MIND MELD: Marvel and DC and Star Wars, Oh My!
DC reportedly has at least seven movies in development. Marvel has movies planned out to 2028. Star Wars kicks off a new trilogy next year and has at least two spinoffs already in development. Then there are the upcoming TV shows — Gotham, The Flash, Agent Carter, Daredevil… With that in mind, we asked our esteemed panel…
The day this question was posed to me, two things of relevance occurred beforehand. The first was that I came across some article online regarding Marvel’s Daredevil coming to Netflix as a new series. My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes, not because I have anything against Daredevil, but rather because it’s one more show I’ll feel compelled to invest time in on a weekly basis. Not that I necessarily will (I still haven’t watched an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and I’m only falling further behind there since ABC is adding Agent Carter next year), but it does get a bit irksome when they keep springing new shows on you, in effect saying, “Here, now you’re expected to devote even more time to this thing you like.” I’m a big fan of the NFL, and my reaction to Daredevil was fairly similar to what I’ve had to deal with in football in recent years. During the regular season, the NFL used to just have games on Sundays and Mondays (with a couple of notable exceptions). But in recent years, they’ve started airing a weekly Thursday night game as well, and because I and many other fans love this product so much and the football season is short, we don’t like the idea of skipping a game if it’s on. So we feel compelled to watch. But there is also such a thing as moderation, and it’s easier to moderate when the option isn’t on the table. When I’m suddenly faced with the prospect of devoting another three and a half hour block of my life to football each week during the season, and on a night that isn’t normally associated with the NFL, it does get somewhat annoying, even if I do like football as much as George R. R. Martin (more maybe). It’s the same general idea with another superhero TV series. It is definitely too much of a good thing.
The second thing that happened the day this Mind Meld question was posed to me was how I found myself thinking about Marvel’s upcoming movie Guardians of the Galaxy. Since the advent of Marvel Studios, Marvel movies produced by this studio (as opposed to, say, Sony producing Marvel’s Spider-Man) have maintained a certain level of quality. Even the weaker flicks are still decent, with all of them pulling in crazy amounts of money…but it occurred to me how GotG is testing the goose that lays the golden eggs. GotG is without question the most obscure franchise Marvel is turning into a movie yet. Wolverine, Iron Man, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, Thor, X-Men, Avengers, etc. are rather iconic characters or teams. Comic fans will have heard of GotG, perhaps some of the general science fiction and fantasy fans. That’s about as far as it goes though. The general public—folks who don’t have an interest in comics or science fiction beyond taking in the movies—will not have heard of GotG. Now because Marvel Studios is putting out the movie, I expect that it will at least be decent. But without an iconic superhero, will the general public still flock to see new a Marvel movie? This isn’t free TV like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Bradley Cooper may be a big-time Hollywood star, but I wouldn’t exactly call him doing a voiceover for a space raccoon as something that will be a deciding factor in whether most people will see this movie. This feels like a calculated risk by Marvel Studios, with them banking on the idea that their brand is so strong that people will see anything with the Marvel label. If GotG does well, I’m sure we can expect more B-level franchises (that in all fairness may have A-level scripts) such as Alpha Flight, X-Force, etc. Marvel is already willing to flood the big screen with their main characters, so now it’s just a question of how deep the public’s hunger runs for superhero movies. Same thing goes for the TV in its own way. If Daredevil and Agent Carter do well, would you really be surprised to see another TV series follow? (Punisher anyone?)
I love superhero movies, but at some point it does start feeling like overkill. It sounds like DC is going the same route, especially with that news breaking about the Justice League movie and all the coming crossovers. And Star Wars? That’s too bad. Each new movie used to be a cause for celebration (even if I-III were terrible), as they were so deeply intertwined with the fabric of American culture. I don’t mind that new movies are coming out that take place after Return of the Jedi, I don’t mind that Lucas put out The Clone Wars, and I never had a problem with the many novels that have been written. But the idea of spinoffs—assuming these are spinoffs for the big screen—bothers me. The movies are supposed to be special. I feel like this cheapens the franchise as a whole.
But the studios care about this kind of stuff as much as the NFL does. If a product is making money hand over fist, companies will always look for new ways to capitalize on the public’s interest. I can’t blame them, I suppose, but I don’t have to like it or see everything. I’m all for a lot of superhero and related movies…but it would be nice if they stop flooding the market to the point of ridiculousness. But I suppose even superheroes and Jedi must fall before the almighty dollar. I should also note that I don’t want to sound like I’m too high and mighty here. I’ll get sucked into seeing some a lot of this stuff for sure…but not all of it.
In 2006, I wrote an article about how bad adaptations of good books can harm an author’s reputation, and negatively impact book sales. Now here I am in 2014, surrounded by good adaptations. It’s hard to pinpoint when this shift began. Perhaps it was the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which threw an unprecedented massive budget towards a TV adaptation and ended up with impressive results. True Blood and The Dresden Files, both based on book series, proved that science fiction/fantasy (SFF) appeals to mainstream TV audiences. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man, and other blockbuster movie series figure in there. Now the floodgates have opened. Cinematic SFF has gained a track record of more hits than misses, despite its requirement for expensive special effects and artistry. It’s become a safe bet to the executives in Hollywood. Instead of taking a major risk by committing a big budget to some iffy SFF film or TV series, studios now see each SFF license as a likely cash cow.
As a fan, this makes me very happy. Sure, I might dislike a few of the stories they choose to tell, and I might quibble with some casting choices or CGI outsourcing, but I welcome the overall trend. And I’m thrilled to see well-made adaptations of the books I love, told with all the beauty and punchy pacing of visual media. SFF authors who were ignored by Hollywood a decade ago, and whose works might have faded into some obscurity, are now able to affect global audiences. Neal Stephenson wowed readers with Snow Crash in 1992. More than twenty years later, the film adaptation has a director. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a bestseller in 2004. A decade later, it’s in production as a TV miniseries. Beloved authors who built the majority of their fan bases during the 1980s and 1990s, such as Terry Pratchett, Thomas Harris, and Stephen King, are reaching fresh audiences in the 2010’s with TV series such as Discworld, Hannibal, and Under the Dome.
While TV seems to be reinventing itself with addictive series based on original or fresh premises, movies are lagging behind with their timid reliance on remakes, sequels, and mega-franchises. However, I see promising signs of a shift within the next five years. The film industry has taken recent risks by adapting popular novel series aimed at preteens and teenagers. Twilight, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments, Divergent, and others proved successful at the box office. Now some beloved SFF novels aimed at mature audiences are in pre-production as film adaptions, including Wool, Influx, Ready Player One, and the Dark Tower series. Any or all of these might prove a blockbuster hit, which will encourage the film industry to produce more substantial and epic-scope science fiction. Jaded film-goers are starving for a change. I think this might be the beginning of a golden decade.
The eighties were filled with light comedies and farces and nostalgia for all things pulp. The ’90s were passionate about their book adaptations. The 2000s saw a little more variety but also were all about the adaptations. And the teens so far are up in the air, with everything from original films like Inception, to book adaptations (apparently we’re doing all the YA now), to franchises of the kinds of stories that we’ve been seeing in one form or another since the Gothics. Oh yeah, and comic books.
Is it too much of a good thing? Should we worry about the audience getting worn out on regurgitated crap? Are we draining the market for SF/F dry by doing all this copycat stuff?!?
We’re at a period where the people making and selling movies and TV shows are pleased to be able to sell the things I loved when I was ten, and the things that I would have loved when I was ten if I hadn’t lived in the middle of nowhere. I’m geeking out, you’re geeking out, we’re all balanced on a tipping point between squee and outrage that they won’t get it right.
This too shall pass.
Especially if (ahem!) Marvel, DC, and other franchises forget about ten-year-olds. Bright, sophisticated ten-year-olds with decent vocabularies. Ten-year-olds who crave adventure and solving problems and seeing heroes make difficult (but not soul-killing) choices. Who need heroes to look up to. All types of heroes. Not just noble ones who model good behavior–I don’t mean that; how perfectly dull–but ones who solve problems in different ways, and who then have to face the consequences. And who are, perhaps, not afraid to occasionally a) swear, b) use violence, and c) get laid.
I’m not afraid that we’ll see too much Star Wars and Star Trek and DC and Marvel and more SF/F adaptations of ’80s cartoons and Goosebumps novels and RoboCop and Mad Max and The Crow and Constantine and so on. I’m mostly just afraid that we’ll a) see too many things that smart ten-year-olds are not going to give a crap about, and b) too many things that are dumbed down to the level of stupid adults who underestimate smart ten-year-olds.
Not everything needs to be geared toward kids, obviously. I’m still hoping for a kickass Deadpool flick. And Sandman. Somebody better give me some Sandman before this whole comic book thing runs out of steam. But we need these kids to grow up and keep making us more SF/F entertainment.
Or it’s going to be a long and boring stay at the nursing homes on Mars.
Had you told me, when I was between the ages of seven and ten, that characters as diverse as Batman, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor might not only make their way onto the cinematic landscape but also seem to find permanent homes in the imaginations of average moviegoer, I probably would have been overjoyed at the possibility yet still would not have believed you. When I discovered and read comics almost exclusively, the very concept of the comic book movies didn’t exist. Nobody, at the time, seemed to consider such material worthy of translating to celluloid. Could you blame them? With movies like The Exorcist, The Godfather (both parts), Taxi Driver, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Three Days of the Condor regularly playing in theaters, who on earth wanted to gamble on work largely considered children’s fare? Even when Star Wars shattered box-office records and turned into a cultural phenomenon, the thought of ever seeing my favorite heroes making it to cinemas seemed impossible.
There were half-hearted attempts. At the time, CBS regularly attempted to breathe life into these characters, yet the resultant television shows often induced more boredom than excitement, and often outright shock. Even with my own rudimentary understanding of what constituted good entertainment, despite the fact that the concept of camp would not appear in my lexicon until I was well into my teens, shows such as Captain America and even the Doctor Strange movie (which I’m pretty certain I saw on CBS one Friday night) seemed much less enthralling than their four-color counterparts in the comics I picked up every week. Besides, 1966’s Batman, which I caught the first weekend my family and I moved to Houston, had more energy than the trite storylines posed by the writers of The Incredible Hulk—which featured none of the pantheon of villains with which I was familiar. Even more problematic was The Amazing Spider-Man, with Nicholas Hammond as a far too old—and far pudgier—Peter Parker than I was used to. Soon I would see Superman: The Movie, which cemented my opinion of all of these other comic book adaptations as second rate.
All comic book fans relished in the release of subsequent comic book movies, in part because so few of them opened in movie theaters. Despite the release of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and subsequent sequels, few comic book movies caught the public imagination. Too little love or care went into The Phantom, and Blade never found an audience outside core comics fans. Even I, starved for comic book movies, never found enthusiasm for them.
The golden age of comic book movies came not after the release of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, but in 2002, with the release of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. The sequels to both movies suddenly made the genre events, and attracted serious-minded filmmakers who demanded more from their subject matter. The release of Iron Man in 2008 surprised me not only with its quality but in its eclipse of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, something I considered impossible. (Of course, it helped that Iron Man was a vastly superior movie anyway.) After that, the floodgates opened. The Dark Knight. The Incredible Hulk. Thor. Captain America. Even the lesser comic book movies, like Iron Man 2 and The Amazing Spider-Man, possessed interesting elements that, for all of their faults, still put them above most of their previous visual iterations. (Yes, most of us forget The Fantastic Four and its sequel. But even then, anemic though its execution and subsequent performance was, it proved that one could make a comic book movie. Ditto Green Lantern…about which, the less said, the better.)
So I should be ecstatic with the release, seemingly each week of a new superhero movie. I should, by right, find myself ecstatic each Thursday night as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. runs on ABC. The announcement of Gotham, a crime drama taking place in Batman’s stomping grounds, should fill me with satisfaction. Unfortunately, the comic book movie’s success so changed how studios make and market movies that they over-saturate the market. Though this year sees two solid genre entries—Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past—neither quite retains the freshness of previous efforts. The behind-the-scenes drama surrounding Ant Man bodes ill for other pictures about to see production. Marvel’s The Avengers worked so well in part because Joss Whedon knew and loved the material; somehow, I doubt other filmmakers can put together similar works with much care, as we saw with the recent The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a movie put together by Dadaist wannabes.
Mostly, however, I miss the opportunity to watch more compelling work. I live in a world where my heroes no longer exist in the pages of sequential panels, but on screens ranging from a 48-inch television to 20-feet tall IMAX crammed into a multiplex, but at the expense of crowding out movies like The Grand Budapest Hotel, Chef, Cold in July, and Under the Skin. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I miss the days when movies challenged with daring subject matter and daring techniques, rather than wowing us with the latest baubles in the CGI toy box.
I suppose I should start by making plain my allegiance, as it were–I’m considerably more of a Marvel fan than anything, in terms of big-franchise output. I love the Avengers movies and am seriously craving Avengers 2. And Captain America 3. And maybe some more Thor? That would be nice. But what I think is the real draw here is the “quality over quantity” factor. Marvel have played their casting cards amazingly well, and we’ve gotten top-notch entertainment as a result. Case in point: Chris Evans’ portrayal of Steve Rogers got me thinking that, hey, maybe Captain America’s not the bland, straight-and-narrow Good Guy I was previously disinterested in… Three movies later, I’m a total fangirl for Steve Rogers. And don’t get me started on Loki. Or Bucky Barnes. Or Natasha Romanoff (one advance wishful-thinking ticket for that Black Widow movie WE ALL WANT, please and thank you).
Now, I’m not saying I’m averse to checking out the competition. If something looks good enough to draw me in, then I will pony up and see what happens. It worked for the Batman reboot–I’m still not over Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker. (Seriously. Goosebumps.) On the other hand, I have so far been pretty dismissive of the upcoming new Stars Wars movies. There is so. Freaking. Much of this–and I was never all that into the original movies to begin with. But, you never know. I might find something amidst all the Internet noise that persuades me to watch them… We’ll see.
I guess my bottom line here is less “show me a cape and I’ll show you my money” and more “well, what have you got for me?” I don’t need a lot of flash and spectacle, or a different lunchbox for every character (though admittedly, I owe a lot of my current T-shirt collection to fandom). I want stories, and people to care about. Keep those coming, and we’ll get along fine.
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, quite apart from the fact that I have very much enjoyed quite a few of the individual films, I find the phenomenon fascinating, especially when it comes to the interlinked aspects of the Marvel films. Consider: The Avengers is both the start of a franchise, and a sequel to four other films, each from another franchise. As each new film comes out, the cross-references multiply, and we are seeing a massive narrative being constructed, arcing over multiple movies and franchises. This is something that we have never seen before in the history of film. The closest comparison I can think of was what happened to the Universal horror movies in the 1940s, when the Frankenstein and Wolf Man series fused in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943, the very first such cross-over), and the narratives of the Monster and the Wolf Man would carry on together until the end of the run. But the continuity between those movies is very loose (at best) and is nothing compared to what we have going on with the Marvel films. Here, the experience of reading monthly, interrelated comic books is being recreated on a monumental scale. So I’m really interested to see how far this is taken.
On the other hand, the more the films are connected, the more demands are placed on the audience to see everything in order not to get lost. I haven’t seen the two Wolverine films, and between those gaps and a faulty memory, I wound up being confused by a number of elements in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Comics, after all, come out on a monthly basis, and it is easy enough to grab a previous issue to check on a detail. The movies are more like yearly installments, and you can’t look up a scene from a prior film while sitting in the theatre (at least, not without enraging the people around you). So I wonder if we might be closing in on a point where the demands become too great, which could lead to audiences losing interest.
And yes, glut is another problem. This is one that it seems DC is going to contribute to in a big way as it desperately tries to make up for lost time and catch up with Marvel. I fear that DC is going to try to do too much, too quickly. Already the awkwardly titled Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is also featuring Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and I won’t be surprised if Lex Luthor is not the only villain as well. Why not have the film reboot Swamp Thing too while they’re at it?
So I think what’s going on is interesting, but speaking for myself, I’m feeling some fatigue setting in. Keeping up is difficult, and I’m letting more and more titles slip by.
Ideas are easy. If all it took to make a movie or greenlight a TV series was an awesome concept, we’d all be multimedia moguls, made of money—money we could pour into more original intellectual property, perhaps. But banking on original characters and shiny new narratives is, in the industry today, a dodgy bet at best. Better by far, financially, to latch on to an established franchise, which comes with interest built in; with a fanbase gagging to evangelise a few of their favourite things.
As I mentioned in the last Mind Mind I was asked to be a part of, I’m a longstanding Batman fan, so I’ll be watching Gotham in the autumn—for long enough, at least, to see if it’s for me. Would I if it lacked those connections? It’s not likely, no.
I love new experiences, in theory. In practice, alas, I’m more prepared to spend my minutes and my monies if I can try before I buy. So if there’s a problem, and I think there is, then I’m a part of it. I imagine most of us are. But we haven’t done anything wrong, really…or else, that’s what I tell myself.
The fact of the matter is that there are so many products competing for our pounds and dollars these days that we’re spoiled for choice. To wit, to take a chance on an unknown quantity is potentially to waste time we don’t have a whole lot of. It’s a stretch, then, to expect viewers to tune in by the millions to a TV series, for instance, that brings something difficult to identify to the table. It’s less of a stretch if we’re already invested in some aspect of said; if it has ties to a franchise we’re familiar with.
Which brings us, happily, back to Batsy. Arrange the pedestrian premise of a police procedural around the dawn of the Dark Knight and suddenly I’m sold. Does Warner Bros. have a guaranteed hit on its hands? I don’t know that it does. But it has a better shot at the prize pot than most new shows do, for sure, and that’s thanks to Batman.
So thanks, Batman. Unless Gotham is garbage. If that happens…why, I’ll be broody!
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in central Massachusetts, in a one-hundred-year-old house full of quirks and surprises. She’s been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and has received several honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest. She was a top ten finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. For her day job, Melanie is a publicist with Market or Die Author Services and the Publicity Coordinator at Ragnarok Publications. You can visit her website at www.melaniermeadors.wordpess.com.
In this age of practically everything being on demand, I have to admit, I’m in geek heaven with all these TV shows and movies. I don’t even have cable and there is always a new show I can watch via Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu Plus. As long as the quality of these shows doesn’t slag, I’m all for a lot of a good thing. When does it become too much? When the producers start making geeky shows just for the sake of geeky shows, not putting the thought into content or quality. “They’ll still watch it!” Um, no, we won’t. Also, if they push shows far beyond their intended storyline just to make them last, the plots always grow weak, sometimes bordering on ridiculous. We might love a certain franchise, but please, don’t beat it until it’s dead. As far as movies go…how many reboots can a single series handle? That’s a tricky question. I don’t want to say a series should never have a reboot, because there can be some awesome potential out there. But some of us aren’t trained monkeys. Just because something says DC or Marvel or Star Wars on it doesn’t mean we’re all going to fall over backwards. I want to walk out of the theater saying, “Stuff like THAT is what made me fall in love with comic books.”
Concerning the constant movie updates…I almost don’t mind these, but I do think that in the age of Facebook and Twitter, we’re kind of on the edge of too much of a good thing. I’m not sure I care if Mark Hamill’s farts smelled like roses today on the set. Just give me a good movie!
I think it’s great, the sort of cultural dominance I dreamed of in the 1970s, when one could hope to see all of a very limited SF movie canon. Nobody’s forcing people to see them all. Indeed, as the parent of a toddler, I only see movies a year or so after release. It’s always good to know so much is coming in my direction.
Filed under: Mind Meld
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