Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few years that has been a big trend in superhero movies. We are now at a stage where 3 or more come out every year, the question is do we need them? How will they keep us entertained? How can they differentiate themselves from the crowd?
Please enjoy this discussion and leave your thoughts below:
To get started here are all the Superhero films being released in the near future (starting this year)! Deep breath everyone!
- Deadpool (Fox/Marvel) aka Mr Pansexual Sweary Fourth Wall
- Batman vs Superman (DC) aka Discount Civil War
- Captain America: Civil War (Marvel)
- Suicide Squad (DC) aka Harlequin and ”Not Heath Ledger”
- X-Men Apocalypse (F) aka The Other Jennifer Lawrence Franchise
- Dr Strange (M) aka Magic Sherlock
- Wolverine 3 (F) aka The last movie before Hugh Jackman collapses under the weight of his own pecs and biceps
- Guardians of The Galaxy 2 (M)
- Not Black Widow Part 1 (DC) aka Wonder Woman
- Spiderman (who knows?) – no not Tobey Maguire, no not him either… It’s Tom Holland
- Thor Ragnarok (M)
- Justice League Part 1 (DC) aka Team Up Time
- Black Panther (M) aka slowly dragging superhero diversity into the 21st century
- The Flash (DC)
- Avengers Infinity War Part 1 (M)- I HATE HARRY POTTER FOR STARTING THIS 2 PART FILM NONSENSE
- Antman and The Wasp (M) aka Tiny Tim and his gang of criminal stereotypes
- Untitled Fox/Marvel film (read X-men/X-Force/Gambit/Deadpool 2/ god knows what?)
- Aquaman (DC) aka not Seaman and Swallow
- Animated Spiderman film
- NOT BLACK WIDOW Part 2 (M) aka Captain Marvel
- Shazam (DC) copywright infringement as he was formerly known as Captai Mar-vel
- Avengers Infinity War Part 2 (M)
- Justice League Part 2 (DC) YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
- Inhumans (M)
- Cyborg (DC) aka not Robocop or Ultron
- Untitled Marvel Film
- Green Lantern (DC) aka Deadpool’s worst nightmare
- Plus 2 more untitled Marvel films
Which at my count makes 29 SUPER-HERO FILMS! AND THIS DOESN’T INCLUDE ALL THE SUPERHERO TV SERIES:
- Jessica Jones
- Luke Cage
- Iron Fist
- The Defenders
- Agents Of Shield
- Legends Of Tomorow
- Agent Carter
This is a lot of films, now you could argue that there would be twice as many action or horror films in the same length of time. But super-hero films are a much more specific type of film; they stand on and represent a set of principles and ideals and are meant to inspire and amaze audience. And as such with 6 films/ year they will need to do something to differentiate themselves from the crowd. The question is DO WE NEED THIS MANY?
Now to prefix this, I love superhero films; they are exciting, full of heart and a brilliant spectacle. And while they do not all hit the mark in terms of a cinematic masterpiece they are all a lot of fun!
Superhero films overcame their first obstacle right out of the gate with Nolan’s Batman Begins and Iron Man for the MCU. They got well respected and talented actors to play the leads roles, lending a certain weight to the projects which made people to sit up, pay attention and give the films a chance. This trend has continued with even the small bit parts being played by A-list actors. At last count there are 23 OSCAR WINNING and 28 OSCAR NOMINATED actors involved with comic book projects alone (this excludes any production/writing/directing nominees). Unsurprisingly with this great depth of acting talent, and well rounded supporting casts, the performances are never an issue. The performances bring the heart, emotion and often the fun to these films.
Now a good cast can only work with what they’re given and if not given the best screenplay, there is only so much they can do. There is a wealth of source-material to pull from, up to 60 years of material in fact. There are so many arcs and characters that we could have a never ending stream of comic book movies until 2100! Although I think once we reach Squirrel Girl (M), Arm Fall Off Boy (DC) and Matter Eater Lad (DC) maybe we should call time of death!
The first major problem with super-hero movies is related to this. All of the studios have a huge roll-out plan for their extended universe’s with over arching themes and arcs to span years. Which means they want to have tie-ins, links, easter eggs, foreshadowing , cameos, and Stan Lee (DC gets a free pass here) splattered all over each movie. And while these can be harmless, like Howard The Duck at the end of Guardians, they can also cause serious problems. Take Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a solid film. Not Marvels finest and not Marvels worst. One of the many reasons it suffered were the ways it was trying to play lip service to set up future films: visions for Thor 3 and Infinity War, Wakanda and Klaus for Black Panther, Hulk disappearing into space for whatever reason. This takes time away from real character development resulting in 2 hours of continuous action spectacle…which is exhausting. *SPOILER ALERT*Especially since it meant we had no real incite into the Maximoff Twins but were then expected to cry when of them died? By the way the Maximoff twins are DEFINITELY..I REPEAT…DEFINITELY NOT MUTANTS.
Then you get things at the opposite end of the spectrum; poor/curve ball writing choices like Black Widow and Hulk falling in love in Ultron, the entire X-men Last Stand film and Thor films outside of Loki. Which the best actors in the world can’t do anything about
The result of this is that each film tries to up the stakes, the spectacle and the CGI in an attempt to feel new, interesting and relevant. When in fact, creating a smaller, human story would be a much more captivating and thrilling film. Is it any wonder that that best comic book films tend to be more at home in other genres: Captain America: Winter Solider is a thriller, while the Dark Knight is an out an out crime film, even Ant-Man is a heist film. Granted, Avengers 1 and the better X-men films are very much super-hero films but they thrive on a human heart and witty humour (especially Avengers) and not on Michael Bay Explosions and super-hero landings.
These tropes are so familiar and hard to avoid that even Deadpool, the most self-aware comic movie around, managed to fall into the same tropes whilst taking the piss out of them!
Granted there are often some great action sequences, (like the gem below) but with 6 films a year potentially relying on this back-up plan, how long until it gets tedious?
The other perhaps more troubling problem with these movies? Directing. It is inconsistent, now I realise it is unrealistic for the same director to do all the movies in one universe. But for every true hit movie there are usually a couple of misses! Consistency in the quality of director is crucial, poor direction makes a poor movie no matter what the rest of the film production is like. This then effects the appearance and quality of the whole universe, due to the studious insistence on interconnection. Here are some examples:
- Incredible Hulk – Lous Letterier – Critically poor background
- Iron Man 3 -Shane Black – Inexperienced
- Thor: Dark World – Alan Taylor – who?
- Captain America: The First Avenger – Joe Johnstone – acclaimed director of JURASSIC PARK 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Brian Singer has made great X-men films, James Gunn and The Russo Brothers produced some of the best Marvel films (both of which were surprising efforts). Although it remains to be seen how the latter two will fair on their second outings. As both Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon (both acclaimed directors) created amazing first entries to the cannon. Yet studio intervention, pressure and scale resulted in the 2nd films which were good but unable to reproduce the magic a 2nd time around. Especially in Whedon’s case (1min 15 onwards).
I believe that to avoid superhero burnout we need to focus on smaller, grounded, personal stories within the grand scale AND directors must be held to a higher standard. Choosing experienced and quality directors who will make the smart choices. GRANTED even this does not guarantee success, take the first Thor and its director Kenneth Brannagh, an acclaimed Shakespearan director and actor; but an average film at best. But with all these movies vying for the limelight it is an issue which has to be addressed.
This brings me to Batman vs Superman. FULL DISCLOSURE I HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET. I am excited to see the film and will go in open-minded but I am not surprised by the luke-warm critical reception it has received:
- They are trying to set up a super-hero team up in one movie, something that took Marvel 5 films. This probably means screen time will be spread too thin between all the plot lines and tie-ins leading to forced cameos and exposition and probably poorly explained motives.
- The cast is strong and the acting will be great (especially excited for Batfleck) but this can’t save a movie if it’s already flawed.
- Zack Snyder. If we are all honest has he ever made a really good movie? 300, is solid. Watchmen is okay but far too long. Suckerpunch is a bizarre fever dream. All 3 are style over substance. His debut Dawn of the Dead remake is probably his best bet but still isn’t great. So why are people surprised when he doesn’t suddenly pull a cinematic masterpiece out of his backside?
Like I said I will go in open-minded and will probably enjoy the film, even find lots of praise for it. But will I love it the way I love other super-hero movies or even other movies in general? Probably not!
Now the future for super-hero movies does look promising, the casts continue to grow in talent. There are some exciting releases to come this year with Civil War (YAY SPIDERMAN), Suicide Squad and the emergence of magic in the MCU with Doctor Strange. After which, the super-hero genre is finally beginning to embrace diversity with the first African-Amercan and female lead movies being released in the near future. There are also some great directors attached to new exciting projects: David Ayer (Training Day) for Suicide Squad, Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station and Creed) for Black Panther and the Russo‘s have several films in the works.
But only time will tell if this film movement is a flash in the pan or whether it will last. But as long as audiences keep bringing in the huge profits you can be sure to see a lot more leotards over the next few years. Lets just hope the experience can always feel as new and exciting as it still does now!
Let me know your thoughts below!