The future of comic book movies (part 2)

For the Earth 2 version click here.

Note: Since I haven’t yet figured out an efficient way to edit pictures on Linux I must excuse myself for the uninterrupted wall of text.

Earth 1
Comic book movies have long become a respected and reliable source for both creativity and entertainment, but it was not always like this.

They had to come a long and hard way to get past people’s prejudice since they were initially written of as brainless entertainment by a large group.

So when was this barrier breached?

Let’s look at the history of comic book movies and their pivotal years

2011 – a new era

June 1st X-Men: First Class
Coming from the provoking but well received Kick-Ass Matthew Vaughn continued to put his stamp onto the superhero genre, delivering the first superhero-period-piece (not counting Watchmen) with a unique style. Acting as a reboot for the X-Men movies the film reignited a franchise, using it’s setting to the story’s advantage while also having a distinctive style that inspired other directors to bring more of their own interpretation into future superhero movies instead of playing it safe.

June 17th Green Lantern
Having initial problems with unfinished CGI Green Lantern turned out to be the surprise hit of the summer, offering an entirely new universe, exotic places and a compelling yet simple story. Green Lantern’s success opened the door for other characters from the DC-Universe (which had previously only featured Batman and Superman on the big screen).

Green Lantern managed to achieve for DC what Iron Man did for Marvel, showing that not all superheromovies need to be dark and brooding and that being a fun movie didn’t mean that it had to be dumbed down.

 

July 22nd Captain America
Similar to X-Men Captain America proved the versatility of comic book movies by taking place during World War II. Reflecting on the myth of the hero without patronizing Captain America became a fascinating depiction of myth/reality good intention/propaganda, never featuring a one-sided image of America and thereby surprising a lot of people who had expected a glorifying propaganda movie.

Having learned from their previous incarnations Marvel delivered a movie that worked on it’s own without feeling like a commercial for the upcoming Avengers movie.

July 29th Cowboys and Aliens
While not a massive hit the obscure premise as well as the all around top notch production team both infront and behind the camera managed to further expand the versatility of comic book movies by mixing science fiction with western elements. Despite it’s ridiculous premise Cowboys and Aliens was both entertaining yet also emotionally engaging and prospered from great word of mouth, opening the door for further ambitious projects such as HBO’s adaption of Vertigo comic’s Fables.

 

2012 – The year of the spectacle

February 17th Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Using the non-existant expectations to it’s advantage Ghost Rider finally had Nicolas Cage return to form after a string of terrible movies. While not being a major revelation Ghost Rider had enough goods to redeem Nicolas Cage’s reputation and restore some hope for future movies.

 

April 25th The Avengers
After 4 years of preparing the movie audience for a team-up movie The Avengers blasted on screen featuring Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Captain America. Directed by fan favorite Joss Whedon The Avengers managed to skillfully balance five main characters and their different motivations and provided not only eyecandy, but also used the superhero-setting to it’s advantage by allowing five different outlooks on the genre by it’s versatile cast.
Not only did it continue the deconstruction of the American superhero-myth by using Captain America it also managed to add a human element to a conflict so large it could have easily turned into a simple CGI-fest.

May 25th Men in Black III
Having to struggle with the fact that Men in Black II had been a lackluster following in the wake of the fresh and new Men in Black, the third installment added a lot of drama that was missing in the second part and was not content with just repeating the same gags but instead furthered the relationship between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones bringing their characters to a very emotional highpoint of the series.

July 3rd Amazing Spider-Man
Similarly to X-Men First Class Amazing Spider-Man was a reboot happening relatively early after the last installment (Spider-Man 3 2007), but like X-Men it knew that it had to be different and fresh in order to succeed.
The movie profited from a more fleshed out love-interest and a tight screenplay and director Marc Webb continued the trend (similar to Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi and Jon Favreau) of hiring people outside of the comic book/action area for directing to get a new spin on an old formula.
While it had a hard time following in Raimi’s footsteps (whose Spider-Man along with X-Men had launched this golden era of comic book movies) Amazing Spider-Man did it’s best to make people care again about Peter Parker and his everyday problems.

July 20th The Dark Knight Rises
Equally anticipated as The Avengers The Dark Knight Rises marked the final chapter in the trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. Knowing that replicating the formula of The Dark Knight would not work this time (especially due to the unfortunate loss of Heath Ledger) The Dark Knight Rises changed completely, going from the enormous scale of its predecessor to a small ensemble drama, resembling more a mobster movie than a superhero adaption.
The new villain by Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane both scary and intriguing as well as the overall cast finally managed to break the “curse of third superhero installments”. The Dark Knight Rises not only managed to live up to it’s hype it was also the first superhero-movie to finally earn a nomination for best picture and screenplay.
Yet for all its technical marvel and villains the true stand out turned out to be Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon who alongside with Christian Bale carried most of the movie’s drama earning Oldman his long overdue Oscar-victory.

November The Wolverine
After Darren Aronofsky left the project Fox turned towards Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) who did his best to deliver one of the most unlike superhero-movies to date. Contrary to the ill received X-Men Origins: Wolverine The Wolverine cut back on mutants and over-elaborate action scenes and instead focusing on the drama of the character. With The Wolverine Jones once again manged to portray an outcast of society using his sci-fi noir roots to enhance the mood visually.
Despite getting a nomination for best screenplay at the writers guild’s awards and a best actors nomination from the screenactors guild The Wolverine was shut out from the Academy Award ceremony due to the still continuing bias but The Dark Knight Rises and The Wolverine both managed to further establish comicbook movies as a serious art-form.

December The Man of Steel
After getting torn apart because of the horrid Sucker Punch the reinvention of Superman seemed to be doomed – yet to the surprise of mostly everyone Zack Snyder proved that under the right constraints and proper pressure he can flourish beyond his style-over-substance-reputation.
His over-stylized action turned out to perfectly fit the icon Superman giving the Man of Steel many moments of Superhero glory in a strangely optimistic movie (especially considering that it was the same year of dark gritty dramas with Wolverine and Batman). When Avengers turned into the peak of Marvel-movie-storytelling The Man of Steel made it finally possible for Superman to leave his 70ies roots and arrive in the new century.

2013 – The new dawn

Justice League
Following a different tactic than Marvel DC-comics decided to directly start with a team-up film and since Green Lantern, Superman and Batman were already established in the movie-consciousness Justice League just kicked off, establishing Wonder Woman and The Flash in this movie with the aforementioned three heroes getting thrown into the mix.
Similarly to The Avengers Justice League had the heroes not only face a physical threat but also very philosophical questions, mostly carried out by Superman and Batman while the entire movie was a meditation on how the world would react if people who were almost god-like (and Batman) were to walk the earth.

May Iron Man 3
Having left behind the Avengers Iron Man 3 could finally focus again on Tony Stark. Featuring the Mandarin Iron Man 3 stepped away from the “villain is Iron Man with bigger armor”-concept and due to the nature of the enemy the third installment became very politically, commenting on the tension between two superpowers. Iron Man 3 is especially notable for being one of the superhero films to succeed in taking a political stand that did not come across as a simplified children’s book version of real life politics. Especially the final act re-affirmed that superhero films had moved on from propaganda movies to become serious meditation on our everyday problems – while on the same hand never failing to entertain.

June Green Lantern 2
After the success of Green Lantern Warner Brothers greenlit a sequel that would not only succeed the first installment but become a giant smash-hit, catapulting Green Lantern into the major league. Ignoring the events of Justice League and following it’s own storyline Green Lantern 2 became known as “the movie the Star Wars prequels should have been”.
The story of Sinestro’s fall provided the outline for a movie very dark and emotional and where they were initially bound by having to set up the story in the first part Ryan Reynolds and Mark Strong delivered a tour de force making people flock to see Green Lantern 3.

 

2014 and the years to come
After a long and hard learning period comic book movies were no longer spectacle over substance. While still having a stinker once in a while they mostly managed to engage and entertain audience, never resorting to being a simple dumbed down CGI-spectacle.
It was around this time that the superheroes were so established in the public conscious that having an origin story was considered superfluous. Filmmakers could now just focus on the parts they wanted without having to go through a movie that was basically just a set-up for another movie. The constant change of actors and directors brought a versatility to the table and people had no problem seeing different incarnations of the same character (notably started by The Wolverine which ignored all other movies, focused on its own story while still featuring the original actor) – very similar to the comic books the movies were derived from where artists would have their run on the character and then hand it over to another one.
Adhering to other movie’s continuity was finally no longer considered necessary since people realized the potential that a new interpretation could have (as seen in First Class, Amazing Spider-Man and the post-Nolan Batman incarnations).

2028 The Dark Knight Returns
39 years after Batman had started to offer another perspective on superhero-movies other than serving as glorified patriots a big spectacle took place:
Returning for the first time since 2012 Christopher Nolan reassembled the entire Batman cast to a movie that went on to be considered “The Watchmen of Comic Book Movies”.

Marking the 50th Anniversary of Richard Donner’s Superman The Dark Knight Rises returned to the Gotham City created in 2005 for Batman Begins, featuring an older retired Christian Bale, who had abandoned all hope.

In a mixture of the comics Arkham Asylum and The Dark Knight Returns the movie was a deconstruction of half a century full of superheroes. Similar to Batman returning to Gotham and facing his demons in the Arkham Asylum (where a new incarnation of the iconic Joker acted as a Hannibal Lecter character) the movie reflected on the endurance and reason for the ever-present superhero movies.
Produced by Tim Burton the film was a mixture of surreal images and drama, strung together by a tight script by Jonathan Nolan.

Very much like Batman finding his peace and realizing the need to continue his work moviegoers left the theatre re-affirmed:
The superhero genre would continue for a long time.

Although…
The future is not set in stone..:
Which version will happen?
Which Earth will vanish? Or will they (more likely) merge to a hybrid?
The first indication will be today when I’m going to watch X-Men: First Class

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