Marvel-ous Movie Deal Will Relaunch Captain America

Marvel/Paramount agreement will render as many as 10 films in eight years.

Paramount Pictures is feeling red, white and anything but blue these days, as the studio has reached an agreement with Marvel Enterprises to distribute a Hulk-sized slate of feature films including one showcasing iconic superhero Captain America.

The deal, which also gives it the rights to hard-nosed Howling Commando leader Nick Fury, could include as many as 10 films over an eight-year period, all to be produced by the legendary comic-book organization.

Marvel, leader in the recent comic-book-to-movie explosion that has seen such bestselling characters as Spider-Man and the X-Men transformed into movie stars, will be taking a different approach from the shared productions of its previous films. The Paramount deal specifies that Marvel's budget for each film will range from $45 to $180 million, and that none of them can be R-rated. The first flick is expected to be released in 2007 or 2008.

Since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998, Marvel has strapped on its cape and soared high in Hollywood. To finance the Paramount slate, it arranged a line of revolving credit worth half a billion dollars, secured against the rights to Cap and the other heroes. The agreement is the first major deal overseen by new Paramount Chairman/CEO Brad Grey.

"Marvel has become a marquee entertainment brand," Grey said in a statement. "It speaks to Marvel's strength in the marketplace and the great popularity of its brand and characters that Marvel can obtain such innovative financing for its film slate. We are thrilled to partner with them in this new venture."

Although the identities of the other eight superheroes will remain secret for the time being, the news that a Captain America film is moving forward will undoubtedly excite fans of the heroic shield-wielder, Marvel's greatest success during the so-called "Golden Age" of comics.

Designed as a manifestation of patriotism, Cap's debut preceded the nation's entry into World War II and quickly took off thanks to the public swell of pride that followed the Pearl Harbor tragedy. Appearing on the cover of "Captain America" #1 punching Adolf Hitler square in the face, the character was the alter-ego of rejected soldier Steve Rogers, whose injection with a mysterious liquid turned him into the superhero.

Captain America has had his share of ups and downs over the years, as comic artists have attempted to revive his popularity with fresh storylines while keeping the character frozen in an often unsympathetic haze of national pride. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, the character enjoyed a newfound relevance while inspiring Marvel fans with storylines that had Cap battling terrorism and mourning at Ground Zero.

Nick Fury, although lesser-known, is similar to Captain America in many ways. A soldier who wears an eye patch to cover up a Nazi-induced battle wound, Fury's path has crossed with Captain America's many times over the years, including those post-9/11 comics.

Fury also shares one unfortunate similarity with Cap: both characters have been previously exploited for low-budget, poorly received '90s attempts at stardom. In 1998's "Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD," no less than David Hasselhoff himself brought the cigar-chomping super soldier to life; a 1991 "Captain America" movie cast the less-hairy Matt Salinger as our hero, but failed to do anything but dull the sheen on Cap's shield.

With a library of more than 5,000 characters, Marvel Enterprises would seem to have plenty more movies to make, alongside Paramount or any of its other studio partners. Fans will no doubt be hoping that they have enough sense this time around to keep Hasselhoff away.

(MTV's parent company, Viacom, also owns Paramount.)

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