Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Doing Iron Man 2 on the quick and the cheap...

The two big Iron Man 2 related news bites:

- Job Favreau is concerned about the super-quick production schedule that Marvel has put into place, that will call for Iron Man 2 to be finished by April 30th, 2010. He and Downey would like a three-year break in between films, under the (normally correct) notion that not rushing your movie leads to a cheaper and better film.

- Jon Favreau is equally concerned about not getting a token pay raise for Iron Man 2, on the account that Marvel is simply being cheap. According to them, Iron Man 2 will be a box office success regardless of who is directing.

First off, this points out what has been successfully hidden in recent months: Marvel as a studio can be pretty dumb sometimes. Remember, this is the studio (along with Fox) that preferred a terrible and incomprehensible 96 minute PG-13 cut of Daredevil to a relatively solid and compelling 133 minute R-rated cut, purely on the basis of running time and simplicity. This is also the company that demanded that Sam Raimi include Venom to Spider-Man 3, completely over his objections. And, this is also the studio that forced Ed Norton and Louis Leterrier to butcher their Incredible Hulk to a super-short 106 minutes. Granted, a full-blown 176 minute cut would have been excessive, but guess what new movie is being accused, even in positive reviews, of skimping on character development and drama? Marvel may have gotten lucky with Iron Man and their plans for the next few years are incredibly ambitious, but their track record shows a long line of questionable judgment.

Point A: Yes, in general, it is better to wait a good, solid three years between movies. This gives fans the time to anticipate, it gives the cast and crew time to do other projects, and it allows the proper preparation to help keep costs in check and schedules on track.

Of course, none of these things are without exception. X-Men: The Last Stand got the same three years between films that X2: X-Men United got, and it still went spiraling over budget and was a critical disappointment. Conversely, Spider-Man 2 opened just 26 months after Spider-Man and was still a huge financial success and was a critical darling (I still don't like the movie, but I must admit that I'm in the minority). And that extra year between Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 only resulted in a $300 million+ budget and a brutal smack down from audiences and critics alike. The film still was a giant financial success (at $339 million, it was 2007's number one film domestically), but the film is still considered (fairly or not) an epic stinker.

Verdict: Box office and quality-wise, there is no real pattern on this matter. But in the end you want your key cast and crew happy and not embittered every day they come to work. If Favreau and Downey want an extra year to make a better sequel, then recognize how much money they just made you and give them that year. Or hell, give them six months and let them open on the best weekend of the year, the three-day weekend before Christmas. They'll have $300 million in the bank before New Years.

Point B: Well, this one is a little trickier. Favreau surely directed with a professional hand, delivering a decent genre film that seemed better than it was because of Downey Jr's entertaining performance. But of course, Favreau still deserves the credit for casting Downey Jr in the first place (he allegedly had to fight with Marvel for it). Favreau is surely no auteur and this hurts his bargaining power here. He is a fine director of quality product, but he has no distinctive touches that would render him irreplaceable.

And, tragically, history is on Marvel's side on this one. Joel Shumacher replaced Tim Burton for the third Batman film (Batman Forever) in 1995, and the film made $75 million more globally than Batman Returns, with only a $20 million increase in budget. Burton and star Michael Keaton were replaced not for cost, but due to artistic differences (if you don't know the story, you obviously stumbled onto this blog by accident). Burton and Shumacher are certainly directors of distinctive visual and storytelling styles, but in the summer of 1995, all the majority of the moviegoers cared about was that Batman was back, he wasn't as weird and creepy this time, and Jim Carrey was along for the ride. As long as those three factors were there, Abel Ferrara could have directed Batman Forever and it would have made just as much.

Marvel likely feels that as long as Downey Jr returns, it doesn't matter who directs Iron Man 2. A likely replacement would be Louis Leterrier, if The Incredible Hulk makes money, since he was second-in-line for the first Iron Man, and this would be a way to groom him as head director for the alleged Avengers movie due in 2011.

The most recent precedent is, again, X-Men: The Last Stand. After choosing to ditch X-Men 3 to do Superman Returns, Bryan Singer left his franchise without a director. Several false starts led to Brett Ratner being drafted. The film used the same script that Signer would have used, and the visual style was relatively similar to Singer. Despite the fan misgivings about the film's quality, and the final cost of $210 million, X-Men: The Last Stand still out grossed the far more popular X2 by $20 million domestically ($235 million vs $215 million) and about $40 million more globally. Of course, don't ask Fox to justify the rushed production schedule, which resulted in a full $100 million more spent on X-Men 3 vs X-Men 2. In the eyes of the industry, Fox made the right call by not waiting for Singer and by not giving the new creative team a little more breathing room to compensate for the director musical chairs.

Verdict: My own personal opinion is that Marvel should pay up and keep Favreau on board, both as a thanks for delivering a studio-creating film, and so as to not piss off the very geeks that will be standing in line with sleeping bags at 12:01am on April 30th, 2010. And, most importantly for the health of the franchise and the studio, Marvel does NOT want to risk becoming this decade's Salkind Brothers.

The Salkind Brothers, producers behind the 80s Superman series, managed to piss off every cast and crew member of Superman II by firing Richard Donner mid-way through and replacing him with Richard Lester for no particular reason other than greed and pettiness (again, if you don't know that story, you must have found me via random Googling). Trust me Marvel, aside from all of the bad blood you will engender, you do not want Iron Man 2: The Jon Favreau Cut coming out in 2036.

Scott Mendelson

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