Following the recent release of Thor, we thought we’d take a look at the Hollywood phenomenon of the superhero film and the seemingly increasing desire to reboot comic book franchises.
For Hollywood, a successful franchise is a licence to print money. Making films is always a gamble and requires a huge upfront stake. The money involved in producing, distributing and marketing a film is huge, so it’s no wonder studio execs are scared to green light anything new, original, or untested. It makes much more financial sense to look to a genre that they know has been profitable before and to stick to that. Even more profitable is to have a whole bunch of sequels they can spin off the back of them.
This is why we have seen such a glut of superhero movies over the last couple of decades. Here you have a built-in audience, a hardcore of fans who have grown up reading the comics and now, with real jobs and real disposable income, they are able to watch the movie, buy the box set and invest in all the associated merchandising of the movies. The studios don’t need to invent character dynamics or arcs, they don’t need to create plotlines; those nice people at Marvel and DC have already done all this for them.
These films don’t just attract the comic book geeks; they also attract the usual summer blockbuster crowd, too. Those who couldn’t care less about the caped crusaders, who are after the visceral thrills of fight scenes, shoot outs, car chases and explosions, can have all of that in their latest comic book adaptation. Whilst the boys enjoy the carnage, the girls can reflect on the inner conflict of the hero and their fragile emotional relationships, whilst at the same time admiring a good-looking muscular guy in spandex. Kids can go with their parents, who will laugh at some subtly included adult humour, but sigh as they inevitably shell out for the action figures. In short, the superhero movie is a multi-demographic winner, allowing the studios to cover as much of their global roulette table as possible and get the best return on their sizable investment.
All this sounds rather peachy for the studios, except that having it so easy often breeds contempt for their audience and for the source material. In other words, sometimes they put nipples on the bat suit. What happens then? Well, mostly they just ignore it, pretend it never happened, and reboot the franchise. Usually with a much better cast and director who will, in the lead up, explain how they see this as a much darker film, which will go back to basics and explore the roots of the character in much greater depth. Reboots can be fantastic, don’t get us wrong, and every now and then you get a Batman Begins. However, this is little comfort to those that shelled out their money and two hours of their life on Batman & Robin. It’s like being taken out to dinner at 21, but only after five dates at McDonald’s where you picked up the cheque.
It doesn’t stop there, though. There are the reboots of the reboot. Superman Returns was made just five years ago and was supposed to be the reboot of the franchise, giving us a new Superman in the form of Brandon Routh and a new Lois with Kate Bosworth. However, poor returns mean that next year we’ll be getting Superman: Man of Steel, with Henry “almost Bond” Cavill donning the cape. Why not just stick to the earlier cast and make a better sequel? This isn’t the first time either. Remember Ang Lee’s Hulk? Well, five years after that, we got The Incredible Hulk, again an apparent reboot of the reboot. The last Spiderman film was in 2007, but the franchise will be rebooted in 2012 with an entirely new cast and The Fantastic Four are lined up for the same treatment.
Then you have the spin-offs. Now this is real franchise building. First, we had the X-Men film series, then X-Men Origins: Wolverine – which was clearly intended to be the first in a spin-off franchise, as well as also somehow being a reboot – and soon X-Men: First Class will hit the screens. First Class (we imagine there is no intended irony in the title) then is a prequel to a spin-off of a reboot.
All this is as of nothing when compared to The Avengers. This is going to be the mother of all comic book franchises and will include The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and the upcoming Captain America amongst its titles, with more to follow. The Avengers franchise was first set up in 2008 with a post credits cameo from Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D, at the end of Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony stark pulled a similar trick by featuring at the end of The Incredible Hulk. Since then we’ve had Iron Man 2, which essentially worked as a big advert for The Avengers, with nods to Captain America, and set up Thor with its post credit sequence.
The Avengers is possibly the biggest cross-over/spin-off franchise that has ever been attempted in Hollywood’s history and, boy, don’t we know about it. Whilst for many comic book fans this is a dream come true, for many other moviegoers this feels a little bit more like being force-fed those Big Macs with that date at 21 seemingly a false promise.
Who knows where it will end? This franchise might grow exponentially, like a culture growing in a Petri dish. Thor will have its sequel, and that will spawn yet more. Iron Man will continue to have its sequels. Captain America will have a sequel and, according to producer Gale Anne Hurd, more Hulk movies will be headed our way, too. Cross-over characters, like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, might feasibly get a spin-off from this spin-off. Soon, the only films in cinemas might be from The Avengers franchise.
We exaggerate, of course, but, honestly, how many more origin movies can we take? How many more reboots of franchises? The studio’s mentality seems to be that people are stupid and will watch anything. If they do make a turkey, then they’ll just reboot it later, as they plan to do with Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Well, why not just make a good film in the first place? Here’s a hint: Don’t cast Ben Affleck or Nicolas Cage.
Of course, the reboot/franchise/spin-off phenomenon is not limited to comic book movies alone, but it is conspicuously evident in that genre. The truth is, the current situation is only a result of supply and demand. Moviegoers are still demanding comic book films, but just of a higher caliber. Now there is that demand, studios are simply supplying them, conveniently forgetting about their past mistakes. One thing seems certain: It’s a trend that’s not stopping any time soon. So, super villains, you’d best remember that you cannot defeat a superhero. After all, superheroes don’t die: They just get rebooted.
Reboot the system: Hollywood’s love of starting over
Dublo takes a look at the Hollywood phenomenon of the superhero film and the seemingly increasing desire to reboot comic book franchises. He emerges with some advice for movie super villains: you’d best remember that you cannot defeat a superhero. After all, superheroes don’t die: They just get rebooted.
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Ben is our resident screenwriter, that’s right, a real-life movie screenwriter. If we hadn’t captured him, drugged him and locked him in the basement here at Prodigal Towers, right now he’d be living the Hollywood dream that should rightfully be his, ensconced in a John Lautner house in Malibu. But don’t feel sorry for him. More fool him for drinking that spiked Martini in the first place.
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