With nearly a dozen superhero movies coming this year, fans are most hyped for the two lowest profile flicks – this could either be the best thing to happen to superheroes, or the worst.
Deadpool comes out this week. Are you ready for it?
Oh hell, and have you seen the trailer for Suicide Squad? How nuts is that?!
Here are two films no one thought would exist a few years ago, now they are a few of the most anticipated films of 2016 – but why is that, and what does that mean for the movie industry?
How Bad Superhero Films Get Made
Let’s be blunt: Neither Warner Bros. nor Fox have a good track record when it comes to superhero movies.
Digging into the prehistoric days of the 80s and 90s, Warner had a few great successes, and stuck with what worked. The first Superman film convinced audiences that a man could fly, but rather than stick with the realism of Richard Donner’s vision, they took the formula of goofy Kent, suspicious Lois, over-the-top Lex and just ran with it with a handful of films with diminishing returns. The same happened in the 90s following 1989’s Batman, in which the studio saw garish images and hyper-realistic settings and said, “More of that!” Instead, they should’ve looked at the darker, creepier aspects of Tim Burton’s world.
Fox, meanwhile, hit pay dirt with X-Men in 2000. They avoided the more flamboyant superheroics that were blamed for Batman’s previous failures and stuck with “what worked” in the Matrix: i.e. leather costumes and cryptic antiheroes. Then they ran with that with a series of films that seemed good until fans saw Spider-Man, Batman Begins, and Iron Man, and fans realized superhero movies could actually be great.
So, what lessons were learned? Iron Man and Batman Begins were gritty retellings of hero origins that still kept some (but not all) of the original comic book aesthetic. Ergo, all superhero franchises need to start out with gritty retellings of hero origins with some visual callbacks to the original. This gave us memorably bad films like Man of Steel and the most recent Fantastic Four. Nevermind that both Iron Man and Batman’s even more successful sequel, Dark Knight, have tons of humor, character development, and heart. Nah, that couldn’t have anything to do with their success. That’s why Man of Steel and what we’ve seen so far of Batman v. Superman seem to lack any fun (even if some jokes are allowed), and why the last time Deadpool appeared in a movie, Deadpool didn’t appear in a movie.
How Good Superhero Movies Get Made
What does work? Guardians of the Galaxy was a runaway hit. It was funny, didn’t bother with origins, and just had fun letting the characters be themselves – so the lesson is, all superhero movies should have wisecracking antiheroes with no defined origins, right?
But wait, remember how Spider-Man was described as a great movie a bit ago? That had a wisecracking hero-hero, with an origin. So, maybe it’s just wisecracking is important?
Ah, no, then what about Dark Knight? That film didn’t have any of those elements and is generally accepted as one of the best of hero genre.
Same goes for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Iron Man, and the first Avengers flick. Each of these movies worked, but had very different elements.
What made them all successful? The same thing that made the classic Superman and Batman movies successful: they were thematically and tonally true to the characters and let the story evolve from there.
How Deadpool and Suicide Squad Might Change Superhero Films
Deadpool was never supposed to be a movie.
Here was a property seen as tainted by the horrendous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and honestly, he was a third or fourth (or fifth) tier Marvel property at best, but some dedicated filmmakers and one determined actor made some test footage, it “leaked,” and the viral success allowed the movie to go forward. It seemed like the film would get made without the involvement of studio bigwigs behind the hits-and-misses of the rest of the X-franchise (and Fantastic Four films).
Similarly, Suicide Squad wasn’t meant to be a major hit – it was one of the “low budget” films the WB was putting out to help pad its roster (helping it match up against the already massive Marvel juggernaut). In other words, the film is part of the Man of Steel universe, but likely didn’t have a lot of involvement from the people guiding the Justice League-related films.
But if everything goes well, this could mean another trend in superhero filmmaking – possibly a glut of funny films about murderous heroes, or even more films that are passion projects of individual creators (which can be good or bad).
How Deadpool and Suicide Squad Should Change Superhero Films.
If, as all indications seem to show, these two films are box office hits, here’s the lesson I hope studios take from it:
- Let the characters tell their own stories.
Seriously. Characters help determine the plot. If a character should be serious and forlorn, develop that, if they should be hopeful and idealistic, emphasize that, if characters should be sarcastic and irreverent, go for it.
- Let the story determine the tone.
Again, not every film needs to be Dark Knight, but neither do they need to be Guardians of the Galaxy. Let some films be fun, some be gritty – mix and match as suits the story.
- Don’t let one (or even several) failures or successes determine the future.
Just because Catwoman and Elektra were bad movies, it doesn’t mean all female superhero movies will be bad. Seriously. Some things work, some don’t. There’s no magic bullet, just make good films.