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Star Wars, DC could take cues from Marvel movie universe

By Jeff Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 11:25 a.m. MST

Chris Evans, portraying Captain America, left, and Robert Downey Jr., portraying Tony Stark, are shown in a scene from "The Avengers."

Disney

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Along with Christopher Nolan's meaner, darker foray into the world of comic books, "The Dark Knight," 2008's "Iron Man" set a new bar for superhero movies.

For thousands of comic fans, though, the most important part of Tony Stark’s journey from self-centered playboy to superhero in "Iron Man" took place after the closing credits when an eyepatch-wearing Samuel L. Jackson stepped out of the shadows and said, "I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative."

Four years and five movies later, Disney’s grand experiment in franchise building has paid off. What's been labeled “Phase One” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminated with last summer's "The Avengers," a film which earned Disney more than $1.5 billion and became the highest grossing film of 2012. “Phase Two” is already well under way. Sequels to “Captain America,” “Thor” and, of course, “Iron Man” are currently in production.

Now, it looks like two other high-profile movie properties might try to follow the Marvel blueprint.

In an issue of Entertainment Weekly that hit newsstands Nov. 16, new LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed that Disney hopes to release as many as two to three new Star Wars movies each year.

At first glance, Kennedy’s comment seems to contradict Disney CEO Bob Iger’s original announcement from October when the LucasFilm acquisition was first made public. At the time, Iger revealed to scores of dumbfounded fans that “Episode VII” would hit theaters in 2015 with subsequent episodes following every two to three years thereafter.

This has led some to speculate that Disney might be trying to adapt the Marvel blueprint for the Star Wars universe.

Adding fuel to the fire, news recently leaked that, in addition to writer Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), who has been confirmed as the “Episode VII” scribe, Disney has brought in Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi”) and Simon Kinberg (“Sherlock Holmes”) to each write their own installments.

Up until recently, it was assumed that Kasdan and Kinberg would tackle episodes VIII and IX, but the latest rumors claim the two scribes might in fact forego the episodic numbering system altogether and instead tackle standalone movies set in the broader Star Wars universe. If successful, those movies could later be tied into the main Star Wars storyline playing out in episodes VII, VIII, IX and maybe even X, XI and XII.

While it’s tempting to dismiss this as a ploy to cash-in on the Star Wars property, fans have every reason to be excited. If there’s one cinematic universe that cries out for a variety of approaches, it’s Star Wars — as evidenced by the huge library of Star Wars Expanded Universe books already out there.

Who knows? Maybe "Captain America" director Joe Johnston will finally get his chance to make a Boba Fett movie.

But Disney isn’t the only studio learning from the success of the “Avengers” model.

After Marvel’s super-powered slugfest became the third-highest grossing movie of all time, Warner Bros. announced a 2015 release date for its own super-team, the long-in-development “Justice League” movie, which would unite comic book heavyweights like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.

Details of how the studio intends to pull that off, however, have been pretty fuzzy so far.

With Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy now over and both the director and star having publicly walked away from the franchise — apparently for good — Warner Bros. only has one potential “Justice League” lead-up movie in the pipeline, the Nolan-produced, Zack Snyder-directed “Man of Steel,” which promises a grittier take on the Superman mythos.

In the past, Snyder has said that his version of the Last Son of Krypton will have nothing to do with the Superman that appears in any “Justice League” adaptation, leaving fans scratching their heads in bewilderment over Warner Bros.’ possible game plan.

Since then, though, it looks like the studio chiefs might have changed their minds a little.

The latest rumors claim that “Man of Steel” will follow the “Iron Man” playbook, dropping hints at a larger universe, possibly even during a post-credits sequence.

Speaking with the New York Post about “Man of Steel,” even Snyder vaguely implied there might be something to the rumors. When asked directly if his grounded take on Superman would be integrated into the “Justice League” universe, the director said, “Um, how can I answer that? I can’t really say anything to that, because that’s a big spoiler. I will say, yeah, they (Warner Bros.) trust me to keep them on course.”

For DC fans waiting for their favorite characters to have a moment in the sun, this is no doubt exciting news. But the rumors don’t stop there.

In November, HitFix’s Drew McWeeny reported that Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who played John Blake in this summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” will “absolutely” return as the new Batman in “Justice League.”

What’s more, McWeeny said, Gordon-Levitt might even suit up as the Caped Crusader before then in a new Batman movie to help set the stage for 2015’s big event.

Gordon-Levitt’s reps denied the rumors “entirely,” but that hasn’t silenced Internet speculation.

From the studio’s standpoint, it would make perfect sense to tie “Justice League” to Nolan’s multi-billion-dollar Batman movies. Even though Nolan stepped away, the open-ended conclusion of last summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” leaves plenty of room for another director to take over without having to reboot the franchise completely.

The big question, though, is would fans be open to the idea of a “Justice League” movie without Bruce Wayne?

The year 2015 is still a long way off, but if all of these rumors pan out, it could be a very interesting year for blockbuster movies — and a very divisive one for diehard fans of the Star Wars and DC universes.

Following the huge success of “The Avengers,” though, audiences shouldn’t be surprised if the Marvel blueprint becomes the new standard for major movie franchises. For better or worse.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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