The movie rights to Marvel's superheroes are famously divided. 20th Century Fox plans to build a cinematic universe around the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, which are the Marvel franchises whose film rights Fox controls. Sony is working on a similar masterplan for Spider-Man and his related characters. Marvel Studios retains the lion's share of characters and has already built its cinematic universe around characters connected to the core Avengers team.
And then there's Namor.
Earlier this year, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that the movie rights to the Sub-Mariner are locked up at Universal. There's been no word since 2006 that Universal is doing anything with him, yet Marvel has made three Iron Man movies, two Thors and a Captain America in that amount time.
Universal, it's time to pull your finger out. Here's why.
- Namor by Gerald Parel
Movie studios love franchises. A successful franchise takes so much of the stress out of having ideas! Universal has two established hit series in the Bourne movies and the Fast & Furious movies and a nascent juggernaut in the Despicable Me movies, and it hopes to awaken a sleeping giant with the fourth Jurassic Park movie in 2015. What it doesn't have is a superhero.
You probably don't need me to tell you this, but superhero movies are kind of a big deal. Fox, Disney, Warner Bros. and Sony have all released hit superhero movies in the past eighteen months. Universal's contribution? Kick-Ass 2, one of the few recent superhero bombs.
That Universal holds the rights to a superhero and hasn't used him seems perplexing, especially as neither Warner Bros. nor Disney is ever likely to offer them any other established DC or Marvel heroes. The Bourne franchise is on shaky ground since transitioning from Matt Damon to Jeremy Renner; the Fast & Furious franchise may stumble (but won't fall) following the tragic death of Paul Walker. Universal could use another hero, and it only has one.
- Namor by Simone Bianchi
Namor is complicated. He's arrogant, cantankerous, and sometimes villainous. He's not a squeaky-clean paragon like Superman or Captain America, nor a bad-boy vigilante like Batman or Wolverine, and those are the easy ones to sell. He's actually more haughty than Tony Stark, and about as weirdly alien as Thor.
None of this is an obstacle to making the character work on screen. In fact, Namor's mixed human-Altantean heritage and his status as a prince in one world and an outsider in another provides as clear and compelling a dramatic hook as any character could ask for. He has cause to hate the human world, but he has a connection to it as well.
Movie adaptations often bring clarity to the ideas that make characters like Thor and Iron Man work. Arrogance gives Namor's arc a place to start, and heroism gives it a place to end. Namor is complicated, but his story is obvious.
- Invisible Woman and Namor by Jae Lee and Jose Villarubia
Wet. Ripped. Frequently shirtless. There is a certain cross-market appeal to Namor.
Here's a secret that superhero movies seem to have uncovered: a lot of women like to look at handsome men on the screen. This is in direct contradiction to everything our culture has trained us to believe about how women only care about babies, shoes and romance novels and do not have anything resembling lustful urges. It turns out that women enjoy the visual stimulation provided by attractive people just like humans do! Who knew?
Putting guys like Hugh Jackman, Henry Cavill and Chris Evans in movies seems to expand the audience. Putting both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston in a movie may have played a part in the 48% female audience for Thor: The Dark World. And none of this shameless pandering/equality seems to have driven the old male audience away.
Namor is a pretty easy sell for a broad audience. Imagine Channing Tatum in tiny green fishscale pants, or Matt Bomer. My left-field casting suggestion? Zac Efron. Wet. Ripped. Frequently shirtless.
Side note: The movie would probably also feature half-naked women.
- Namor by Gabriele Dell’Otto
Underwater filming is difficult and expensive. Even creating the effect of being underwater presents technical challenges. These obstacles may be one of the reasons Universal is holding back.
Once you get under the water, there's a whole world to explore. Fox is trying to build a universe around the X-Men; Sony is trying to do the same with Spider-Man; Universal only has one hero, but he already comes with a world to explore. Atlantis is a rich setting ripe with stories; it comes with its own mythology, its own superpowers, its own villains. It's Asgard meets Pandora meets wherever Star Wars is. Baloo? And people have already heard of Atlantis!
As one of the first superheroes, Namor can claim a back-story that covers everything from mystic cults (the Serpent Crown) to Nazi fanatics (Lady Lotus), to mutated humans (Tiger Shark), plus a whole host of indigenous rivals like Warlord Krang, Llyra and Attuma. None of these are A-list concepts, but that's never held Marvel back.
- Namor by Mike Mignola
And then there's the Horn of Proteus. Namor pre-dates the Fantastic Four, but returned to prominence in that book's pages at a time when Marvel was bridging the gap between its 1950s monster comics and its 1960s superhero comics. The revived Namor brought with him a horn that could summon giant underwater monsters, and thus the mythology of Marvel's Atlantis includes its own kaiju.
Now, Pacific Rim was a bigger hit overseas than in the US, and giant monster movies have a slightly spotty box office history, but surely no-one could deny the appeal of a movie that pairs superheroes with giant monsters? Heck, the Avengers movie tried it, and those Chitauri space worms were nowhere near as cool as a Kirbyesque whale-beast, or a scaly seven-headed elder god.
Namor is basically a sexy Hulk who wrestles Godzillas. What's not to love?
Unfortunately there is one reason Universal should not make a Namor movie...
- Namor versus Black Panther by Gary Frank
Last year Marvel's Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada remarked that he thought the rights to Namor had already reverted to Marvel. He was wrong. It seems reasonable to infer that the rights may revert back soon, in which case Marvel might integrate Namor into its cinematic universe just as it plans to do with the Daredevil TV show on Netflix.
I would prefer a unified Marvel universe. I want Namor to be part of the same world as the Avengers, side-by-side with Thor and Iron Man and, one day, Dr Strange. If Universal won't hurry up and make a Namor movie, I hope the rights hurry up and lapse.
Marvel hasn't announced its plans for 2016. If Universal can't give us a Namor movie by then, I hope Marvel can.