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Friday, July 01, 2016 

The future of superhero movies looks like a crossover team title

I found an op-ed by the film critic James Berardinelli (whose family once knew the late artist Gene Colan) from last year, that, while it may be a bit old now, does predict what's apparently happening to superhero movies this very moment - they're becoming more like crossovers and less stand-alone solo vehicles:
The Avengers was a game changer in that it essentially made stand-alone superhero movies obsolete (something easily predicted). Since then, most "one hero" movies have underperformed. Iron Man 3 was the exception, although its domestic gross fell short of The Avengers by $200M. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (barely cleared $200M domestic), Thor: The Dark World (barely cleared $200M domestic), The Wolverine (didn't reach $150M domestic), and Man of Steel (didn't reach $300M domestic) all disappointed versus expectations. The trend was clear. The second Captain America brought along a bunch of superhero sidekicks and the Superman sequel has been reworked to rope in Batman and pave the way for the long-gestating Justice League film. Meanwhile, the Spider-Man debacle forced Sony to call a truce with Marvel in what is likely to be a sign of things to come.

As Warner Brothers struggles to get Justice League off the ground, Marvel has increased its dominance in the superhero box office battle. But, in a curiously timed move, they have employed a doomsday strategy. In order to stoke fan expectations to a fever pitch, they have announced a one-two-three punch: Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: The Infinity War (Parts 1 & 2). There are, however, unintended consequences to announcing big plans like these.
Indeed there are: they're no longer self-contained, and now they've become more like the concept that brought down superhero comics since the mid-80s: company wide crossovers. And is that truly a good thing? Not really, because I find it galling if they're attempting to justify the practice, which is discouraging even to moviegoers.
Then there's the question of what happens after 2019. From a certain perspective, The Infinity War makes sense. Superhero movies are all about raising the stakes. Single hero movies gave way to teams. Now teams must give way to something else - in this case, the final battle against the ultimate villain. But then what? After The Infinity War, going back to "smaller" stories will be a hard sell. Viewers always want more, but what more can there possibly be after telling the biggest story imaginable? It would be like doing a character-based book in the wake of an epic fantasy.
One moment now. Is he suggesting character-based stories are bad? Or that the audience doesn't like them? If that's what he's saying, I think it's insulting to imply they don't, or to say nobody wants a single hero movie anymore. Nor is bigger always better. Even a story with a simpler structure can be very crowd-pleasing. Yet it appears they're headed almost entirely to team-based movies and battles against enormous supervillains, and that's taking the risk of wearing the movies thin. Just like the publishers are doing this very moment with the crossovers back in the pamphlets.

It's probably a sign that eventually, even superhero movies will wear thin, because if they continue with films meant to resemble crossovers and team titles, it only figures they'll have mooted solo fare sooner than we thought.

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