Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Rooting for the Super Heroes.

It's summer in the cinema and the good guys are taking on the bad guys in droves. For us at Moviedozer, the battle is as much fun off the screen as on. The great movies, the fun directors, the cool actors, the sentimental favorites, we root for them all and we root against the evildoers who pump out recycled shlock and moronic comedies. We love to see the good guys score big openings and we love to see the jerks fall flat on their inflated budgets. So sue us, that's always been part of the fun of showbiz.

It is interesting though, that we can find such arbitrary things to get excited about. Like some newcomer to a big city or a freshman getting settled in at college, we are immediately fans of the home team, though we don't know their names and don't ever to expect to make anyone's future acquaintance. In this case, we don't even have a home team, but still we have definite favorites and we've been rooting for them all summer.

Among the favorites this year is Stan Lee. Mr. Lee has been a personal favorite for a long time, but particularly this year as he's launched Marvel Studios and taken control of his own properties, assuming all of the risk and, happily by the summer's results, benefitting tremendously from the success. I've never met Stan Lee, never written him a letter or an email, never gotten an autograph and he assuredly has absolutely no idea who I am. That's OK, I just like the guy. Or maybe more to the point, I admire him. And frankly, while sitting in the dark waiting for The Incredible Hulk to take the screen, I found myself wondering why. By the time credits were rolling, I was pretty sure I had figured it out.

Two of the best superhero movies in some time came back to back this summer and they both are branded Marvel. Not that that's really such a surprise, lots of other fun and successful superhero flicks have been, but even against arguably the best superhero franchise out there, Spiderman, there's something different about this summer's outings. True of the May 2nd release of Iron Man, already past the 300 million mark in the US, and also true of The Incredible Hulk, already well past the 115 million mark in the it's first ten days, is the fact that each of these films feels smarter, more cohesive and more true to story than most all of the others. And there's the key, they have stayed true to their creator's vision. Stan Lee simply knows his material. And beyond knowing his material, he believes in it, passionately. Who better to shepherd and nurture a creative project than someone who has lived and breathed it for his entire adult life. And done so successfully with consistency and integrity.

As Walt Disney saw the artistry of animation and transformed popular family entertainment, as Jim Henson understood the magic of storytelling, believing that the warmth of a performer inhabiting a character could somehow be conveyed through a cloth puppet with ping pong ball eyes, or as George Lucas believed in the fantasy adventures of his youth and the timelessness of action serials, good against evil and triumph against all odds, Stan Lee believes in the medium he helped to create. He sees truth in fables set against backdrops of excitement and fantasy. He feels the heart of characters who are alienated by their differences yet struggle for common purpose. My memories of reading Marvel comic books through youthful summers are as treasured as watching Walt Disney sit on the corner of his desk to set the stage for a full color Sunday night television adventure. Walt and Stan were part of the fabric of my growing up. With the success of Marvel Studio's new crop of movies, those memories are wonderfully refreshed and a bit more resistant to ever fading away.

We have mentioned Mr. Lee in these columns before. Both Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk made the Moviedozer.com "The List" feature in May and June for films we were most looking forward to. The casting of Robert Downey Jr. and Edward Norton (with a special nod to Edward Norton's script work for The Incredible Hulk), as well as the A-list supporting casts, was not only an indication of the confidence Marvel has in it's stable of characters but also of their great faith in the ability of the material to hold up to the most serious and accomplished abilities of it's storytellers. Marvel's choice of directors, in both Jon Favreau and Louis Leterrier, not only shows an eye for top breaking talent but an instinct to focus on the process, trusting that dedicated talent will deliver top notch results. Impressive is only the first word that comes to mind.

Though superhero movies may not be your particular choice when weighing summer movie options, the summer of '08 will be cemented in movie history and box-office charts as the summer of Marvel Studios' premiere as a fully fledged production studio. With the success of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, it will also be remembered as a wonderful summer for Mr. Stan Lee and for all of his fans. As a fan, I'll be rooting for many more.

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