Superheroes Ad Infinitum: The Endless Parade Continues

marvel-vs-dcThe title may sound snarky, but as I’ve made clear in the past I have a great affection for superhero films, regardless what acclaimed filmmakers might think of them. Anyone with half a brain can tell that superheroes are likely to be a permanent staple of Hollywood filmmaking, and that this is their boom period, the same boom that noirs and westerns were going through between the ‘30s and ‘50s. But with so much more money being poured into each production, and with the big buzz-word(s) in Hollywood right now being “shared universe”, the long-term roadmaps for these films are tantamount. With the major announcements being made this week, we now have a (slightly) clearer picture of what to expect in the coming years from these most expensive of motion pictures. So I figured I’d talk about it because I’ve been lacking in topics to rant about lately and this I could do in my sleep.

The big info-dump yesterday was the announcement of Warner Bros/DC’s full film slate over the next 6 years. Aside from the complete lack of ceremony behind the announcement (as many have pointed out, the fact they released this info during an investor conference call instead of NY Comic-Con says a lot), the big concern with the DC films is how these plans are both frustratingly vague and anxiously specific at the same time. The vagueness comes from the lack of creative commitments: while we now know that Zack Snyder is officially stuck in the DC machine until at least 2019, the only other confirmed filmmaker is David Ayer signing on for Suicide Squad (an intriguing development for me, at least, but not Earth-shattering either). Other than that, when it comes to Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern, Shazam and any standalone Superman or Batman films, the only confirmed involvement comes from the cast, which will not be the deciding factor in these films’ quality.

And yet, despite all of these films having no writers, directors, or definitive interest from the general moviegoing public, these films have all been announced and slapped onto a calendar anyway. This is in marked contrast to every other studio superhero plan, where announcements of new films usually come at least with screenwriters attached, if not directors as well (even the ongoing clusterfuck of Sony’s Spider-Man franchise gets this much right). Much like the apparent pace of Snyder’s cornerstone films, Warner Bros is falling all over itself to catch up with Marvel, putting expediency and investor appeasement over trying to tell good stories… yknow, the thing that really makes Marvel so successful in the first place.

Having said all of that, in their haste to assure people that yes they are going to make many many superhero films, WB/DC did beat Marvel to the punch in one notable way: they were the first to officially announce films starring a woman (Wonder Woman) and an African-American (Cyborg) in this era of the genre. This is one area where Marvel has dragged its feet, either because characters like Black Panther and Captain Marvel are less relevant to their overall plans, or because corporate considerations keep dragging them back to the white-male demographic that is considered the lifeblood of the genre (it’s not anymore). Even so, with Wonder Woman not slated until 2017, and Cyborg not until 2020, Marvel has plenty of time to beat DC to the punch. Indeed, Marvel already has May 5, 2017 pencilled in as a release date for something, which could easily become Captain Marvel or Black Widow, and they have numerous dates in 2018 and 2019 that could end up being for Black Panther. Not to mention the possibility of a War Machine film, or of Falcon taking over for Captain America. So while WB/DC has the upper hand for the moment, but don’t think Marvel is gonna take this lying down.

But first, Marvel has other ambitions to pursue, which was made startlingly clear with the announcement that Iron Man would be appearing as the antagonist in Captain America 3, which seems to be both spinning out of Age of Ultron and setting up the Civil War storyline. For those of you whose knowledge of these things stops with the films, Civil War was a major Marvel Comics crossover event back in 2006-2007, which saw the heroes split in battle over whether superhumans should have to register with and serve the government. This seems to be where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed now, and it’s a direction that will probably see an even greater amount of interconnectivity between the major Avengers-related films, which in turn will demand more attention (and hopefully excitement) from audiences. Not that this will turn the MCU into one massive narrative necessarily; I’m sure Dr. Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 will stay separate for now, and the TV/Netflix series will only be tangentially affected. But as far as the main Avengers films go, this should be a great boon to the storytelling options, and open up plenty of dramatic avenues that will add some complexity to the meta-franchise before it begins to become stale.

Besides the two big players, there is also Fox’s commitment to a Deadpool movie, and the rumor that Sony might lend Spider-Man back to Marvel, but the immediate future of the genre is firmly at the mercy of Disney/Marvel and WB/DC. I don’t know how someone could be more excited for the DC Movieverse over the MCU right now: Marvel’s planning is much more deliberate, story driven, and based on recruiting filmmakers who are right for the material, while DC just has a very broad roadmap and one make-or-break movie from a very divisive filmmaker. While none of that precludes any of the DC films from being good, or guarantees that none of the Marvel movies will be bad, it does drive home something that’s been obvious for awhile now: this is Marvel’s game, and everyone else is playing catch-up.


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