Dear Marvel Comics:
Get ready. If rumors are true, and you are indeed lowballing Jon Favreau out of participation in Iron Man 2 (a story now supported by both Ain’t It Cool News and IESB.net), you’re signing your company’s industry death warrant. Now, you might think that statement is a little harsh, but let’s look at the facts, shall we. Driven by a desire to see your characters treated with respect and reverence, you branched out into production to secure said status. After deciding on Iron Man as your first project, you hired Favreau, let him push the unproven Robert Downey, Jr. into the starring role, and held your breath for the results.
Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Leslie Bibb
(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 2 May 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 2 May 2008 (General release); 2008)
And what did you get in return? Well, the film is headed toward $600 million worldwide, is destined to be the must-own Christmas DVD extravaganza of 2008, and the film has an astonishing 93% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes (by comparison, last year’s There Will Be Blood sits at 91%, while Oscar winner No Country for Old Men is at 95%). To get 192 critics to love anything, let alone yet another comic book superhero adaptation speaks volumes for the talent involved. Granted, you had the foresight to think outside the cinematic standard, to avoid the typical names that went with the genre. And NOW you want to play cash games? You’ve got to be joking.
Let’s look at things realistically. If you screw this up, if you fail to put Favreau back in the director’s seat, you risk quite a bit. Now, you could argue that you’re taking an Alien approach to the franchise, letting a new vision come in each time and replace the previous one. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe that there’s another James Cameron or David Fincher waiting around the next corner for your call. And for the sake of argument, you could dump Favreau, hire some heretofore unknown filmmaker, and create the next artform sensation. But in a commercial dynamic where “what have you done for me lately” is typically answered in dollars and sense, you’re about to kill the fatted calf - and, apparently, for no other reason than penny-pinching.
As the song and sentiment suggests, money does indeed change EVERYTHING. As Harry Knowles pointed out in his view of the situation, had Iron Man been a bomb (or to give you some credit, a marginal hit), this conversation would be moot. In pure Ang Lee style, you’d sit back, lick your angry stockholder wounds, hope you can survive another few years, and mandate a franchise reboot at some point in the future. Of course, now that it’s a big fat hit, everyone thinks the coffers are congested. Paydays become massive where once they were minimal, and expectations run higher than your rehabilitated star in his ‘80s glory days. So we can assume that you are smart businessmen and recognize a rip-off when you see it. Opportunism follows any formidable achievement. It would be foolish to suggest otherwise.
Naturally, Downey must get his money. Of all the brilliant strokes of cinematic genius within Iron Man - and there are many - hiring the troubled celeb as your Tony Stark reeks of pure creative karma. He needed a chance to prove his always undervalued mantle, and you wanted a face to carry the franchise. At a recent screening of your next offering, The Incredible Hulk (more on this in a moment), a cameo by the billionaire weapons manufacturer got the loudest applause of the evening. Apparently, audiences love Downey, so he’s truly a priority. One assumes he’s locked in for the long haul.
The situation with Favreau is the same, and yet different. No one would argue that he was an A-list Hollywood director. Made was well received, Elf was a Will Ferrell inspired hit, and Zathura remains an unfairly marginalized future family film classic. And while he appears to be a genuine nice guy, devoted to his craft and eager to work with the fans and insiders to forge an artistic and commercial triumph, he could be a bastard to be around. There’s no doubt he wants to get paid - that’s why he does what he does. Clearly, to undercut him so, you must think his participation is unimportant.
Frankly, that’s just failed logic. Again, you could find someone else to make your next Iron Man movie (and guide an eventual Avengers epic), and this new voice may be just as valid or even more viable than Favreau. But let’s remember where you came from for a moment, shall we. Tony Stark was not the best known of your Marvel membership, nor were fans clamoring for his adventures. Many in the mainstream marketplace were already sick of comic book films when Iron Man was announced, and Favreau truly worked his butt off to raise the profile of this potential underachiever. You took a risk and opened the film well before Summer actually started, with school still in and your mandatory teen boy demo fretting over more than what movie to see. And now you’re sitting on a multi-BILLION dollar franchise.
Like the Oscars when they nominate a movie and not its director, you clearly believe Favreau had a minimal role in Iron Man‘s eventual success. Either that, or you’re just cheap. The current buzz supports the latter position. Okay, so you like to watch your money. That’s cool. Well, let’s review box office revenue in the post-millennial marketplace, shall we? Spider-man was a massive hit. Its sequel did similar business. Sure, Part 3 suffered, but then again it also sucked. Something similar happened with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The initial movie was a massive hit, the second film secured those returns, as did number three. And in both cases, the same director (Sam Raimi and Gore Verbinski, respectively) helmed the sequels. So clearly you will make money with Favreau handling Iron Man 2‘s duties…and remember, Downey is your wild card.
Let’s talk about the actor for a moment. Clearly, he will be loyal to the director who went to bat for him. And if you can Favreau in favor of someone else, there will be no outward protest, “hold out”, or non-contractual production snafus. Downey will do his job, collect his paychecks (both upfront and back end), and eventually retire happy and very well paid. But this doesn’t guarantee his pleasant participation in any future projects. The minute his term runs, any feelings he has for Favreau will come out in the new negotiations. And let’s not forget the still unproven nature of Iron Man as a continuing character. He is still a quasi-unknown icon, unlike Batman or Superman with a wealth of myth and numerous high profile supervillians waiting in the wings.
But perhaps the biggest factor you’re failing to calculate into this mix is the fans. They don’t call them ‘geeks’ for nothing. Indeed, they will fret over the smallest detail and use the updated bully pulpit of the Internet to air their numerous fetish-like grievances. Get on their bad side - and one senses you already have - and they will make you pay. Not necessarily at the box office, as viewership tends to remain sheep to the aesthetic slaughter, but where it really counts: perception and pre-release publicity. If the fanboys fail to support your decisions, you can guarantee at least two years of vitriol (Iron Man 2 is slated for 2010). They will build consensus, draw up outside strategies, gain the support of their like minded webmasters, and take you to task over everything. And if one recalls correctly, they were the reason you branched out into production in the first place, right?
The Incredible Hulk won’t save you - not this time. While it may be a more satisfying version of the material than what Ang Lee offered five years ago, it will not be an Iron Man sized success. Clearly, Louis Leterrier is a lot of things - capable action director, someone the difficult Edward Norton can work with - but he’s no Favreau. His version of the Marvel Universe still seems unfocused, not quite in sync with what you and your company have in mind. In fact, it would be safe to say that The Incredible Hulk feels more like the outside looking in adaptations that Iron Man gallantly avoided. In the end, you’ve probably got another hit on your hands, but don’t be looking to Rotten Tomatoes to verify its creative merit.
A word to the wise: open up the pocket books and pay the man. Avoid the months of hate that will be harvested on your behalf. Prove to those who still sit on the fence over supporting your talent takeover that you’re not the heartless misers the media is making you out to be. Unless you are clued into something we sideliners fail to grasp, taking Jon Favreau out of the franchise’s future seems absolutely insane. Remember - you need him much more than he needs you. He can ride his Iron Man cred directly into any high profile project he wants (even more so if the film becomes the #1 hit of the Summer, which appears more than likely). Do the right thing and all will be well. And here’s hoping you’re prepared if you don’t. Seriously.