From Spider-Man to The Avengers, films based on Marvel comics have often dazzled us with their crazy visuals and interesting character design - whether it's been faithful to the comics or something entirely different. As Thor: The Dark World approaches release, we thought we'd look at the very best concept art for the Marvel universe...
It's a fascinating problem: how do you stop an unstoppable mutant? Well, you harpoon him again and again, until he resembles a hedgehog with multiple chains dragging on his body. Oh, and make sure to poison some of those darts, while your trained ninjas haul him to a stop and give the poison long enough to work.
This dynamic piece of concept art shows the vast crowd of fighters surround the adamantium-boned mutant and start swinging; the finished film showed the faceless mass using less risky tactics and doing the Wolverine as much damage as possible from a distance before they risked closing in like this. You have to admire their commitment to avoiding having their limbs sliced-and-diced.
There's an interesting change between concept art and finished film here. In this visual, Steve Rogers confronts Loki inside a sumptuously-appointed opera house (do those red-and-gold columns remind anyone else of The Fifth Element?) while in the finished film they meet on the street outside.
While part of us is a little sad that we didn't get to see these surroundings - where, after all, the Asgard-raised Loki would feel right at home - the outdoor scene does allow a little more space for Iron Man to fly in and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s shuttle to hover overhead without causing any structural damage to the building.
While it looks like Thor and Loki are facing off atop a crashing ship or possibly surfing a wave made entirely of fire (hey, maybe fire surfing is a thing if you're from Asgard!) we're pretty sure that this is in fact an early visualisation for the Rainbow Bridge that connects their home to the rest of the Nine Realms. Both costumes and setting were tweaked following this artwork, but it's still recognisably from their final punch-up on the edge of the bridge.
In a world where many action sequences take place at night (it seems to be easier for the CG) it's a rare film that shifts one of its bigger set pieces into the light. But that's what happened judging by this concept art for Shane Black's threequel, with the crash of Air Force One near Miami pictured here on a dark and stormy night, whereas the finished film sees the same sequence take place in the middle of the day. Either way, the sight of Iron Man desperately trying to catch plummeting crew members in a human chain is still pretty darn cool. Our only concern here is that it looks like the jet itself is about to crash downtown.
Anyone else sort of wish that we'd seen this version of the Lizard onscreen? While the finished design of Dr Kurt Connors' scientist-turned-reptile has smaller hands and a face that looks more similar to Rhys Ifans' (the better to allow for performance capture and human emotion), this one is much scarier and somehow a little more convincing as monsters go. We worry, however, that this lizard might need some orthodontic work; definitely some protrouding teeth there.
It was during this scene, watching The Avengers, that we realised that the film would capture all the giddy comic-book joy of watching your favourite superheroes knock each other about. Here, director Joss Whedon managed to think up at least a semi-plausible reason for the three to fight (Thor challenges Cap and Iron Man for custody of Loki) and unleashes a gleeful punch-up that seriously damages quite a lot of prime logging land. By the end, everyone's gained a modicum of respect for one another (OK, we're not sure that Stark took that lesson onboard) and they agree to work together for the moment. Why, it's almost like they're becoming a team!
A few things about this picture of the Guardians Of The Galaxy team. First of all, this iteration of Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) looks significantly different to even the early rendering we saw at Comic-Con, so we think that we'll see a thinner and smaller-headed version of the cantankerous critter onscreen next year. Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the green-skinned assassin on the right, will probably not wear that cloak the whole time, and we're 100 per cent confident that Star Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), is going to take that mask off for quite a lot of the film. As for Groot (Vin Diesel, assuming he makes the deal) and Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Groot can change size in the comic so may well loom that large, but we're pretty sure that Drax is far away rather than small in this picture. Those stars in the sky, too, are of interest; we're guessing they're spaceships of some sort, possibly belonging to Nova Corps since their logo is roughly the same shape.
Here's concept art that very clearly reflects the cast - Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow could be photographs - and which very clearly informed the finished shot. This was the moment where the camera spun around the six Avengers, back-to-back as the Chitauri threatened to overrun New York, and the sextet looked liked total freakin' heroes. This is also a design that was reflected in the poster, but that's less successful and makes Captain America look approximately 30ft tall. At least he's more proportionate here.
This comes from the scene where Black Widow takes on a (possessed) Hawkeye in the underbelly of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, and applies a "cranial readjustment" that overcomes his conditioning. The finished fight scene takes place on more of a catwalk than this enclosed corridor (although Black Widow runs through something similar while fleeing the Hulk), but the moves here are familiar. It's not the most Jeremy Renner-alike drawing of Hawkeye that we've ever seen though, but perhaps artist Andy Park was playing with the character a little; he did a very good Renner here.
Say what you like about the finished film (and you probably already have) but this is a cool piece of concept art. The flames emerging from Ghost Rider's skull are slightly less garish than the very bright yellow of the first film, while his jacket looks less like leather and more like cooling lava - a texture that was carried over to the finished film. Combined with Nicolas Cage's shamanic acting, it should have worked well - if only there were any sort of coherent plot to go with it.
It's almost a pity that there's a sort of divide in this picture, the line of rising smoke from the rubble separating Captain America from the more familiar site of G.I.s pinned down by sniper fire. After all, we'd rather see him up close and defending the average soldier, and in fact one of the film's great triumphs is that it repeatedly shows his efforts to use his super soldier serum-granted abilities to shield his fellow man. No wonder this was slightly tweaked for the montage of his efforts that we see in the film, but the superhero-meets-Saving Private Ryan vibe is still wish fulfilment at its finest.
This is an absolutely fascinating, almost blueprint-style design for Green Goblin's helmet, and one that's better than the much-derided finished version for our money. All that circuitry hints at interesting things going on in the extended cranium, and the mouth is positively scary. You can also see Norman Osborn's eyes behind the visor, which gives back some of the humanity that could be lost with that mouthpiece. But we're not sure how they would justify the weird mix of high-tech and organic without major changes to the plot mechanism whereby he becomes the Green Goblin.
Astronomers, it's time to try a little harder. This is what a real observatory looks like: golden, gorgeous and somewhere between perpendicular Gothic, Art Deco and space age. It should also, for preference, come equipped with a hulking gatekeeper who can see anywhere in the Nine Realms and has extremely good posture while standing around all day with a sword and wearing a crazy helmet. If Earth's observatories looked like this, we'd all be more interested in science.
Here's Hawkeye posing rather coquettishly to show off his costume in Avengers (although he's not as winsome as in many of these images) and who can blame him? This art is pretty close to the finished costume, with the main difference a built-in quiver rather than strap-on version. His hair looks like he's Duke Nukem, but aside from that it's all good.
The Thing is a little smaller than the sketch here, and his head is more proportionate, which we imagine is down chiefly to the limitations of the size of the prosthetics that Michael Chiklis had to don daily. Beyond a certain point, the latex, foam and other substances forming his rocky skin essentially stop the actor from moving, which is never ideal onscreen. They've also made the trousers less shiny, which seems wise: you don't want to end up with The Thing looking like Olivia Newton-John in Grease.
There's a vaguely samurai feel to this armour. It's more enveloping than the comic-book Whiplash, which has a gladiatorial one-shouldered look, and in fact looks quite a bit like the first film's Ironmonger with his heavy and massive iron ensemble. But we suspect that shot of Mickey Rourke's face has just been lifted from a photo - surely that's cheating!
Always one of the more bizarre mutant powers out there, even as a secondary mutation, Emma Frost's ability to turn into "organic diamond" is a difficult one to put onscreen. You can see some of the stages they experimented with here, and the difficult task of turning a woman into a diamond without making her look like a refuge from a wire-frame video game. How does diamond hair behave? These are the questions with which the unfortunate concept artist have to wrestle.
One of the more infamous decisions in the Marvel canon was the move to put 'Hulk Dogs' in the Ang Lee / Eric Bana film. Dr Bana Senior (Nick Nolte) used gamma radiation to mutate a pitbull, a bull mastiff (this one, if we have our dogs straight) and a poodle (just for giggles, presumably) and turn them into a force to be reckoned with as he tried to recreate the effect of his treatments on his long-lost son. Turns out the dogs are no match for Hulk. David Banner should have known that. Hulk is the strongest one there is, after all.
Helicarrier: it's the only way to fly. When you absolutely, positively have to dominate any armed force that could be sent against you, it's really the only option. After all, this thing can travel comfortably by sea or air and carry a heck of a lot of armaments either way. Fun fact: the number "67" is also the designation of the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier, so this may be a nod to that ship.
This is the shack to which a very young, and talented, actress led the unwary Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in Avengers, only for him to be recruited by Black Widow. This looks almost identical to the finished shack, and let's face it: if you're inviting Hulk over, the last thing you want is a building that's carefully constructed and structurally sound. Hulk does, after all, smash.
This is one of the Leviathans, the cybernetically-enhanced beasts pressed into service by the Chitauri (we assume. They might have volunteered) and armoured to serve as both troop carriers and weapons in their own right. These were created for the film and don't exist in the comics, but in the now established film continuity we know several things. First, these are big, ugly and not very good at navigating the narrow canyon streets of New York. Second, they are as susceptible to Hulk's punching power as the next giant beastie / building / mountain range.
An early look at one of Black Widow's coolest moments in Avengers, this comes shortly after she uses a boost from Captain America to board one of the Chitauri's chariot-like vehicles and take control of its pilot with a well-placed knife. You get a slight impression here of the original golden lustre that the Chitauri had, before director Joss Whedon and his team decided that they looked too gaudy and dialled the colours back to something more grey.
This is maybe a better look for Venom than the one the film eventually used. Here, it's utterly clear that he's a sort of evil twin to Spidey himself, with the eye shape and webbing - as well as the chest logo - clearly echoing our friendly neighbourhood hero, just as casting Topher Grace instead of a body-builder as Eddie Brock played up the similarity to Maguire's Peter Parker. But everything's twisted just a little out of whack: the eyes look torn and stretched; the webbing's tattered and veinier than Spidey's costume, and the texture underneath looks like flayed muscle rather than the web slinger's neat honeycomb.
If one of the Frost Giants from the finished movie mated with the Kaiju they called "Knifehead" in Pacific Rim, this would be the result. We rather like the idea of these ridged ice helms, but the almost tentacular-looking hair dos in the finished film perhaps stand a little further apart from the bizarre helmets on display in Asgard, which might have been the chief criticism to this look. And at least the body art made the cut.
Anthony Hopkins foregoes headgear for most of the running time of Thor, and here's why: it's a bit OTT. This helm design did make it onto one of the maquettes produced for the character, but Odin's costume was changed considerably to more closely echo Thor's own design, and ended up with less intricate etching so that it would better stand out against the none-more-intricate observatory of Asgard.
Everybody loves Loki, so here's a little more from him. That pony tail had to go - it gives the helmet a more Grecian than Norse vibe - but otherwise the costume here is pretty similar to the finished product. What he's holding, the fantastically-named Casket Of Ancient Winters, became a little more space age and a little less Viking after this picture. Perhaps someone decided that the source of the Frost Giant's power should appear a little more high-tech than it does here.
Believe it or not, this concept art shows Heimdall on a dress-down Friday. The costume we see onscreen is even more heavily gilded, and if we're not mistaken his everyday sword is even bigger. Either way, it's a confident look, a look that says, "Yeah, I'm wearing a ridiculous hat that would be a bit much for a royal wedding, but do you really want to make something of it?"
That's Wolverine, with biker jacket and backpack, and he's clearly visiting the facility at Alkali Lake where he received his adamantium upgrade. This is a key location in the X-sequel, which sees Wolverine investigate the facility on his own near the beginning (to no effect) and return for an epic and traumatic confrontation with Brian Cox