Where have all the comic book movies gone? The past few years, as pained and irritated movie critics have so often reminded us, have been chockablock with big-budget movies based on comics, most of them superhero titles. But in 2015, there are only four comic-based movies on the schedule.
Oh, there's no dearth of genre movies to keep geeks and nerds of all stripes happy, myself included. "Frankenstein," "Jungle Book," "Jurassic World," "Mad Max," James Bond's "Spectre," "Terminator: Genisys" — there's plenty of science fiction and fantasy to go around. And let's not forget the much-anticipated "Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens" in December.
However, none of those concepts began in comics (although most of them made it there eventually). From the medium that has given us the biggest blockbusters of the past decade, all we have in 2015 is "Ant-Man," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Fantastic Four" and "Kingsman: The Secret Service."
"Ant-Man," opening July 17, is something of a mystery. The narrative that Marvel Films established for the Avengers movies negates much of the Marvel Comics character's background, so how they'll play the Master of Many Sizes will be a surprise even to those who know a lot about him.
In the comics, Ant-Man premiered in the early 1960s, Marvel's breakout era, alongside Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. Debuting in 1962, Ant-Man was Dr. Henry Pym (the name was a nod to an Edgar Allan Poe story), a multitasking sort of scientist who invented not only a shrinking serum but a way to talk to ants. After launching a career as the superhero Ant-Man, Pym recruited his girlfriend, socialite and heiress Janet van Dyne, as the Wasp, giving her the power to shrink and grow tiny wings, plus a compressed-air, wrist-mounted weapon called "The Wasp's Sting." Shortly thereafter, in 1963, the two of them helped found the Avengers, along with Hulk, Iron Man and Thor.
"What's that?" you say. You don't remember Hank and Jan from the "Avengers" movie? Maybe they were too small to see.
Actually, they were completely left out. Which means that all of the things that happened to Henry Pym as an Avenger in the comics haven't happened in the movies. Including the Ant-Man powers being used by two successors, Scott Lang and Eric O'Grady. Including the invention of a growth serum, resulting in characters (some of them Pym) named Giant-Man and Goliath. Including Hank's evil turn (and later good one) as the character Yellowjacket. Or Pym's invention of Ultron, the evil artificial intelligence, and his subsequent invention, the synthezoid (and future Avenger) The Vision.
Pym's invention Ultron, the mass-murdering A.I. with Daddy issues, will also make it to the big screen — only it's not Pym's invention any more.
"Avengers: Age of Ultron," opening May 2, gives us Ultron as the invention of Tony "Iron Man" Stark. In the comics, Ultron hates the human race, and especially his "father," Pym. His greatest ambition is to wipe out humans, and has come perilously close to doing so several times. Substituting Stark for Pym doesn't substantially change that narrative, and promises a problem even the mighty punching powers of Hulk, Thor and Iron Man can't solve.
Meanwhile, Fox's third stab at Marvel's first family arrives Aug. 8. "Fantastic Four" is even more of a puzzler than "Ant-Man," in that the movie seems to bear only the most superficial resemblance to its source material. For example, in the comics Johnny "Human Torch" Storm and Susan "Invisible Woman" Storm are biological siblings. That won't be the case in the movie, given that the actor playing Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is black, and the actress playing Sue (Kate Mara) is white.
Lastly there's "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which actually comes out first, on Feb. 13. It's a stand-alone story unrelated to any superhero universe, based on a graphic novel by writer Mark Millar and artist Dave Gibbons. It's a sort of "what if James Bond really existed?"
In the graphic novel, Gary is a working-class Brit with a dead-end life who thinks his Uncle Jack has something to do with investigating credit-card fraud. Imagine his surprise when Uncle Jack reveals himself to be not just a secret agent, but a super secret agent, so amazingly competent that nobody has even heard of him or his agency. And he wants to train Gary to join him.
The movie will follow much the same path, as Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recruits loser Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton) to be a "King's Man" just as a Bond-level villain named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) launches his master plan.