A Successful or Disappointing Future for Superhero Movies?
Awesome, captivating superhero movies have entertained audiences for many years. Films like The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight (2008) have raised the bar of comic book movies and are also known for being the most respected in the genre. Unfortunately, as each comic book film comes out, the focus from making a good, standalone movie is now being changed to expand the universe. More pressure has been added on filmmakers to add scenes, so it will set up for a possible franchise. The addition of these contractually-obligated scenes hurts the quality of individual films because less focus has been taken away from the plot and characters. With Marvel and DC films coming out in the future, will they contain a good narrative with enough focus on the characters, or will they focus more on expanding the universe to make more solo movies?
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Marc Webb’s second installment in the Amazing Spider-Man franchise was met with a mixed response from fans and audiences. Some people liked it, while others hated it. This reaction came from the film’s jumbled plot structure. The movie studio was too focused on setting up the Spider-Man universe, instead of just focused on making a good movie. While it is great to set up a universe with new characters, however, if the story building element takes away from the main plot of the movie, then it will hurt its structure, and leaves many moviegoers disappointed from the lack of focus from the main characters.
The movie failed in its attempts to develop characters because of the main focus put on setting up the universe. Characters like Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy are given a lot of screen time, but other characters are barely given enough. Newcomers Harry Osborn and Max Dillon are introduced well and have a nice setup, but their character arcs are underdeveloped, mainly because of how the movie switches back between the different storylines. One storyline follows Peter as he tries to maintain a relationship with Gwen Stacy; another follows him trying to find out more about what happened to his parents; a subplot focuses on Aunt May’s attempts to go back to school to become a nurse; and one subplot centers on Gwen Stacy’s goal of going to a prestigious school. All of these subplots are used to develop the story even more and while most of the drama is engaging, it is just too much to digest all in one sitting.
While the movie does have a lot of good action, drama, and onscreen chemistry, one of the flaws of the film is the way the villains are presented on screen. Max Dillon, who later becomes Electro, initially loves Spider-Man, but eventually hates him because he forgot his name. Harry Osborn’s dark transition to The Green Goblin is believable, but feels rushed because of the amount of time we see of Harry onscreen. In addition, the Rhino only has a limited presence in the movie (around 5 minutes), which suggests that he is only there to show people who he is before he possibly makes a return in a planned (possibly scrapped) Sinister Six Movie. All of these underdeveloped character arcs suggest that Sony studios was just focused on setting up a universe—full of new characters—instead of making a great standalone Spider-Man sequel.
The first Amazing Spider-Man (2012) is arguably the best film in the rebooted series. The film succeeded in re-telling the origin story by giving enough focus on the characters. Marc Webb and screenwriters James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves used their talent to breathe life into characters, Aunt May, and Uncle Ben, where fans can see them not just as written characters, but as real-life people. When someone takes the time to develop a hero or villain, it is easy for us to feel more sympathy for him. A villain like, Dr. Curt Connors, may not be as popular or interesting as Norman Osborn’s Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus, but it is still easy for us to understand his desire to re-grow his arm, even though the results lead to him becoming a dangerous, violent 9 foot tall lizard. Because Connors is fleshed out and given a good backstory, he is an understandable, believable villain in the movie. In the Amazing Spider-Man 2, the villains were underdeveloped, so it was not convincing that Max Dillon and Harry Osborn transformed into their evil counterparts in such a quick fashion.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Joss Whedon’s Avengers sequel entertained audiences around the world. Many people came out for the Thursday night release of the film that was highly anticipated ever since the first movie graced the movie screen. While this sequel is very entertaining and has some of the best eye-popping visual effects and action scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, still, the majority of audience members agree that the first Avengers (2012)was a little better.
Avengers: Age of Ultron serves as a good sequel, but suffers from an uneven plot. The story follows our main heroes (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye) as they retrieve Loki’s scepter from a Hydra outpost in Sokovia. Once there, Tony Stark finds the scepter along with a lot of hidden secrets kept underground. When caught off guard, Scarlet Witch puts him in a trance, so he can see his worst fears come to life—which is the death of the team. Imagining the death of his friends compel him to use the power hidden within the scepter to build an Artificial Intelligence robot called Ultron. The experiment is a success, but backfires when Ultron turns against the Avengers and seeks to destroy every one of them. After he escapes, the team now has to find this dangerous Artificial Intelligence before he destroys the whole world.
As seen from above, the main plot of the movie is for the Avengers to find and stop Ultron from destroying the world. The plot is well-structured until the team arrives at Hawkeye’s house. When Thor leaves to go find out more about his vision, the plot becomes a little uneven due to the change of focus in the narrative. The cave scene where Thor sees the power of the infinity stones, feels out of place compared to the other scenes in the movie. It sort of sets up the introduction of the new character, Vision, but comes across more as a contractually-obligated scene that was requested to be put in the movie. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanding every year, certain things had to be placed in the movie, so it will set up for future films. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if these contractually-obligated scenes hurt the quality of the movie, in terms of its structure, then this can affect the financial success and commercial response of future films.
Joss Whedon, the talented director behind the Avengers films, expressed his frustration of making the sequel when the studio wanted him to include certain scenes in the movie. The argument was about the addition of the cave scene. Whedon said,
“With the cave, it really turned into: they pointed a gun at the farm’s head and said, ‘Give us the cave, or we’ll take out the farm,’ — in a civilized way. I respect these guys, they’re artists, but that’s when it got really, really unpleasant.”
This proves that Whedon was forced to include this part in the movie, even when he didn’t want to. Since Marvel movies have been announced and are coming out, more pressure is put on the filmmakers to add things they do not want to put in the movie. With Whedon, it was the cave scene, which has been criticized by many fans and critics for being tacked on; with Edgar Wright (the guy who was supposed to direct before Peyton Reed took over), it was the script changes that led to him dropping out of Ant-Man. Evidently, studio involvement has led to many disagreements with executives and directors.
Whedon’s dispute ended with him trying to add scenes they wanted in the movie, and have them mesh together with the stuff he wanted to include. Nevertheless, it seems that the first movie was more of a success because of how Whedon had more creative control. By giving him more restrictions on the second film, studio execs ruined his chances to make a superior sequel.
The DC Universe
Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy captivated batman fanboys and casual moviegoers alike. Many people love how his movies differ from the other Batman films. Distinct from the other movies in the series, this praised and noteworthy trilogy breathed life back into the franchise. After the critically panned Batman and Robin (1997) came out, many people were disappointed and outraged by the movie’s terrible dialogue, casting, and unbelievable stunts. Joel Schumacher changed the tone of the franchise with his installments, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, to make the series more fun and lighthearted. Unfortunately, his attempt to go in a different direction from Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader led to the series’ downfall.
The studio’s attempt to make money off of toy sales is what caused the movie to be bad. The producers and filmmakers were forced by the studio to make Batman and Robin more family oriented. In an interview with ComingSoon, Joel Schumacher praised Chris Nolan’s trilogy and compared it to his own films. He said,
“I think what’s very interesting about Batman and how brilliant Chris Nolan is, if you look at the last Batman, ours were at a much simpler time. Our job was to entertain the whole family. To make it fun and sell a lot of toys.”
This admission proves that the movie studio was more focused on making money than preserving the quality of the film. A good example could be seen in the third act of the movie where Batman, Robin, and Batgirl are in Poison Ivy’s lair. Batman is being attacked by plants, Robin is fighting with plants underwater, and Batgirl is fighting Poison Ivy. After all the fights are over, Batman acknowledges that the team has to hurry to stop Mr. Freeze from destroying the city. However, in the next few scenes, we can see that the team has changed their costumes. If they were in a hurry to stop the villain, why take the time to change their clothes? The answer is that the studio wanted to show off the characters in different costumes, so they could market more toys for kids. It is not a bad thing to make a superhero movie enjoyable for the whole family, but the way the studio and filmmakers went about it on Batman and Robin almost ruined the franchise. What this movie needed was a good balance of (funny) comedy and action to entertain audiences.
Recent Marvel Successes
The funny, entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) movie swooped in and blew away moviegoers with its unique, funny characters. This film was a huge risk for Marvel, considering that millions were used in the budget. Everyone knew about the popular superheroes, such as Iron Man, Batman, Hulk, but not about this group of heroes. This risk turned into a commercial and critical success. Critics and moviegoers loved the action, romance, drama, soundtrack, and humor in the film. All of these elements not only made it one of the highest grossing movies of 2014, but also made it one of the funniest Marvel movies to come out.
Now, movies like The Avengers and Iron Man 3 have humor infused within the plot, and do provide scenes for audiences to laugh at, but Guardians of the Galaxy beats them both because of its consistent humor throughout the movie. This film is so funny it can be considered a comedy. The only other movie that can come close to Guardians is Ant-Man (2015). Ant-Man follows the trend that Guardians has laid out for future Marvel movies, where the movie can be made with funny characters and great action. The reason why these two films are successful is because they tell good stories.
In Guardians, we get backstories of all the main characters, and a well-focused plot. Throughout the film, we learn more about each character and understand why they act and behave the way they do. Also, a clear plot is laid out at the very beginning of the movie. Everyone wants the orb and will do anything to get it. One of the most dangerous villains, Ronan, wants the orb to use it to destroy Xandar. To save the planet and the universe, the Guardians have to work together to retrieve the orb, and stop Ronan. This plot is clear and simple. In Ant-Man, Scott Lange learns from Hank Pym on how to use the suit to stop Darren Cross from distributing the Yellowjacket suit to Hydra. In their hands, they will use the weapons to wreak havoc and chaos on the world. To stop this from happening, Scott Lange must become Ant-Man. This plot is understandable and easy to follow. Many people liked both movies because of the clear, central plots, great characters, and good backstories. Other films have not been as successful due to their lack of a good plot and character development. When studio executives try to make a good movie, and at the same time set up a universe, their effort turns into an uninteresting film. They lose focus on making a good standalone movie with a clear plot and character development. That is why we must be concerned about the future of these movies. A superhero film with a large budget and good actors attached can still lead to a disaster, if it lacks a good story.
Fantastic Four (2015)
The recent failure of this film highlights a potential problem for comic book movies. With the release of this movie, critics and moviegoers were disappointed by how this film turned out. Critically and commercially unsuccessful, this movie attempts to breathe life back into the Fantastic Four franchise, but did not go as well as planned. With Fox studio trying to set up this film for a possible franchise, they forgot to use critical elements to make the movie good: interesting characters, a good story and action, and character development. Without these elements, the studio made a colossal failure, instead of a fantastic movie.
Fantastic actors and filmmakers worked on this film. Actors Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, and Kate Mara all have a good filmography. Miles Teller, known for his roles in Whiplash (2014) and the Spectacular Now (2013), plays Reed Richards. Michael B. Jordan received attention for his role in Fruitvale Station (2013). Kate Mara is in this year’s The Martian (2015), and Jamie Bell gave a good performance in the cult hit, Snowpiercer (2014). And last, but not least, Josh Trank, the director of this film, gained popularity when he released the movie, Chronicle (2012), which was a surprise hit. All of these talented people worked on this movie, but the film was still a failure because the studio was too focused on setting up a franchise, rather than making a good movie.
The first of many things the movie lacked was interesting characters. Unfortunately, the team, Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm, and the Thing didn’t come off as interesting, but dull. There are many scenes where nothing happens. Most of the runtime of this movie shows one character alone in a scene. If this is a movie about a team of superheroes, shouldn’t it show them working together more? Even, the scenes where the team is together come off as dull because the dialogue is poorly written. In addition, this film has only two main action set pieces. One in the middle and one in the end. The rest of the runtime shows the characters working in the lab, or just talking. The experience of watching this film comes off as disappointing because it is uneventful due to the overabundance of exposition. The studio executives were too focused on setting up a franchise for the Fantastic Four, which led them to lose sight on putting all their efforts on making this film the best it can be.
What is the Future of Superhero Movies?
Future movies, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are coming out in 2016.
Future movies, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are coming out in 2016. With the huge casts in these films, it is unclear how the movies are going to turn out. In Captain America: Civil War, the cast of characters include: Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, Black Panther, Vision, Spider-Man, War Machine, and Winter Soldier. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the cast of heroes include: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Aquaman, and Cyborg. With many superheroes in both films, it is uncertain if every hero will get enough character development. At this point, it looks like the studios are more focused on building the character universe, instead of taking the time to develop these characters.
Guidelines for Future Superhero Movies
1. Good, Clear Story: If a studio is making a reboot or an origin story, they need to focus on the backstory on the main character.
2. Character Development: Give all attention to the characters where we can learn more and develop a connection with them.
3. Fair Amount of Action: Action doesn’t have to be in every scene of the movie, but must happen occasionally in the film.
4. Consistent Tone: Pick a tone for the movie and stick to it. Don’t change tones throughout the movie. It will cause the movie to be a little confusing. Good movies set up a tone in the beginning and remain consistent until the end. Example: Guardians of the Galaxy has a fun, optimistic tone, while The Dark Knight has a somber tone.
5. ONLY HAVE SCENES THAT BELONG IN THE MOVIE: In many Marvel movies, scenes are added to set up and prepare audience members for future movies in that universe. By doing this, the plot becomes uneven.
6. More Creative Control for Directors: Allow directors to have more control over the writing process and the production. If a director feels he doesn’t have control over the production, then there is a good chance of him leaving the franchise. Joss Whedon is not directing another Avengers movie because he is tired of working with Marvel. On the first movie, Whedon had more control. Since we are in Phase Two of MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) Whedon was forced to add things he didn’t want, and was limited to what he wanted to include in the movie. With more movies coming out in the future, will directors stay on or leave the project?
Evry, Max. “Joss Whedon Describes Battles with Marvel Over Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Superherohype.com. May 5, 2015. Accessed October 5, 2015.
Langshaw, Mark. “’Batman & Robin’ Joel Schumacher: ‘Christopher Nolan Is Brilliant’” Digital Spy. 5 Dec.2012.Web. 15 Oct.2015.
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