Thursday, May 08, 2008

Iron Man to power Marvel movies through 2011

Thank you, sir. May I have another?

And just like that, Marvel Enterprises said, “Yes, you may have another.”
With “Iron Man” raking in more than $200 million worldwide last weekend, Marvel announced Monday that its next in-house film production will be “Iron Man 2,” set for release April 30, 2010.

The near two-year break between “Iron Man 2” and Marvel’s next self-financed movie, “The Incredible Hulk,” which opens June 13, is the result of the recent screenwriters strike. But Fox will release “Wolverine,” starring Hugh Jackman, next year under its pre-existing deal with Marvel.

“Iron Man” vindicates Marvel’s new strategy of producing movies in-house and using the major movie studios — in this case, Paramount — just for distribution. The big Hollywood studios have managed to produce huge hits based on Marvel’s most popular characters, Spider-Man (Sony) and the X-Men (Fox). But they’ve stumbled with many of the company’s lesser-known characters: Daredevil, Elektra, the Punisher and, most recently, Ghost Rider.

Now, Iron Man has been my favorite superhero since I was 5 years old. But he was hardly a household name, at least until last week. Still, Marvel was able to turn the character’s big-screen debut into 2008’s first blockbuster. It will probably finish as one of the year’s top-five grossing films. And in a year with highly anticipated Indiana Jones and Batman sequels, that’s no small feat.

Give Marvel credit for taking chances the big studios might not take, like casting Robert Downey Jr. as the film’s lead. The 43-year-old actor, who has found his greatest success in small films and supporting roles, isn’t the sort of actor most Hollywood executives would cast as the star of a big-budget action flick.

But Downey makes billionaire industrialist Tony Stark the most watchable superhero since — well, since ever. It’s the sort of performance that critics will be comparing to Johnny Depp’s turn as Capt. Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films.

“Iron Man” moves along at a supersonic clip, and gives its cast a chance to shine as much as the special effects. Now that is how you make a superhero movie.

Fans will argue about whether “Iron Man” is the best comic book/superhero movie yet made. I think it is, and the film’s 94 percent “fresh” rating at backs me up. But I don’t think there is any arguing that it’s the most fun superhero movie so far.

In or out of his high-tech armor, Stark handles his demons like an adult. There’s no Spider-Man angst or Batman brooding anywhere in sight. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional brooding Bat.) And that makes for an enjoyable romp. Not like Peter “Spider-Man” Parker fretting about how he’s going to pay for his Aunt May’s cataract surgery and other such soap-opera dreariness.

If you stay through the closing credits of “Iron Man,” you’ll get a teaser for what Marvel Entertainment has planned for the future. But in case you can’t hold your bladder in check that long, Marvel has announced its other projects for 2010 and 2011.

After “Iron Man 2,” “Thor” hits theaters June 4, 2010. Then in 2011, expect a Captain America movie (working title, “The First Avenger: Captain America”) on May 6, followed by what could be the superhero movie to beat all superhero movies, “The Avengers,” in July.

Like the comic book, “The Avengers” promises to team-up Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk and Captain America to face some menace none of them can tackle alone.

So, if “The Avengers” can lock in Downey as Iron Man, “Incredible Hulk” star Edward Norton and whoever stars in “Thor” and “Captain America,” it’ll be the most star-studded comic book movie ever.

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