Right now, comic book movie fans are experiencing a bit of a lull. With 2012 behind us, replete with excellent super-hero offerings like Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and Amazing Spider-Man, there is a noticeable silence as fans are left to pour over Iron Man 3 news and hope against hope that DC/WB will get their act together with Man of Steel.
That said, there has been a smattering of news makings its way across the interwebs as more details emerge about Marvel’s plans for Phase II, which includes Thor 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the much-ballyhooed Guardians of the Galaxy. Marvel has teased an upcoming Doctor Strange film, and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man is progressing apace. Still, it seems as if there is something missing.
That something is the particular flavor which always distinguished Marvel’s comic book universe from that of the Distinguished Competition, namely street-level stories featuring characters with whom the readership could easily relate. We’ve been treated to rousing adventures featuring Marvel’s heavy hitters, and Avengers showed how epic a story featuring a collection of these characters can be. But where are the stories featuring lesser-known characters that we can all relate to?
Spider-Man is easily the hero that fits this need the best, but he is locked up at Sony for the foreseeable future. It is possible that Marvel could choose to reboot the Daredevil franchise, but the Ben Affleck vehicle and the subsequent awful Elektra film have left a continuing bad taste in the collective mouths of fans.
What’s more, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a real diversity problem. Other than Nick Fury and War Machine, there is not a single character of note being played by an actor of color. This creates a serious perception issue for the company, one where they could be accused of putting forth a movie universe that appears largely whitewashed.
Thankfully, there is an answer, and it comes In the form of a franchise just waiting in Marvel’s stable:
HEROES FOR HIRE
For those unfamiliar with the concept, “Heroes for Hire” began publication in 1978, and featured characters Luke Cage (Power Man) and Danny Rand (Iron Fist) as the owners/operators of a super-heroic private investigation firm. Both characters have been featured on Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man animated series, and Marvel Television honcho Jeph Loeb has even intimated that this concept may already be on Marvel’s radar. In this article, I’ll look at the logistics of bringing such a property to the silver screen as well as some of the benefits that Marvel would reap in doing so.
As anyone close to Hollywood will tell you, the first question that comes up in any discussion of whether or not a movie gets made is “how much will it cost?”
Super-hero films have a reputation for being wallet busters where the studio is concerned. Iron Man 3 has a reported budget of $200 Million, while the budget for Avengers was reported to be around $220 Million. In other words, these films were insanely expensive. Now, granted, these films made the lie budgets back in spades, with Avengers worldwide box office totaling more than $1 billion. Compare these to the budget for Rush Hour 2, which cost only $90 Million, and you get an idea of what the flashy effects required to effectively translate characters like Iron Man and the Hulk to film add to the cost of production.
A film version of Heroes for Hire would have much more in common with Rush Hour than it would either of the aforementioned super-hero tentpoles, making it a relatively low-risk, high-reward proposition for Disney, who may be understandably risk-averse given the massive check they cut to LucasFilm for the purchase of the Star Wars franchise.
The small-scale set pieces required to film Heroes for Hire (city streets, back alleys, office interiors) would allow the studio to maximize the value for their dollar. Avengers used Cleveland as a stand-in for Manhattan, so a H4H film could easily shoot in relatively inexpensive locales such as Cleveland or the ever-popular film Mecca of Toronto.
The biggest issue in pushing a project like this is that the characters are relatively unknown quantities outside of the insular community of geekdom. The key would be casting very strong actors in the lead roles. Think back to the casting for Lethal Weapon, a rather generic buddy-cop film that saw tremendous return on investment thanks to terrific chemistry and solid performances from well-known actors Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
A quick Google search for “Luke Cage casting” will turn up more results than you could shake an indestructible fist at, so I won’t side track this article into a discussion of fantasy casting. What I will do is point out that the characters who should make appearances in the film would make terrific options for either well-known actors looking for a big franchise payday or as vehicles for up-and-comers who the studio can grow into future stars.
Luke Cage is the character who would, without a doubt, draw the most attention from agents looking for projects for their clients. He has a small but loyal following, and most people have heard the name, even if they know very little about the character himself. He’s a character with a surprising amount of depth, meaning that the biggest challenge for casting directors will be finding an actor who can do justice to the character’s imposing physique without coming across as a meat-head. Thankfully, there are a number of reputable thespians who have proven they have the chops to make the character sizzle.
Danny Rand, AKA Iron Fist, presents a slightly different challenge. As a Kung-Fun master, the casting process would require either finding an actor who already possesses the necessary skills or investing a respectable portion of the production budget in the training of the actor with the right dramatic skills.
Any good ensemble film needs a good personal drama to root it firmly in a reality that the audience can relate to. Heroes for Hire has two built-in strong female characters in Misty Knight and Jessica Jones. Jones has been bandied about as a possibility for adaptation herself on the strength of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Alias, with Marvel/ABC recently placing the proposed AKA Jessica Jones series in development hell. Showcasing her in a H4H film could give that project a jump-start, catapulting the character into the public consciousness.
Misty Knight is an entirely different animal. Done right, she could be a perfect addition to the cast, as she is very action-centric and exudes a confidence that would instantly make her one of the strongest female heroes on screen.
From a marketing sense, this film would very nearly sell itself. Marvel, through its relationship with Disney (that’s “relationship” read “wholly owned by”) has access to a promotional apparatus that would easily catapult this project into the forefront of public awareness.
Heroes for Hire would make an ideal summer release. It would be a no-brainer that this show would wind up linking in with the sure-to-be-optioned S.H.I.E.L.D. television show from Joss Whedon, but the real marketing extravaganza would surely come in June.
Disney owns ABC, which is the long-time host of the NBA Finals, which air the last three weeks of the month. Given the league’s specific demographic appeal and the fact that H4H would be the first Marvel Cinematic Universe offering to feature an African-American character, Disney would be remiss if it didn’t bombard audiences with trailers and teasers at every commercial break. While the idea of marrying sports with geekiness may seem foreign to some, Marvel has a well-established history with the NBA, having released promotional art feature such league mainstays as Carlos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls mashed up with the Hulk. It would not be outside the realm of possibility to see the stars of this prospective film featured prominently on league broadcasts in the months leading up to its release.
One final note on potential tie-ins: the ideal place to tease a Heroes for Hire film would be in the unconfirmed Doctor Strange film that Marvel is rumored to be developing. Given Danny Rand’s mystical background at the Kun Lun temple and Strange’s role as the world’s Sorcerer Supreme, a cameo featuring a gangly blond-haired student at a temple would be all it would take to get fans buzzing.
In the final analysis, there are several things that should be abundantly clear to fans, and are hopefully clear to the studio as well.
“Satellite” films are coming. The Avengers and its accompanying lead-ins set the stage, and Marvel has made it clear that they will be developing lesser-known characters.
The studio has a diversity issue.
Heroes for Hire is the perfect solution to nip that problem in the bud and, done right, could be an absolute slam dunk for the studio.
Will it happen? Maybe. As fans, all we can do is hope and try to encourage the studio to move in this direction. So share this post with your friends and on your social networks. Perhaps we can be the beginning of a movement to see this movie made.
Stranger things have happened…