The winning Marvel formula
“Before I revitalised this blog as one that has many fingers in many pies, the blog was dedicated to commenting and analysing the latest TV and film news. And one can’t escape film or TV without commenting on the superpower that is Marvel Studios.”
Marvel isn’t a production it’s a conveyor belt churning out hit after hit, surprise box office turnout after surprise. They started the journey with Iron Man. After climbing out of severe bankruptcy, having sold the movie rights to X-Men, Spider-man and others, Marvel looked to Iron Man to kick-start their ambitious shared universe. They wanted Tom Cruise. They wanted an actor that could bring in money with name recognition alone.
But director Jon Favreau had other more iconic ideas in mind. He paralleled Marvel’s phoenix-esque rise from the ashes with Robert Downey Jr.; once an actor with the world at his doorstep, he had turned to drink and drugs. He was laughed out of auditions, ridiculed like a modern day Shia Labouf, Downey Jr. signed on as Iron Man and the rest is superhero history.
Marvel started with something pure, something fun and something exciting then came the building blocks and compromises. They brought out a Hulk movie for, I’m sure, the sole purpose to separate themselves from Ang Lee’s art-house Hulk failure. They introduced Thor to expand the universe and give it some heft. They released Captain America to show that it isn’t all fun and games that Marvel can play with gritty and emotional history. They tied it all together with the signature post-credits zinger.
“And why were all these movies successful? – Because of the supporting cast members.”
Marvel didn’t cast big stars as their heroes because they didn’t need to. In essence they followed the ideal that audiences will come for stellar supporting names and stay for the endearing unknowns. Iron Man fans went for Jon Favreau’s comedy, Paltrow’s guaranteed performance, recent Oscar winner Terence Howard and Jeff Bridges being Jeff Bridges but they stayed for the lovable yet arrogant Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.
This is evident in the lack of remorse Marvel showed when they recast Brody in Iron Man 2. Despite being an Oscar winner, Terrence Howard was not needed anymore, certainly not at the price that he demanded. Don Cheadle was brought into the fray and he has been reaping the roles and rewards ever since.
Marvel cast Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as his loving wife and respected actors like Stellan Skarsgard and Natalie Portman in supporting roles. We went for them because we had never heard of wannabes Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston. Surely they can’t steal the show from the likes of Skarsgard and Hopkins. Oh how we were wrong.
Hiddleston became the centre of the Marvel universe. He elevated himself to the only real and tangible villain in the Marvel universe which otherwise had stale bad guys. Hemsworth became a household name and male pin up and will be for years to come. Marvel doesn’t just make movies, Marvel makes careers.
A notable exception can be seen with Chris Evans. He was already pretty well known to movie fans and even superhero fans, having assumed the role of Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four. But this was another beast entirely. Marvel needed one poster boy to sell Captain AMERICA to foreign audiences. Evans could do that with the help of amazing talent in the form of Stanley Tucci, Hugo Weaving and Tommy Lee Jones. Once again, if you didn’t come for Evans and the guarantee of another stellar Marvel movie, you came for Jones, Weaving and Tucci.
They did the same with Iron Man 2. Audiences would now flock to the nearest screen to see Downey Jr. in any shape or form but they still needed to win over some people. So why not bring in cult favourite Sam Rockwell. And everyone’s favourite Samuel L. Jackson. While you’re at it, bring in recent Oscar Nominee Mickey Rourke. It is a stroke of genius. Marvel have painted the landscape for guaranteed success.
Why do you think when Marvel was casting Guardians of the Galaxy, an otherwise weird and kooky comic book story they endeavoured to fill small roes with big names? Why get Benicio Del Toro for 5 minutes? Why reduce Bradley Cooper to a Raccoon’s voice and Vin Diesel to gravelly roars? And better yet why use John C. Reilly and Glenn Close in pinches? That’s right. Bring the audience in with proven talent and make them stay for the lovable yet largely unknown Chris Pratt.
“People may cite Marvel’s winning formula as the shared expanded universe with Netflix exclusive TV shows and films working in tandem but, for me, the real devil is in the details – Its in the genius casting and organisation. We came for the talent but we stayed for the fun. And lets hope that talent and fun never gets old.”