Marvel Hires Hollywood Heavyweights For Slate Of Superheroes

Jon Favreau to direct Iron Man flick; Captain America, Nick Fury also in works.

With fan anticipation for new "Spider-Man," "Superman" and "X-Men" adventures reaching a fever pitch, moviegoers are seemingly more eager than ever to watch superheroes fly, swing and battle their way to the big screen.

In response, Marvel Studios has announced plans to recruit a super-powered collection of movie-making veterans impressive enough to make an Avengers assembly pale in comparison.

"We are incredibly excited to be able to attract some of Hollywood's top talent to help Marvel launch the first wave of our independently produced film slate," Marvel movie producer Avi Arad said in a statement announcing the news.

Arad, the overseer of such film franchises as "Fantastic Four" and "Spider-Man," has hired "Elf" director Jon Favreau to handle the big-screen adaptation of armor-plated adventurer Iron Man. Favreau, an occasional actor and enormous comic-book fan who earned a small role in Marvel's "Daredevil" flick, recently displayed a knack for action with "Zathura."

In addition to the Favreau announcement, Arad established an aggressive strategy assigning several of Marvel's most famous characters to some of the top writers in the movie business. The hope is that this future group of films — made independently of the big studios some regard as the reason for duds like "Elektra" — will allow Marvel to utilize its own finances while remaining closer to the formula that has earned its characters decades of comic-book success.

The most high-profile of these soon-to-be-adapted flicks is "Captain America," based on the shield-tossing superhero that was at one point the most popular title in the Marvel universe. "Road to Perdition" writer David Self has been hired to tell the story of America's super soldier, trapped in modern times with a sensibility from his '40s heyday. Self's arrangement with Marvel also has him working on script adaptations for underwater superhero "Namor, the Sub-Mariner" and the futuristic cyborg story "Deathlok."

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"These screenwriters and directors are at the top of their game, and each brings a unique passion for the individual characters and projects they will be working on," Arad said of the assignments. "Our goal is to combine great characters with exciting action, and we've assembled a team who will do just that."

One of Arad's more controversial assignments goes to "X-Men: The Last Stand" screenwriter Zak Penn. Penn will write a new Incredible Hulk film, a project certain to be viewed skeptically by the fans and critics who turned green with disgust over the 2003 clunker "Hulk." Despite some rumors of straight-to-video intentions, Marvel is developing the film as a traditional theatrical release.

Another iconic Marvel hero finally gets his moment in the sun with "Thor," based on the decades-old comic adventures of the Norse thunder deity. "Poseidon" screenwriter Mark Protosevich will raise his mighty pen into the air for the project, which would mark Thor's first film appearance (a TV series was developed and then abandoned several years ago).

Following in the footsteps of his frequent collaborator Captain America, super spy Nick Fury is also due to receive his own feature film. Action/adventure screenwriter Andrew Marlowe ("Air Force One," "Hollow Man") will take on the eye-patched agent, whose sole live-action manifestation until now has been a 1998 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff.

Finally, Marvel Studios has recruited the irreverent view of English writer Edgar Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") to bring his dark humor to the story of "Ant-Man." Wright will also direct and produce the story of Dr. Hank Pym, a biochemist who uses particle manipulation to shrink himself into a tiny but powerful superhero.

With the exception of "Iron Man" (which Favreau hopes to put in front of cameras early next year), most of the writer assignments represent an early stage in a process that will likely take several years of development. Still, Marvel's announcements are big news for moviegoers wondering which new heroes will rise once Spidey, Wolverine and the rest run out of steam.

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