Archive for October, 2014

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A Plan B for Phase 3

October 30, 2014

For many comic book fans, the fall of a superhero is one of the most interesting things a franchise can do. Show Batman as an octogenarian, show Superman as a bad guy, show Peter Parker after he loses his spidey powers. It shuffles the recipe up and provides new angles for the characters as well as playing to our human desire to see good things fall and watch the world burn.

The big question for me at the moment, is whether the comic book movie studios can take the same karmic switcheroo.

Marvel Studios has just announced their phase 3 for all the big and small screen outings of their properties: nine big, full-budget feature films over the next four years, not to mention TV shows and mini-series. It’s strange to think that only a few years ago, this would’ve been unthinkable for a relatively small studio like Marvel (even if the house of mouse is now writing the cheques) to attempt. Comic book movies have always had a mixture of financial success and critical bipolarity, ever since Donner’s 1978 take on Superman. The average moviegoer enjoyed the spectacle and blockbuster nature of the flicks and comic book fans were always torn between disappointment at how their favourite characters were treated and joy for the fact those same characters actually got a big screen outing. Until fairly recently, there wasn’t really a way to have both- a successful movie that pleased fans and non-fans alike and made a helicarrier full of cash.

Then Marvel took the bold step of trying to make their own movies. Only problem was, their biggest, most well-known properties, both within the comic world and with Joe Public, were in the less-than-loving hands of studios like Fox and Sony and no-one wanted to work with Marvel on their own big screen vision for their remaining franchises. All they had was passion, determination and faith in their material.

Fast forward a few years and it’s obvious that faith and determination paid off. The box office success of film after film, coupled with critical acclaim from both fans and average Joe alike meant the Marvel movie train is a force to be reckoned with. Warners, Sony and Fox are all trying to ape Marvel with whatever comic book properties they have and can get their paws on- most transparently, the DC/Warner attempts to build a roster for a Justice League movie so they can clone a bit of that Avengers magic.

But there’s a potential storm heading their way and it’s something that could affect all these franchises and their outpourings, including knocking Marvel’s four year plan upside the head like a Mjolnir to the face.

If the average movie-going public tire of comic book movies, everyone’s fucked.

Comic book fans often shake their heads at this with all the blinkeredness of a fundamentalist preacher one day after the rapture didn’t happen, but it’s true. In the grand scale of things, the fans are a minority- certainly in terms of box office takings. They might be vocal and enthusiastic and buy all the merchandise, but when it comes to the quarterly bottom line, the comic book fans are not the primary audience at all. Most of the money from these films came from audiences who had no idea about the universe or characters beforehand. They went to see the films because they were big-screen blockbuster event movies and they looked like fun. Which they were. And people love them. But unlike the hardcore fans, the average movie audience is fickle, easily led and prone to boredom. Too many comic book properties vying for their attention and money could confuse or alienate them, particularly if they feel like they’ve seen them before (the remakes and re-imaginings of Spider-Man and Batman really don’t help). And if they lose interest, the Scrooge-McDuck pot of gold that’s financing these films will dry up like yesterday’s spilt Cristal. No amount of fan support will help finance a new Avengers team-up if that happens.

Iron Man Hobo

Marvel’s future fundraising method

The fact is that Marvel really isn’t helping itself here. Two or three blockbuster instalments every year might be fine in isolation, but Marvel isn’t the only contender in the comic book arena. Warners and Sony and Fox and all the independents are all going to be rushing to put their own properties in the multiplexes, Blu-Ray shelves and download charts in the hope of cutting a slice of that sweet, sweet pie and the end result is going to be over saturation and too much choice for the consumer. Something the average movie-goer isn’t that comfortable with.

It happened with Scifi in the wake of Star Wars and it will happen again. I just hope Marvel has a plan B.

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