Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz have written two of the summer's biggest movies, Thor and X-Men: First Class. How did they go about translating these comic-book icons into two-hour movie scripts?
Stentz and Miller explained to us how they went from writing for Fringe to adapting two Marvel Comics properties. And exactly why putting an X-Men film in the 1960s made sense.
How did you manage to score the gigs writing for both Thor and X-Men right after leaving Fringe? Did both gigs come around the same time, or is it just a weird fluke that both films are coming out the same summer?
Miller: It's a fluke. We wrote THOR in the winter of 2008-2009 while we were on T:SCC. We were offered X-MEN after we left Fringe, but in part because we already had a different script assignment from Fox. We left Fringe to pursue features, which seems to have worked out okay.
The X-Men are often used as a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement, but X-Men: First Class actually takes place during the era of MLK. Given that this is a much more repressive culture, where difference of all sorts is less tolerated, how does that change the way you think about the mutant struggle for acceptance?
Miller: That sort of thing certainly runs through your mind, but you can't make the movie about that. You can't even make the movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's layered into subtext - although oddly in this case, I think it's more explicit with respect to attitudes toward women. Even that is very small.
Stentz: I think the MLK-Malcolm X dichotomy has always been in the Singer X-Men films...he even has Magneto say "By any means necessary" at one point! But actually setting an X-Men film during the Civil Rights Era, which coincided with this wonderful, crazy period of technological optimism and possibility, opened up the storytelling in a lot of ways. Partway through the process, we realized that what we were writing in many ways had the vibe of a 1960s Connery Bond film, which was something Matthew Vaughn really responded to in the material and ran with. He just did a wonderful job of transplanting the X-Men into a whole jet age, swingin' London, Civil Rights, JFK New Frontier era.
Also, should we be calling that plane the Blackbird, or just the SR-71?
Miller: Call it whatever you prefer. In the script, the first X-jet is actually a modified XB-70. That appears to have changed on its way to the stage, although never in the pages.
Stentz: Yes, in our drafts, the original X-Jet was a prototype of the XB-70 Valkyrie, my favorite Cold War superjet of all time. It was changed to an SR-71 fairly late in the game, but I admit it would have been nice to see that crazy Mach 3 stainless steel bomber on the big screen.
Thor is one of those characters that a lot of comics writers don't seem to know what to do with, ever since the awesome Walt Simonson run. How do you make this larger-than-life but also kind of silly character cool? How do you resist the temptation to make Thor "relevant" or emo? Were there any particular runs on Thor that you guys found helpful in getting a handle on the character?
Miller: Walt Simonson was a huge influence. So was Mark Millar, in terms of how Thor was presented in action in the Ultimates 1 and 2. I'm a huge fan of Thor, which I think is key. I believe in his emotional reality, so it's not hard to translate that into a script. That's the key with any of these movies — find the emotional reality and dramatize it. That gives your characters weight and your stories value. It's as true for Thor as it is for Derek Reese.
Stentz: What did they used to say in the 80s? "Let Reagan be Reagan?" We just tried to let Thor be Thor, because there's a really strong, defined core of that character that comes through loud and clear across the decades, whether it's in the space opera of Simonson, the epic hero of the Fraction one shots, or the more grounded version in the JMS run. And honestly, we also went straight back to the source when thinking about and writing Thor— the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlson and various Norse myths, which are so vivid and memorable themselves. Those Norse storytellers knew what they were doing when they paired a strong man and a clever man as friends, brothers, and rivals.
Note: This is an excerpt from a much, much longer article that we ran a while back, which you can read here.