“Ever Get the Feeling You’ve Been Cheated?” – Johnny Rotten
In June, Batman Begins turns ten. Now outside of making me feel a little old (I also remember Tim Burton’s Batman coming out), in my mind Batman Begins marks the beginning of the superhero movie rebirth. Now granted, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man really jump-started the modern era of superhero films in 2002, but to me, Nolan’s Batman was such a huge step forward not just because of it’s reverence to source material (Begins is basically an updated Batman Year One with villains) but also in showing that Raimi wasn’t the only great director interested in comic book movies. Next thing you know Bryan Singer, who had already made two pretty good X-Men films, was restarting the Superman franchise and Marvel was building up its own studio. What could possibly go wrong?
This past weekend the second Avengers movie made almost as much money domestically as Batman Begins did in its entire theatrical run. This should be a good thing for comic books movies, and in some ways it is. Marvel Studios has an insanely full slate of films set-up for the next half decade at least, and DC/Warner Brothers is trying their best to catch up. Putting the reigns of your biggest heroes in the hands of the guy who butchered Watchmen (Zack Snyder) not withstanding, the DC Films will make boatloads of movie (for a while) I’m sure, and Marvel doesn’t seem to be losing much steam yet. I do question exactly how much profit there is in a treadmill of movies whose budgets keep getting more out of control with each passing year, but Hollywood and the comics industry are never the smartest when it comes to money. Therein lies the problem.
It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know that fads come and go, so the question isn’t if superhero movies will lose their luster, it’s when? If I had to wager, I would say it starts right about now. Avengers: Age of Ultron is making a killing already, and it will continue to do so I’m sure, but my nine-year old said something rather prescient the other day. He really liked the first one when it came out but had made no mention of wanting to go see the sequel, so I asked him about it. He said he wanted to see it but that he could wait because “it looks just like the first one, only with a different bad guy.” Now he’s really smart for his age, but that shouldn’t matter. Kids should be clamoring to see a movie about superheroes but in reality, it’s thirty year-old men who are the target audience for these movies, and that’s a big problem. I don’t think these films, for all their money-making ability now, are going to mean much to anyone outside of hardcore fans in twenty years. The Christopher Nolan Batman movies and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies will, Guardians of the Galaxy will, and maybe even the first Iron-Man and Captain America. The rest is just the cinematic equivalent of a loud noise thrown at the screen.
The original Superman movies were events, Tim Burton’s Batman was an event, and The Dark Knight was an event. The next Marvel movie doesn’t matter because there will be another one along in a couple of months. So what if the new Thor movie doesn’t do as well as they thought, there will be another Iron Man right around the corner. Until there isn’t, and that “isn’t” comes a hell of a lot faster than most people remember. In 1995 Batman Forever was the toast of the summer. People thought after Tim Burton and Michael Keaton left that there was no way a Batman movie could do as well without them, but Joel Schumacher proved the doubters wrong and made a movie that made more money than even the first Burton Batman film. So what did the studio do? Give Schumacher even more control of the next film, titled Batman and Robin. That film would go on to become one of the most reviled superhero movie of all time, brought the Batman franchise to a screeching halt, and pretty much paved the way for the current crop of superhero movies in a round-about way. The problem is, a movie like Batman and Robin is only a few steps away at any given time but the film industry never seems to remember this.
In just the last few weeks several photos have emerged of David Ayer’s forthcoming Suicide Squad film, a movie that no one was clamoring for, and the photos are fairly laughable. Is Suicide Squad the next Batman and Robin? It could be, but I doubt it. A movie that most people expect to be terrible doesn’t really fit the bill. As much as I hate to say it, considering that I have always preferred DC to Marvel, my guess is that the movie that gets the proverbial ball rolling will be Batman VS. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Too many characters, too many (bad) ideas, and the director who made Sucker-Punch might be the perfect storm that makes everyone forget about Bat-nipples. But then again, it really could be this:
Until next time…