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Thursday, September 12, 2013

EDITORIAL: Will Comic Book Films Last Forever?


In a world where people have short attention spans, are constantly connected, and have a need to be busy, is it possible that the comic book/superhero craze will soon come to an end? If so, who is to blame? How or why could this happen? Well, I’m going to try and answer these questions today as I talk about the potential (and hopefully just theoretical…) Death of the Comic Book Movie!

Back in the late 1990’s, Marvel Comics went bankrupt. Due to this bankruptcy, Marvel had to sell the rights to its biggest properties, including Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, and the Fantastic Four. Prior to, DC Comics and Warner Brothers had just finished their then current Batman saga with the film Batman & Robin. But after 1997, there were no more comic book/superhero films made for the rest of the century.

In 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men (20th Century Fox) hit the big screen. Followed by its sequel, X2: X-Men United, Singer’s X-flicks did very well at the box office and were a critical (as well as commercial) success! In 2002, Sam Raimi and Sony Pictures released Marvel’s next big franchise (but certainly not its last): Spider-Man! Also getting a sequel with Spider-Man 2, Raimi had set the stage for all future comic book films with his instant classic. Other Marvel properties including Hulk, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four, Punisher, Blade, and Ghost Rider also got franchise films and sequels like Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Blade II, and Punisher: War Zone were green lit as Marvel set the stage for making action packed comic book movies.

DC Comics had also put out some live action comic book inspired films including Batman Begins, Superman Returns, Catwoman, The Dark Knight, Green Lantern, Red, Watchmen, and Constantine (along with others). However, aside from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy of films, none of DC Entertainment’s films were all that successful, although some can be debated.

But then there came a day, unlike any other, because in the summer of 2008 comic book movies changed forever, and I would say, for the better. Iron Man shocked audiences around the globe with just how human one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes can feel. The Dark Knight showed how corrupt and evil our world can be and how it can twist people, yet it leaves you with hope that someone will always oppose the darkness. And although it may not have done terribly well, The Incredible Hulk showed that even the strongest being on the planet can feel alone and that even the weakest of men can make a difference.

Marvel Studios continued to make films just as good as Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk with Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and of course Marvel’s The Avengers. Like they did back in the early 2000’s, Marvel again set the stage for what comic book films would look like and showed the studios what works for the audience. Not that Christopher Nolan’s Batman did not do that (because it CERTAINLY did), but the Marvel Studios films quickly became more successful as Marvel’s The Avengers is the 3rd highest grossing film of all time.

But let’s not forget that Marvel and FOX have also put out more X-Men films including The Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, as well as the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past. Sony, wanting to keep their claim to Spider-Man, has put out The Amazing Spider-Man (influenced by Nolan’s take on Batman for sure, with a little more comic book accuracy than the first series had) and is currently developing a sequel to be released next year (same as the next X-film). And of course DC Comics and WB rebooted Superman with Man of Steel and are planning to reboot Batman in the upcoming follow-up film that will bring together the World’s Finest superheroes!

“So what are you getting at here, Michael?” You’re probably wondering… Well, here’s the thing, I love Marvel Studios and all of their films (with the slight exception to Iron Man 3 as I am not a fan) and I am really looking forward to what they bring next to the table; however, I am starting to wonder if Marvel is killing the market for future comic book films and I’m wondering how much longer the general audience will take it.

Right now, I don’t think Marvel, Disney, DC, or Warner Bros. are in any danger. I think with the strong Avengers franchise and the potential Justice League franchise currently on its way are safe. In fact, I also think that the current Spider-Man franchise and the X-Men films are also probably safe! But my overall fear is when are audiences going to realize that they've seen all of these stories before? When are they going to finally say, “Enough superheroes, and vampires, and vigilantes!” The hopeful answer is, hopefully never! However, I think it’s safe to say that the general audience won’t be as enthusiastic as it is now about comic book/superhero film in another decade or two. Don’t get me wrong, I will be and so will the people on this site and may other comic book/superhero based websites, but the general audience may not be.

The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man all ruled the summer of 2012. It doesn't matter who “beat” the other, it only matters that we got some solid comic book films last year. This summer, we have also been fortunate to get some with Man of Steel, The Wolverine, Iron Man 3, Kick-Ass 2, and this fall we’ll be getting Thor: The Dark World (let’s just leave R.I.P.D. out of this…). That’s a lot of material to enjoy, cover, and talk about in the past two years, at least for us geeks. We’re happy.

But what about the general audience? I was watching The Amazing Spider-Man with my dad over this past weekend, and he did not understand the movie at all! Now, my father really enjoys the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films (although he could never tell you who directed it…) and was upset that Spider-Man had been rebooted. He didn't like that Gwen Stacy was in the film over Mary Jane Watson, he didn't like that Tobey McGuire wasn't Peter Parker, and he wasn't sure why we needed to see Uncle Ben die once more. After I explained to him that this is a new series of films he understood, but it wasn't until someone (i.e. his geeky son) told him!

My fear here is that the general audience will look at a new superhero film and say, “we've seen that before.” I mean, for goodness sakes, people thought that Man of Steel was a sequel to Superman Returns and that Batman Begins was a prequel to Tim Burton’s Batman (and yes I have been asked both…)! The studios need to recognize that that is the people they will have to sell these movies to; and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the general audience is full of morons (if I were saying that then my dad would be too, and he is most certainly NOT a moron), but I am saying that they may not (aka AREN'T) nearly be as passionate about these characters and stories as we fans are!

Like I said before, Marvel Studios, and now finally DC Entertainment, has been doing a great job with their films thus far and has made them continuously interesting, but could they be overdoing it?

Let’s set away from our fandom for a moment. Step away from being a DC guy or a Marvelite. Step away from hating Fox or Disney or Warner Brothers. Step away from all of that and ask yourself, is Marvel over-playing the comic book film? I’m not even going to say Marvel Studios here because I want you all to also consider the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. The reason I am also not saying DC is, well, I mean come on… I love DC (been a DC guy for a long time), but outside of Nolan’s Batman (which is over by the way) and the new Superman series, they aren't really a threat to the comic book movie are they?

Now that I've let you ponder for a bit, let me tell you what I think. I like that Marvel is planning ahead. I like that we’re getting a Marvel film or two once a year. Three is okay too, but four is a stretch. This year we had three Marvel films, but think about this; next year, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy are all coming out. This isn't a big deal now, but what happens when Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor stop getting sequels when Phase 3 arrives? We’re getting an Ant-Man film for crying out loud! Don’t get me wrong, I’m stoked for that movie, but is that too much? Are there some comic books, some heroes that just don’t need movies? That’s another editorial for another time (hint hint), but here’s my point after like 1,632 words:

I am worried that Marvel will try and do too much and that it will backfire on them and, in turn all comic book franchises. If Justice League ever does come out, I’m wondering if anyone outside of comic book fans will really go see it (of course some will, but what about the rest?). People will just think that DC is ripping off Marvel. And let’s look at the other side of the coin, if a Black Panther film is ever made, people will think that they are ripping off DC’s Batman!

Are all of these comic book films and franchises going to be too much for the general audience? 

Will they start to lose interest after Avengers 2?

In my opinion, yes, they will. And that’s my whole point. I’m sorry that it took me so long to get here, but here’s my honest opinion. I think what Marvel is doing with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is great and I love that DC is finally getting their act together, but I think that all these superhero films and television shows and toys and this and that are going to wear people (mainly the GA) out. I am not so sure that people are going to want to follow these films as religiously as we do and I fear what that will end up doing to the box office. Right now, as I said before, we have nothing to worry about. But come 2018 (the year Amazing Spider-Man 4 is supposed to come out), will the general public be through with superheroes and want classic action, sci-fi, and romance films? Only time will tell. Until then, I will continue to support these films and I will continue to enjoy them, but I will still have that fear lingering in the back of my mind that one day the world won’t care about The Avengers, or Batman, or Spider-Man, any more.

Michael J. Petty

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Senior Editorial Editor on SMN, I also work as an Administrator on Across the Airwaves Productions and as a Staff Writer on the Superman Homepage. I enjoy movies, comics, television, music, and long walks on the beach. Just because he's on the side of the angels, don't think for one second that he's one of them.