More Failed Marvel Movies: From The Punisher to Howard the Duck - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, August 27, 2021

More Failed Marvel Movies: From The Punisher to Howard the Duck

Disney+’s new show What If..? asks what would happen to the universe if a character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe made a single different choice in their life. That is a fantastic concept that allows us to imagine all the consequences that cascade from a moment of hesitation or a last-minute change of mind. These choices shape the whole world in an unrecognizable way, opening the possibility for entire new adventures. While asking the question in a fictional universe is already fun, we can also do the same exercise with real-life Marvel projects. What if David Hasselhoff was still Nick Fury? What if duck porn became popular? What if Captain America was a detective noir?

In our second look back at the convoluted history of Marvel film adaptations, we’ll rescue another five projects that could have unleashed a whole new MCU. The first part of this journey already gave us a lot to talk about — and I hope the movement to make Towel Thor canon is growing. However, before the MCU, super-hero adaptations failed more than they succeeded, which gives us plenty of projects to choose from when we want to imagine different Variants of our favorite heroes. And, people, do we have some curious Variants out there!

RELATED:‌ Marvel's Real-Life 'What If...?': 5 Failed Movie Adaptations That Tease a Very Different Kind of MCU

The Punisher - 1989

After playing the antihero in Netflix’s universe of Marvel heroes, Jon Bernthal became the ultimate Punisher to some fans. Others prefer Thomas Jane’s version of the character, viewed by many as the original Punisher. However, 15 years before Jane brought the vigilante to the theaters, Dolph Lundgren starred as Frank Castle in a low-budget film produced by New World, an independent studio that would be later be sold by Fox — which, in turn, was absorbed by Disney.

With few special effects and without fancy costumes, 1989’s The Punisher was the second Marvel adaptation ever to be produced for theaters, with a budget of only $11 million. One could think it wouldn’t be hard for The Punisher to turn a profit, even more, because the grounded nature of the antihero makes it stand apart from more comic-y characters. To be honest, Frank Castle would be right at home with other ‘80s action heroes, such as Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) and John McClane (Bruce Willis). Unfortunately, The Punisher was cursed by bad timing. It didn’t get a single screening in the U.S., as New Line faced severe financial problems and its owners were only concerned about getting rid of the production company.

There might be a universe out there where Lundgren was able to play Frank Castle for many sequels, and that Variant of the actor got everything he deserved. Directed by Mark Goldblatt from a script by Boaz Yakin, The Punisher doesn’t do much to honor the comic-book antihero, as the film doesn’t feature any famous villain, doesn’t spend too much time with Frank’s tragic past, and doesn’t even give the character the iconic skull t-shirt. However, Lundgren went out of his way to bring Frank Castle to life. The actor decided to dye his hair black and refused to get out of character even between scenes, mumbling to himself as the traumatized man. Lundgren might not be enough to make The Punisher enjoyable, but the actor deserved a second shot playing Frank Castle.

Captain America - 1944

Everyone was addicted to superhero comic books in the ‘1940s. Superman almost single-handed birthed the genre in 1938, and for the next decade, everyone was trying to get their hands on the next costumed hero that could be explored as a franchise. Since Hollywood was always keen to adapt works from other media, it didn’t take long for people to watch superheroes in the theaters through film serials — a collection of short episodes distributed periodically in movie theaters. Shazam won America’s heart in 1941, with Adventures of Captain Marvel, and Batman got its film serial in 1943. Marvel (Timely Comics at the time), however, was not so lucky.

The first, and only, Marvel hero to get its own film serial was Captain America, a comic-book success that punched Hitler in the face when World War II threatened the entire world’s way of life. Unfortunately, 1944’s Captain America stripped the hero from its cathartic nature, iconic shield, and military background. The first Marvel film adaptation has so little to do with the comic book character that the hero is called Grant Gardner (Dick Purcell), works as a District Attorney, and basically behaves as a detective noir, investigating a villain who wears a monocle and wants to shake the world with his "Dynamic Vibrator" — it’s an earthquake machine, I swear!

While the real reason why Republic changed Captain America so much for the adaptation is not adequately documented, looking back at the studio’s history might give us some clues. In 1940, Republic tried to buy the rights to make a Superman serial, losing the battle to Paramount. As filmmaking is an expensive activity, Republic reworked Superman’s script into Mysterious Doctor Satan, a serial that featured their own superhero: The Copperhead (Robert Wilcox). It’s not hard to imagine Republic feared having to change things last minute once again and just created a generic story where Captain America’s uniform could show up or not. The strategy didn’t pay off, as Captain America bombed so hard that Republic ended up being sold… to Paramount! There might not be a universe more ironic than ours.

Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. - 1998

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is a central player of the MCU, showing up in eleven of twenty-four MCU films. Nevertheless, before Iron Man’s post-credit, only we, comic-book nerds, knew the character. That’s why it might be shocking to some to learn that the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent already had its solo movie, starring David Hasselhoff as the superspy. Developed by Fox to serve as the pilot for a series, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.was released in 1998, exactly one decade before Marvel birthed the most ambitious cinematic universe of all time.

There’s no need to say the project didn’t move forward, as there are probably not many people who remember this movie. The main reason, if we’re to guess, is that Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.feels too much like a comedy, when it’s actually trying to take itself seriously. Hasselhoff constantly throws one-liners right before biting his cigar to give the public enough time to consider the weight of metaphors such as “Guys like you tend to cling to the bowl no matter how many times you flush.” As for the main villain, Andrea von Strucker (Sandra Hess), she’s shown cackling madly in a room filled with goons, as if in a cartoon. Everything is so unidimensional that this might be one of the most unintentionally funny films of all time.

Even so, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the merit of not being ashamed of using the original comic books to their most. While previous Marvel adaptations were careful to hide the wackiest aspects of comic book culture, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. embraces it, featuring many classic characters. For example, Contessa Valentina "Val" Allegra de Fontaine has just shown up in the MCU, but she already had a live-action version played by Lisa Rinna. The same goes for Alexander Pierce (Neil Roberts), Dr. Arnim Zola (Peter Haworth), and 'Dum-Dum' Dugan (Garry Chalk). Long before these names were known to the public, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. featured them in a TV film, and should the series move forward, we could have many obscure Marvel characters becoming pop culture icons.

RELATED:‌ Before the MCU, There Was the Doomed Deal Between Marvel and Artisan Entertainment

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk - 1989

After trying (and sadly failing) to make a Thor series spin-off with 1988’s The Incredible Hulk Returns, NBC put another beloved Marvel character in a Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno's The Incredible Hulk TV film. In 1989’s The Trial of the Incredible Hulk, NBC gave Rex Smith the part of Daredevil while hoping to make a new TV show with the Man Without Fear as its main character. It’s curious to see how, once upon a time, the Incredible Hulk was the center of his cinematic universe. At the same time, the hero can’t even have a solo movie nowadays due to distribution disputes between Disney and NBCUniversal.

While the movie’s title clickbaits us to thinking Ferrigno’s Hulk will be arrested, there’s not an actual trial. Bixby’s David Bruce Banner has a nightmare of himself transforming into the Hulk in court, but that’s as far as the trial affair goes. The scene is noteworthy, though, as it marks the first Stan Lee easter-egg in the history of Marvel adaptations. While there’s no trial, Banner is indeed arrested, charged with a crime committed by Wilson Fisk’s (John Rhys-Davies) goons. That’s how he meets the blind lawyer Matt Murdock, who’s convinced that Banner is innocent.

In this version of the hero, Daredevil’s accident has a radioactive origin, which brings his story closer to Banner’s. The movie creates a rare connection between the two heroes, tormented souls who never asked for their powers and are cursed by an accident that takes away something valuable: Murdock’s vision and Banner’s self-control. It’s no wonder the two heroes become friends, take down the Kingpin together, and say sad goodbyes when it’s time to follow their separate paths. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of Smith’s Daredevil, as the next incarnation of the character, in 2003, would be a colossal failure. Curious enough, in 2003, we also had the first live-action version of the Hulk post-Bixby/Ferrigno, another absolute failure. NBC should have kept Daredevil and the Hulk together.

Howard the Duck - 1986

Imagine a blockbuster Marvel movie made for the theaters. Imagine this movie is produced by George Lucas, a master of special effects responsible for the original Star Wars trilogy. Of course, there were studios ready to throw money into the project! As it happens, this was not such a good idea, as the character chosen by Lucas was Howard, the Duck. Yes, the first Marvel movie planned to be a blockbuster theater release is about a duck, from a duck dimension, with its own version of duck-porn — less than five minutes into Howard the Duck, and we can see a pornographic magazine with a female duck showing her feathered breasts. What was Lucas using when he conceived this movie?

In the comics, Howard is a grumpy character made for adults who deals with late bills, work pressures, and traffic disputes. Even so, Lucas tried to put the “hero” in a family movie that, even if highly reducing the adult content, still features inter-species sex and a stroll through a whorehouse. Add a generic Dark Overlord as the main villain, and you have a recipe for disaster. Fans were displeased that the adaptation was not faithful, families were displeased by the adult content, Universal was displeased with the fact that a $37 million budget turned only $38 million internationally, less than needed to even pay for marketing.

Howard the Duck was such a financial blow that George Lucas was faced with bankruptcy. The film literally forced Lucasfilm to sell one of its animation departments, the Graphics Group. This department, purchased by Steve Jobs, would soon be reorganized to give birth to Pixar. Of course, now Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar belong to Disney. What Howard the Duck set apart, Disney put together. Now, all we need for this to be the best universe possible is an MCU adaptation of Howard made by Pixar. Just do it, you cowards!

KEEP‌ ‌READING:‌ How the 'Iron Man' Trilogy Makes the Case for More Contained MCU Stories



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