From Many Pages to Many Screens – A look at the coming onslaught of a new comic book film age

Ah, the illustrious San Diego International Comic-Con has passed. The movie studios that high jacked the convention have packed up their posters, parties and other paraphernalia and the cosplayers have hung up their cat ears and adamantium claws. What did we take from this year’s comic book movie extravaganza? There has been big news all around in the big budget movie world with bigger announcements coming, obviously, like The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, etc.  However, I’m not here to compare any of these movies, on the contrary; I’m merely here to inform you of the new Hollywood big tent pole, blockbuster anthology comic book films system. What a world we live in… Hollywood has caught on to the success of The Avengers and now every comic book movie has to adhere to the unspoken run of tie-ins and spin-offs. For instance, Iron Man 2 was a direct tie-in to The Avengers and so were the Marvel films following it. You get the picture. So let’s start with the obvious first:

Disney/Marvel – The Avengers Film Franchise:

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We all know these guys. They’re the ones who started all this mess. It ALL began when Jon Favreau’s Iron Man just HAD to include a cameo of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury to kick off a bunch of tie-in films leading to The Avengers and it was WILDLY successful so, of course, Marvel is not going to stop.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Marvel has already been hard at work on their “Phase 2” line-up of films starting with, naturally, Iron Man 3, which doesn’t do much with informing what’s to come. Here’s what’s next up on the agenda for “Phase 2”:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Thor: The Dark World

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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TONE AND TAKE:

Obviously, Marvel has done this before so this round should be easy, right? Well, not necessarily. Marvel is taking some chances with some of the stories that they want to tell in “Phase 2” mainly with Guardians of the Galaxy. Who the hell is that, you ask? I’m going to be honest, I’ve read up on them and I STILL don’t know who they are. Apparently, they are just as their name implies: guardians…of the galaxy…

Another obscure direction that Marvel is going is with their new Captain America flick, which they’ve said is a “political thriller”. Fa reelz? I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but I find it odd to put a political thriller tone in the middle of a movie where a dude wears a bright-ass blue suit and throws a shield around like a boomerang.

My point is that Marvel is taking some chances, but will these chances lead to success? Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron are obscure comic book stories to hang a blockbuster on (especially the second Avengers) and make your audience accept these storylines. Sure, the comic book fans are shooting their proverbial pants, but these characters and storylines have to work with the critics and, more importantly, the general moviegoer who knows nothing of comics and who’s paying $15+ to get into the theatre.

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I mean for real, though, who are these people…?

Ultimately, I think that Marvel has set up a world in which the tone works well and plays circumstances straightforward: “These are aliens. These are gods. This is a talking raccoon.” I think if anything, the main hurdle Marvel faces is making the general viewer (like my brother, Joshua) accept and care about these obscure storylines and odd takes.

Warner Brothers/DC Comics – Justice League Film Franchise:

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There comes a point when film executives say, “critics be damned. If the movie breaks even, we’re making a sequel whether the world wants it or not!” Case in point: Man of Steel. Hated on by critics and, well, not too well received by the general public. Lose, lose situation, right? NOPE. The Kryptonian took home the whole bank and because of that, the top dogs at the WB decided to move forward with an Avengers like formula and begin plans to introduce a few films leading up to a Justice League movie starting with a sequel to Man of Steel featuring the Dark Knight himself. WB hasn’t quite decided on the name yet, but they’re going to go with either Superman vs. Batman or Batman vs. Superman. Original…

WHAT’S NEXT:

With Zack Snyder kicking off the Justice League film franchise with one of it’s most recognizable members in Man of Steel, one could only predict solo films with other members would follow, though no concrete announcements have been made other than a few.

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Superman vs. Batman (or vice versa)

The Flash

Batman (reboot?)

Booster Gold and the Jolly Rogers (I made that one up…)

Justice League (of ‘Murica)

TONE AND TAKE:

As seen in Man of Steel, Zack Snyder and his peeps decided to take a darker, more earnest and WAY TOO SERIOUS tone to Superman that fit well with Batman in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, but how will it hold up when you introduce a character like Aquaman into the mix?

A lot of comic book stories written by many writers are and were a commentary on a particular event or generation, but I don’t think adapting them as films in the tone of Man of Steel exactly works with that particular world. If anything, the straightforward take on The Avengers would’ve definitely worked better. Now, WB has their hands tied with setting up fantastical super heroes like Aquaman, Wonder Woman and The Flash in a “darker” tone.

I know I sound like a broken record, but could you imagine a dude in a bright red suit zipping through the streets of Nolan’s dark take on Gotham City punching Bane in the face after making a lap around the world because The Flash is just THAT FAST? I mean, come on. Warner Brothers definitely has their work cut out for them.

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Too fast. Too furious.

Sony Pictures/Marvel – The Amazing Spider-Man Film Franchise:

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I have a love/hate relationship with director Marc Webb. He made the movie 500 Days of Summer, which I loved, but when he mad a mistake by combining that film with Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film and it turned out to be a mess. However, as with the same situation as Man of Steel, it made the paper so what else is there for a film studio to do, but make a franchise out of it! MONEY!

WHAT’S NEXT:

The first Amazing Spider-Man film teased an almost supernatural take on some sort of Osborn character previously played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe in the other Spider-Man trilogy. From there, whispers began around the water cooler or coffee bar or whatever the hell saying that Webb and his crew were going to build a world around his Spider-Man flicks like Marvel’s The Avengers movies with spin-off films and what not. Nothing has been solidified except for the second, third and fourth Amazing Spider-Man films.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2, 3 and 4

Venom (spin-off movie)

Andrew Garfield vs. Tobey Maguire (or vice versa)

TONE AND TAKE:

Marc Webb’s tone for his Spider-Man films is a little confusing. Like with every comic book movie since Batman Begins, Webb and his crew wanted to mimic that tone with his reboot and, in my expert opinion, failed to do so. However, with this oncoming sequel, Marc Webb seems to be getting a little “flashier” and, dare I say it, less earnest with his take on the web slinger.

The main example on the proposed tonal shift is with the villain, Electro, played by Jamie Foxx and, I have to say, he looks pretty ridiculous in a bad way. However, I have to commend Webb on potentially taking a leap of faith with a more fantastical villain even though he looks like a big joke.

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Does that not look stupid to you? Does to me…

The problem I have with Webb’s take on Spidey is that it doesn’t really hold its own within these other big movie franchises like The Avengers or the Justice League. One reason why is because Spidey is just one character and while his spin-off films would be, most likely, about villains or anti-villains, Spider-Man is too small a property to hinge a whole franchise equivalent to the like of The Avengers. My opinion is that Sony and Marvel should work out a deal and get Spidey on The Avengers where he belongs.

20th Century Fox/Marvel – X-Men Film Franchise:

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Last, but certainly not least. The X-Men have been around for a while and because of the nature of their stories, there has always been an open world filled with mutants so it’s not much of a stretch to make spin-off films from these movies. Besides, the X-Men film franchise already has a few movies under its belt. Bryan Singer, famed director of the first two X-Men films is back for a time-traveling third, so lets see where this goes.

WHAT’S NEXT:

Fox is jumping on the bandwagon and not only opening the X-Men film franchise to spin-off films, but tying EVERY X-Men film together into one universe. There are many inconsistencies within the X-Men film timeline, especially when we get into X-Men First Class. Singer plans to tie all of the together with a neat little ribbon and then he’s going to curl the ends of the ribbon with scissors. Know what I’m talking about…? Well, I say to Singer, good luck.

The Wolverine (out now)

X-Men Days of Future Past (X-Men 4/First Class 2)

X-Men Origins: Magneto (or some solo Magneto movie)

X-Force (…the hell?)

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TONE AND TAKE:

The X-Men franchise has always done a good job of portraying the struggle of mutants, especially with Singer at the helm. The action set pieces have been hit and miss and so have the films as a whole. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an abomination, X-Men The Last Stand completely missed the mark in closing out the X-Men trilogy, but First Class seemed to be sort of a redemption song for the whole franchise. The only problem with First Class was that it was a reboot without being a reboot. There are some major timeline blunders, which is why Bryan Singer and his crew are incorporating time travel into X-Men Days of Future Past.

Now, I’m not 100% on the entire plot of the Days of Future Past comic book run that’s so beloved by fans, but apparently it’s going to combine the worlds of Singer’s X-Men film universe with the First Class film universe, effectively “righting all of the wrongs” as it were, and giving the franchise a brand new beginning.

While that’s all well and good, the trick is making it work. J.J. Abrams was able to so brilliantly reboot the Star Trek film franchise while simultaneously keeping it within its current universe and in order to make the X-Men film franchise “reboot” work, Singer is going to have to do something similar.

I loved X2: X-Men United and X-Men First Class and with Bryan Singer back in the director’s chair (finally), I think he’s more than capable of bringing this whole franchise back to a place where it’s a force to be reckoned with in the comic book film Hollywood machine. Singer has a lot riding on his shoulders, but he’s the perfect man for the job.

MY OPINION ON ALL OF THIS:

I think it’s great that Hollywood is finally recognizing the inclusive power of comic books and the themes and stories that they can tell. Furthermore, it seems, for the most part, that the filmmakers handling these properties truly care about the subject matter and that goes a long way with fans, but the general audience who do not read comic books need to be intrigued by those stories, as well.

Unfortunately, I think some of these franchises are overkill. Comic books yield thousands of expanding storylines, but I wish that some of these films and franchises would just stick to telling good stories with good characters backing them. For instance, do we really need an Amazing Spider-Man film franchise with spin-off films and what not? I don’t think so. I personally think that Sony should either be content with making Amazing Spider-Man films with numbers behind the titles or work out a deal with Marvel and Disney and shove his scrawny ass into The Avengers film franchise.

Another gripe is films not being stand-alone pieces of cinema, but becoming sor of introductions to sequels or bigger films. STOP DOING THIS. These 200+ million dollar films can’t be treated as mere add-ons to something coming later. Save stuff like that for the ending credits, but leave the film itself alone and let it tell its own story. It’s not impossible; Iron Man 3 did it and, while I haven’t seen The Wolverine yet, supposedly it does that, too.

It’s an exciting time for comic book fans and there are no shortage of stories to tell within these universes so it’s a good thing and a bad thing that we’ll be getting a lot more comic book films in the years to come. The question is:  how long before this all starts to get old? I guess we’ll just have to find out.

jamcmanu


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