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).

Marvel Studios: the future of Marvel's cinematic superhero

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.

Mr. Whedon, it's all in your hands.

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 3Thor 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?

Can Nolan pull off the first truly successful superhero trilogy?

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).

How great would a Marvel vs DC video game be, by the way?

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?

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~ by Mark D'Amico on June 27, 2011.

2 Responses to “Will 2012 Be The End Of Days…For The Superhero Film?”

  1. Like with the horror genre, superhero films/adaptations have a following – there is a guarantee that revenue will result from pandering to a specific crowd to put it bluntly.
    From a filmmaker’s point of view, I think it’s very intelligent on Nolan’s part to plot his Batman films as a trilogy. It’s a structure both he and his audience can commit to, get excited about it and lament when it concludes. In a way, Nolan is sharing his journey with us, which is the key to his success. Moreover — though I have certain qualms with “The Dark Knight” — Nolan knows how to make a movie and understands how to adapt a comic book into film-form.
    The whole Marvel Studios platform has me worried because film and comic books are two different forms of storytelling. To adapt a comic book/superhero to film is a challenge most filmmakers’ are unaware of and they begin to integrate storylines, abilities, characters, etc. that – in their minds – will please the fanboys, but will not work structurally as a film (ex: “X-Men: Last Stand”, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, “Iron Man 2”, “The Incredible Hulk” – though that last one I blame the producers for allowing Ed Norton to touch the script, that guy should stay the hell away from screenwriting).
    Even “X-Men: First Class” had its structural flaws with a middle act that was all over the place mostly due to the integration of new characters that distracted from the main plot of finding Sebastian Shaw and stopping the threat of a new world war. The several credited screenwriters are often cause of such plot drift. In Hollywood, producers hire a screenwriter, when they do not like what s/he yielded, they hire someone else and so forth in that fashion until they have something close to perfect. This is because time constraints are in place and the writing process is sped up to meet with the demands of the market.
    Despite Zack Snyder as director, I am looking forward to “Man of Steel”. Michael Shannon as Zod is cause to rejoice. Excellent casting, nobody plays deranged, power-hungry supervillain like Michael Shannon!

  2. Ah, 2012, otherwise known as The Year I’ve Been Waiting for Since I Was 6. I’m really curious to see if it becomes Superhero Overload for the general population of non-comic book nerds, because it certainly has the potential. If nothing else, 2012 will be a turning point to see whether or not audiences will go for new incarnations of Superman and Spider-Man. I will, with cautious optimism, hoping the creative staffs learn from the previous franchises and not be reactionary like the second Hulk film. But, I think the real test will be the Batman film after Dark Knight Rises. Nolan is hanging up his cap and cowl, and WB honchos say they’ll be retooling Batman, etc., etc. Since the Batman films seem to be the litmus test for comic book movies, I think we’ll have to wait until then. My guess, they’ll go dormant for a few years before making a big return in the 2020s (based on the history of other genre cycles like noir, spies, et al.).

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