Comics are dominating the box office right now, in case you hadn’t noticed. It has now become literally impossible to explain how things used to be for superhero movies: there was a time when you couldn’t just walk into Wal-Mart and pick up a cheap t-shirt with the Batman logo on the front, because comics were their own genre with their own select set of fans. If anyone made a comic book movie back then, there’s a good chance you can look it up today and laugh at how sinfully awful the costumes and acting are. Not always, but mostly.
And it’s great that superheroes, comics and the rich stories they’re able to tell are now available to a wider audience… except in those instances when it absolutely isn’t. So here are The 10 Best (And Worst) Parts Of The Golden Age Of Superhero Movies.
10. Iconic Characters Finally On-Screen
Why it’s the Best: In less than a month we get to see Batman and Superman fight on-screen, in live action, with huge-name actors involved and a special effects budget big enough to purchase a small nation of your choice. If you don’t like that, you can tune into the CW and watch your weekly dose of Arrow or The Flash. If all the grit gets you down, switch over to CBS and catch Supergirl.
And that’s just DC. The trend shows no sign of stopping, so we’re going to be getting one major character after another, with studios bringing them to life in a way that comics, for all their artistry, simply can’t. And for the most part, they’re done well.
Why it’s the Worst: Batfleck, basically. It doesn’t matter what side you found yourself on; there was still a huge portion of fans who wept salty tears over the fact that Ben Affleck wasn’t quite the Bruce Wayne they wanted. What they did to Deadpool in Wolverine: Origins was unspeakable. The Fantastic Four were drained of all life, color and fun in their latest outing.
They might have big budgets, but these are characters that have been major players for decades and that can make them so very hard to get right, at least so far as the fans are concerned. Sometimes we get a Halle Berry version of Storm that doesn’t quite strike the right chord… or we’re presented with brooding, neck-snapping Superman. The fandom leaves an unforgiving margin of error.
9. Geek Culture Rules the World
Why it’s the Best: Speaking of which, there was an aforementioned dark period in history (i.e. everything before the year 2000, roughly) when comics were comics, and very occasionally movies of wildly varying quality. It was a strange balance of an insular world where everyone outside knew the big names, but not all of the history. Sure, everyone still knew who Batman was, but few could tell you of his latest adventures in comic book Gotham. Joel Schumacher’s version of Gotham, perhaps, but that wasn’t a good thing.
Fast forward to today, when perhaps not everyone reads actual comic books but the culture is widely accepted. Stereotypes of dank geek stores and basement dwellers are steadily being realized for what they are: stereotypes. “Geek” culture rules the world, and if you want to go out in public wearing a shirt with the Green Lantern logo on the front, there’s actually a good chance that people will know what it is. And that’s great.
Why it’s the Worst: Oh, hey, great…we’re getting a Punisher spinoff (maybe). Iron Fist might be setting up another martial arts hero. Fox has plans for several X-Men TV series, the DC Extended Universe is just getting started, Marvel seem to have planned their various phases to last until the sun explodes and those insufferable tweens sitting behind you in Batman V Superman are having a loud conversation about how Aquaman is a mermaid and Wonder Woman gets her powers from feminism.
Welcome to the world as it is right now, where superheroes are everywhere and we’re all experts. There’s no sign that this trend is slowing, so if you’re not sick of the genre already, just give it ten years and an X-Men spinoff that focuses on the origins of that guy who can make quills pop out of his face. Don’t think they wouldn’t.
8. We’re Getting Shared Universes
Why it’s the Best: Movie universes have been attempted before, but now that Marvel has come along and blown up the scale, they’ll never be the same again. Characters now inhabit fantastical worlds with a solid casts of heroes and events happening that affect each other in subtle or not-so-subtle ways. The fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in The Winter Soldier had a massive (and positive) effect on the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series; when was the last time you saw something like that happen? We’re seeing interconnected universes play out massive, entwining narratives without end, allowing for crossovers, cameos, spin-offs and even multiple universes. Just like in comics! Except the actors actually age.
Why it’s the Worst: What were the rest of the Avengers doing while Malekith was opening up an evil darkness portal in Greenwich, while Thor alone tried to stop him? Hopefully it was important, because the universe was nearly destroyed. Why couldn’t Captain America call in some heavy-hitters to help him take down the Helicarriers in The Winter Soldier? Reasons, probably.
While there are some muttered justifications, the impact of building a shared universe is massive when you’re trying to tell standalone stories. It’s only going to get worse as more and more heroes start showing up, taking on major threats and leaving us scratching our heads and wondering why they can’t just pick up the phone and call for backup. Pretty soon, the narratives are going to have to majorly shake things up…or just kill off a bunch of heroes. Maybe that’s why we’re getting a Civil War in the latest Marvel outing.
7. They Have to be Done Well
Why it’s the Best: As we’ve mentioned, comic book movies now carry genuine weight and respect in the industry, even if we haven’t quite reached the point where Doctor Strange is going to be nominated for Best Picture. The various pre-2000 Batman movies managed something of the same credibility (discounting one or two. You know the ones), but that’s nothing compared to the hype and praise they receive today. Thus, they absolutely have to be done right; a truly terrible comic book movie could affect an entire shared universe, discredit the characters and invite abuse from loyal fans. There’s pressure to do well, and so far, it’s been working.
Why it’s the Worst: Because too much pressure and we end up with Fant4stic. For whatever reason, the Fantastic Four have proven nigh-impossible to turn into a decent movie, and it seems to be getting worse with each attempt. What’s more, the successes of other studios and films raise the bar to impossible levels and also set the standard for what we think we want in a movie. If something doesn’t quite live up to either previous standards – such as X2: X-Men United, which created a high standard for X-Men: The Last Stand to live up to – or our vision of the character – neck-snapping Superman – there are violent reactions… and then the bar gets set even higher.
6. R-Rated Movies Are Now an Option
Why it’s the Best: Believe it or not, there have actually been R-rated comic book movies before Deadpool. Some weren’t even that bad, but since the superhero boom began, not many have been so ambitious. And now that we’re post-Deadpool and it’s made all of the money, it’s given filmmakers the license to be more ambitious. Wolverine might have been restricted to PG-13 stabbings in his previous movies, but if the rumors about Old Man Logan are true, we may actually get to see him use his claws for…well, actual, realistic stabbing. The game has changed, and directors can now feel freer to tell the stories they want to tell rather than being held back because everyone thinks comics are just for impressionable kids.
Why it’s the Worst: Straight after the success of Deadpool came a deluge of announcements that studios are making R-rated properties. With the movie so fresh, this isn’t going to stop. It all culminated in Zack Snyder stating that he’s releasing an R-Rated cut of Batman V Superman on DVD, something so cataclysmically idiotic that we’re still expecting Ryan Reynolds to confess that it was a Twitter prank.
Who could possibly, genuinely want an R-rated Batman V Superman movie? What’s the point? Bloodier punches? A scene with Bruce Wayne visiting a burlesque show? A graphic Clark/Lois sex scene? It’s pointless, gratuitous and so very indicative of where things are headed, which is that studios are latching onto the idea that R-rated means success. It really doesn’t. Deadpool is a character who was always meant to be more extreme, hence why his movie needed that rating, but slapping it on the front of a Batman poster isn’t the instant recipe for critical darling. That recipe would be casting an appropriate actor and making a movie that remains to faithful to the character that people love. A stellar marketing campaign doesn’t hurt, either.
5. Obscure Characters are Getting the Limelight
Why it’s the Best: Legends of Tomorrow came out of nowhere, but it’s already managed to establish itself as half-decent despite starring a few D-list names. People might have heard of Hawk Girl and The Atom, but it’s less likely that they know Rip Hunter, Heatwave and White Canary. They don’t quite have the pzazz of Wonder Woman, but neither are they burdened by trying to get an iconic character exactly right.
While the revelation of Skye being Daisy Johnson/Quake may have caused confused looks and visits to Wikipedia, it also meant that they had a pre-established character that people actually liked before their big superhero reveal. You couldn’t exactly pull that trick with Peter Parker. Heck, the Civil War marketing practically had to fight to keep him out of the spotlight when it was announced that Spider-Man would be in the movie for at least five minutes.
Why it’s the Worst: Adapting an icon goes both ways; you can get Superman horribly wrong, but there’s really not much to him that people don’t already know. Super guy, works at the Daily Planet, home planet blew up, isn’t really too bothered about it. The thing about an obscure character is that there’s often a reason; Heatwave is just a guy with a flame gun who occasionally annoys the Flash, while Rip Hunter is off dealing with his own time and space problems and doesn’t have much of a connection to present-day Earth. They’re trickier to get right in a way that will please the fans…and meanwhile, you’re fighting the uphill battle of no one knowing who they are and why they should care when they know for a fact that Grant Gustin’s adorkable Flash is doing his own thing at the same time.
4. It Never Ends
Why it’s the Best: The first X-Men came out in the year 2000. Sixteen years later, the series is still going strong with some of the same characters, and there’s not much sign of that stopping. It’s had its ups and downs, but Days of Future Past was warmly received and Age of Apocalypse is hotly anticipated. Meanwhile, Marvel are about to kick off Phase 3 of their grand master plan and DC are starting their own universe. If you like comic book movies, it’s a marvelous time to be alive as your beloved characters flood the big screen and there are no signs of it stopping.
Why it’s the Worst: There are no signs of it stopping.
So long as these things continue to make money, the superhero genre will dominate until the end of time or we get a Birds of Prey reboot series and it kills the entire genre stone dead, one or the other. If you’re hoping to see a resurgence of hard sci-fi or zombie romance (or hard sci-fi zombie romance), you’ll have to settle for the fringes as superheroes are all anyone’s talking about. Enjoy your Wonder Woman movie; there are probably five more on the horizon. And speaking of which…
3. We Know Exactly What’s Coming
Why it’s the Best: Again, this is totally unprecedented. Never before has a studio revealed their entire slate of planned movies for nearly a decade into the future, and it tells us a heck of a lot about how confident they are that they’re going to be hits.
We can now see exactly what’s coming up, get hyped before the release date and generally look forward to the steady unveiling of a comic book universe in live-action.
Why it’s the Worst: In giving us something to look forward to, Marvel and DC have given us… nothing to look forward to. We still have very little idea what comes next for the X-Men, but we’ve known for years that Thanos is going to be a major Avengers villain. Undoubtedly, Batman V Superman will be spelling out exactly who we’ve got to fear in the future (probably Darkseid) through some clever foreshadowing, allowing us to look at their upcoming slate of films and pick out exactly who gets introduced where. There are still plenty of surprises in the movies themselves, but in broad strokes they’ve ripped out the suspense of what comes next – and to boot, it’s pretty overconfident to plan your films up until 2021 and just count on all the hype not having dissolved by then.
2. No Silver-Age Goofiness
Why it’s the Best: We definitely don’t need a Superman with the ability to shoot little versions of himself out of his hands, or a super-dog with his own cape, or a super horse who also happens to be in love with Supergirl (no, seriously).
The world has moved on and these are not just comic books any more. It’s totally OK to snicker at the name “Ant-Man” like everyone in the movie does, because it’s kind of goofy, while the dulled-yet-still-present colors of the super-suits lend an air of realism, if not full-blown grit. It’s a fine balance, but studios seem to be getting the hang of it as we’re increasingly getting comic-accurate costumes that actually look incredibly good.
Meanwhile, so long as the origins are retained, it’s absolutely fine for none of the X-Men to really refer to each other by their code-names, not without some giggling and raised eyebrows. Again, these are things that worked in the comics but don’t translate to real life.
Why it’s the Worst: Mainly because studios just cannot fathom the idea of the X-Men in colorful costumes, and it’s the same in most places. If someone shows up in something with a bit more flair, there had better be a good reason or they’ll be forced to give a sheepish explanation. The X-Men had their uniforms drained of life until they were all just wearing black leather, and early photos of Wonder Woman drew criticism for being washed out and bland.
They might be angling for realism, but there is a balance to be struck that keeps the fun, creative element that people all love from comic books and brings it into real life in a way that will make satisfy the fans and not cause more casual viewers to crack up in the cinema.
1. Genre Blending
Why it’s the Best: Comics have always blended genres, as it allows for greater storytelling potential. Your scope is massive when you have all of time and space to play with, plus the nine realms and infinite parallel universes. This has carried over into comic book movies, which are able to mash up different genres into a single movie without us really noticing. You might not be into sci-fi, but Guardians of the Galaxy can be watched and enjoyed nonetheless because of its many other qualities (like ’80s pop-rock). Come for the fantasy/mythology elements in Thor and stay for the cool fight scenes. Superhero movies aren’t for everyone, but there’s still something to be found in most of them that’ll appeal to a wide audience.
Why it’s the Worst: As previously mentioned, no superhero movie is going to come close to winning Best Picture at the Oscars, because that category is reserved for realistic, painfully well-acted movies that people awkwardly pretend they’ve seen after they win all the awards. CBM’s are still lumped under the generic umbrella of sci-fi, which will always be a problem for movies that attempt to take on too many genres. But take on too few and they stop being stories about superheroes and turn into period pieces with occasional superpowers. You can’t have it both ways, meaning that we may never see superhero movies gain the credibility they should. Though turning them into period pieces would increase their chances at the Academy Awards.
Know any other pros and cons of superheroes being absolutely everywhere? Let us know in the comments!