From the days of being amazed at seeing Superman on the big screen, to now just going to another superhero film, comic book movies have come a long way.
What used to be rare visitors to theatres – even rarer were good ones – have now become the most popular films in the world, continuously dominating the box office year after year.
This article is not a review, but an analysis of the current state of comic book movies.
This year, there have been six comic book movies released: two from Marvel Studios, two from 20th Century Fox, and two from DC (Warner Brothers). These six films answer the question posed in the title. The answer is both.
Of the six films released, three were, without a better choice of a word, good. This is not to say the other three were bad – in fact, if they were released a mere ten years ago they’d be considered iconic for cinema – but given how high the bar is now, they don’t meet the mark. Interestingly, they’re all for different reasons, and I’d like to thank the filmmakers for that, as it makes my article easier to write and for the reader to comprehend.
The three good comic book movies this year were Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. Go on, call me biased towards Marvel. I’m not. This is the view of a person that wants everyone to succeed.
Deadpool, perhaps, is the best comic book film of 2016. Why? Because Deadpool is so incredibly different from the rest of its kind, that its originality alone makes it stand out. The project itself took a really long time to get off the ground, but it paid off. Deadpool didn’t care about anything other than being a great movie, and indeed it was. The story was very basic, making it not a mess, and it had good characters. Furthermore, it didn’t follow the ‘formula’ that can be associated with these films, and made for a movie experience that really is rare with this kind of movie.
The highest grossing movie of the year, Captain America: Civil War, could have fallen flat on its face. I will explain why later. But the fact is, it didn’t.
The film was made off a gimmick that followed it through everything, including the marketing campaign (the marketing for Deadpool, by the way, was something crafted by the Gods of Asgard themselves). The gimmick was a splitting of sides, #TeamIronMan and #TeamCap, and my biggest fear for the film was that it would be too focused on having meaningless, eye-candy level action than having a good story. It did have that – it had probably some of the best action ever put on film – but that wasn’t at the forefront. I was surprised at how deep the film really was, having incredible emotional weight and reason behind everything that happens. The personal telling of the tale almost made me forget I was watching a comic book movie, and just a great movie.
Doctor Strange, although I wasn’t too kind to it in my review, is a milestone. At least I consider it so. The movie was made in a way that reminds me of old comic book films, the initial ones, in the way that it was so mad it could have been an explosion of weirdness. Indeed it was, but it worked so well because it understood itself.
Now let’s head to the opposite end of the spectrum.
Words cannot comprehend how excited I was for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What’s funny now is, a movie that people should still be talking about because they were blown away rarely comes up in conversation at all.
This movie does have its admirers and that’s okay. I’m just not one of them. There are things in it I liked and things I certainly didn’t. The biggest problem, and something that the modern comic book movie often has (case in point, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is that there was just too much. It was hard to really get invested in anything when there were the two titular characters, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman and Lois Lane who all had their own agendas. The plot for the film was so questionable that I can list out problems with it. And you know what? I will. At the end of this article, to not stop my flow here.
This was actually a film I gave a full score with my review, but over time as I’ve actually thought about the movie, my opinion has drastically changed.
The point is, though, that Batman v Superman was a mess. The first act is a grounded, political movie. The second gave us probably the most underwhelming fight in a comic book movie, ever. It was alright, it was just ridiculously short considering the very title of the movie. And the third act was a pile of CGI vomit with a shoehorned Doomsday and a chickened out death. I think that covers it. The movie was trying so hard to set up something bigger than itself, and forgot to be a good film in its own right, which is, I think, the biggest problem comic book movies have today. Other examples include the aforementioned Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. That’s why I called Deadpool the best comic book film of the year. It was all about itself, and that focus made it great.
X-Men: Apocalypse. No combination of words is more synonymous to ‘generic’ as that. I walked out of that movie wanting to punch the seat in front of me, because my time was wasted. There was absolutely nothing original about the movie. Apocalypse himself was incredibly one-dimensional and there was destruction everywhere with no consequence whatsoever. Not to mention the ending was so abrupt it fit the film perfectly.
It was two and a half hours of nothing memorable. It was completely formulaic. It lacked substance and was all about flashy images and meaningless destruction. It was one of those comic book movies that are made, not for the art, but for the money. That’s the sad truth.
We come now to the last film I am talking about, and what I consider to be the worst comic book film of the year: The heavily anticipated, very messy and horrendously lazy Suicide Squad.
Look, I want DC to succeed more than most people. But when they come out with a film as bad as Suicide Squad was, I’m not going to say it’s good just because I want them to succeed. They’re three films in now and still haven’t found their footing. If Wonder Woman doesn’t land then the future of the DC Extended Universe remains unclear. And the worst part is, the three films they’ve made have been successively worse, peaking off with this villainous creation (pun intended).
Suicide Squad had absolutely no idea what it was trying to be. It didn’t even have a reason to exist. It was a two hour long music video with pointless action thrown in with bright colours, a Joker that had virtually no role, a team that – bar two of them – really had no substance, a villain that was laughable in every way, and a layout that merged the second and third act into one big, repetitive action sequence. While Batman v Superman was an editing mess, and X-Men: Apocalypse was a generic waste of resources, Suicide Squad was a bit of both and a whole lot more. There’s a lot I have to say about this film, and honestly you can just refer to my review for an all-out rant.
So, to wrap up this analysis, comic book films have indeed come a long way, and that’s exactly why only ‘good’ isn’t good enough anymore. The average fan is used to a high standard now, and producing films that are any less than that are inadequate for studios, and they are bound to be given bad rep by people like me. Films like that are the oversaturated ones, and honestly, they deserve the criticism they’ve received from legendary filmmakers like Steven Spielberg. But films like Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, the ones that break the barriers of traditional comic book films and have real depth and substance, that’s what everything needs to live up to.
I’m a firm believer in the market system. Yes, economics, but hear me out. It’s a good thing there’s a lot of competition today. This will spur studios on to produce better products than before, in a process of continuous improvement. If studios don’t take advantage of the mechanisms of capitalism and don’t improve, or at least try to, with every film, then the fatigue will come around.
Comic book movies can be truly exceptional. It’s just that every one of them need to work towards being that. The only two real phenomenal comic book movies, at least to me, are The Dark Knight and The Avengers. They were revolutionary in their own right. Just below come Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man 2 and Iron Man. Why? Because they’re all just fantastic. Yes, they’re all Marvel. Again, shoot me. The Dark Knight proved that DC can be on top of everything. They just need to find that again.
Now, as I promised:
Everything wrong with the plot and characters of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice:
- For 18 months, a giant lump of kryptonite was just lying in the Indian Ocean, without a single hint of alarmingly high radiation in the area being noticed.
- Without the Ultimate Edition, there is no explanation of why everyone thinks Superman killed people, which is a key plot in the whole movie.
- In this world, Superman, the symbol of hope and strength, is apparently not happy with helping people. This negates the primary characteristic of the character. Saying this is a ‘dark’ universe is a stupid excuse for this. It’s like making Thor a Greek God instead of a Norse one.
- Why. Does. Lex. Luthor. Act. Like. He’s. On. Cocaine?
- WHY DOES A KRYPTONIAN SHIP SIMPLY ALLOW LEX LUTHOR ACCESS TO EVERYTHING IN ITS DATABASE?
- Batman, known for having a moral code of never killing, is dropping people dead without a thought. It’s not even explained why.
- When the courtroom explodes, Superman, instead of helping all those people in need, flies off. Is this really supposed to be Superman?
- Also, without the Ultimate Cut, it’s not explained how Superman can’t see the bomb through the wheelchair.
- Bruce Wayne, well known genius and supposedly the world’s best detective, LEAVES A BAT SYMBOL AT THE SITE HE STOLE THE KRYPTONITE FROM. WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
- Lex Luthor magically knows which night Batman plans to take on Superman, and carries out his plan of kidnapping Superman’s mother. At the same time, Batman just… Waits for Superman to turn up, as if he was expecting him. There is no evidence that Luthor and Wayne are working together, and yet they coincidentally make their plans perfectly align.
- When Superman is first hit with kryptonite, he doesn’t know it weakens him. He proceeds to take a full-blown swing at Batman. He just tried to kill him. The reason he went there was to talk to him, and he yet blindly tried to whack his head clean off,
- Martha. The raw stupidity of this scene is absurd. Why would anyone say “He’s gonna kill *insert mom’s name here*” “Instead of he’s gonna kill my mom”? And at this point, Batman is ready to murder Superman, so the fact this his mother is in danger should be no reason for him to stop. The whole movie builds up how Bruce Wayne thinks Superman is a danger and why he thinks he should be stopped. The fact that he has a mother is just not enough to stop him from killing him. It isn’t.
- Lois Lane somehow knows exactly where Batman is about to murder Superman.
- Doomsday is in this movie. The character who is known for being the first thing ever to kill Superman gets thrown in this for the last act, simply to be killed by the Trinity. Wow. (And the CGI was horrendous).
- Lex Luthor creates Doomsday. Let’s say Doomsday kills Superman. Then what? Does he think he’ll just obey him? He created a monster and was about to set him free, when his only agenda, apparently, was to deal with Superman.
- LexCorp somehow has details about all the Justice League members. How? Who cares, right! LexCorp somehow knows everyone’s secret identity too. Someone even crafted out logos for everyone. Plus, this was the laziest way to set up the Justice League. It really was. Had no place in the film at all.
- Lois Lane throws the kryptonite spear into the water for no reason whatsoever, and then decides to try and get it back for no reason whatsoever, leading to a stupid, unnecessary sub-plot in the already messy last act.
- Without the extended cut, there is no explanation of how Lex Luthor knows anything about Darkseid,
- Even so, with the extended cut, the amazing answer to the question is that Steppenwolf just showed up and left. Why? Pfft… Does that really matter? The Justice League’s coming! All this film had to do was set it up, with or without reason!