STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM 2021: A Cure For What Ails You

The world was expecting to bounce back, to return to normal. COVID-19 had beaten us down, forced us inside and, for some of us, had taken people we held dear. We were sick and tired (no pun intended) of having our lives put on hold. We were ready to go back to our usual routines. Films were going to help with that, comic book films especially.

We went from only four comic book films last year to, well, a lot this year. So many that I am going to do a little gatekeeping. So no talking about Thunder Force, Melissa McCarthy’s superhero farce, no snarking on Snake-Eyes: G.I.Joe Origins, which other sites consider a comic book film but I don’t (Yes, the character has appeared in comic books from a number of companies, but he was created as a toy first. If this was the “State of the Toy Tie-In Film’, he’d be a shoe in). And no mention of Matrix Resurrections, a franchise I covered in my “History of the Comic Book Film” series for being a “Non-Comic Book Comic Book Movie.” But since it was adapted into and not adapted from comic books, I left it out.

Don’t worry, that leaves seven major films to cover here. That’s still a lot of films to cover.

Films were slow to start back up in early 2021, as the world tried to get the pandemic under control. However, the world of streaming was there to tide us over until the theaters could open up again. In March, a vocal subsection of the fandom got a gift. Zack Snyder’s Justice League was released on HBO Max, a special reward to a band of thugs who terrorized the internet until they got their way.

The film was, of course, what Zack Snyder’s version of 2017’s Justice League would look like if he didn’t have to step down. Rabid Snyder Bros were absolutely certain that the film would have critics like me and Rich change our tune, trumpet the film as a work of staggering genius and demand that Snyder get the reigns to the DCEU back. However, the film we got was at once both better and worse than the theatrical version. Better in terms of characters getting the characterization they deserved, worse in the fact that Snyder’s tics such as excessive use of slow motion made the four-hour film, twice as long as the theatrical version, a painful slog to get through.

Like I said, the Snyder Bros expected their man to get the keys to the franchise back again. As of this writing, that has yet to happen, with Snyder instead focused on his Netflix zombie shared universe.

Marvel returned to theaters in July of this year, with one major caveat. The eagerly awaited Black Widow film was release on Disney+ the same time it was released to theaters, albeit with the streaming service charging a premium price to any who wanted to stream it immediately.

The film was your typical, good Marvel action film, buoyed by great performances by Florence Pugh and David Harbour. I would have preferred a harder edge to the story, but that would have probably alienated the toyetic game plan that Marvel likes to play by.

The films most lasting legacy probably won’t be any plot point or sequel. Scarlett Johansson sued Disney due to her making less money because her salary was tied into a theater-only release model. Having it debut on streaming at the same time cut into her paycheck. The suit was settled out of court, supposedly in Johansson’s favor. This might set a precedent for any future release with a day and date release, especially for film with start that have back-end deals. Whether or not this had anything to do with Marvel’s other films this year going theater’s only remains to be seen.

Warner Brothers, on the other hand, ignored any complaints with day and date releases as they have released all their films simultaneously to theaters and streaming. That included their soft-reboot, The Suicide Squad, which debuted in theaters and on HBO Max in August.

The film acts as both a reboot and sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad. It adds writer/director James Gunn and an R-rating–Two things that make it enormously better than the original. Both Rich and I liked it, and for several months it reigned as the best comic book film of 2021.

Or, if you were me, its reign only lasted a month. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was released in September, and, for me, was the best Marvel Studios film of the year.

The film deviates greatly from its comic book source material. That’s because it had to. The comic was set in the world of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu universe and was heavy in outdated “yellow peril” characterization. The film avoids this by putting Asians both in front of and behind the camera.

The result is two films in one–a martial arts action film and a Chinese-myths based fantasy. Both halves add up to an incredibly entertaining whole.

Next up is Venom: Let There Be Carnage, a sequel to the surprise 2018 hit, Venom. Gone is that films director, Ruben Fleischer, replaced by Andy Serkis.

I liked the original more than I thought I would, and the same follows suit for the sequel. It is a wacky romp that works best if you turn your brain off and just enjoy the proceedings. The film gains a lot from Woody Harrelson and Naomie Harris chewing every piece of scenery that they could get their hands on as the film’s villains.

The film ended in a mid-credits cliffhanger where Venom found himself transported to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why would I spoil such an exciting plot point? You’ll see why in a little bit.

The next MCU film to come out was their adaptation of Jack Kirby’s Eternals. It was also, in my opinion, the weakest Marvel film of the year, if not all time.

I will have a longer review of the film on site in January before the film hits streaming. But suffice it to say, I wasn’t a fan of the comic book, and the film didn’t do enough to change my mind about the property.

The year ends with one of the most highly anticipated films of the year, Spider-Man: No Way Home.

This film was so big that it amazes even me. It has already made over $1 billion worldwide and has only been in release for just over two weeks. That is especially impressive with a Covid surge going on at the same time.

The film could be very, very important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it shows how you can fold Marvel films from other studios into current continuity. Although, if they handle it like they did with Venom, it might be more frustrating than rewarding. Remember that mid-credit’s scene I mentioned above? The one that promised a meet up between Venom and Spider-Man? It amounted to nothing. Venom goes back in the mid-credit scene here. What a disappointment.

2022 appears to be another big year for comic book films with ten, count ’em, ten comic book films set for release, parring any pandemic related delays. From Sony, we get the oft delayed Morbius on January 28 and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse 2, Part I in October 7. Warner Brothers will be very busy next year, as we are getting another revamp of The Batman on March 4, the animated DC League of Superpets hits May 20,  Black Adam strikes on July 29, The Flash races in on November 4 and Aquaman returns on December 16 in Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Marvel, we are getting Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness on May 6, Thor: Love and Thunder on July 8. and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever on November 11.

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About William Gatevackes 1983 Articles
William is cursed with the shared love of comic books and of films. Luckily, this is a great time for him to be alive. His writing has been featured on Broken Frontier.com, PopMatters.com and in Comics Foundry magazine.
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