Captain America: The Most Enjoyable Civil War in History

Remember a while ago when I wrote that the dominance of the Superhero genre was ending? While I still believe that the inevitable demise is coming (and much closer than it was before), I will admit to being wrong in my timeline. Of course, making entertaining, quality cinema is the best way to prolong the life of any franchise (or genre) and, where Batman V Superman failed, Captain America: Civil War has succeeded in being a fun, if inconsequential, blockbuster.  Continue reading Captain America: The Most Enjoyable Civil War in History

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is Part Movie, Part "Sinister" Marketing Campaign

When the Amazing Spider-Man came out in 2012, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had already been announced. More than that, the film was already several months into development. This behind-the-scenes action translated into in-film foreshadowing. The Amazing Spider-Man featured several dangling plot threads, including the shadow-y operations of OsCorp Industries and the mysterious fate of Peter Parker’s parents. Well, when doing a sequel: everything must get bigger. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 returns to the story of Peter Parker (a.k.a. – spoiler alert – the Amazing Spider-Man) and, sadly, escalates the amount of unknown. Something big is coming for Peter Parker, as even the tagline stated: “his greatest battle begins.” Unfortunately, anyone hoping to see that “greatest battle” resolved will have to buy another ticket… or two… or three.

Look to be fair, never says that it's going to end.
Look to be fair, never says that it’s going to end.

Yes, there isn’t a whole lot of character resolution that takes place in the Amazing Spider-Man 2. The script is invaded by characters and scenes dedicated to setting up what Sony seems to think could be their own version of the Avengers: the Sinister Six. This is a bold move by the company, who feels that the Sinister Six is a billion-dollar blockbuster idea. Personally, I am not sure where this confidence is coming from. I do not believe that anyone, ANYONE out there is screaming for a Sinister Six movie. So it will be a tough sell, good thing the Amazing Spider-Man 2 made Harry Osborn into such a compelling character… wait.
The Avengers was able to succeed largely in thanks to its set up films. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man 2 all set up the characters and the story for the epic crossover. The Sinister Six will not have this luxury. It has received the only set-up film it will receive: the Amazing Spider-Man 2. The problem is that the set-up was not done well. For those reading who have not seen the Amazing Spider-Man 2: the following will spoil the movie.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is (too) full of new characters. One of them is Harry Osborn. Anyone who has seen the Sam Raimi trilogy of Spider-Man movies already knows who this is: childhood friend of Peter Parker and future Green Goblin. Harry enters the movie only to learn that he is dying of the same disease that killed his father, Norman Osborn (not a Green Goblin in this universe). While Norman’s disease took sixty years to kill him, Harry’s is acting faster… I think. The movie never has time to tell us this, Harry simply starts acting like he only has days left to live. So either Harry is the most impatient man alive (removing all possibility of sympathy in his fall) or there is information that the audience does not know… or maybe the screenwriters forgot about.

While Norman's scene introduces the danger of the disease, it does nothing to create a sense or urgency. He's not super old, but he's not young either. Really they just wanted a scene with Chris Cooper.
While Norman’s scene introduces the danger of the disease, it does nothing to create a sense of urgency. He’s not super old, but he’s not young either. Really they just wanted a scene with Chris Cooper.

Anyway, Harry goes kind of insane trying to keep himself alive. He frees Electro (another insane villain, guess what his power is?) to help access the secret super spider VENOM (yes, there is another movie coming) to stop his disease and save his life. How does something called Venom help save lives… good question. Just go with it. Of course, Harry doesn’t know that the Venom is coded to Parker DNA (keep going with it), meaning that the wonderful things that happened to Spider-Man aren’t going to happen to him. Instead, the Venom heals Harry but turns him into a physical goblin… I’m not kidding.

Because SCIENCE!
Because SCIENCE!

His hair spikes out, his teeth become fangs, his ears get pointy, and his nose goes crooked. This is the most dramatic drug ever created apparently. Harry staggers into the remarkably close Goblin armor (OsCorp believes in keeping all of its most villainous creations within arm’s reach of one another – the better to foreshadow with), somehow knows how to work it, and flies off to battle Spider-Man. Problem: All of this transformation happens in the last forty minutes of the movie while Jamie Foxx’s Electro is terrorizing the city, Peter and Gwen are salvaging their relationship, Aunt May is trying to keep people alive at a hospital, and an airport is trying to stop two planes from colliding… there is TOO MUCH going on in this movie.
The result is that an iconic sequence from the Spider-Man universe, the death of Gwen Stacy, feels like a tacked on afterthought instead of the film’s climax. Everything is naturally building toward Spider-Man’s battle with Electro (which looks very cool in IMAX by the way – the film does succeed at being a spectacle). When the Green Goblin arrives (seconds) after Electro is defeated, it just feels dragged out. Poor Spidey can’t catch a break. Defeat one villain and the next just kills his girlfriend. There is NO emotional fallout from this, by the way.

The death of Gwen Stacy is one of the most emotional moments in superhero comics. Note: the comic's dialogue is better than the film's.
The death of Gwen Stacy is one of the most emotional moments in superhero comics. Note: the comic’s dialogue is better than the film’s.

Sure, Peter Parker cries but that’s it. No confrontation with Harry follows, no explanation for Harry’s motivations (beyond boring insanity) provided. Considering how the bulk of the film has centered on Peter’s relationships (Gwen and, to a lesser extent, Harry), this is a major letdown. I read that some of this lackluster ending is due to ratings concerns and that initially, Peter and Harry were going to have a very brutal confrontation after the murder of Gwen Stacy. It is unfortunate that box office demands (PG-13 is always more profitable than R) holds back the story.
So, what happens to Harry? As I already said, there is no resolution with Peter. I would imagine they’re probably not besties anymore so there’s that. Harry is locked up, only to be visited by someone looking to help him recruit others for, you guessed it, the Sinister Six. No, let’s not devote time to Peter grieving for Gwen: Emma Stone isn’t as valuable as blockbuster dollars. Seems kind of strange to build a team around a crazy person (especially one so generically insane) but that is Sony’s plan. They better hope that they have a cast with some big names because Dane DeHaan is not nearly as big a draw as say Robert Downey Jr.

Love him or hate him, Dane Dehaan is currently not an A-list actor.
Love him or hate him, Dane Dehaan is currently not an A-list actor.

Films can lead into other films. Movies like Thor and Iron Man do it well. They contain teasers but don’t sacrifice their own story for them. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 plays much more like Iron Man 2: both films had tie-ins punch their way into the script, with all the subtly that implies. Sony better hope that they read the market right. The Sinister Six better be worth it.

The screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was one of the highlights of the new movie. She will not be easy to replace.
The screen chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone was one of the highlights of the new movies. She will not be easy to replace.

End of a Cultural Era: Superhero Movies

With this Friday’s impending release of Iron Man 3, I felt that now was a good time to reflect on a film genre that has dominated cinemas since 2000. For the past thirteen years no other group of films has generated the excitement, or more importantly the dollars, as well as superhero movies. Three of the top grossing films of all time are superhero movies from the past thirteen years (The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Transformers: Dark of the Moon). Point is, the genre has been a juggernaut. Yet nothing gold can stay (except of course Ponyboy – weird reference, I know) and reflecting upon cultural trends, it is inevitable that superhero movies will fade from their height of popularity. I believe the process has already begun.

Let’s rewind the clocks to the year 2000 (that date still sounds futuristic). Director, Bryan Singer delighted audiences with his surprise hit X-Men. The film garnered a fairly favorable critical reception and went on to gross nearly 3oo million dollars at the box office. Not bad for a film that only cost 75 million to make. While audiences cheered and enjoyed themselves, Marvel Studios was watching. Turns out that X-Men was only the beginning: a trial run to test the waters and see whether or not there was an eager market for superhero movies. Turns out there was and since then we have been treated to 25 superhero films from Marvel alone (technically 20 but who’s counting Man-Thing?). Holy crap that’s a lot of superhero movies! Hope you’re still hungry cause there’s three more due out this year (still only counting Marvel films).

The film that started it all.
The film that started it all.

So here is the question: how many is too many? Answer: probably close to 25. The superhero genre has a formula that wears thin after repeated viewings. Stop me if you’ve seen this already: a flawed protagonist must overcome an internal struggle with himself (almost always a him). In doing this, he will find the strength to defeat a physical antagonist and save the woman/town/world from certain disaster. This story is nearly as old as recorded history. American mythologist Joseph Campbell actually wrote a book on this phenomena which expresses the ideas quite nicely:

Well worth a read to help understand the popular appeal of "the hero".
Well worth a read to help understand the popular appeal of “the hero”.

Point is: it’s a good story, people like it and its worked for thousands of years. So why don’t I think it will work anywhere? Several reasons. For starters, let’s go back one more time to X-Men. As I said before, that film only cost 75 million (I know right? just 75 million cause most of us I’m sure have that lost in our sofa cushions). While that amount staggers, it really is quite cheap for a blockbuster and is no longer the case for superhero movies. Want to guess at Iron Man 3‘s budget? A cool 200 million. And that’s not including the money spent on marketing and promotion. Wow these things cost money. Will they make it all back? Sure, this time.

When X-Men did really well at the box office, it was a nice surprise. Now, it’s a requirement. The Avengers (220 million), The Dark Knight Rises (230 million), Spider-Man 3 (258 million) – it’s a good thing these films were all blockbusters otherwise people would have lost their jobs.

The funniest face 258 million dollars can buy.
The funniest face 258 million dollars can buy.

So if a superhero movie under performs financial expectations by even a slight margin: it’s a big deal. Has that already happened: yes. The Amazing Spider-Man took in just over 750 million worldwide. Impressive chunk of change even when you minus the 230 million it cost to make (I’m not sure how much was spent on advertising and promotion but probably at least another 50 million right there). So it still made money but it made less than any Spider-Man film that came before it. This could be blamed on one of two things: confusion at the reboot (a lot of people thought it was a sequel) and leftover bad taste from Spider-Man 3 (the most profitable Spider-Man film ever made by the way). I have a different theory, however.

To me, The Amazing Spider-Man represents the beginning of the end. It was a good film, at least I enjoyed it when I saw it in theaters last summer. The cast was good, it had great effects and cool action scenes. It was a superhero film… that’s it. That’s all I can say about it. There was no greater commentary present in that movie (I’m not saying there should be, it’s Spider-Man after all). But really, did I need to see it: no because I had 25 other options of that movie to watch, many of them (Thor, Iron Man, Spider-Man 2) that did that formula better.

Now they’re making another one. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 comes out next summer. And I am completely unexcited for it. Might it be good: it very well might but do I really need to pay 20 bucks to see Spider-Man web-sling around and kick Jamie Foxx (who has been cast as Electro) in the face? No, not really. Electro is a boring character to me. I’ve already seen Spider-Man grapple with his best enemies. The only webhead related experience I would like to see at this point is a movie with Venom in it that, you know, doesn’t suck.

Worth 20 more dollars to you?
Worth 20 more dollars to you?

And that’s generally how I feel about most superhero movies. Yeah they’re good but are they all worth seeing? For instance why pay to see Thor: the Dark World, Iron Man 3 and Captain America: the Winter Soldier when I can just wait for the Avengers 2? They’re all going to be cool movies about guys in costumes fighting stuff but Avengers 2 will most likely be the coolest (really excited to see what Joss Whedon does here). They’re all good movies but they’re good superhero movies. Really out of all the films that have been released, there’s only been three that have transcended into great cinema:

Without a doubt the pinnacle of the cinematic superhero era.
Without a doubt the pinnacle of the cinematic superhero era.

Christopher Nolan brought levels to his Dark Knight trilogy that are not found in any other superhero movies. It is awesome that I can watch The Dark Knight as a batman movie AND as a commentary on George W. Bush’s war on terror (I will explain this more fully in another blog post if people would like). The Dark Knight Rises: cool fights between Batman and Bane and really close examinations of growing class inequality in America. Point is: there were more to these movies… and they’re done now. There will never be another Christopher Nolan Batman film. There will be more Batman – Warner Bros. has already announced plans to reboot the character but really? I think I just feel bad for the unfortunate director given that task. Even if he/she does a movie that’s as good as say The Amazing Spider-Man, it will be the worst Batman movie by far that we’ve had this millennium.

Warner Bros. is clearly trying to continue the momentum on in Man of Steel, I’ve already talked about that in an earlier blog post ( but what if it doesn’t work? What if Man of Steel is nothing more than another good superhero movie? Zack Snyder is not a director of the same caliber as Christopher Nolan. Really, it would be nice to have a good Superman movie (there isn’t one yet in my opinion) but you know we won’t get just one. There will be at least three and then there’s also Justice League if that ever get’s out of development hell.

Directors aren’t the only ones leaving as well. Robert Downey Jr., arguably the strongest superhero actor presence out there, has spoken publicly about ending his role as Iron Man: [Recasting] would probably be the best thing in the world for me. You know, ego…but sometimes ego just has to be smashed. Let’s see what happens. I take the audience very seriously – I feel bad when I see folks doing movies and the audience is like, ‘Don’t do that anymore.’ I don’t have to overstay my welcome…

So while he is not walking away, he is expressing the eventuality of it. There will most likely be an Iron Man 4, Marvel has indicated as well… but will we pay for it? When will audiences grow tired of their heroes? The directors are already tired, the actors are getting there. My feeling is that audiences will not be far behind. It’s been a good ride and it will end in a crash. These films have been too popular to not be run into the ground. Do we need a Flash movie? Ready to pony over your dollars for 25 more films? I don’t think so.

Would you really be so excited if it was someone else in the suit?
Would you really be so excited if it was someone else in the suit?

Crazes come and go in Hollywood. Comic book superheros are a strong intellectual property full of rich stories that benefit from the cinematic experience – but there are other such materials waiting in the wings. My prediction for the next ten years: move over Iron Man, it’s Master Chief’s turn in the spotlight.

Thoughts? Comments? Am I full of shit or onto something? Let me know now in the feedback section of this article.