Monday, March 31, 2014

Marvel-less: Top 10 Movies Marvel Would Rather We Forget

As published in Issue #51 of F*** Magazine


Top 10 movies Marvel would rather we forget
by Jedd Jong 16/3/14

Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in full swing, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier in theatres now and Guardians of the Galaxy arriving in August. The rights to certain Marvel properties still reside with external studios: Spider-Man’s at Sony and Fox have X-Men and the Fantastic Four. There was a time before the cinematic House of M had a complete roof, and here F*** takes a look at some of the spottier entries on the Marvel movie track record, including made-for-TV movies and one that wasn’t even released. Prepare to cringe and thank the comic book movie gods that 2008’s Iron Man worked out as well as it did!


A quirky, subversive creation of writer Steve Gerber and artist Val Mayerik, it’s safe to say that Howard the Duck is among the weirder Marvel characters, an anthropomorphic duck who provides social commentary and partakes in parodies of other comics. The Howard the Duck movie was a notorious failure, often considered one of the worst films ever made, and is also seen by many as George Lucas’ “start of darkness” years before the Star Wars prequels came along. Produced by Lucas and directed by Willard Huyck, who along with his wife Gloria Katz knew Lucas from film school, Howard the Duck was originally planned as an animated film, though it’s hard to say if it would have turned out better as one. The end result was baffling, alienating, disturbing, grotesque and nonsensical all at once, filled with upsetting sexual overtones between the title character and Beverly, a young aspiring singer played by Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson. Imagine how many parents were aghast, thinking it would be a great idea to bring their kids to see the latest movie “from the creator of Star Wars”. As Steven Tyler once said, “Well, hellfire, save matches, f*** a duck and see what hatches!”


Everyone knows the Incredible Hulk TV series starring Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, but around the same time, Marvel attempted to launch TV shows starring some of its other heroes to not quite as much (okay, very little) success. 1979’s Captain America starred cult movie actor Reb Brown (remember Yor, The Hunter from the Future?) in the title role and was one of those “in-name-only” adaptations. Here, Steve Rogers wasn’t a World War II hero defrosted from an icy slumber, but a former Marine caught in a road accident. He was then injected with a super-serum created by his late father, who was a patriotic WWII-era government agent nicknamed “Captain America”. Behold the motorcycle helmet, semi-transparent shield and that hilarious bike! There were also no characters from the comics in the film besides Cap himself. This was followed up with a sequel the same year, entitled Captain America II: Death Too Soon. Reb Brown shared this anecdote from the set: “I came out of my motor home and I was in full Captain America regalia, had my shield and everything. There was a drunk sitting on the wall He looks up at me, falls off the wall and says 'I gotta stop drinking!’ He climbs back up on the wall, sees that I'm real, and says 'well, maybe not.'" You might need some of the hard stuff to sit through this one, that’s for sure.


Before Chris Evans became the star-spangled man, there was yet another attempt at bringing Captain America to the movies in the form of this schlocky, low-budget flick directed by B-movie veteran Albert Pyun. Donning the red white and blue was Matt Salinger, son of Catcher in the Rye author J. D. Salinger. The Red Skull became a fascist Italian operative instead of a Nazi one, and was apparently behind the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK and Bobby Kennedy. In an interview with GQ Magazine, Salinger revealed “in my costume they gave me these ears—they weren't my real ears—they just had this plastic that was part of the costume, these rubber ears. And there were some shots where they just looked so bad. Really kind of cheesy.” He has been very good-natured about his participation in this unfortunate flick, saying “am I bitter? Not at all; it was fun and not that many people get to play a superhero.” The show was arguably stolen by that spy who comes in to congratulate government scientists on their success with the super soldier project, only to abruptly pull a pistol, yell “HEIL HITLER!” and shoot the guy. It’s that kind of movie.


Frank Castle is probably the anti-hero most comic book readers think of when they hear the term “anti-hero”. Succinctly described as “Batman if he didn’t have that hang-up about using guns”, the Punisher has appeared in three films so far, this one being the first. Dolph “I must break you” Lundgren, fresh off playing He-Man in the Masters of the Universe film, played Frank Castle – sans iconic skull logo. Co-writer Boaz Yakin fought hard for the preservation of that aspect, but it was deemed “too comic book-y”, this omission one of several areas in which this take on the Punisher strayed too far from the source material. He also lived in the sewer. However, taken on its own, it’s a half-decent vigilante thriller and works great as something to pop into the DVD player when you’re feeling nostalgic for cheesy late-80s action mayhem. There are entertaining stereotypical villains too, with Jeroen Krabbé as a Mafia kingpin and Kim Miyori as a Yakuza dragon lady. The Punisher also features one of the best Lundgren one-liners outside of that Rocky IV line: Frank’s ex-partner Lt. Berkowitz (Louis Gossett, Jr.) asks Frank “what the f*** do you call 125 murders in five years!?" to which he replies “work in progress.”


Following the mildly successful 2004 Punisher film starring Thomas Jane, it was decided that instead of a sequel, a reboot would be released, produced under the “Marvel Knights” banner. Ray Stevenson replaced Thomas Jane in the skull-emblazoned fatigues, and Dominic West played the supervillain Jigsaw. Released in December, it was a critical and commercial failure, but the story behind its making does earn Punisher: War Zone a second look, and the likes of comedian/actor Patton Oswalt have become vocal proponents of the film. It’s messy, violent, intense and theatrical; the late Roger Ebert deemed it well-made but “disgusting”. Director Lexi Alexander wanted to prove that female directors could take on big action flicks too and as a former World Point Fighting and Karate champion who played Kitana in the Mortal Kombat: Live Tour arena show, she’s one tough cookie. Her first short film was also an Oscar-nominated one. Turns out the director is probably more interesting than the Punisher: War Zone film itself. Ray Stevenson has also been a good sport about it, parodying his role by voicing the Punisher in kids’ cartoon The Super Hero Squad Show, in which the Punisher likens crime to Brussels sprouts on a plate of mac and cheese.


In the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, pop cultural icon and all-around badass Samuel L. Jackson dons the eye patch as the head honcho of clandestine organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. Before him though, none other than the Hoff played Nick Fury in a television movie on Fox, based on the Earth-616 incarnation of Fury before the Ultimates one (modelled on Jackson himself) came along. In this 90s cheese-fest, retired super-agent Fury is called back into action when terrorist organisation HYDRA rears its head (or heads, rather), with La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine (Lisa Rinna) and Madame Hydra (Sandra Hess) as the main threats. This travesty was written by David S. Goyer, who - *gulp* - seems to be in charge of shaping the DC cinematic universe, having written Man of Steel. Not content with chomping cigars and chewing scenery, David Hasselhoff, who let’s face it is no more than a pop culture punchline at this point, came forward to say he thinks he’s still a better Fury than Sam Jackson. "Stan Lee came on the set and told me all about Nick. He said 'You're the ultimate Nick Fury'. He gave me the greatest compliment ever,” Hasselhoff bragged. "I was hoping to have played him in the movie. And then Samuel L. Jackson came in and he was a great Nick Fury but he wasn't really the consummate Nick Fury, the way he was written. And I think that's a shame because he's a great character and a funny character… I'm hoping to do it again sometime,” he continued, blaming “whoever directed (The Avengers)”. Dream on, Mitch.


Now, stop snickering kids; we’ve all heard the “Giant-Size Man-Thing” jokes before. The character of Dr. Ted Sallis was a biochemist transformed by a mixture mystical swamp-dwelling forces and an attempted recreation of the Super Soldier serum into the mossy monster. Man-Thing’s first appearance in the May 1971 issue of Savage Tales predates DC’s similar creation Swamp Thing by two months, but a Swamp Thing movie was released in 1982 (directed by horror meister Wes Craven) while Man-Thing had to wait until 2005. The telefilm changed Ted Sallis from a scientist to a Native American Shaman, also excluding the character’s connections to A.I.M. (recently featured in Iron Man 3) and the super-soldier serum, instead opting for a more straightforward, schlocky creature feature approach. It was intended as a video release, then planned as a theatrical release during the 2004 Halloween season but bumped back to debuting on video and the Sci Fi Channel. Legend has it that half the audience up and left during a test screening of this film. Director Brett Leonard attempted to insert some shout-outs to comic book creators Steve Gerber, Mike Ploog and Val Mayerik with characters named after them (the last played by Leonard himself), but it was probably cold, wet, slimy comfort to any fans of the Man-Thing comics.


We’ve mentioned the 1978 Incredible Hulk television show, and after it concluded, there were three made-for-TV films produced to keep the Hulk name smashing on: The Incredible Hulk Returns (which is where that picture of Stan Lee, Hulk and Thor at the top of this article comes from), The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk Returns was intended as a backdoor pilot for a Thor TV series, set to star Eric Kramer in the title role. Likewise, The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was to have launched a TV series for Marvel’s resident lawyer/vigilante, Daredevil. Neither of those shows materialised. Matt Murdock/Daredevil was played by Rex Smith, with his arch-nemesis Kingpin (sporting beard and hair unlike his comics counterpart and referred to only as “Wilson Fisk”) played by John-Rhys Davies. Daredevil’s appearance was intentionally quite different from that in the comics: an all-black, not red, suit, no devil horns on the cowl and an absence of the Double-D insignia on his chest. Spoiler alert: the “trial” of the title only takes place in a dream sequence, as “trial” is supposed to have a double meaning – like in “trials and tribulations”. A pretty disappointing, supposedly clever move. This is also noteworthy as the first Marvel movie in which Stan Lee made a cameo appearance, as the jury foreman in the Hulk’s “trial”.


Lifelong comic book fan Nicolas Cage (the “Cage” in his stage name is taken from Marvel Comics character Luke Cage) leapt at the chance to play Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in the 2006 film. While campy and forgettable, it’s far from as hated as the fiery bike wreck of a sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Cage was the only returning cast member, with Mark Neveldine and Brain Taylor of Crank infamy taking on directorial duty. Set eight years after the events of the first movie, Spirit of Vengeance sees Johnny Blaze playing guardian angel to a young boy hunted by the demon Roarke (Ciarán Hinds). While promoting the film, Cage promised “moments that are for lack of a better word: freaky. You are going to be like, ‘Did I just see that happen?’ Hopefully it will mess with your mind, which is what I’m excited about.” Scenes like the Ghost Rider urinating a stream of fire and Cage exclaiming “he’s scraping at the door, scrapin’ at the doooaah!!” In our review of the film, we gave it 0.5 out of 5 stars, not even Idris Elba in a supporting role as a French monk could salvage this.

Said our writer, “It's not often that writing a movie review feels like rendering a public service, but in this case, we feel like superheroes saving humanity from evil when we state this warning: do not watch this movie.”

"Personally, I'm done," Cage said when asked if he would return to the role. Like Johnny probably felt after peeing fire, we can say we’re relieved.


The 2005 Fantastic Four film and its 2007 sequel, both directed by Tim Story, are fluffy throwaway flicks, if not awful ones, and are often dismissed. But the Fantastic Four movie that has stayed in the collective geek consciousness is the one that wasn’t even released. Produced by Z-movie king Roger Corman and directed by music video director Oley Sassone, this curiosity exists just so production company Constantin Film could cling to the movie rights for the Fantastic Four property, as they were due to revert to Marvel soon. Stan Lee claimed that “the movie was never supposed to be shown to anybody." Co-producer Bernd Eichinger has long disputed Lee’s claims. What we know is that this was a movie that was essentially a “watch this space” notice, hastily slapped together and boasting special effects that would be dated in 1964, let alone 30 years later, Johnny Storm in flame-on mode essentially a cartoon. The bootleg has been a comic convention staple and has made its rounds on the internet. Filmmaker Marty Langford’s exposé documentary Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman's The Fantastic Four is due out later this year. We’re honestly more excited for that than for the actual remake.


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