Next year ushers in a wave of new superhero flicks, but the comic-book boom is going to backfire.
By Eric McInnis, Arcadia University
The summer of 2012 was one of the most important summers ever for Hollywood, thanks to “The Avengers,” a grand finale to a master financial plan.
The film was a massive crossover between dozens of other characters from Marvel Comics, including Iron Man, Thor, Hulk and Captain America, with each character getting their own standalone adventure. While all the films were standalone features, all of them led up to one big event, not dissimilar to episodes of a TV series building up to a grand season finale.
And “The Avengers” broke major records, becoming the first film to gross over $200 million in its opening weekend. Such an important milestone did not go unnoticed by Hollywood, as studios now had confidence in creating cinematic universes, where standalone films and characters could combine, crossover and share the same universe, meaning the events of one character’s adventure also took place in the same world as another character’s adventure.
Fast forward five years later, and said shared universes have now become important parts for the profits of many film studios, to the point where the concept of shared universes has even appeared in television. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is still continuing to this very day, but has now managed to appear on television, with shows like “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Jessica Jones.” DC Comics has created two separate universes, both in film with the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), featuring films like “Suicide Squad” and “Man of Steel,” and the Arrowverse, home to television shows like “Arrow” and “The Flash.”
20th Century Fox has film rights to the X-Men series, and is now using the franchise to launch solo adventures for characters, like Deadpool, and introduce spin-off teams, like The New Mutants and X-Force, to cinemagoers. Even Sony is planning to create a shared universe with the Spider-Man characters, only this time, Spider-Man won’t appear, since he’s contracted to appear in the MCU movies now. So, instead of seeing Spidey fight against characters like Venom, said villains will be off on their own adventures.
Yeah, I don’t really get it either.
Of course, with such a huge surge in popularity and content, there’s much to enjoy for fans, especially in terms of upcoming releases. But, I feel that we may have gotten to the point where there’s just too much. To put things into perspective, this year will have six superhero films based on comic book characters. A little packed, especially since the release schedules for all of the upcoming films are either one month apart (“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Wonder Woman” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”) or even two weeks apart (“Thor: Ragnarok,” “Justice League”), but it’s hard to really qualify the genre as being overplayed when the number is still relatively small, especially compared to other film genres.
In 2018, the superhero genre will have films like “Black Panther,” “New Mutants,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Deadpool 2,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Venom,” “X-Men: Dark Phoenix,” “Aquaman” and “Animated Spider-Man.” In case you didn’t count all the films listed, 2018 will have nine superhero flicks. Actually, there’s a currently untitled DC movie expected to come in July of that year, so unless the untitled production gets delayed, audiences will have ten superhero films to watch throughout the entire year.
I don’t know about you, but there seems to be just a hint of overkill. And it’s not like some of the following films will be cheap or low on the studios’ priority list, so audiences won’t have to put up with big movie after big movie. Every film I mentioned will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars, in both production and advertising, so I’m expecting audiences to be bombarded with similar money shots and trailer music pulled from a studio intern’s playlist in an attempt to make the movie seem “fun” or “exciting.” Will audiences really want to see so many flicks about super-powered humans fighting make-up-clad bad guys attempting to take over the world in a single year? Will there be “Batman and Robin”-like casualties in the box office?
That question is still unknown, but as a film fan, I’ll likely feel burned out by the seemingly endless pile of upcoming features. Now, I’m not saying I hate the genre. In fact, I like most of the superhero films made within the last few years. I enjoy the MCU for their fun action scenes, likable cast and incredible visuals. I really enjoy the X-Men films, and think there are many stand-out elements that make some of them genuinely great action flicks.
I even enjoy some of the films in the much-maligned DCEU from an unironic standpoint, thanks to some fun action and ideas that might not meet their full potential, but still take on some of the possibilities. But, right then and there’s the issue. I “enjoy” them. I “like” them. I have a good time. But it’s been getting harder and harder for me to say I “love” them, or that I’m a “superhero fanboy.”
Marvel seems to have focused more and more on creating films that are almost identical to one another, following the same story of arrogant characters being forced to understand humility and become a hero, and featuring the same exact problems: forgettable villains; an endless amount of gags and quips which, more often than not, aren’t funny and are so cliché that they could be said by any other character; and sequences that are only there in order to set up other movies and don’t enhance the story of the actual film.
Films like “Iron Man 2” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” have scenes and sequences that do nothing but set up other upcoming films, because the producers felt telling people to check out some of their upcoming features they poured hundreds of millions of dollars intp was more important than telling a cohesive story.
DC isn’t any better, as while the films in their shared universe don’t seem as homogenous as its rival (although that statement is premature since the franchise is only three movies in), “Batman v Superman” added in Wonder Woman for no other reason other than to put another famous hero in the poster, and added in a scene in which the heroine did nothing but look at one-minute QuickTime videos showcasing the powers of The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. I mean, Warner Bros. is making a Justice League movie, so why not shove four other superheroes into a movie that already has two superheroes in the bloody title?
“Suicide Squad” featured an entire team of antiheroes, all with their own backstories and personalities, so why not just add more characters and put in some Batman and Flash cameos for good measure? Their only purpose is just for audiences to say, “Hey look, it’s a character I recognize,” but at least we can generate some more headlines.
And it’s not like anything major is going to happen from a character standpoint. Almost all the actors have contracts that span multiple films, so I know none of the characters will die. Margot Robbie is expected to play Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad 2” and “Gotham City Sirens,” and I’m sure Warner Bros. wants to make a solo movie about her or feature her in “The Batman,” so it’s hard to really get invested in the danger she’ll face in these upcoming movies when you know she’ll be back later doing the same shtick.
While the X-Men movies are trying to differentiate themselves with each iteration, and Sony’s idea of a cinematic Spider-Man universe without Spider-Man is strange but could miraculously land on its feet when all’s said and done, they aren’t the ones making billions of dollars. They aren’t the ones everyone goes to. Rather, it’s the universes that play it safe, cram in as many characters as possible and act more like commercials than films that will reign supreme in the box office.
I’m sure many people will say I’m being too harsh on the genre, or that I’m being too nitpicky, but the thing is, I don’t like having to criticize these movies. On their own, I’m usually entertained with what they offer, and I can only recall being disappointed with my viewing of a superhero film twice within the past couple of years. In fact, there are plenty of superhero movies I love, like “Logan” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
But, with how much the most recent movies play it safe, and with such a massive surge of said films, the majority of which are falling into the tropes I hate, it’ll be hard for me to really be confident in saying that I will be truly blown away with the next batch of superhero adventures. Eventually, with all the superhero movies audiences will be seeing, fans may become critics sooner rather than later.