2016 Will Make or Break the Future of Comic Book Movies
How is this trend still running hot? I’d expected the bubble to burst some time around 2010, when we’d had the best of big name heroes and indie fare come and go to varying success. The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Watchmen, Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Kick-Ass were out the gate, and even lesser known titles like Wanted and RED we getting made. At the time it seemed like we’d peaked. Getting bigger and better wasn’t feasible. Obviously I was wrong. With Age of Ultron having just spilled out on the screen and fifty-seven more comic book movies on the slate it seems to be an unstoppable juggernaut.
Can this comic book movie train really keep building up speed, or is it going to derail? If it’s going to go of the rails it’ll be in 2016. The movies we know are coming out make this inevitable. Why? Let’s take a look.
Let’s bring up Age of Ultron again. That movie was awesome. Cool characters, fun villain (not one we expected from the trailer, mind you) and lots of action. So much action, in fact, that it’s beginning to get difficult to distinguish it all from previous action scenes in the half dozen other super hero movies out lately. They’re coming out with such frequency that they’re beginning to blend together. There’s only so much choreography, CGI effects and big sweeping camera shots to put together in the short time between releases. Part of the problem here is Marvel have a very set style to their films regardless of who’s directing. This is why Edgar Wright, who has a very distinct and unique style, wound up stepping down from Ant-Man. It’s the flip side to Kevin Feige doing such a phenomenal job of co-ordinating the massive cross-over Marvel Cinematic Universe.
When Captain America: Civil War lands next year, it’s not going to be a Cap movie like Winter Soldier – focused on the main character with Black Widow as back up. This is going to be more on par with The Avengers. Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon will be be back, along with The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Iron Man, Vision, War Machine, Scarlett Witch, Ant-Man, Cross-Bones and General ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross. Not to mention the first appearances in this universe of Spider-Man, Black Panther and Helmut Zemo plus Martin Freeman in an unspecified role. That’s more characters than Age of Ultron, which was supposed to be the big cross-over event. Yes, it’s going to be awesome and we are absolutely going to see it but we have learned from the past that any big name series will hit a point of diminishing returns. Age of Ultron is still in cinemas, but currently sitting about $200,000,000 box office below The Avengers. Unless Civil War does something pretty gosh-darn amazing we can assume it will be bringing in less.
By the time Doctor Strange (also in 2016), Black Panther, Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, Daredevil (with Punisher and Elektra joining the show), Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones and another Guardians of the Galaxy are piled onto the plate the average punter isn’t going to have much interest left for The Infinity War parts 1 and 2.
Keep in mind that todays market is almost completely dominated by Marvel. DC only had one major release the past few years, Man of Steel, and it divided the audiences and didn’t break any records. Undeterred DC are throwing everything they have into the ring. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice may be something to be excited about if all we were getting is what’s on the box: Batman and Superman. It’s one of the all time great mash-ups in the comic world and even a hit and miss director like Zack Snyder could give it a fair shake (more on that right here). But they’re not giving us just that, they’re playing catch-up with The Avengers. Rather than a stand alone story with a wrapped up conclusion, this is part one of the Justice League series, meaning we know exactly how the titular conflict is going to end, and they have to introduce Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg, Lex Luthor and the Joker among others.
At a point when fatigue with the Marvel franchise is starting to set in, we’re doubling up on big team mash ups by running the Justice League series side by side. But that’s not all…Fox is in the mix with their Marvel owned properties.
X-Men: Apocalypse is set to come out next year, being the third part of the trilogy. One of the three X-Men movie franchises that is (the original, the prequels and the Wolverine spin-off series). One thing that makes X-Men comics difficult to dive into is the tangled mess of timelines, alternate universes and time travel malarky. Days of Future Past brought all those problems into the cinematic version of the comic and the way it ended could’ve been a wrap. Instead they’re rebooting and recasting a bunch of characters from the original trilogy while carrying on form the prequels. It’s getting messy, especially for non-comic viewers trying to distinguish all the unrelated comic book movie franchises, not helped by things like the Quicksilver run around. If I had a dollar for every time I explained why that happened to people…
On top of that we have Deadpool and Gambit inhabiting the same universe, with Colossus stepping from the X-Men movies into Deadpool. This film is a bit of wildcard, and one of the few films that might break up the increasing repetitiveness. A superhero movie packed with foul language, brutal violence and inane comedy without trying to make a statement about superhero psychology could be the perfect antidote to the increasingly serious (Marvel) and dark (DC) mainstream output. That’s if they pull it off. Like Harley Quinn many producers seem to be of the impression making the character act ‘wacky’ is enough…an approach like could make the movie the Poochy the Dog of the comic book movie trend.
As to Gambit, all we know is that Channing Tatum is in it and it’ll be out in a year.
On the topic of wild cards, Suicide Squad is also in the mix. Like Deadpool this is set to throw a spanner in the works by giving us a darker, grittier superhero team up. That might stand out in the market if DC weren’t trying to do that with every movie on their slate. On the other hand we’ve got a good cast playing a good ensemble of characters, most notably the perfectly cast Margot Robbie bring Harley Quinn to life for the first time. As an avid Harley Quinn fan, this is the project I’m most interested in next year, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather see in the role, but she’s also the most likely character to be misrepresented. So far they’ve shown us Quinn being quirky and sexy (granted that’s all the comics have been giving us lately), and we hope they deliver more than that in the final product. Hopefully Suicide Squad will be an evolution of the genre and not a gimmick. Trailer looks good.
The last film on the books for 2016 is one that has surprisingly not been canned yet. Sony were so confident of Amazing Spider-Man 2 keeping the franchise flame alight (to be fair, we were expecting something better) and had lined up about half a dozen extensions to the franchise. These included a stand alone Venom and Carnage movie, a spin-off based on an unidentified female protagonist and, for 2016, a Sinister Six movie. This was supposed to be building on Amazing Spider-Man 2s Green Goblin and Rhino with the hinted at Venom, Doctor Octopus, Vulture and Kraven the Hunt before pitching them at Webhead in the next AS-M film.
After the critic panning of the last film, the character being rebooted (again) for his involvement in Civil War and the fact that Sinister Six has no casting, no director and little more than a draft script we can assume that it’s getting canned. Honestly this is the best thing for it, as running two versions of the Spider-Man franchise would be even more ridiculous than recasting and rebooting the character for the second time in three years.
Side note, taking the red and blue spandex away from Andrew Garfield is a big mistake. Garfield and Emma Stone were the only things that worked in AS-M2, and they’re losing out because of the shitting script and direction.
In summary, 2016 is going to give the superhero movie trend a shake-up or a break-up. And evolution or a recession. Audience fatigue and diminishing returns are already setting in. Civil War and Dawn of Justice will need to up the stakes and re-enforce our emotional investment and Deadpool and Suicide Squad will be needed to add some flavour. If they can’t do that than the franchises will become unprofitable all the best we can hope is that they die a hero instead of living long enough to become the villains.
P.S. There’s also a Fantastic Four movie. That’s as much as we care.