As we plunge yet even deeper into 2017, Hollywood has continued to pump out superhero movies at an increasing rate, although the saturation point is approaching. I predict that either this year or next year will see the maximum amount of superhero films per year for a while, especially given that unlike the 3D boom of five years ago, studios are probably smart enough to realize that there is such a thing as too many of them.
However, that does not stop us from getting them at a rate of one every two months. (For the record, I am referring to mainstream superhero films that are getting national releases, not necessarily smaller studio ones.) Marvel is more active this year than most, giving us Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, with Spider Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok yet to come. DC has had its first solid release with Wonder Woman, with Justice League to be released later this year. Fox, in conjunction with Marvel, released Logan, which was celebrated as bucking most superhero trends, giving Fox a boost when it really needed it.
Given the amount of films due to come out in 2018, how should we look at the continued growth of these cinematic universes? It is no longer a surprise, nor is it odd that films that once upon a time would have taken place separate from one another, i.e. the old franchise system, are all linked together. The subsequent nonstop feeling of wanting to keep up, to be in on all the jokes and easter eggs, to catch every reference, is what Marvel has cultivated, with DC, Fox, and now Universal all trying to cash in on the trend.
A few years ago, Avengers: Age of Ultron came out to a largely mediocre reaction. It was heavily criticized for being to linked to everything that preceded it, whilst further stifling creativity by having to subtly set up what was yet to come. It was such a tall order that Joss Whedon left Marvel, quit Twitter, and has only recently re-surfaced, fittingly enough taking over DC’s Justice League, consequently complaining about the way Marvel treated him during Phase II. However, Age of Ultron was an inevitability, the film that would encapsulate all the issues a shared universe creates; too many characters, too many intersecting plot lines; in short, too much for one film to realistically be able to handle without comprises, which in retrospect makes Age of Ultron a huge accomplishment for being as good as it could have been.
Now, we find ourselves in a more complex world of heroes and villains. Wonder Woman was a triumph for DC, both in reaction, content, exceeding expectations, as well as beating Marvel to the punch with a female-led superhero movie. Logan saw the retirement of Hugh Jackman from the role of Wolverine, which was very sad, but fitting, allowing audiences to appreciate the end of an era, whilst looking to the future. Marvel is steaming ahead on full, and still doing it better than any of its competitors, constantly teasing their fans of what is to come, whilst delivering on their promises… most of the time. For all three major cinematic universes, times are looking up, especially with the X-Men on the brink of a major overhaul, DC finally attaining positive fan and critical reaction, and Marvel driving the train towards Infinity War with no sign of letting up.
Which is why I am only cautiously optimistic. I was very hopeful that DC could make its strong-armed tactic of kicking off the DCEU with Batman vs. Superman work, and that Suicide Squad would be the dark, brooding superhero film fans had been deserving of for several years, only to be disappointed on both counts. X-Men films have been hit or miss, and although it appears the franchise is in good hands, I’ve thought that before and been wrong. Finally, Marvel is long overdue for a major disaster, and with 67 speaking roles and a reported $500M budget for the first part alone, Infinity War has all the signs of that disaster finally happening. Now, I’m not partisan when it comes to DC/Marvel/Fox, I’d like all three to do great year in, year out, but that just doesn’t happen.
Fox’s run is checkered with disasters like Fantastic Four (2015) and X-Men: Apocalypse, DCs’ first three entries in the DCEU all received mixed-at-best reactions, and Marvel’s run has been seen to have its shares of ups and downs, albeit not as badly as the other two. I think that where we’re going is good, but we all need to be realistic when it comes to films nowadays. Wonder Woman succeeded because it has limited ties to the DCEU; being standalone also helped Logan and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 work so well, although Marvel has shown great skill as interweaving different franchise plot lines together, something which remains to be seen in the DCEU.
Cautious optimism is probably the best approach, but nothing changes the fact that I am really excited for this year in movies, both superhero and in general. 2017 shown great promise at the start of the year, and its largely lived up to it. I am hopeful for the remainder of the year, but don’t be surprised for a follow-up in December lamenting a second half collapse of the genre if things start to sour.