Earlier this year, Marvel announced the timeline for phase 3 of it’s ambitious plan to steal all the money of comic book fans until 2020. This includes two more Avengers tie-ins and a two part Avengers Ensembled film as well as a number of small productions such as Doctor Strange and Inhumans. In response, DC announced the official start of its DC Extended Universe, unveiling plans for seven Justice League tie-ins and a two part Justice League as well as a film adaptation of Suicide Squad. On top of film releases, Marvel currently has two direct TV tie-ins (Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter) and five series on Netflix compared to DC’s TV roster of Arrow, The Flash, Gotham and iZombie as well as a number of smaller projects in production or set to be released in late 2015/early 2016.
However, is this all in vain? Are we beginning to see a slump for comic book movies? 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron from Marvel made $98 miliion less than its predecessor and the critics are beginning to turn as well. Personally, I believe that comic book movies need fixing and below are the ways I think we can achieve this:
1. Shake up the people making the films: This is more aimed at DC, as Marvel do have multiple directors contributing to their cinematic universe, putting a showrunner in place, as DC have done with their films for the next five years, will produce very generic films. While these films may be very good, they will all look and feel the same because the same person is bringing their style and film making. While I enjoy Zack Synder’s work, I don’t particularly want to see more than one Zack Synder DC movie. A good example of a franchise that used multiple directors to bring something different to each film is the Mission: Impossible franchise- five films, five directors, five subtly different takes on style and production. Which leads me nicely to…
2. Don’t be afraid to be different: Originally, Marvel’s Ant-Man was going to be an Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) directed film. However, that arrangement fell through in early 2014 when Wright left the project after he and Marvel had “differences in their vision for the film”. What transpired was that Marvel president Kevin Feige had become nervous at Wright’s vision, fearing that it would not fit the image Marvel has created for itself. This is a shame because an off-the-wall, slightly darker Marvel movie from someone who knows how to do that genre well, such as Wright, is just what the company needs to break out of the rut that its family-friendly driven ethos has put it in. Both major studios (Marvel and DC) are showing signs of change and risk, with Marvel releasing a Daredevil series on Netflix with a TV-MA (15 in the UK) rating and DC exploring grittier formats such as iZombie and Preacher for the small screen. Despite this, DC appear to have missed a trick with a Dark Knight-esque Suicide Squad movie, set a 2016 release. Yes, the comics are dark and serious at times, but they are a wonderful blend of action, dark-comedy and thriller which the trailer released at Comic-Con suggests they are somewhat neglecting. And speaking of Suicide Squad…
3. Please stop making origin story films: In today’s world, an comic book origin story film is a cash-grab. An entire film does not need to show the origins of a character 80% of the audience already knows the origin of. X- Men: Origins: Wolverine was a film that spent 107 minutes telling us the origins of Wolverine, something that had already been explained in the actual X-Men trilogy, without adding anything new to his story (apart from boring facts about where he got his jacket and why he’s called Wolverine). In my mind, Suicide Squad is set to spend the first hour or so explaining the individual origins of each member of the group (and if my theory about parts of the trailer is correct, ruining my all-time favourite comic book character). This is not what we have spent money to see- we are comic book fans, we know the origin story. If we are not comic book fans, we are either not watching this film or we will google stuff to give ourselves a rudimentary understanding of the film’s lore. If you want to do an origin story, get over and done with in the first half an hour.
4. Don’t rely on the same characters: As I mentioned before, The Avengers: Age of Ultron did significantly worse than The Avengers. Now, there could be many reasons but I think one of the more substanial causes is that people are subconciously beginning to tire of the same line-up. Since Marvel began ‘Phase 1’ of its ambitions 12 year domination of pop culture, we have had 3 Iron Man movies, 2 Captain America movies, 2 Thor movies and 2 spin-off TV series as well as both movies feautring all The Avengers. People will still see each release because hey, it’s Marvel, but don’t have the movie going experience Marvel expects them to have. Using aggregate scores from Rotten Tomatoes to illustrate my point, Iron Man (2008), the first movie in Marvel’s Phase 1, got 94%, The Avengers (2012) got 92% and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) got 74%. By comparison, the two Marvel movies that featured lesser known characters and weren’t directly linked to the Avengers franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, garnered 91% and 80% respectively. What this suggests is that people want something new and different, not the same old heroes skimming through their rogues gallery.
5. MAKE CONSEQUENCES ACTUALLY MATTER: The website Cracked did a wonderful video about why death needs to matter in the Marvel universe but I think the problem extends further than just death. The consquences of the events of the movie need to matter. Resurrection of every dead character shouldn’t be an expected plot twist, the devestation of cities shouldn’t be forgotten, glossed over or completely retconned in a sequel. Marvel and DC have both created a cinematic universe, a constant universe in which all their films take place and if this is truly the case, then the consequences of the last movies events shouldn’t just become references. Instead of Jane Foster slapping Loki in Thor: The Dark World “for New York”, we should be seeing the backlash the Avengers get from the New Yorkers who lost friends, family and jobs in the battle (Unless Marvel is trying to claim that all that devestation we saw in the climax of The Avengers was merely structural and not a single life was lost?). In DC’s Man of Steel, Zod devestates Metroplis and the trailer for Batman Vs. Superman: The Dawn of Justice shows a (presumably) Gotham based building being knocked over like lego. I hope that DC has the sense to incorporate these tragedies and the ramifications of such into the film’s atmosphere and lore.
Don’t get me wrong, I love comic books and I love comic book movies. To be honest, that’s the reason I want to see them get fixed, so that I and the millions of others who enjoy them can continue to enjoy them.