Thursday, December 14, 2017

The State of the Superhero, 2017

2017 has been a good year for superhero films.  Not all the films were great, or made as much money as the studios wanted them to, but there was definitely a sense of the genre stretching and trying new things that it hadn't before.

I count "Wonder Woman" as the biggest success, the highest grossing film in a historically lackluster summer.  It proved once and for all that a female-led superhero film could be a blockbuster, and that the DC cinematic universe wasn't dead yet.  Patti Jenkins became the highest grossing female director of all time, and Gal Gadot quickly became a superstar.  Sadly, that success didn't carry over to "Justice League," a troubled film that had to recruit Joss Whedon to fill in for Zack Snyder in post-production.  The critical notices weren't as dire as they were for "Suicide Squad" and "Batman v. Superman" at least, and I expect that the franchise will stumble along for a good while yet.  Warners also had the absolutely delightful "LEGO Batman" for the younger viewers, which unfortunately wasn't a bigger hit.

FOX continues to push the boundaries of what a superhero film should be.  The positive reception to last year's "Deadpool" meant that the R-rated "Logan" got more support behind it.  Few box office records were broken, but it made an excellent return on FOX's investment and everyone liked it.  I really want Hugh Jackman to stick to his word and retire from the role of Wolverine after this, because "Logan" was such a wonderful endpoint for the first run of X-men films.  Director James Mangold is talking about the possibility of a Laura spinoff film, which I would be all right with.  That's a corner of the X-men universe that I wouldn't mind seeing again, especially if they stick to the stripped-down neo-western vibe.  

Marvel is still Marvel, and can add three more successful moneymakers to their pile.  "Spider-man: Homecoming" may have only performed modestly for a Marvel movie, but everyone involved seems happy that it successfully rebooted Spidey for a younger crowd and made him distinct from the previous versions.    I was pretty lukewarm on "Guardians of the Galaxy 2," but it seems to have connected with some viewers emotionally in a way that its predecessor didn't.  And then there's "Thor: Ragnarok," which is about the most idiosyncratic Marvel film that's been made yet.  The prior "Thor" installments were pretty dull, so it's understandable why Marvel decided to just hand this one over to Taika Waititi to make into a superhero comedy.  

And that's the best part about the superhero genre now.  Everyone has been at this long enough, and become comfortable enough with the format, that some degree of risk-taking has become acceptable.  There has really been a concerted effort on the part of almost everyone to move away from the same old template of goodie v. baddie PG-13 spectacle with a gigantic, CGI-heavy fight at the end.   So "Wonder Woman" was a WWI story, and "Logan" killed off its best characters, and "Thor" went for the laughs first and the carnage second.  You have films willing to go after different segments of the audience, and taking pains to distinguish themselves from each other.  Suddenly six or eight major superhero films a year doesn't sound so bad after all.   

Looking ahead to next year, the films look less adventurous with titles like "Avengers: Infinity War," "X-Men: Dark Phoenix"  and "Ant-Man and the Wasp."  However, we're getting our first major black headliner in "Black Panther," and our first Native-American one in "Aquaman."  FOX has "New Mutants," which will stick a bunch of younger mutant characters in a horror scenario and see if that works out.  Deadpool will be back for another round of depravity, and "Venom" remains a giant question mark.  And don't forget, the long awaited "Incredibles 2" is coming this summer.  Beyond that, well, things get murkier, especially since we don't know what Disney's going to do with the "X-men."  I sincerely hope that they'll be as hands off as possible aside from the inevitable spinoffs.  

Finally, a little bit of love to the underseen "Captain Underpants" movie, destined to be a cult classic.  I don't personally count "Split" as a superhero film, but apparently it's the prequel to one, so I understand why some do.  And also the new "Power Rangers" wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.  


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