We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn’t mean there won’t be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I’m only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.
That is a quote from Steven Spielberg from an interview with AP back in September, a quote that got a lot of play in the media. Because if there is anyone who knows anything about movies, it is Spielberg, who is a textbook case of a student becoming the master. His opinion has a lot of weight, and if the master says the comic book film was about to die, then the legion of people wishing for its death appeared to have a new champion.
This allowed the naysayers to bring out their knives. “Avengers: Age of Ultron was a disappointment!” “Ant-Man was the lowest grossing Marvel film since The Incredible Hulk!” “Fantastic Four was an unmitigated failure!” The decline of the comic book film had begun, just as Spielberg predicted it!
Of course, there are details that are right in the naysayers’ points of view, but there are also details missing or left out, even with Spielberg’s theorem (Westerns might not have died out because they reached their natural life cycle, but rather because the “Good Guys In White Hats” ethos no longer resonated Vietnam-era audiences).
One film left out of pundits’ choruses of “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” is Kingsman: The Secret Service. The film was based on Mark Millar’s The Secret Service comic. Published by Marvel’s creator-owned Icon imprint, the comic was another one of Millar’s pastiches–what if James Bond chose his own replacement. The film was released in February and garnered a respectable 74% Fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, and made better than respectable $414 million dollars worldwide against an $81 million budget. All this with being a R-rated film with little to no per-existing audience.
The film will garner a sequel, photography of which is set to begin in April. Matthew Vaughn has begun writing the sequel with an eye on returning to the director’s chair. Fox is aiming at a June 16, 2017 release for the film. So this is a comic book film that was an unqualified success.
We now come to the major disappointment that was Avengers: Age of Ultron was. It made a whopping $160 million less domestically than its predecessor! Which only means that it made $459 million at home compared the the prior’s $623 million. However, a point that many doubters fail to bring up, it made $50 million MORE overseas that the original did. It still comes up $100 million less that The Avengers in worldwide grosses (at a paltry $1.4 billion), but it still quadrupled its budget. Any movie would love that kind of return.
Any time you call a film unsuccessful because it doesn’t make more of a profit than its predecessor, but still makes a hefty profit, it means that you really don’t have a means to attack it in the first place.
Quality wise, well, I thought it had too many characters for its own good, but it got a respectable 75% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. It did what it need to do, which was drive the Marvel Cinematic Universe forward and sell a lot of merchandise to fans.
And, Ant-Man, as it turns out, has done better at the domestic box office than both The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: The First Avenger and did better than those two and Thor in foreign markets. So, while it might have started slow, it had better legs than any of those three. And this is an accomplishment as other movies with the any kind of behind-the-scenes turmoil, let alone anyone that loses its writer/director days before filming was to start, seldom do as good.
The film got the best aggregate score of any comic book film this year, with an 80% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I couldn’t get past the missing Edgar Wright touches to enjoy the movie fully, but audiences without such a hangup seemed to enjoy it. I do look forward to the sequel, Ant-Man and Wasp, due to hit theaters in July 6, 2018. I would like to see how the characters would work outside the shadow of Edgar Wright and in a script without his trademark touches.
As for Fantastic Four, well, the naysayers are right about that one. There is no way to put a positive spin on that film. It bombed at the box office, was trashed by the critics, and the only positive thing you could say about the film, is that it might have been better if more scenes were added to it.
However, one horrible film does not a genre killer make. If that was the case, the comic book film genre would have been killed in its formative year of 2008, felled by the one-two punch of The Spirit and Punisher: War Zone. The only thing that the Fantastic Four might have killed was the property as a viable film franchise. The planned 2017 sequel was scrapped, and while Fox has given verbal support to the franchise, no news of where it will take the property has been revealed.
It fits the doubters’ narrative that 2015’s comic book film output was a disappointment, because the genre is coming upon its riskiest and most ambitious year yet in 2016. Marvel is pairing what should be a sure bet in Captain America: Civil War with another lesser known C-level character in Doctor Strange. Fox is expanding its X-Men shared universe, adding solo movies for Deadpool and Gambit to third year’s X-offering, X-Men: Apocalypse. Warners is putting the pedal down on its DC Shared Universe with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. And if that wasn’t enough, there will be a sequel to Michael Bay’s TMNT reboot, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, arriving in June. Eight comic book based properties, most custom designed to expand their studios piece of the comic book movie pie. If most or all of them hit big, it could shape the landscape of films for decades to come. If the fail, it could kill the comic book film genre forever. So, you can see why critics of the genre want to sell the idea that the decline has already begun.
But the state of the comic book film in 2015 wasn’t one in decline. It was smaller than in years past, but still sturdy. Sorry, Mr. Spielberg. The genre isn’t going anywhere just yet.