This week sees the release of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice with both Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse coming hot on their tail and while we’re at it let’s not forget the huge success of Deadpool earlier in the year. It would seem that for now comic-book adaptions are as popular as ever, but as someone who’d consider himself part of these film’s target demographic, I’m a bit of a comic-book geek (DC Comics if you must know) and a huge Batman fan-boy, but recently I’ve found myself feeling rather unexcited about them all.
Maybe it’s just the huge production line of comic book movies that major Hollywood studios have churned out over the past few years that have left me feeling a bit fed up. They just don’t hold the same appeal they once did and if truth be told I think I’m beginning to feel like I’m suffering from comic-book fatigue. I first noticed it last year after watching Avengers: Age of Ultron, don’t get me wrong it’s not a bad movie; but it just didn’t do anything for me. Yes there was all the great dialogue you’d expect from any Joss Whedon movie and some fantastic set pieces; but there wasn’t any ‘wow’ factor. Just like Iron Man 2 it felt like the writers were in too much of a rush to set things up for future instalments rather than try to tell an interesting, engaging story for this film.
The first Avengers movie genuinely took me by surprise, after all I loved Chris Nolan’s mean and moody Dark Knight Trilogy, but Whedon’s film which marked the fruition of five years hard work by Marvel Studios gave viewers a much brighter, less broody superhero movie. With clear nods to Seven Samurai and The Dirty Dozen, Whedon managed to pitch the ensemble piece near-perfectly with its clash of super egos. Second time round Age of Ultron, just left me a little underwhelmed, it was weighed down by the shackles of viewer expectation and a studio clearly determined to develop their franchise.
My other big gripe with Age of Ultron and many of the Marvel movies while we’re at it, is that they’ve just become so formulaic and samey samey. They’ve adopted a copy and paste approach to their narrative structure which seems to culminate in a big over the top, CGI filled finale. Even Guardians of the Galaxy, which I genuinely loved (for me it was the closest any film has ever come to replicating the magic of the original Star Wars) was guilty of doing this. Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man might have tried to parody this Marvel trope within its own finale as it played out on a Thomas the Tank train set, but at the same time it was still guilty of doing the exact same thing as all the other Marvel movies. There’s a huge part of me that will always wish we’d got to see Edgar Wright’s vision of Marvel’s tiny superhero; Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World remains to this day one of my all-time favourite comic-book adaptions and a film that embraced its heritage.
Much was made about Deadpool’s more adult oriented approach when it was released earlier this year, but despite its R-Rating (15 certificate for us here in the UK) Deadpool still felt like a film targeted towards a 12A audience. Throwing in grittier violence along with more swear words and a few masturbation gags didn’t really feel that edgy or daring; we’ve already had grittier comic-book movies like Matthew Vaughn‘s Kick-Ass and Pete Travis’ criminally underappreciated masterpiece Dredd; but unlike those films Deadpool proved to be a massive success at the box-office due to its fantastic marketing campaign. As much as I’d love to see more edgier comic-book movies in the future, the more adult oriented tone really needs to fit the source material.
Don’t get me wrong I’m not bashing comic book movies, they’re pure escapism after all and it’s hard not to enjoy Robert Downey Jr. doing his thing as Tony Stark; but their continued success only continues to make studios lazy (they’ve already greenlit umpteen movies up until at least 2020). Recently local filmmaker Terry George lamented that it was becoming harder and harder to convince big name actors to work on his smaller indie projects because they’re signed up to so many multi-picture deals within these franchises.
Even popcorn movie maestros like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have said they think the Comic-Book movie will eventually go the way of the western genre, they’ll have their day before audiences move on to something new; but no movie studio will ever willingly kill the goose that lays their golden egg so for now we’ll just have to wait until these movies are no longer seen as such a lucrative licence to print money. This moment might sooner rather than later, especially now that DC Comics have finally entered the ‘expanded universe’ ring.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Man of Steel, it’s a film that was to mean and moody for its own good and tried to replicate Chris Nolan’s grittier approach with his Dark Knight trilogy, but it just didn’t fit its central protagonist. It was a narratively clunky film that was tonally all over the place and had an over-the-top, CGI filled finale would’ve made even Michael Bay blush.
Unlike Marvel Studio’s who’ve managed to make their own ‘All-American Boy Scout’, Captain America an interesting character and a central part of their expanded cinematic universe; DC just don’t seem to have the same level of confidence with Superman, they’re already throwing Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman into their next movie in an attempt to quickly setup a Justice League movie and get to where Marvel got with The Avengers after four films and five years of strategic planning. It’s a risky move for just one movie and they’re now clearly paying the price for allowing Chris Nolan the freedom to make his Dark Knight movies such standalone entities.
Despite all my grumblings I know I’ll still be going to see these films when they’re released, that might make me sound like a bloody hypocrite but I’m someone who lives in hope that these big-budget ,CGI spectacles will reawaken the excitement I first felt about my weekly trips to the multiplex when I was younger. It’s something I vividly remember feeling the first time I watched Jurassic Park as an 11-year-old boy at my local cinema in Omagh, It’s a film I’d go on to watch at least three more times in that same cinema over the summer of 1993, but for now the novelty factor of comic-book movies has sadly been lost on me. The thought of seeing two pop culture icons, Batman and Superman going toe to toe, just doesn’t hold the same appeal it once did; if truth be told I’m slightly envious of those cinemagoers who still get excited about these releases, but alas maybe I’ve got too cynical in my old age.