There are different factors at work here. Sometimes Marvel doesn’t own their property and the studio needs to make a movie or risk letting the rights revert back. Sometimes it’s other things. I’m gonna try and go through this and hit on as many as possible.
1) Bad Casting Choices – sure there are other reasons to hate Daredevil, Fantastic Four, and Ghost Rider but one thing everyone can agree on is that they were poorly cast. Maybe not the whole thing but enough of it to make it suffer.
Jessica Alba is fun to look at but she’s no Sue Storm.
Ben Affleck as Daredevil, no good. Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider, no thanks. Plus, with that movie, he and Eva Mendes were supposed to he the same age. That was one of the most laughable things in the entire movie.
All three Punisher movies have suffered at the hands of poor casting. Dolph Lundgren as the Punisher was bad. Thomas Jane was better but casting Travolta as the bad guy was kinda lame.
Halle Berry may be an Oscar winning actress but she didn’t do anything for me as Storm in X-Men.
2) Shared Continuity – for the most part Marvel has done a bang up job with sharing characters and overall stories in their movies. But when Thor hit theaters last year it felt like all they were trying to do was introduce the character before making The Avengers. It didn’t feel like a good movie. It felt like a necessity.
3) Recasting Characters – we have three different Hulks now. They’ve all been good. Eric Bana was solid in a weak movie, Edward Norton brought more of what made the old television series great, and Mark Ruffalo was good. The problem is that the audience wants to identify with a character and starts to lose interest when a different actor plays him every time. The character of Rhodes in Iron Man changed actors and it worked alright but he wasn’t the main character. The afore mentioned Punisher has been three actors in three movies. Usually when you recast it means reboot. The Incredible Hulk did well with that, at least, by not wasting a half hour on rehashing a story we already knew.
4) Movies By Committee – comic book movies are big business anymore and studios are throwing a lot of money at them. This is great for the nerd in us all. What’s not great is that the fiscally minded studios don’t think about the creative process. They try to ensure their movie gives them a solid return on their investment. That means they they tell the writers and directors what the have to put in and what they can’t do. Take Spider-Man 3. Sam Raining had a clear idea for the movie, a singular vision. What ended up on screen was a big series of compromises. He was not going to use Venom. He wanted to wrap up the storylines he’d been laying since the first film. But the studio was giving him almost $300 million to make the movie and insisted he make what they said. The result was one of the worst films of that year, and certainly the worst Sam Raimi film by far.
The shared continuity of the Marvel films is also a movie by committee idea. The heads of Marvel studios say “we want this done so we can do this in another movie. We can’t do this here because we need it over there.” There’s very little the writers and directors can do but hang on and hope for the best.
5) Studio Ownership – because Marvel didn’t start out as their own studio they sold rights left and right to whoever wanted them. New Line owns Blade. Fox owns the entire mutant line, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Sony owns Ghost Rider and Spider-Man. This can be both good and bad. Sony rushed to make another Ghost Rider because they wanted to keep the rights, and they’re reboot of Spider-Man happened for the same reason. It was only a decade ago we got the first Spidey movie. They’re planning reboots of Daredevil and Fantastic Four right now…all because they don’t Marvel to be in charge of Marvel’s own product. We’ve already seen a reboot of X-Men last year.
6) Choose Your Directors Wisely – I’m talking mostly about Mark Steven Johnston. After the Daredevil debacle someone actually thought it was a good idea to hand him Ghost Rider.
And Ang Lee making an indie movie that just happens to be a giant green rage monster, bad choice.
I’m a fan of Kenneth Branagh. I have enjoyed his work for years. But he was out of his depth with Thor. It may have seemed like a good idea on paper but the stuff set on Earth fell flat. It seemed Branagh was only interested in Aasgard.
One good thing about having different studios own certain Marvel properties is that we get more product than we would otherwise. Last year we had Captain America and Thor from Marvel proper and X-Men First Class from Fox. Marvel only wants to commit to one or two movies a year so having characters at other studios can help when you’re jonesing for more comic book movie goodness in a summer.