Is Marvel’s strategy a bad thing for superhero films?
The other day I came across an article whose argument was basically that the Avengers have ruined the Hollywood concept of a superhero movie. Essentially, the fact that all of the lead up movies to the Avengers were all connected-yet-separate and then there’s this big movie that tied them all together which became a huge thing. And now it’s happening everywhere. DC is doing it by bringing in Batman, Wonder Woman, and who knows who else in the second Man of Steel movie, Sony is doing it with Spider-man with two more sequels in the works and they just announced that their two spin off movies are about Venom and the Sinister Six. Even Fox is getting on board with The Wolverine teasing Days of Future Past which connects the First Class franchise to the first trilogy and have already announced Age of Apocalypse in 2016, not to mention the fact that they’re also supposedly tying the Fantastic Four into that universe somehow. The question is basically asking if the days of the stand-alone superhero movie are gone and these movies are becoming more like comic books, only a part of a much bigger whole that will only end when the money stops. Not only that, but it’s becoming the only model, and that’s a bad thing. Personally, I think it’s a good thing and for more reasons than just getting more superhero movies, which I’m all for too.
I think at first glance, this boom of superhero movies inspired by the Avengers means that the market is becoming more homogeneous with a slew of carbon copies coming out one after another. But this just isn’t true. I think the perfect example is what’s generally being referred to as Marvel’s “Phase 2”: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Besides the fact that they don’t like using numbers anymore, let’s take a little bit of a closer look at some of these titles. Iron Man 3 is probably the closest to what most people think of as a traditional superhero movie, it takes place on Earth, there’s a single hero and his allies fighting against a single villain and his minions with plenty of action and some sci-fi elements to explain the super powers. Thor: The Dark World is much more like a Sci-Fi/Fantasy movie full of sword (and hammer) fighting, elves, spaceships, portals, armor, and of course action. It’s too early to tell for certain, but Captain America seems like it has a large amount of political intrigue between the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D., Captain America, and how they want to handle the “enemy”. And while it’s really way too early to tell, but based on what I do know about it, Guardians of the Galaxy will be heavily weighted towards sci-fi with aliens, spaceships, and it might not even take place on Earth at all. And there’s quite possibly a large comedy influence coming from James Gunn, especially when Marvel is lighthearted at the best of times, and it’s got a talking Raccoon in it for goodness sake.
Even within a single franchise, there are all sorts of subgenres represented within the overall superhero genre. And what honestly does excite me is the fact that the two spinoff titles Sony has announced are Venom and the Sinister Six. Even though these properties are probably only in the scripting stage, I think the fact that these are based around villainous characters is a big deal. There have been quite a few anti-heroes based on comic book superheroes, but there has never been a movie centered around a comic book villain before, and what I hope to see is that it is actually based around the villain’s perspective and not just a spinoff movie called “The Sinister Six” which is really just “Spider-man vs. the Sinister Six”. What I’m saying is that the Avengers isn’t creating carbon copies of the comic book movie, what it’s really doing is blowing the doors wide open on what is actually viable when it comes to a comic book property.
What I haven’t really talked about yet is the concept of the tie-in. The fact that all of these movies are connected to each other within the same company. Each movie has tidbits and teasers, easter eggs and post-credits scenes. Some people feel like they’re not even watching a movie anymore but instead they’re watching a trailer for the next movie. The way I look at it is that it’s more like a modern version of classic serials only better. If you’re a fan of the movie, these connective moments are exciting to see, especially if you know what the reference is. And if you’re not a fan of it, it’s not essential to the movie at all. There’s a reason why these are usually a post-credit scene. If you looking for it, you know exactly where it is, and if you’re not looking for it, you’re in the theater lobby already and don’t even care. Yes, there may come a point where it does become so blatant that it’s intrusive to the movie, but I think if that happens then the movie isn’t going to be that good in the first place and the extra marketing is just another drop in the bucket. It’s not like you’re left with a cliffhanger like Empire Strikes Back. Oh, is that a bad example?
I did also get into a brief back and forth on Twitter when the point was brought up that we are hitting an oversaturation point of superhero movies when there’s 2-3 coming out a year. While at the time I didn’t correct the fact that by my count there were 25 superhero and comic book movies released in 2013. If you narrow that down to theatrical wide-release superhero movies, it drops down to 5, and all of them, even Kick-Ass 2, were financially successful with a combined total of almost 3 billion dollars worldwide. There is something to be said that all of these 5 movies have a connection to either an earlier movie, or a movie in the works, even though Man of Steel technically didn’t have anything to tease yet. This year there were over twice that number of wide-release, family friendly animated movies, and they only netted a combined total of less than 4 billion, bringing in diminishing returns. Even though there were quite a few of the animated movies that were critically panned, if you look at just the top 5 animated movies, they brought in a similar amount to the 5 superhero movies released this year.
What isn’t really taken into account is the trickle down effect where riskier properties will end up getting made. Superhero is not a narrow genre, just like animation is not a narrow genre. Take Super compared to The Avengers compared to the Green Lantern compared to All Superheroes Must Die compared to Super Buddies. They are all technically superhero movies, and yet they are all vastly different from each other. We are still a long way from oversaturating the market and while I may grow tired of the ones that go too far down the straight and narrow, I’m excited to see what kind of outliers crop up in the next five years or so. Even just taking a look at what’s on tap for next year, there’s the franchise films Captain America 2, Spider-Man 2, X-Men 4b or whatever, and Guardians of the Galaxy. But there’s also the family skewed Lego Movie & Big Hero 6, the sci-fi arguably superhero Robocop, and who knows what direction the Michael Bay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will go. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.