By Glenn Walker
More and more, Hollywood in recent years has been leaning on the comics industry for ideas. Superheroes and comic books are huge on the big screen, and the year 2011 is no exception. We started the year with Seth Rogan's The Green Hornet, which, while not lasting too long in theaters, was much better than this Hornet fan could have ever anticipated.
Here's a date-by-date reference of what's coming up for superheroes and comics on the big screen. I have also included some of the major players in these movies. As you'll notice, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game now extends easily into superhero genre flicks.
April 1: Super
This one isn't actually based on a comic book property, but many folks will probably scream at the similarities with last year's Kick-Ass, and unfortunately, it's not an April Fools joke. Regular guy Rainn Wilson ("The Office) takes on the superhero identity of the Crimson Bolt to rescue his wife from a drug dealer. The flick promises a cast with Nathan Fillion ("Firefly," "Castle"), Kevin Bacon (Hollow Man), Liv Tyler (Lord of the Rings), and Linda Cardellini (All-Star Superman, "Freaks and Geeks"), among others.
May 6: Thor
Marvel Comics' first hammer strike of the summer hits with their resident thunder god's first appearance on the screen, with the next step building to the Avengers movie. Hinted at the end of Iron Man 2, this is the tale of Thor, exiled by his father to Earth from the high-tech magical world of Asgard. It seems everything we thought was just Norse mythology is real, and now the worlds are merging, as evil from that realm threaten ours. Only Thor can save us. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby magic brought to life on the screen in 3D, starring Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek), Anthony Hopkins (Beowulf), Natalie Portman (Black Swan, Star Wars prequels), and directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, star, director, screenplay) -- I can't wait for this one.
June 3: X-Men: First Class
More Marvel Comics goodness in this 1960s period piece prequel to the X-Men franchise. This is the story of Charles Xavier and Magneto's friendship and falling out, and the formation of the first X-Men team. It's very loosely based on the comics, more tied to the movies. Look for James McAvoy (Wanted), Kevin Bacon (busy summer, Kev?) and the near-perfect casting of January Jones from "Mad Men" as Emma Frost.
June 17: Green Lantern
In a summer dominated by Marvel at the movies, this is the one DC Comics fans have been waiting for. Test pilot Hal Jordan is given a magical Power Ring by a dying alien and becomes the Green Lantern, just one of thousands of space police officers commanded by the Guardians of the Universe. He undergoes training by a cadre of other alien cops and then tries to save the Earth from threats within and beyond. Ryan Reynolds, who has previous played Marvel heroes Hannibal King (Blade: Trinity) and Deadpool (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), is in the title role. Peter Sarsgaard (Jarhead) is Hector Hammond, Tim Robbins (Shawshank Redemption) is Senator Hammond, Blake Lively (The Town) is Carol Ferris, Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) is Sinestro, Angela Bassett (Contact) is Amanda Waller, Dennis Heyspert (Jarhead, "24") voices Kilowog, and John Larroquette ("Chuck," "Night Court") reprises his voice role as Tomar-Re (from the animated Green Lantern: First Flight).
This will be a geekfest and serious eye candy -- this is the summer's must-see flick, and the first in what Warner Bros. hopes will be a new franchise.
July 22: Captain America: The First Avenger
The set-up to The Avengers film takes a step back into the past to spotlight Marvel's World War II superhero Captain America. Scrawny Steve Rogers, played by Chris Evans (Fantastic Four's Human Torch, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim), can't serve in the military so volunteers as a guinea pig in the Super Soldier program. He emerges as a fighting machine of physical perfection. He defends the U.S. against the forces of the Red Skull (played by former Matrix Agent and LOTR elf Hugo Weaving) and the Nazis, before ending up stranded in the 21st century. The rest of the supporting cast boasts fanboy cred as well. Included is Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black), Stanley Tucci (Burlesque), Neal McDonough (DC Showcase: Green Arrow, Tin Man), and Dominic Cooper (the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). This one looks great.
July 29: Cowboys & Aliens
This one is based on a little-known 1990s graphic novel where cowboys and Indians in the Old West repel an alien invasion. Iron Man's Jon Faveau directs Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) and Daniel Craig (James Bond) in this Steven Spielberg/Ron Howard production. Other noteworthy players include Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy), Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2, Galaxy Quest), Noah Ringer (The Last Airbender), and Clancy Brown (Highlander, voice of Odin in "The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes," and Mr. Krabs in "Spongebob Squarepants").
No Date Yet: Luke Cage
Another Marvel Studios production, Tyrese Gibson (Transformers) plays wrongly convicted man who escapes from prison after gaining superpowers. This movie does not yet have a release date or a full cast and crew listing, but is currently slated for 2011.
The summer ends the superhero movies list for 2011, but 2012 has a full slate as well. Highlights include Hugh Jackman returning to his best-known character in The Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds reprising his role as Deadpool, and Nicholas Cage returns in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Next summer finally brings The Avengers, what Marvel movies have been building to for the past few years, as well as Men in Black III, the reboot with Andrew Garfield as The Amazing Spider-Man, Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and the year 2012 ends with something called Superman: The Man of Steel. These are good times to be a comics reader, and a film fan.