Op/Ed - Movie Mulligans, What Else Hollywood Should Do-Over

Hulk vs. Hulk

Last Sunday, Father’s Day, while playing golf with my father-in-law, I stepped up to the tee on the Par-5 12th hole, took a huge cut with my Nike Sasquatch driver…and hit the ball about 20 feet, coming up just short of the ladies’ tee.

So, doing what a lot of Sunday afternoon hackers do, I took a back-9 Mulligan and promptly cranked it 250+ yards down the middle of the fairway.

It was exactly what Marvel just did with a certain Jade Giant. The Incredible Hulk’s $54 million debut weekend not only resuscitated the movie career of Bruce Banner’s ill-tempered alter ego, it’s given Hollywood reason to consider second chances for comic book projects that were sound in idea, but lousy in execution. The Wash. Rinse. REBOOT is suddenly the hottest thing to hit Hollywood since the three-picture, first-look production deal.

What are the odds some exec at Warner Bros. heard a pitch this week for a new spin on “Catwoman”?

Bad movies used to have a limited shelf life. Once they flopped, they would simply fade away into the netherworld of late-night cable viewings and get buried deep within our Netflix queues.

In comic publishing, when a Nova or Dazzler, or even a more established character like Hawkman, would succumb to low sales, they would disappear for a long time. One long-time comic book editor referred to characters being "radioactive". They’d get the occasional weekend furlough for a guest-appearance in Marvel Team-Up or Brave and the Bold, but only when the stench of failure had faded would they get a chance to rejoin the big boys in the sandbox.

The Hulk made a comeback after just five years, proving wrong those skeptics who felt not enough time had passed to make fans forget about Hulk Dogs and Nick Nolte.

Who says we geeks can’t forgive or forget?

The Hulk isn’t the first comic dude to go under the cinematic knife for a little nip/tuck. But only the Caped Crusader’s reboot with Batman Begins has been an unqualified success until now. Thomas Jane and John Travolta couldn’t do any better than Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gossett, Jr. did with The Punisher. And the fact that Bryan Singer is still trying to convince Warners to sign off on a sequel tells you all you need to know about how effective Superman Returns was.

But considering Hollywood’s copycat nature, Old Greenskin’s revival could open the floodgates for more movie Do-Overs. Intriguing, isn’t it? Genre films in general are so hit and miss, every fan has one or two movies they’d like to see redone. Logan’s Run, Aliens vs. Predator, Reign of Fire (how do you not show the dragons torching Manhattan??).

But comic book movies being so popular now, they offer greater – and faster – potential payoff.

Who’s out there that could get a second chance. And who actually deserves one?

Before we begin theorizing, a few rules to follow for any reboot candidates:

- The original films have to have been either critical and/or commercial flops (that’s right, so even a commercial hit like the putrid Ghost Rider is eligible).

- There needs to be a specific reason for the original to have failed (i.e. didn’t stay true to the source work, bad casting, lousy script).

- There needs to be some genuine interest for a reboot (So please deposit your screenplays for new versions of "Steel,” “Judge Dredd,” “Tank Girl,” “Brenda Starr,” “Barb Wire” and “The Phantom” in the receptacle by the door)

Based on that, here are the five most likely candidates for rebooting, starting with Daredevil.

We’re talking about one of Marvel’s Old Guard, one of its most grounded-in-reality characters, with a history of rich storylines. The 2003 film wasn’t terrible, but writer-director Mark Steven Johnson’s fanboy-ish determination to squeeze in too many plot threads and an absurd number of in-jokes ultimately ruined it.

Marvel Studios’ brain-trust should ditch the S&M dungeon red leather jumpsuit, get an actor to play Matt Murdock who’s not dating a paparazzi fave and hand the franchise over to a director like Peter Berg or Joe Carnahan. Jon Favreau could ace this project but a clean break is needed for any reboot and since he played Foggy in the first one, he’s out. And leave Elektra out, too. The ill-conceived spinoff with Jennifer Garner ruined that character.

But the first Daredevil made $102 million despite awful reviews. Imagine if the film would have been any good?

Supergirl is also one to consider for a makeover. (Please hold your flaming bags of loathing and ridicule ‘til the end. You’ll have many more chances, believe me)

The character is too iconic to go unused, and the 1984 Helen Slater monstrosity came out nearly a quarter-century ago. Modern-day special FX make it much easier to put the character in an appropriately ‘super’ setting. Give her a better villain than an over-the-top Faye Dunaway, someone she could have a big-league girl-fight with, and this could be very entertaining. My one warning would be to stick with Kara Zor-El and avoid the entertaining but convoluted Peter David ‘Linda Danvers’ version.

Then there’s the Fantastic Four I know what you’re thinking. Why reboot a franchise that’s earned more than $600 million worldwide since 2005? Because not even the studio is interested in a third film, despite those gaudy earnings.

As disappointing as Ang Lee's Hulk was, I think the Fantastic Four movies were even bigger letdowns. Go to your LCS and ask people which FF film they liked the best. Chances are most will say The Incredibles

I doubt Marvel could pry the rights from 20th Century Fox, but if they could, they should go the Hulk route and skip the origin story and dive right into the latest adventure. Recast everybody along the lines of the original wish list, which had people like George Clooney in mind. And make sure to put someone in a purple suit and cosmic helmet so the ‘Galactus as a big threatening cloud of doom’ fiasco can be exorcised from our memories.

The FF is one franchise that should be put away for a few years before any revival is considered. Because worse than disgust and derision is indifference, and that’s exactly what Tim Story’s lackluster films left fans feeling. Same reason why we likely won’t see a Ghost Rider 2 or Constantine 2.

I mentioned Catwoman earlier but don’t hold your breath for Selina Kyle getting a big-screen starring opportunity. Halle Berry’s fetishistic 2004 movie was terrible on a historic level. You’d need a studio chief with a hefty bank account and adamantium cojones to greenlight another Cat-chick flick.

Michelle Pfeiffer proved in Batman Returns that Catwoman works best as a supporting player, not as the focal point. Let her appear in an upcoming Batman movie and leave it at that.

My last pick is…wait for it…Howard the Duck (remember when I told you to hold your ridicule? Now you can let ‘er rip).

Why on Earth would I think the most notorious comic book disaster in history deserves a second chance? Well, it did fail with fans and critics, it completely disregarded the original satirical concept the late Steve Gerber created, did a lousy job of casting and, being a George Lucas production, of course it had a lousy script.

No, I have yet to come across a ‘Remake Howard the Duck’ website, but wouldn’t it be cool to see Howard rebooted in an indie film, ala American Splendor? In fact, Paul Giamatti could voice a CGI Howard and co-star with Vera Farmiga or Laura Linney.

I’m telling you, done the right way, an edgy, ironic Howard the Duck would play for months at the Angelika here in NYC.

As we talk about second chances, the Punisher gets a third try at multiplex success in December with Punisher: War Zone. If this one bombs, Frank Castle’s movie career will be dead. Not Jean Grey dead. Not even Bucky dead. Uncle Ben dead.

But don’t worry, Lexi Alexander. Not to fret, Ray Stevenson. No pressure. No pressure at all.

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