Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 9-15): Dark Souls II, Captain America 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Toys, and More

Wasn’t the biggest week in terms of development. Nevertheless, here we go:

1) Dark Souls II and Titanfall were released, with Dark Souls II landing more press coverage.

This, to me, shows just how much brands matter. I know that Dark Souls II has also been reviewed to be the better game (92 on Metacritic vs. 86 for Titanfall) but being a sequel has really helped Dark Souls II gain more attention than Titanfall. It also helps that Dark Souls II was released for last-gen systems (weird to say that) and Titanfall was pushed on the Xbox One: a system that does not sound like it is selling as well as Microsoft hoped.

At least this man was marginally excited for Titanfall's release.
At least this man was marginally excited for Titanfall‘s release.

2) Captain America 3 is set to battle the Superman/Batman movie at the Box Office.

Guess that means that Cap isn’t dying in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Producers have already revealed that they are willing to shift the Superman/Batman movie release date yet again: such confidence.

I'm still waiting for a movie where this legitimately happens.
I’m still waiting for a movie where this legitimately happens.

3)Action figures spoil designs for the Ninja Turtles and Muto.

Well, how much can you really spoil the Ninja Turtles? Here they are (warning: they look like turtles! But somehow ninjas? And teenagers? AND MUTANTS?! Mind blown). One of Godzilla’s foes (from the upcoming film of the same name) was also spoiled. Muto, enjoy the picture below for a first, albeit low-quality look at the monster.

Again: words fail me with how excited I am for this movie.
Again: words fail me with how excited I am for this movie.

4) Do people not like to make sequels in the same decade as the originals anymore?

Seriously, first 300 (cause soooo many people wanted another one of those) and now Sin City?

5) Americans rush to re-embrace Cold War attitudes on Russia.

Evidently it wasn’t fun enough the first time.

6) In an era of unprecidented technology and communication: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanishes without a trace.

This is a tragically fascinating story that has been developing over the past week. Everyone is blaming someone else. My thoughts go with the families involved in this upsetting story.

7) Obama appeared on “Between Two Ferns”

WHAT?! So wonderful.

But not everyone thought so.

 

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 (http://redringsofredemption.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/marketing-method-man-of-steel/) 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.

Marketing Method: Man of Steel

Who doesn’t love hype? By its very definition it instills excitement. Some directors are better at it than others. Probably the best out there at the moment is J.J. Abrams (who doesn’t remember trying to figure out what was in the train for the trailers to Super 8, let alone the mad race right now to discover Benedict Cumberbatch’s identity in Star Trek into Darkness). Good marketing lays the foundation for blockbuster film. However marketing, like any tool, can be a double-edged sword. There are plenty of good films that suffered from poor trailers (Stardust, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) which failed to properly convey the tone of the upcoming film. Many times these poor trailers try to capitalize on another popular property rather than focus on the strengths of the film they should be trying to promote. There is no better example that comes to my mind for this than Beowulf. Neil Gaiman and Robert Zemeckis’ thoughtful deconstruction of the heroic ideal was instead neglected in favor of conjuring a 300-esque style of masculine action (“I am Beowulf” is used to the exact same effect as “this is Sparta” in the trailers). This style of marketing always does a disservice to the movie it represents. Sadly, something similar to Beowulf is currently occurring with the upcoming blockbuster, Man of Steel.

Watch the trailers for Man of Steel. There are three of them, the teaser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wArmHSPIvlQ, the first trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVu3gS7iJu4, and the one that was very recently released: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6DJcgm3wNY. I’ll wait.

Looks good doesn’t it? Let’s talk about that teaser though. Kinda bizarre right? Clearly designed with the intention of not immediately revealing its identity right away. Looks more like a trailer for Superman: Deadliest Catch rather than the high-flying epic of Man of Steel. I joke of course but the fact remains: the teaser is constructed in such a way as to convey that you are watching a personal drama first and a superhero movie second. As I stated before, the fact that he’s Superman isn’t made abrupt until the final seconds of the teaser. Interesting approach… wait, hasn’t it been done before? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lu2ecPMX0kI

Yep. Looks like the Man of Steel is using the same agent as the Dark Knight. Really, in terms of emulation, you could do a lot worse than Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Also there are a lot of similarities in terms of creative staff. While Zack Snyder is directing Man of Steel, the script was penned by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, with final version coming from David S. Goyer. That is essentially the exact same writing team as Nolan’s Batman films. Also, all movies were made using Nolan’s own studio: Syncopy Films. Oh and Hans Zimmer is once again in charge of music (although that has only effected the marketing of the most recent trailer).

I know this is a fan mockup but it does shed light on similar design used for promotional photos.
I know this is a fan mockup but it does shed light on similar design used for promotional photos.

So this is a good thing, right? Equating Snyder’s Superman with Nolan’s Batman? Yes. As I said before, there are a lot worse marketing strategies for Man of Steel to emulate. There is sense in comparing Superman and Batman, DC Comic’s two star superheros, as similar people. Both Batman and Superman went on a journey, both grew as people. Both faced challenges in a world that was unsure of how to receive, both… actually they are very different people.

Don’t get me wrong: Superman and Batman are both heroes, both stand for good and both do everything in their power to make the world a better place, yet their methods are completely opposite. Any good drawing of Superman will have the Man of Steel bathed in sunlight, standing proudly over a grateful city. Drawings of Batman put the Caped Crusader in the shadows; he is hiding from the public eye, doing a job that he feels must be done regardless of public opinion. These two approaches visually reflect the characters’ different philosophies.

So while comparing Snyder’s Man of Steel to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is good on certain levels (superhero movies that are more than just superhero movies), there is a danger. These trailers, especially the first two, give the impression of serious realism. Inherent problem: Superman is not realistic. When you’re dealing with a character who can fly into outer space and blow up a comet with his laser vision after taking a nuclear missile full to the chest – you’re not dealing with something that can happen every day. That is a strength of Superman.

Let me stop right here before people go assuming: realism is not necessary in order for the character to be relatable. Grounding the fantastic in the real world always helps, and Man of Steel definitely appears to be doing that. The two later trailers make it clear that the main focus of this film will be Superman adjusting to and being accepted by the real world (what General Zod is doing intruding into these trailers is beyond me – guess we need that villain fight).  But Superman himself is fantastic, that is part of his identity. Too much of an attempt to make him into your average everyday man is not going to work out well.

What do I mean by that? Superman was raised as a human, he does have emotions so of course he is average. No. First two points are valid. Superman is raised as Clark Kent, he does feel but he is anything but average. The character of Superman goes beyond his red cape and boots. He is the ideal best of humanity in a physically superhuman package. Does that mean he doesn’t struggle, of course not but it is internal. Superman is never going to go on a bender or sink into month long depression. He is more subtle than that. This is partly what makes Superman a very hard character to present on screen. The challenge is essentially the same as presenting the fully human yet fully divine character of Jesus Christ.

If you think representing Jesus on film is easy - please name all the successful Jesus films.
If you think representing Jesus on film is easy – please name all the successful Jesus films.

So everyone has a challenge. The filmmakers have a challenge and marketing has a challenge. How do you portray Superman? They have elected to go the route of Batman. The result has been a trailer evolution that started off with us being introduced (in the teaser) to a man who was unrecognizable as the Man of Steel. Only now, in the most recent trailer, does Superman begin to emerge. Still there are aspects of the newest trailer that seem counterproductive to the nature of the film. The black and white text that punctuates certain frames now looks out of place whereas before it enhanced the sombre mood of the first two trailers. Speaking of that: why is Superman sombre? Batman is sombre, Superman is hopeful. It has taken them three trailers to get that right.

One last thing that speaks to these early trailers not doing the film justice comes in the form of the early review. Check out this first review of Man of Steel (don’t worry, there’s no spoilers): http://www.joblo.com/movie-news/scoop-early-screenings-of-man-of-steel-reveal-more-about-the-tone-action-and-superman-kicking-all-kinds-of-ass. Any time one of the bullet points is “it’s not nearly as dour and serious as the trailers suggest”, that pretty much declares that marketing has made a mistake.

Christopher Nolan has already proven himself a visionary in terms of storytelling. He and his brother have also shown a tremendous amount of understanding in relation to the characters they portray. They understood Batman, they knew what was essential to his character and what was not. That is how they were able to create their own Batman universe that felt every bit as ture to the character as the comics. I have full faith that they possess the same understanding of Superman yet Man of Steel‘s marketing has not convincingly shown that. So far what has been demonstrated is that they understand Superman in Batman’s terms, using Batman’s tools. Not the smartest way to go.

As I said before, trailers are no indication of film quality. A great film can have a crappy trailer likewise a poor film can be very well marketed. So please don’t mistake my critiques of Man of Steel‘s marketing to be any more than that. I don’t hate Superman, I don’t think Man of Steel will be a shitty movie and you shouldn’t be excited to go see it. I simply feel that these trailers have not presented Superman in the best light because they’re too busy sticking to the Dark Knight’s shadows.

Oooh so dark and edgy. Superman should never be defined by darkness.
Oooh so dark and edgy. Superman should never be defined by darkness.

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