IT'S AN AMBITIOUS PLAN: Build a cinematic universe as interconnected and grandiose as the ones found in comic books. Every month in comics, Batman and Superman team up or the Hulk tears Wolverine in half; in Hollywood, different studios own different characters, so it's unlikely the X-Men will ever meet Spider-Man, or that Ghost Rider will ever appear in anything besides another fantastically shitty Ghost Rider movie.
Marvel Entertainment's trying to do something different: This weekend's release of Iron Man 2 moves the company one step closer to a series of unified franchises. Next up: 2011's Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, followed by 2012's The Avengers, which'll bring together Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, and probably wrangle in Edward Norton to play the Hulk again, too. (Remember how he did that a few years ago? But nobody cared 'cause they were watching Robert Downey Jr. being awesome in Iron Man instead?)
The Avengers is supposedly gonna be directed by Buffy/Firefly/let's-not-talk-about-Dollhouse mastermind Joss Whedon, the pied piper of nerds the world over. And, already seeing the potential of mega-blockbusters to come, Warner Bros.—which owns DC Comics—has tapped The Dark Knight's Christopher Nolan not only to oversee a new Batman flick in 2012, but also to try to put some life back into the Superman franchise that Bryan Singer attempted to kill back in 2006.
Admittedly, and like everything else having to do with Hollywood, it's mercenary—if DC and Marvel's publishing models are any indication, it's only a matter of time until fanboys and general audiences alike will have to watch numerous superhero movies in order to get one complete story. But there's also promise and potential here, of the sort rarely seen in Hollywood: big-budget blockbusters planned out well in advance, made thoughtfully and with genuine talent behind the camera (Nolan and Whedon aside, Thor's currently being directed by Kenneth Branagh). Will The Avengers XIV: Whiplash's Revenge or Superman vs. Batman III: The Return of Egghead sweep the 2042 Oscars? Eh, probably not. But hopefully they'll have a bit more thought behind 'em than Catwoman did.