Movie studios are clamouring to emulate the Marvel model, but are we just heading for superhero fatigue?
The upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past deals with a dystopian future where mutants are subjugated and society has all but collapsed. Wolverine goes back into the past in order to right these wrongs, and bring about peace and prosperity for all human and mutant kind. How fitting, or perhaps ironic, that this film could be the harbinger of the end of the comic book movie renaissance.
Studios now exploit what comic book property they have in order to be the first to release the next big superhero team-up film
The output and box office returns of Marvel Studios over the last few years have been nothing less than a triumph. The comics publishing giant has moved so seamlessly into the world of blockbuster cinema that it has all the other movie studios running to catch up and emulate its success. However, instead of looking at the Marvel model for its balance of interesting themes and storylines, consistent tone, and left-of-centre casting and director choices, the studios think the Next Big Thing in comic book films is the shared universe. Now, they are scrambling to exploit whatever comic book property they happen to still have in their possession in order to be the first to release the next big superhero team-up film.
Warner Brothers is currently putting together Batman vs. Superman, and with the confirmed appearance of Wonder Woman in that film, in addition to various other cameos and Easter eggs, it shows that the studio is attempting to come at their Justice League problem from a sideways angle; establishing a proving ground for their more riskier properties (but to think Wonder Woman is a risk at this point is sheer madness). Sony, which owns the rights to Spider-Man, is now claiming it will be releasing a Spider-Man film every year from here on out. How will it accomplish this? By giving Spidey’s rogues gallery their own solo films to build up to a larger team-up film down the track. This idea reeks of desperation on Sony’s part, as it tries to cash in on this new craze while only having one major superhero property to work with.
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Now Fox is on the cusp of releasing time travel team-up film X-Men: Days of Future Past. The original X-Men film, released back in 2000, was the first shot across the bow for the comic book movie renaissance, and is effectively a team-up film itself. Since The Avengers, and particularly Marvel’s build up to it, brought team-up movies into vogue, Fox has realised it needs to remind everyone of its property and cash in on the current shared universe craze. With Days of Future past, Fox will combine the original X-Men with their younger versions from X-Men: First Class, while at the same time using a pre-existing story arc ripped straight from the comics; they’ve even brought back the original director, Bryan Singer. It is interesting that a film which features a character going back in time to save the present should itself be a film made in the present but trading on the past.
For the comic book renaissance to survive there needs to be a game changer. Guardians of the Galaxy may just be the film to save it
Will X-Men: Days of Future Past be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? The fan service in the film is enough to suggest that it’s very much the case. Have you always wanted to see Sentinels? We got that! Want old Wolverine with white hair? We got that too! Annoyed that Patrick Stewart’s Professor X got killed off in the last one? Well he’s back! Throw all of this in with Bryan Singer’s currently dismal track record behind the camera and the wonky time travel plot (let’s face it, the X-Men time-travel stories were always a headache) and you have a recipe for disaster.
For the comic book renaissance to survive there needs to be a game changer. Enter: Guardians of the Galaxy. The studio that is responsible for the current glut of superhero characters in the cinema may be just the one to save it. Marvel’s new foray into the superhero team-up film focuses on an obscure group of space pirates who have no wider cultural cache other than that they exist in the same universe as The Avengers. But the film’s gorgeously rendered and absolutely hilarious trailer suggests that Marvel, while not throwing its model completely out the window, is willing to test its flexibility beyond what its current Phase can accommodate.
Or it could be too little too late. Guardians of the Galaxy could turn out to be a complete mess (although not likely), or a tiny spark in a doomed cinematic landscape. Perhaps the end of the world is coming, not just for the X-Men but for all superhero and comic book films. I feel sorry for Batman vs. Superman – how it will be received in 2016? Will it be met with fanfare and/or derision, or with the silent vacuum of a disinterested public? Time will tell I guess.
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Featured image: 20th Century Fox
Inset image: Columbia