We’ve all seen the announcements, major events reminiscent of Apple conventions, wherein the stuff of comic books are plotted out in their latest big screen adventures. This year, both Marvel and DC have declared (civil?) war upon movie screens and wallets across America. Over the next six years, there will be over 40 (!) superhero movies featuring the characters of the two comics publishers released, setting the tone for blockbusters for the immediate future to come. On the surface, this sounds exciting – there’s never been a better time to be a comic-book movie fan.
And that might not necessarily be a good thing.
First, the evidence of what is about to come.
In 2015, we’ll see:
- The Avengers: Age of Ultron (Marvel)
- Ant-Man (Marvel)
- a Fantastic Four reboot (Marvel)
In 2016, that expands to:
- February 12, 2016 – Deadpool
- March 25, 2016 – Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
- May 6, 2016 – Captain America: Civil War
- May 27, 2016 – X-Men: Apocalypse
- August 5, 2016 – Suicide Squad
- November 4, 2016 – Doctor Strange
- November 11, 2016 – Sinister Six
By 2017, it becomes:
- 2017 – Venom Carnage
- 2017 – An unannounced Female Character Spider-Man Movie (Apparently Aunt May?)
- March 3, 2017 – Wolverine 3 (Untitled as of yet)
- May 5, 2017 – Guardians of the Galaxy 2
- June 23, 2017 – Wonder Woman
- July 28, 2017 – Thor: Ragnarok
- July 14, 2017 – Fantastic Four 2
- November 3, 2017 – Black Panther
- November 17, 2017 – Justice League
I could keep going. And yes, that’s a lot. Don’t get me wrong, studios have more than ever made a habit of choosing safe, reliable properties that are guaranteed to turn a profit – especially as television and Netflix make the prospect of staying in and marathoning cheap, high-quality content all the more appealing. The franchising/long-play franchising of the superhero stories is part-reaction to the Golden Age of Television/part-financial investment in blue chip stocks that paid off first with Iron Man in 2008 all the way through The Avengers and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Hell, I’m excited to see several of these movies get released.
And yet, I’m skeptical for two reasons…
Overkill is a Reality
Tell me truthfully – are you truly excited for all of these movies? I mean, really excited? Does plumbing the depths of the mystic arts with Doctor Strange or the bottom of the oceans with Khal Drago/Aquaman sound appealing? How about Spider-Man 22: Electric Boogaloo?
The superhero cinematic age really began with the release of Spider-Man in 2002. Since that time, dozens of movies have been released, from X-Men to Iron Man, from Daredevil to Elektra (yes, remember those?). The opening of the Marvel Cinematic Universe changed things, turning a motley collection of blockbusters into a mega-behemoth that dominates movie theaters for months at a time. An extended marketing plan is now the go to.
And yet, there’s only so much attention that we can pay at any one time. Cinema-goers have already started to turn against the Spider-Man franchise, rebooted for God-knows what reason (money) and now bloated beyond belief. The most recent X-Men movie, possessed with more mutants than anyone can shake a Sentinel at, disappointed at the box-office with only $200 million at the domestic box office. Granted, that’s still a huge chunk of money, but still relatively underwhelming. As for DC, Man of Steel disappointed, though not enough to deter them from scheduling their own bloated mega-franchise Justice League movies well into the future. The one saving grace is the MCU, with Guardians of the Galaxy becoming the hit of the year.
As anyone knows, bubbles can grow bigger and bigger until they burst. We’ve seen this in economic terms, and while there’s not as much precedent in cinematic terms, it’s a near certainty that at some point, the movies will grow too large, there won’t be enough economic incentive, and one or more production house will crumble because of this. Granted, this is an extremist viewpoint, but the failure of even one of these movies would have industry shaking results.
Artistic Integrity is Expendable for the Dollar
Again, it’s a certainly cynical point of view, but movies designed to exploit our collective hunger for big budget superhero spectacle are just not as appealing as original adventures. When Iron Man premiered, it was a breath of fresh air, a Robert Downey Jr. romp that said superhero movies could be fun. The Dark Knight said that weighty, atmospheric overkill could be artistic as well. Even Spider-Man was a reaction to the horrors of 9/11, embraced in part because we needed to believe that a superhero could save us from reality.
Now, we’re slowly seeing the darker side of this world. Marvel has low-balled their major players for years (RDJ excepted), and their insistence on complete artistic control drove Edgar Wright away from Ant-Man, a project he had labored on for years. Now, they can’t find anyone to play Doctor Strange. Time was when they cast relative unknowns as Captain America (the Human Torch from the old FF movies!) and Thor (Kirk’s dad from the Star Trek movie!). Now, they seem to have stepped away from that in favor of the hot names of the moment (CUMBERBATCH?) for their lead roles. For a studio playing with house money, this doesn’t bode well.
And don’t get me started on how DC has entrusted their mega-verse with the hands of a man whose greatest achievements to date are commonly regarded as visually stunning but humanly empty endeavors. Throwing money and names at such a project isn’t any way to guarantee success.
Much has also been made of the movies finally bringing forth movies with female (Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel) and minority (Cyborg and Black Panther) leads. While this is good news in and of itself, I find myself sadly skeptical again, if only because their motives seem less to be “we have great stories to tell around these characters” and more “hey, look how progressive we are! we threw these groups a bone!”. Never mind that the first superhero movie that got this renaissance started was Marvel’s Blade back in 1998. Never mind that WB could have made a Wonder Woman movie at any point and it would have made money. It was only after it became a competitive market for money that they finally (grudgingly) promised a movie that, based upon the promotional imagery, doesn’t seem to be doing much to advance feminism.
Guardians of the Galaxy was a hell of a lot of fun, a vaguely original movie that followed the slam-bang structure of every MCU outing released to date that still managed to entertain. (Who doesn’t want a Dancing Baby Groot?) Batman will always be popular, even with Sad Ben Affleck leading the way. There’s still a need for the American People to believe that a superhero can save us, that a man can fly, and that a raccoon can wield a machine gun. I’ll still be watching many of these movies, and probably cheering on many of their exploits.
I’ll just be on the edge of my seat for different reasons. Because the higher they climb, the harder they fall.