting."

"I always stay away from CGI," Favreau began. "That being said, if any character lends itself to doing it, it's an inorganic one." The director cited "King Kong" as an example of when CGI is done well. He also referenced TV's "Battlestar Galactica" and "Firefly," which made the digital camerawork seem like it was practical.

"I'm trying to keep a balance between Tom Clancy and James Bond," Favreau said, of the film. He also acknowledged animes "Ghost in the Shell" and "Neon Genesis Evangelion" as visual influences. He's trying to keep the story grounded in real science and real politics.

Although acknowledging Tony Stark's alcoholism is an interesting factor of the character, Favreau said he was looking at creating a franchise with the "Iron Man" movie and will focus on the changes Stark undergoes, going from a weapons designer to a political prisoner in Afghanistan, to a superhero on the world stage. "Later, as those stresses build, the alcoholism will work its way in."

Favreau is also planning to have Stark treat the suit as a work in progress. Beginning with the primitive grey suit Tony constructs in captivity, evolving to the familiar gold and red suit, and finally taking on the appearance of a weapons platform, akin to the War Machine look.

Stark's facial hair will depend on the actor. "If we get Tom Selleck, we'll go with a mustache. If I do it, he'll have a goatee," Favreau said.

Favreau's last word was the announcement of the villain of the film, the Mandarin.

"But don't tell the people who left early."

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