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Hero Complex Fest: Captain America, Favreau, Downey, Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens, Avengers, Comic-Con

Hero Complex Fest: Captain America, Favreau, Downey, Iron Man, Cowboys & Aliens, Avengers, Comic-Con

Geoff Boucher has a good gig. His Hero Complex print/blog combo gets first crack–along with EW and MTV Movies–at the best access to the top genre movies, including set visits and early interviews. The guy’s a strong reporter–he’s been at the LAT for some 20 years–and his enthusiasm for the Comic-Con universe is genuine. The LAT has been promoing his second annual Hero Complex Film Festival, which took place last weekend.

Sunday night wound up with Iron Man 1 and 2 sandwiching a Q & A with Jon Favreau and not-so-surprise guest Robert Downey, Jr., who were hinting what Boucher eventually nailed: that Universal will premiere Cowboys & Aliens (July 29) at Comic-Con, which is threatening to be light on studio fare this year. (I suspect that with Marvel returning and Sony, Fox, Paramount and Summit playing up The Amazing Spider-Man, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin and Twilight: Breaking Dawn respectively, it won’t matter if Disney and Warners, having shot their wads with Tron: Legacy and Green Lantern last year, opt to sit this one out.)

Nine minutes of footage of Cowboys & Aliens “looked bad-ass,” said Downey. It reminded me of another genre-clashing movie, Rango, in which animated creatures enter the realm of the old west. As much faith as I have in Favreau, the screenwriters, Star Trek‘s Orci & Kurtzman, and Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, this one makes me nervous.

The latest Marvel Captain America: The First Avenger trailer was more promising. With the help of CGI, Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers starts out like one of those puny nerds who need to work out and put on weight, then enters a special government program run by Tommy Lee Jones and turns into just what World War II needs to beat the Nazis: Captain America! “I’m just a kid from Brooklyn,” he says.

Boucher brought on the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who said that they never lost sight of “scrawny inner Steve,” because audiences want to know who the guy is before he changes his costume. They and director Joe Johnston used 30-year-old Raiders of the Lost Ark as their touchstone, as well as the Jack Kirby comics; his family is mired in a legal rights tangle. Boucher interviewed his sons Neil and Steve, who grew up on Long Island and loved watching their father fill comics pages with entire storylines that he kept in his head.

The materials on Captain America have always looked strong to me, as opposed to Warner/DC’s Green Lantern. That trailer plays young and looks like a silly juvenile comic book movie with no relevance to the real world, a far cry from what’s so good about Iron Man. I took note at Comic-Con last July when Ryan Reynolds–who is a terrific actor–delivered the Green Lantern pledge to a gobsmacked little boy in Hall H. There’s obviously a following for a movie like this. But the materials are not selling me. “You aren’t the target audience,” suggests Warner distrib chief Dan Fellman, who insists that the trailer is playing well to all quadrants. No, I’m not. But I know a weak trailer when I see one.

Marvel has tended to be a lot sharper about its movies (protecting their intellectual property and respecting their fans) than DC– and that includes Marvel’s Spider-Man (whose producer Laura Ziskin sadly passed away at age 61 after a long battle with cancer), this year’s Thor and X-Men: First Class and the original Iron Man, which is one of the best examples of how to make a smart movie for everyone rather than a silly movie for young folks.

2008’s Iron Man illustrates why originals are so often more brilliant than their sequels–unless they closely follow existing literary material. In a Q & A in which he praised such collaborators as Marvel’s Kevin Feige, cinematographer Matty Labatique and ILM, Favreau described the ideal scenario in which he and Downey Jr.–who had to test and fight for the role of Tony Stark that made him a star–were creatively free, flying by the seat of their pants, dreaming things up, yet still working within the constraints of the Marvel universe. The minute Downey came on board everything changed, said Favreau, his whole personality informed Tony Stark, and Paltrow and Bridges wanted to play opposite him. On the first, said Downey, “when you have nothing to lose you sometimes take risks. You might as well really make it trippy.”

Favreau believes strongly in hanging on to a real-world grounding, mixing CG with practical effects, and telling his story from the point-of-view of his protagonists. “You have to use CGI to augment reality,” he said, “and not drift to fantasyland…the minute it becomes spectacle it’s no longer a subjective experience.” Favreau liked starting off the movie with Stark in deep trouble, because it builds good will for the character.

When Favreau stuck the Samuel L. Jackson cameo as Nick Fury on the end of Iron Man, it was a last-minute Easter Egg joke thought up by an ILM artist. Director Edgar Wright, who was the first person to see Iron Man and was in the audience Sunday, advised Favreau to place the tag scene after the endless closing credits. But it had long-term consequences.

There was no down time at all between the first and the second Iron Man, which had to follow all the crazy stuff they invented in first one. It was harder to ground the second film in reality, said Favreau: “When it’s not real, you’re juggling chainsaws.” They could no longer do whatever they wanted on Iron Man 2, including two irreverent openings, one written but rejected and one filmed, because “now we had something to protect,” for Marvel and the studio, and had to fit in superhuman The Hulk and SHIELD elements to advance Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which Downey is now shooting in New Mexico. Although Downey started out questioning how Marvel and Whedon were going to “put all these clowns together,” he said, six weeks in, “Joss Whedon is nailing it, it’s going to be great.”

“It will be difficult for whoever does Iron Man 3” said Favreau, who won’t direct but wants to play a juicier role this time. The toughest negotiation “will be Favreau’s day rate,” quipped Downey.

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