Superhero movies, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four

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Superhero flicks are certainly nothing new. The adventures of Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel were serialized in theaters back in the ‘40s, and the TV exploits of all of the above, as well as Lynda Carter’s take on “Wonder Woman,” kept the genre alive. Since “Superman: The Movie” premiered in 1978, movie studios have hardly thought twice about greenlighting a big budget and spending as much as possible on state-of-the-art special effects to draw in theatergoers by the millions…well, until “Batman and Robin” single-handedly killed the superhero movie. Fortunately, “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” helped bring things back, and “Batman Begins” made the Caped Crusader into a viable cinematic entity again. Now, every time you turn around, another masked avenger or champion for justice is on his or her way to your local multiplex. Bullz-Eye has taken a look into the future – both near and far – to see what you can expect in the next few months…or, in some cases, years….

Heroes: X-Men
Film Title: “X-Men: The Last Stand
Film Status: Wrapped
Scheduled Release Date: May 26, 2006
Starring: Rebecca Romjin, Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Vinnie Jones, Kelsey Grammer, James Marsden, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry
Director: Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “Red Dragon”)
Secret Origin: Professor Charles Xavier founds a school for youths with mutant abilities and, with their help, strives to achieve understanding and integration of mutants amongst ordinary human society. He is confounded at most every turn by his nemesis, Magneto, and his brotherhood of evil mutants. Xavier’s students, known as the X-Men, battle Magneto’s forces and attempt to achieve equality between humans and mutants.
What The Future Holds: The first two “X”-films were both directed by Bryan Singer, but Singer had another super-flick on his plate (“Superman Returns”), so the reigns were taken over by Ratner. Many have been skeptical about Ratner’s ability to take on the franchise, particularly when they saw what Kelsey Grammer looked like as Hank McCoy, a.k.a. The Beast, but with each successive trailer for the film, it’s looking better and better. In fact, after the last version, we expect few will disagree: it’s a MUST SEE.

Hero: Superman
Film Title: “Superman Returns
Film Status: Wrapped
Scheduled Release Date: June 30, 2006
Starring: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, James Marsden, Frank Langella, Parker Posey, and Eva Marie Saint
Director: Bryan Singer
Secret Origin: Jor-El, a scientist on the planet Krypton, sends his son Kal-El, to Earth in order to save him from Krypton’s destruction. His rocket is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who raise the boy as their own, naming him Clark. Clark soon finds that he has powers beyond those of normal men. He adopts the name Superman and fights for truth, justice, and the American way, battling the forces of evil, usually in the form of billionaire industrialist Lex Luthor.
What The Future Holds: If you hear an odd sound right about now and can’t figure out where it’s coming from, don’t worry; it’s probably just the buzz from this film, which is substantial. People thought it would happen as soon as “Smallville” was a big hit on TV, but it wasn’t until after the huge commercial and critical success of “Batman Begins” that the ball really got rolling in a big way. Wisely, the film reportedly takes place at some point after “Superman II.” (Trust me, the later sequels deserve to be treated as apocryphal.) It was wise of producers to go with a relative unknown to play Superman, since, after all, it worked wonders for Christopher Reeve. Same deal with having Luthor be played by a major Hollywood name…in this case, Kevin Spacey. Bryan Singer worked miracles with his “X-Men” flicks; there’s every reason to believe his magic remains intact. Let it be said here and now that DC Comics is poised to conquer the motion picture medium with this return of the “Superman” flicks. Not only is this a MUST SEE, it’s a full-on get-your-tickets-now event.

Hero: Ghost Rider
Film Status: In production
Scheduled Release Date: February 16, 2007
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Sam Elliott, Peter Fonda, Donal Logue, Eva Mendes
Director: Mark Steven Johnson (“Simon Birch,” “Daredevil”)
Secret Origin: Motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze makes a deal with the devil and occasionally finds himself possessed by the spirit of the demon Zarathos, a condition which presents itself by turning Blaze’s head into a flaming skull.
What The Future Holds: Well, it kept Cage from being cast as Superman, which is certainly points in its favor, and the photos from the set and the special effects shots look pretty damned cool...but the fact that the film’s release date just got bumped from the summer of ’06 to the winter of ’07 doesn’t scream “studio confidence.” Plus, while “Daredevil” has done relatively brisk DVD business, few would call it a rousing success…particularly since it spawned the consistently-panned “Elektra” flick, too, which was written by Johnson. We say HOPES ARE HIGH because, man, that flaming skull is sweet.

Hero: Spider-Man
Film Title: “Spider-Man 3
Film Status: In production
Scheduled Release Date: May 4, 2007
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kristen Dunst, J.K. Simmons, Thomas Hayden Church, Topher Grace, Dylan Baker, Bryce Dallas Howard, and James Cromwell
Director: Sam Raimi (the previous “Spider-Man” flicks, plus the “Evil Dead” trilogy)
Secret Origin: Science geek Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and, as a result, gains super strength, a “spider-sense” that warns him of impending danger, and the ability to walk on walls and spin his own version of spider webbing. He originally tries to profit from his powers, but when his uncle Ben is killed because he was too caught up in himself, he realizes that with great power comes responsibility. As such, he uses his powers to fight crime, forever afraid to let anyone get too close to him, lest they fall victim to those who wish to do him harm.
What The Future Holds: The first “Spider-Man” was good. The second “Spider-Man” defied the odds by being better than the first film. Will the third one improve on the second one…? Hard to say. But it’s the same director, the same basic cast, and the villains are being played by Thomas Hayden Church (the Sandman) and Topher Grace (Venom). The big key with this flick is going to be its special effects. That Green Goblin suit in the first film completely blew…but Dr. Octopus’s arms in the second movie were awesome. Now you’ve got the Sandman, who can turn his entire body into sand, and Venom, who’s a symbiotic alien that possesses a human host and is basically a non-stop killing machine with a drooling mouth like one of H.R. Giger’s aliens and a tongue that’d put Gene Simmons’ to shame. Raimi is being incredibly tight-lipped on details about the film, with only one shot having leaked out thus far (above), that being of Spider-Man’s new black costume (a detail connected directly with Venom, at least in the comic book mythos), but given the track record of the franchise, we feel pretty safe declaring it a MUST SEE.

Heroes: The Fantastic Four
Film Status: Pre-Production
Scheduled Release Date: July 4, 2007
Starring: Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, and Michael Chiklis
Secret Origin: After being exposed to cosmic rays, scientist Reed Richards, his girlfriend Sue Storm, Sue’s brother Johnny, and Reed’s longtime friend Ben Grimm find themselves in possession of superhuman abilities. Reed can stretch his body in any way, shape, or fashion, Sue can turn invisible and create equally-invisible force shields, Johnny can cover his entire body with fire, shoot flame, and fly, and Ben, the poor bastard, has gained superhuman strength…but at the expense of having his entire body turned to something that looks like orange stone.
What The Future Holds: Were we the only ones who were underwhelmed by the first “Fantastic Four” movie? It wasn’t what you’d call legitimately awful or anything, but it certainly didn’t blow our skirt up in any significant fashion. But, apparently, it did sufficient business to warrant consideration for a sequel, which is on a relatively fast track to get made. You’d like to think that the fact that the script for the new flick is written by Mark Frost, who was the co-creator of “Twin Peaks,” bodes well…except that he helped write the first one, too. No concrete details have emerged about the second movie, except that the original Four actors will return. (They signed contracts committing them to a trilogy.) Despite earlier claims from director Tim Story that Dr. Doom would be back (a comment seconded by producer Ralph Williams, who also noted that the script wasn’t even done yet), Jessica Alba recently indicated that there would be a new villain, but that she couldn’t say who it was. So who do we believe? Well, there have been a lot of rumblings that we might see the planet-eating scourge known as Galactus, as well as his herald, the Silver Surfer…but with so many conflicting reports, it seems that only TIME WILL TELL.

Hero: Batman
Film Status: Script is being written.
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Starring: Christian Bale, probably; he’s been optioned, anyway.
Director: Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins,” “Memento”), probably; he’s been optioned as well.
Secret Origin: Bruce Wayne’s parents are gunned down in a dark alley in Gotham City, and, no surprise here, he’s permanently scarred by the incident. After a few rough years during which time he tries to find himself (and does so while training under the tutelage of famed assassin Ra’s Al Ghul), Wayne takes his parents’ vast fortune and continues his father’s generosity by getting Gotham back on its feet; simultaneously, he fights crime under the cowl of Batman.
What The Future Holds: The last flick…well, let’s be blunt and just say that it kicked total and utter ass. If the same crew comes back on board this time, there’s no reason to suspect that the follow-up won’t do the same. “Batman Begins” ended by blatantly setting up for the Joker to be the villain in the next film, but casting ideas have bounced everywhere from Robin Williams to Mark Hamill, who did the definitive Joker voice in the late ‘90s animated “Batman” series. There’s also talk of having a secondary villain, reportedly Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Penguin (let’s dare to dream, shall we?), with the character of Harvey Dent being introduced in the film so that Two-Face can appear in the following “Batman” film. (It never hurts to plan ahead, you know.) Oh, it hardly matters. If Nolan keeps the same tone again, where the goings-on in Gotham seem almost like they could happen in the real world, it’ll be a MUST SEE.

Hero: Wonder Woman
Film Status: Script is being written.
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Director: Joss Whedon (“Serenity,” creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel”)
Secret Origin: Diana, princess of the Amazons, leaves her home on Paradise Island – in an invisible plane, no less – and goes to fight evil in Man’s world, using her super-strength, her bulletproof bracelets, and, of course, her magic lasso, which forces anyone wrapped in its clutches to tell the truth.
What The Future Holds: There’s never been a theatrical “Wonder Woman” movie, if you can believe it. The TV series in the ‘70s was somewhere between serious and camp (generally the latter), and no one went out of their way to do anything with Diana after the show went off the air. In the early 2000s, there was talk of Sandra Bullock playing the character, but that didn’t amount to anything. Since Whedon declared his intentions to write a script and direct the film, however, everyone’s been really, really excited about the film’s possibilities. Naturally, only people affiliated with Whedon’s previous projects – Sarah Michelle Gellar, Charisma Carpenter, and Eliza Duskhu being the big three – are rumored as being under consideration to play Diana, but Whedon remains mum. In fact, things have been quiet in the “Wonder Woman” camp for several months now. Whedon’s name is generally a mark of quality, but with absolutely nothing in hand, at the moment, we have to give it a HOPES ARE HIGH.

Hero: Captain Marvel (the one who says “Shazam!”)
Film Status: One script written, another one reportedly on the way.
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Starring: TBD
Director: Peter Segal (“The Longest Yard,” “50 First Dates”)
Secret Origin: Young boy Billy Batson is gifted by an old wizard named Shazam the ability to, after speaking the wizard’s name aloud, turn into a superhero with the wisdom of Solomon, strength of Hercules, stamina of Atlas, power of Zeus, courage of Achilles and speed of Mercury.
What The Future Holds: The buzz on the 2003 script by William Goldman (“The Princess Bride”) was tremendous; unfortunately, the studio – New Line – decided to go another way, so they hired Joel Cohen and Alec Sokelow, whose credits include such top-notch flicks as “Garfield” and “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Oh, alright, fine, they were also co-writers on “Toy Story.” Still, if the Goldman script makes it before the cameras, the odds of critical success jump up tenfold; somehow, one imagines that the Cohen/Sokelow version will be Hollywood’s version of “family friendly”...which rarely meshes with what critics (and comic fans) appreciate. Plus, Peter Segal is known far more for his work on comedies than dramas. If this story is told straight, tackling the inherent coolness of a kid being able to turn into a superhero, it’ll be awesome; if they try to make into slapstick, mark our words, it will suck. We say TIME WILL TELL.

Hero: Luke Cage a.k.a. Power Man
Film Status: Script written, director selected, production should be kickin’ in any time now.
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Starring: Maybe Tyrese Gibson (“2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Annapolis”), maybe not.
Director: John Singleton (“Boyz N The Hood,” the “Shaft” remake)
Secret Origin: Former street punk Luke Cage is falsely imprisoned and, while in the slammer, he’s offered a chance at early release if he undergoes some scientific experiments. He ends up with superhuman strength and becomes a hero for hire, fighting crime...only on someone else’s dime.
What The Future Holds: Singleton has wanted to get his hands on this flick for years, and he’s never let go of trying to get it made. The fact that he succeeded with the “Shaft” remake is major points in his favor, and his desire to do right by the source material helps immeasurably as well. Singleton also informed Gibson that if he wanted the part, he was gonna have to work out and get pumped up, which Gibson said he’d most assuredly do if that’s what it took. Marvel CEO Avi Arad anticipates the film to pick up an R-rating, which is what “The Punisher” had. Let’s just hope this one turns out a little better. Even in this very early stage, we’re going out on a limb and saying that, as long as Singleton maintains his hold on the picture, it’ll be a MUST SEE.

Hero: Wolverine
Film Status: Script being written by David Benioff (“Troy”)
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Starring: Hugh Jackman
Director: TBD
Secret Origin: Logan, a mutant with the ability to rapidly heal from any injury, is captured by the Canadian government and, in addition to having his entire skeleton replaced with adamantium (one of the hardest metals known to fiction), receives the “gift” of metal claws, which he can sheath and unsheathe as he desires. He is a member of the X-Men, but there is much about his past that remains a mystery to him.
What The Future Holds: Hugh Jackman has been the single best part of each “X-Men” film to date, so it’s exciting that he enjoys playing the character of Wolverine enough to want to spin him off into his own movie. There’s no director firmed up yet, but Jackman’s enthusiasm about the project seems consistent from interview to interview, so it seems likely that it will be made…and probably as soon after “X-Men 3” as his schedule allows. It’s in the really early stages, and if it was any other member of the X-Men, we’d say that time will tell…but with Wolverine, we gotta say that, already, HOPES ARE HIGH.

Heroes: Watchmen
Film Status: A script has been written by David Hayter, directors have come and gone, and, at the moment, it’s sitting in what insiders call Development Hell.
Scheduled Release Date: TBD
Starring: TBD
Director: TBD, but Terry Gilliam (“The Brothers Grimm”), Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”), and Paul Greengrass (“United 93”) have all been variously attached to the film.
Secret Origin: This is a toughie to summarize, but, to put it in the smallest possible nutshell, some superheroes come out of government-enforced retirement to investigate the death of one of their own. That doesn’t even come close to telling the tale of the story of the Watchmen, but that’d be the one-sentence description you’d get from a Hollywood suit.
What The Future Holds: This is arguably the most troubled film in the history of superhero movies, as evidenced in a fantastic piece in Entertainment Weekly. Alan Moore described Hayter’s screenplay as “as close as I could imagine anyone getting to ‘Watchmen'," but everyone seems to have a different vision of how the film should be adapted.” Should it be a single epic-yet-ultimately-diluted flick, a la “Lord of the Rings,” or should it be a multi-episode, $100 million miniseries on HBO that includes all of the comic’s bells and whistles? The only people currently attached to “Watchmen” are producers Larry Gordon and Lloyd Levin (“Hellboy,” the “Tomb Raider” movies), but things still remain in limbo…and, given that talks about a film began back in 1989, there’s every reason to believe that they’ll stay that way. What else can you possible say about a film with virtually nothing finalized? TIME WILL TELL…maybe.

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