[How To Do It BETTER takes a look at films that already exist that could use the tender love and care only a reboot can bring. Some were good, some were…not. Either way, Flixist takes an in-depth look at how to make it better the second time around.]
When writing the 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies I’d Love to See That Will Probably Never Happen, I talked myself into a pretty awesome Howard the Duck film idea. The original is not remembered fondly, and from what I remember it’s with good reason. But with his resurgence in the after-credits scene of Guardians of the Galaxy, a new ongoing series, and a world where everybody loves wacky off-beat characters like Deadpool, the world really is this walking, talking duck’s oyster.
Here’s how to make the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Howard the Duck.
[Warning: there are some spoilers for some Marvel Studios films below]
1. Send Howard to Earth
When we last saw him, our stalwart protagonist (who would be voiced once again by Seth Green) was hanging out in Knowhere with Benecio del Toro’s Collector and Cosmo the Space Dog. That’s all well and good, but Guardians really has captured the market on Marvel’s space-y real estate, and with Captain Marvel’s Kree background, we’ll assuredly get more space stuff there. Howard would be swallowed up surrounded by other extra-terrestrial characters and locales.
So, naturally, we need Howard “trapped in a world he never made.” That world, of course, is Earth. A surly, walking, talking duck on a planet of talking mammals is full of potential humor.
2. No Origins, Please
Why spend two and a half hours dealing with where he came from when you can tell a wacky story (more on that below) out of the gate? Just do like The Incredible Hulk did and get that all out of the way in the opening credits. Even his trip to Earth can be told during the opening titles. Hell, Guardians 2 could deal with that.
The film should start like a film noir, with Howard staring out the window of his crappy private eye’s office drinking a glass of scotch, doing his best Jon Hamm from Mad Men. If you have to do an origin, have him narrate it to the audience during this opening scene.
3. Cast the Right Redhead
If we’re going to go the private duck (ha!) noir direction, you need a dame. In walks Beverly Switzler, played by gorgeous redhead Jane Levy (Suburgatory, the Evil Dead remake). Levy is funny, sharp as a tack, and certainly worthy of the “of all the run-down private eye offices in New York, she had to walk into mine” treatment. We’ll remove the ‘nude’ from ‘nude model’ on her resume, but make her pretty enough for Howard to recognize and even lust after.
You see, Beverly’s photographer boyfriend Chuck has gone missing down in Florida and she needs help finding him. But why come to Howard the Duck all the way in New York? Well, you see, there are some weird circumstances to his disappearance. Something about a swamp, a monster…something a normal private eye wouldn’t take seriously.
So you came to the one PI in New York City that’s a talking duck?
Howard looks down at his feet.
4. Give Them Their Very Own Groot!
So, Beverly pays Howard’s fees and the two set a course for Florida, flying first class (jokes abound). They arrive in Florida, drive out to the small, backwoods town where Beverly’s boyfriend was last seen and Howard does his detective thing. Naturally, it is an uphill battle as he is a talking duck in a small swamp town. But eventually, he gets a lead and they make their way to the swamp where Chuck vanished.
Of course, not before an old man warns them both of the swamp monster that protects his territory.
Crazy Old Man
It’s some sort of…thing…that walks like…like a man!
Howard rolls his eyes.
Like, a Man-Thing?
The old man eagerly nods, his eyes wide.
Crazy Old Man
Just like a Man-Thing!
Disregarding the old coot, the two make their way to the swamp. It isn’t long before they come upon the Man-Thing in all his mossy glory. Howard quacks in fear and pulls out his pistol, which causes the creature to reach out for him. Beverly, she of the steel nerves, puts herself between them. The creature isn’t there to hurt them, she tells Howard. Its simply there to protect something. She explains to the Man-Thing that they are looking for her boyfriend, Chuck. The creature, it seems, understands her, and leads them further into the swamp.
Think Groot, just without the whole “I am Groot” thing. Also, if you’re wondering what the connection is betwixt our feathered friend and a giant plant golem is? Well, fun fact: Howard the Duck first appeared in issue #19 of Man-Thing’s original comic, Adventure Into Fear, and the two have crossed paths on numerous occasions. It seems only right to bring them together for the first time on the big screen.
5. Expand the Universe(s)
Now, I’m sure Dr. Strange is going to make the MCU a little bigger, but if there’s one thing that Marvel has in spades (besides Spider-People, line-wide crossover events, and D-list villains), it’s alternate realities.
Deep in the heart of Man-Thing’s swamp lies the Nexus of All Realities. We don’t know what it’s called yet, of course, but that’s what it is. Before they discuss what it is, something comes out through the other side. Something weird. A vampire ninja, maybe. Or a cybernetically-animated superhero corpse (a la Deathlok, specifically from the Uncanny X-Force arc full of Deathlok heroes). Man-Thing quickly dispatches of the visitor with its massive strength and corrosive touch.
Does that…happen a lot?
The Man-Thing nods.
It would seem, Beverly deduces, that Chuck fell into the Nexus. Howard informs her that he is not getting paid enough and that his own reality is weird enough. Beverly offers to triple her fee and our hero gracefully accepts. Howard, Beverly, and their new friend Man-Thing step through. Things get…weird from here.
6. Give Them a Familiar Bad Guy in a New Context
The trio of unsuspecting heroes find themselves smack-dab in the middle of a war zone. A paltry resistance is crushed by giant war machines, all of which are marked with the HYDRA insignia. HYDRA troops surround our heroes.
A HYDRA trooper tazes him into unconsciousness.
When Howard awakens, he and Beverly are in a high-tech prison cell. Man-Thing is gone, but who should be locked in the cell next to theirs but Chuck (played by someone hunky and relatively popular, like Robbie Amell or the Teen Wolf guy)! Reunited at last, but under fairly dismal circumstances.
A guard comes to take them away. But not just any guard. It’s Ward from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! That son of a gun. He has come to take Howard to HYDRA’s labs to be dissected. It is at this point, upon the cell being opened, that Howard is finally able to display one of his greatest talents: Quack-Fu.
He quickly and easily dispatches Ward and frees Chuck. Beverly is clearly impressed by his martial arts prowess but Howard shrugs it off, the consummate cool cucumber. He wants to escape, but Beverly insists they can’t leave Man-Thing behind. Howard goes to object, but she points out that it’s their ticket home. Guessing that the monster is in the laboratory, the three make their way there.
Along the way Chuck tells them about the reality they’re in. Back in the 40’s, the Red Skull successfully defeated Captain America, and using the power of the Tesseract, took over the world. There are no heroes (even the Asgardians had fallen to the might of the Tesseract) and aside from pockets of resistance like the one we saw upon their arrival in this reality, HYDRA is the world of the day. But Red Skull is not in charge anymore, no sir, his most trusted adviser, Arnim Zola (the ineffable Toby Jones), betrayed him, killed him, and took control of HYDRA and subsequently the world.
Now, obviously this is to get around the Red Skull, Cap, and the rest. But that’s not to say that Ward would be the only cameo, no sir.
7. Make It a Great Escape
Their suspicions are correct: Man-Thing is on the cutting table. The two scientists operating on him? Why, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons, also from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this reality, they, like Ward, have German accents as a result of HYDRA’s global control. The trio watch them bicker briefly before taking them out and freeing the Man-Thing. Unfortunately, Simmons triggers an alarm before Beverly can knock her out. A whole squad of HYDRA goons storms the lab and it looks like our heroes are done for.
But then the Calvary arrives, literally. The wall explodes and The Resistance has arrived, led by none other than Phil Coulson himself. With him are Melinda May (possibly having become Deathlok herself), Antoine Triplett, Alphonso “Mack” MacKenzie, Inhuman Daisy Johnson (Quake, if you’re nasty), and her father Cal, along with a whole squad of rag-tag resistance members.
Who are you?
What’s that stand for?
Been a little busy trying to liberate the world from HYDRA, haven’t had a lot of time to think up acronyms.
With Daisy’s abilities, Howard’s Quack-Fu, Man-Thing’s brute strength, and Coulson’s leadership, they make short work of the HYDRA forces they come up against. But it isn’t long before they come up against the big man himself, Zola, and his number two: an unscarred Crossbones (total badass Frank Grillo). Zola has taken on his familiar form in the comics, a face on a monitor on a robot body. Zola and Coulson exchange words and a big climatic fight ensues. In the fracas, Crossbones is scarred by Man-Thing but left alive (mirroring his fate in Cap 2), Howard very nearly sacrifices himself to save Chuck and Beverly from Zola, and finally, Zola is defeated.
However, the war against HYDRA isn’t over. This was just one of Zola’s many bodies and as a digital consciousness (“cut off one head” and all that), he’s already up and at them elsewhere. The only way to truly defeat him is to find his central consciousness and destroy it. On the bright side, S.H.I.E.L.D. has a Helicarrier now. Coulson offers Howard, Chuck, and Beverly spots in S.H.I.E.L.D. Howard and Beverly decline, but Chuck accepts. Beverly pleads with him to change his mind, but Chuck says he found his calling. They share one last kiss and everyone says their goodbyes. Man-Thing teleports Howard and Beverly to that reality’s swamp and they go through the Nexus.
Wait…you could teleport this whole time?
Man-Thing shrugs its shoulders.
8. Give It A Happy Ending
Howard, Bev, and Man-Thing are back home. Howard and Beverly bid farewell to their jolly green friend and make their way back to civilization. Beverly is obviously still very broken up about Chuck. Howard tries to find the words to comfort her, but gives up and takes a different route.
(sniffles) Yes, Howard?
You wanna grab a drink at that bar we stopped at earlier?
The one you almost got murdered in?
After almost getting turned into roast duck by a Nazi robot with a TV for a face, a couple’a bikers don’t seem so scary in retrospect.
Beverly thinks about it.
You know what, Howard? That sounds really nice. My treat.
She reaches out a hand as they walk. Howard stares at it for a moment and then takes it in his. He looks at the screen and smiles.
9. Get the Tone Right
We’re talking about a sarcastic, angry duck-man here. If anything, Howard the Duck should be a dark comedy first, with action and adventure thrown in to give the audience what they want. People can accept a super-soldier, tech genius, and hunky Norse god. A talking duck detective is going to have it a little harder. There’s all sorts of humor and pathos to be found in Howard’s trials and tribulations, and sticking him in the middle of a warzone is sure to have plenty of comedic opportunities.
10. Get the Right Director
Obviously, James Gunn would be my first choice but he’ll probably have a pretty full dance card by the time Avengers: Infinity War Part II has come and gone. It would be important to have somebody fully capable of big, over-the-top actions scenes, humor, and noir. Honestly, there’s only one name on my least: the unlawfully handsome Robert Rodriguez. He has pretty stellar range and experience with the aforementioned areas between films like Planet Terror, Machete, and Sin City. Sure, next to Edgar Wright he is my favorite director, but there are plenty of good reasons for that.
11. Make the Mid and Post-Credits Scenes Matter
Sure, this is a Howard the Duck movie, but it can still lend itself to good world-building. I think it’s more or less universally agreed that Iron Man 2 is one of the weakest links in the Cinematic Universe’s chain (I, myself, liked it just fine), but I’ll be damned if people didn’t lose their minds when they saw Mjölnir in the desert.
For the mid-credits scene, show us the result of Howard and Bev returning the the bar. Have them both looking exhausted with their beers, then slowly pull away to reveal a bar-full of unconscious bikers. That’s Quack-Fu, baby.
Then, after the credits? Maybe return to the other reality. Arnim Zola blinks to life in a new body, as predicted. He reflects to himself that maybe his time on Earth has come to an end and activates a device. A wormhole opens. Zola smiles.
Next stop: Dimension-Z.
He enters it and the wormhole closes behind him. Cut to black.
Dimension-Z is a world dominated by Zola in Rick Remender’s Captain America, where Steve Rogers ends up in for over a decade. Of course, Rogers won’t be Cap anymore by the time Howard the Duck rolls around, but there’s no reason we can’t adapt the storyline to accommodate for Buck Barnes, the new Captain America (with an 11-movie contract, it’s pretty obvious he won’t be the Winter Soldier forever). It’s a fun dystopian story full of action, adventure, and mad science. We certainly haven’t seen anything like that yet from Marvel Studios! Just imagine: Captain America: Escape From Dimension Z!
12. Can’t Forget the Stan Lee Cameo!
Since Stan the Man is immortal, obviously he will make a cameo complete with requisite one-liner. Maybe as a drunk biker in the first bar scene or the guy in the cell on the other side of Howard and Beverly’s! I can see it now:
Howard looks over at the cell on the other side of his. An OLD MAN with a black eye sits on the prison cot.
What happened to you?
A grin washes over the man’s face.
You should see the other guy!
So, there you have it. That’s how you make a Howard the Duck movie. Lots of laughs, lots of surly sarcasm, lots of action, a liberal dose of easter eggs (Howard: Yeah, we’re on an adventure, alright…an Adventure Into Fear!), and Marvel makes another few hundred million. Aside from Howard’s CG, there’s not a whole lot in the way of budgetary drains, especially working largely with television actors. Despite his decades of relative obscurity, people are already aware of Howard courtesy of Guardians, which is a big step in the right direction. In the hands of a capable director like Rodriguez, with a cast consisting of Green, Levy, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and Kyle Maclachlan, that beautiful son of a gun), Howard the Duck could be Marvel’s next Guardians.
Did I just write the pitch for the first new movie of Phase Five? Am I way off base? Think your Howard the Duck idea is better than mine? Sound of in the comments.