Will 2012 Be The End Of Days…For The Superhero Film?
It’s no secret that the cinematic superhero/comic book genre has exploded in the past few years. Sure, big-budget Hollywood superhero films have been around since Christopher Reeve first donned the red cape and tights in 1978’s Superman, but the decade following 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s smash hit Spider-Man have brought dozens of comic-inspired films to the big screen, with highly mixed results. Then, in 2008 it seemed as if the studios were upping their game, with a record number of superhero films hitting the market including Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Punisher: War Zone, Hellboy II, Hancock, The Spirit…oh yeah…Christopher Nolan’s Bat-masterpiece, The Dark Knight.
But perhaps more significant than any one film for that year was the launching of Marvel Studios, a Hollywood film studio owned and operated by Marvel Comics, which effectively cut out their need to produce their films through an external film studio (i.e. Sony, Fox, Warner Bros.). This key move allowed Marvel to take far more control over all the film versions of their future superhero properties in order to shape the way their heroes will look on screen in the coming years (minus those that weren’t already contractually linked to another studio, like Spider-Man to Sony or X-Men to Fox).
Using Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk (2008) as its initial tent-poles, Marvel Studios began fervently working towards the enormously ambitious superhero team-up film The Avengers (set for release in 2012) which and has been gaining further momentum with this year’s Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger (to be released this summer). This is the first time anyone has ever tried to craft a comic book film series of this magnitude, taking the lead characters from each of the foundational films and fitting them together in one super-powered mega-hit that will be exponentially bigger and better and more explosive than any of the individual films leading up to it!
…or so we all hope. The pressure’s on Joss Whedon.
Yet even as the final piece falls into place this summer establishing the main players of The Avengers, it occurs to me that the Marvel Studios films are reaching a climax of epic proportions which may very well end up being their downfall, especially considering the fact that the genre is already starting to show signs of wear and tear, with worn-out plotting and overused CGI that does nothing to explore the dramatic depth and complexity of the superhero. That’s not to say that Marvel’s films have necessarily been falling down that path so far, but the genre continues to change, particularly with recent films like Watchmen, Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and the smaller scale films like Defendor and Super, each of which takes a self-reflexive look at the superhero film and turns it inside out in some way. An interesting article at The Geek Beat examines the possibility that these films may have already killed the genre, although I’m not sure I agree with that notion.
Still, the fading quality of the genre remains a hurdle that will continue to become more difficult to overcome as the films keep churning out, as is evidenced by Iron Man 2’s generally negative reviews, as well as those for the recently released Warner/DC film The Green Lantern. And while the inner-fanboy in me is bouncing off the walls in anticipation for what could be the most epic superhero film ever that isn’t about Batman, the rest of my brain is starting to fear that this mega-blockbuster superhero mash-up may be a key tipping point in the eventual crippling of a genre that is quickly becoming tired due to a surplus of unnecessary films. And then I start asking myself what 2013 and beyond will hold for Marvel. Iron Man 3? Thor 2? Captain America 2? Sequels…upon sequels…until they just reboot each of the heroes? Fox will probably go ahead with the unnecessary Origins: Deadpool as well as the questionable next Wolverine film, and Marvel itself just might start lowering the bar for which superheroes get the chance for their own film adaptation. Or maybe they’ll just quickly reboot everything right away, like Sony is doing with Spider-Man?
It also doesn’t help for Marvel that the climax to their epic film collection falls on the same year as a little film that you’ve probably heard about…it’s the third and likely final chapter of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy entitled The Dark Knight Rises. To be honest with you, I think the world could potentially end just because of the level of expectation and anticipation that surrounds that one film. Its success would just mean so much, being the first truly successful superhero trilogy, and effectively ending any talk that the genre has already died. And then on top of that, Sony’s 3D reboot of the Spider-Man franchise entitled The Amazing Spider-Man swings into theatres that same summer, and let’s not forget about Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise that is scheduled to fly into theatres in December.
Ok. So let’s really think about this for a second. When you consider the release of all of these films together, that’s pretty much every single major successful DC and Marvel superhero coming at us on the big screen in one single year. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, plus others like Hawkeye and Ghost Rider (who somehow got his own sequel to the weak 2007 film). The only ones who are missing are the X-Men (who we just saw this summer in Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class).
So I guess my point after all this rambling is simply that while I believe the genre is very much alive (and possibly even in its golden-era, at least as far as big-budget filmmaking is concerned), we are most definitely also on the cusp of an amazing and pivotal point in its history as we approach year 2012, which is very likely to change the genre in a drastic way. Not only will The Avengers break new ground with its climactic superhero team-up concept which may mark the premature death of a few promising franchises, but we may also get to see the end of the first and only truly successful superhero trilogy of all time, as well as a revival/reimagining of two of the greatest heroes to ever grace the page and screen. Safe to say by the end of the year, audiences will most likely have had enough of these heroes for a little while. The enormous repercussions of that one year for the world of comic books and their film adaptations is quite severe, and no matter how incredibly awesome it all may end up being if everyone can do their job properly, things will most definitely never be the same again.
And all of this just so happens to align exactly with the cataclysmic theories about the year 2012. So I guess what I’m really saying is…coincidence?