The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, an American entrepreneur who would not discover the success he dreamed of until his 50s. It was then that he encountered the first McDonald’s, a bustling enterprise in San Bernadino, and worked with the owners to franchise the concept across America and then the world. Eventually, he took over the entire corporation, forcing the original creators out and making himself one of the richest and cementing his legacy in American business and culture. It’s a fascinating tale and one that The Founder tells with stunning style and purpose.
While The Founder may not have been a big hit upon its opening weekend, it’s not for a lack of talent or effort. Unfortunately, it appears to have been a victim of studio mismanagement and poor timing. What should have been an Oscar contender has been left to wallow in January. It may still have more to give than a chance for all of us to catch a great, underappreciated flick this weekend though. The Founder is a story of American business, big personalities, and “true”-ly legendary happenings. It also parralels the story of Marvel Comics in all of these aspects.
The Founder lays out a model for the telling of the Marvel story and shows how such a tale could be just as fascinating as the superhero stories they sell tickets to today. Here’s why some smart producers ought to be looking at this as an opportunity to tell the story behind the heroes.
A True American Story
Movies have been using the phrase “Base on a true story” for decades. It’s for a good reason too. We love to see stories about what can really be done or, at least, what seems possible. Whether it exposes the good or bad of humanity, “true” stories are easier to believe and accept than those filled with fantastic characters for many. The great thing about the story of early Marvel Comics is that just like the early expansion of McDonald’s, it’s a true story that’s 100% true.
Sean Howe’s history Marvel: The Untold Story has been praised both for its research and enthralling narrative. Every bit of the company’s history is packed with tantalizing anecdotes and drama, enough to form the foundation an entire television series. The early years are especially potent with events occurring on a monthly basis. It’s a story about people with big dreams, a company with a big future, and fictions that would encompass the world. And it’s all true.
Bigger Than Life Characters
The Founder wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the personality of Ray Kroc. Love him or hate him (and the film definitely leans towards the latter) he was able to fill an entire room with his charisma and ego. No matter how successful or influential a company may be, a story is only as interesting as its characters. The men and women who populated Marvel Comics in the 1960s were absolutely fascinating.
Everyone knows Stan Lee as the charming huckster and renowned writer of many Marvel creations, but he’s far from the only leading man in this story. Both Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were just as essential to the early success of Marvel Comics, if not more so, and came with their own big personalities. Kirby was a hard-working family man with a penchant for chomping cigars and thinking of so many ideas he could barely drive a car. Ditko was an eccentric objectivist who pulled ever deeper into his shell leading to bigger philosophical proclamations and conflicts with colleagues. Any one of these three men could be the star of a film, together they’re a trio that absolutely must be explored.
The Stuff of Legends
True events and big personalities aren’t enough to make a great film; there has to be something more. That’s something the story of Marvel Comics has though. The Founder isn’t just about the growth of McDonald’s, in fact it’s not really about that at all. It is a story about capitalism, innovation, and corruption. If you have a chance to see The Founder, you’ll notice parallels to many modern narratives in and out of business. What makes it a great film is that it’s about so much more than what’s in the synopsis.
That’s true to the founding of Marvel Comics and it’s explosive growth in the 1960s, as well. It was a time in which the rules surrounding intellectual property were vague and the company was just as likely to go under as survive for another year. Knowing the outcome doesn’t make those days any less treacherous or the coming conflicts any less disastrous. There are many parallels between those early days at Marvel and the same at McDonald’s. While some might seek to cast villains and heroes purely, the situations were complex and help expose the complexities found in creation, advancement, and success. Those ambiguities don’t just make for some good stories, they also make for the sort of legends that never grow stale.
Marvel: The Untold Story
No matter how The Founder fares in the weeks ahead (hopefully better once the word gets out), it does lay out a clear path to success for Marvel Comics to follow. Pitching the concept of “McDonald’s: The Movie” may not be easy, but the world has never been more interested in the heroes of Marvel Comics than they are today. There has been talk of a fictional film recasting Stan Lee as a superspy, but that’s so much less interesting than the real story behind the early days of this comics juggernaut.
All of the elements that make The Founder so compelling are easily found within the history of Marvel Comics, as well. A quick read of the early chapters in Marvel: The Untold Story make it clear just how much potential can be found in the lives of creators like Kirby, Ditko, and Lee. What they accomplished has continued to shake the comics medium, the superhero genre, and the American entertainment industry. People care about what they accomplished and the story of how they did it is every bit as fascinating. Yet for many that story remains untold; it’s about time that a studio changes that and gives these creators a fair shake in theaters right alongside the heroes they created.