4 Reasons Last Week's Marvel Announcement Might Destroy Them
In an effort to out-hype Marvel's colossal cinematic future, DC and Warner Bros. recently released a calendar mapping out their slate of upcoming superhero films for our dark, brooding pleasure. As a response, Marvel out-hyped DC's super-hype by uber-hyping their upcoming Phase Three -- which will feature Thor's Ragnarok storyline, Captain America fighting Iron Man in Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Guardians of the Galaxy teaming up with The Avengers in Infinity War: Part 1 and 2, plus Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Inhumans, and a new golden retriever puppy for everyone in the world. Sick burn, Marvel.
"Is he suppose to have that?"
"It'll make sense when Inhumans drops."
Tallying up the overwhelming catalog from the two big players in the superhero film market, and adding the meager but noteworthy contributions from Sony's and Fox's Marvel flicks, gives us more than 40 films about spangled thug-punchers being released before 2020 -- making the next six years basically a series of wind sprints between 3D IMAX theaters. And while that may sound pretty exciting now, it's actually less of a godsend and more of a clinic on how to strangle the life out of the superhero genre.
The More Interconnected They Are, the More Likely for It to All Fail Huge
What makes Marvel so revolutionary is how they've managed to use their standalone films like puzzle pieces to complete a larger, interwoven picture, like a bunch of spinoffs in reverse. The only other studio to successfully spin off a superhero franchise is 20th Century Fox and the X-Men: First Class films (the two Wolverine movies are really successes only in the sense that they successfully exist). Every other attempt has resulted in things like Catwoman and Elektra, both of which unfairly tainted Hollywood's opinion of whether or not female superheroes can star in their own movies after those female-lead films flopped to the pavement like Halle Berry sex-tackling Benjamin Bratt.
"The original plan was to cancel movies altogether, just to be safe."
However, after Warner Bros. spent the middle section of the 1990s spectacularly ruining the Batman cinematic franchise, the solution was simple: just walk away from Batman for eight or 10 years and make non-superhero movies until it's time for the inevitable reboot. Marvel doesn't have that option, because making interlocking superhero stories is literally the only reason that film studio exists, meaning that they can't afford to make a bad film. Marvel can't just take a decade off to make period dramas starring Daniel Day-Lewis if Avengers: Age of Ultron bombs. This is why they're currently in the practice of giving Robert Downey Jr. any damn thing he wants to keep making movies, including their children should it enter his mind to ask for them.
We're assuming "A" is code for "assload of money."
If Downey walks away from Marvel, it's not only going to screw up their Iron Man movies but at least four other huge tentpole projects over the next five years.
In a series of desperate attempts to duplicate Marvel's incredibly risky but thus far wildly successful business model, other studios are now locking themselves into inescapable "cinematic universes" of interdependent blockbusters. "Why is that a bad thing?" the 12-year-old comic fan in you might be asking. Well, the problem is that one shit-and-cheese section in a 6-foot-long party hoagie pretty much guarantees that the whole thing is going to have to go in the garbage.
For example, take this summer's disappointing riddle The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Sony intended that film to kick off several years of sequels and spinoffs, including the inevitable Amazing Spider-Man 3, a Sinister Six movie focused entirely on Spider-Man villains (the Spider-Man film license doesn't include a particularly deep bench of superheroes), a Venom spinoff, and probably a fourth entry in the Amazing saga.
"If you thought we were being cavalier with the word 'Amazing' before ..."
However, the critical and commercial failure of Amazing Spider-Man 2 (despite earning hundreds of millions of dollars, it is still the worst-performing Spider-Man film of all time) has forced Sony to completely rethink the strategy. Essentially, they're now on the hook for at least two more Spider-Man movies that absolutely no one wants. 20th Century Fox ran into a similar problem with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which was supposed to lead into an entire Origins franchise. When the movie wound up being a nonsensical mess that failed to endear itself to critics or fans, the planned Origins series wound up becoming First Class, an entirely different franchise seemingly created to erase the damage done by one Brett Ratner X-Men film (the task proved to be more or less impossible).
"Quick, distract them with some Deadpool news!"
The "cinematic universe" model is starting to become less like the intricate puzzle Marvel initially imagined and more like a terrifying game of Jenga -- Warner Bros. now has nearly a decade of movies planned that all depend on the success of Batman v Superman, which is a sequel to a film that no one was really crazy about in the first place, rebooting a failed franchise-relaunch that was less than 10 years old. The ninth cinematic appearance of Batman now carries the weight of future Wonder Woman and Cyborg films, and the whole thing could easily collapse if just one piece turns out to be another Green Lantern (who, by the way, gets a new movie in 2020).
And if you think Warner Bros. can just play their famous reboot card and start over again, keep this in mind ...
They've Announced Too Much and Brutally Murdered the Element of Surprise
Imagine, for a moment, that it's 2008. You've just watched Iron Man, and your naive face is all lit up with excitement because you just sat through an entirely too-long credits sequence to hear Samuel L. Zeus from Die Hard say the words "Avengers Initiative." Or it's 2010, the camera pans down to Thor's hammer buried in the desert at the end of Iron Man 2 and you poop a little bit. And hey, remember when Gordon turns over that Joker card at the end of Batman Begins and you emoted so hard you accidentally punched a kid sitting in front of you? Those were the wonderful surprise moments that got us so excited to see more of these crazy comic book movies in the first place, moments that are officially dead now, because of shit like this:
Every studio now has a detailed road map, charting exactly what superhero movies we will be seeing and when we will be seeing them, for the next six years. No post-credits buzz, no swirling rumor mills, and absolutely no surprises. Instead of the excitement of possibility, we get an itinerary telling us what we are going to watch, for better or for worse, until the decade ends. Anxious to know if they are going to do another Guardians of the Galaxy? They sure are, and you bet your ass they will be part of The Avengers in the third Avengers film. We know because they already told us. Hell, the second Avengers movie is still seven months away from being released, and we already know when the third one is going to come out and that it will be split into two parts. Even if you're the biggest Marvel fan in the world, doesn't that take just a little bit of the fun out of it?
Wondering which superheroes will pop up in the new Batman v. Superman? Well, then you must be some kind of idiot, because Warner Bros. has already told us that The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman will all be getting their own spinoff films to follow in the wake of Batman v Superman's inevitable success.
Khal Drogo v. Aquaman Sucks Jokes
Are you excited for Age of Ultron? Why? Marvel has already announced Civil War and the (two-part) Infinity War saga, which accidentally tells us how little anything that happens in Age of Ultron is going to matter. It's like one of the filler episodes of Lost -- sure, you can watch it, but it could just as easily be skipped and you would never know the difference.
They're Designed to Ignore the Largest Goddamn Market Out There
Everyone's gone all aflutter at the fact that Marvel and DC have announced that we'll finally see Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films with female leads, as well as a rumored Spider-Woman spinoff. We're even getting two black superheroes! That's progress, right?
"Sure, one is Cyborg, but still ..."
Well, it's "progress" if you don't mind the fact that over 50 percent of the next six years will still be dominated by male-led superhero films, and the remaining 40 percent are about teams of superheroes consisting mostly of white dudes. While this is arguably a consequence of the fact that comic books were originally made to appeal to young white men (although it's been almost a hundred years, so it's time to find a new excuse), the fact remains that superhero ticket sales have been sliding since 2012. This is most likely because female moviegoers outnumber male moviegoers in America. Not only do women account for more box-office sales, they also shockingly tend to gravitate toward female-led films.
If only they had a ready-to-go female superhero film for Scarlett to star in ...
In other words, when the majority of your audience is looking for a movie about a strong female lead, the stupidest business decision you can make is exclusively heaving out movies about muscular white penises in capes. It's almost as if the improbable success of Marvel's Phase One slate of films (everything leading up to and including the first Avengers) has made Hollywood blind to what's in front of them.
They're Becoming Way Too Sure of a Hit
One of the main reasons the comic book industry collapsed back in the 1990s was that the market got oversaturated with the aforementioned muscular white sameness, while demand fell. This led to Marvel Comics nearly flushing itself into oblivion, selling off its character rights to the highest bidder and inadvertently creating a future in which we'll never see Wolverine fight The Hulk. And we are all poorer for it.
This. We could have had this.
Flash-forward to present day, and Marvel has already committed to turning their obscure six-part cosmic storyline about magic space jewelry into two of the biggest films ever produced. Meanwhile, DC and Warner Bros. have signed The Rock to play Black Adam in Shazam, which is a movie about a character you do not care about that doesn't come out for another five years. They've essentially paid The Rock millions of dollars to sign a piece of paper and wait around for the next four years. Not to be outdone, 20th Century Fox has already announced a sequel to their upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, despite the fact that fan reaction to that news has been lukewarm, and the last Fantastic Four movie (2007's Rise of the Silver Surfer) stank worse than The Thing in a public restroom. As was previously mentioned, DC and Warner Bros. have even decided to give us another Green Lantern movie, even though the bed-shitting Ryan Reynolds version is universally considered to be the first sign that big-budget superhero movies do not print money simply by default.
The same face was made by moviegoers worldwide.
And that's the thing -- despite overwhelming audience uncertainty, comic book movies are still perceived as such surefire bets that studios no longer feel the need to ask us what we want. They've gotten into the habit of telling us what we're getting, and then they just assume we'll be lining up to see it because we love comic books so much that the actual characters themselves are incidental. Right now they're riding high like Tony Montana skiing in cocaine hooker rainbows, throwing wadded up balls of $150 million at whatever obscure comic property they can turn into a theater event. Assuming that fairly conservative average of $150 million per film is correct, Hollywood is easily spending a billion dollars a year to make sure that the next six years of our lives are filled to the brim with CGI superhuman spectacle. That's the textbook definition of oversaturation, soaking into the market and weighing it down like a giant sponge on a cardboard base, waiting to collapse at any moment.
Or maybe Robert Downey Jr. will demand that Marvel hand over all its properties as his payment for Avengers Part Three: Part One and make a 10-film "Iron Man Beats the Shit Out of Everyone" cinematic universe.
"Look, either give me your money now, or I'll just hold you upside-down and shake it out."
While we're on the topic, check out 4 Signs DC Comics Has No Clue How to Make a Superhero Movie.