Year of the Superhero

Introduction:

Take a look back, and superhero movies have come an incredibly long way. Columbia Pictures released the first Batman movie(in black and white) back in 1943, and Marvel studios made its silver screen debut four decades later with…Well, Howard the Duck. Keep fast forwarding, and you’ll find that comic book superhero flicks now begin generating hype years before release, having become the new westerns, and the mythology of our day. Marvel has become the Hollywood powerhouse that brought you The Avengers(2012), now about to unleash Phase 3 of its grand expansion scheme(the MCU), and DC stands on the brink of launching its entire cinematic universe(the DCEU). Behind this page is a glimpse into the future of that majestic force, with a list of DC/Marvel comic book films scheduled for release until 2018, paired with description. For practical purposes, films with unconfirmed titles, release dates, and subject matter have been left out. Hope nobody gets upset!

Now start scrolling.

 

Movies:

Captain America: Civil War May 6th, 2016

Director: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner, Sebastian Stan, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle

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Launching off Marvel’s Phase 3 is the narrative counterpart to DC’s Batman vs Superman, in which the studio’s principal characters disagree and clash over the role of government regulation in superhero affairs, with fights characterized by beliefs and sentiment rather than external exigency. The series has seen some of the MCU’s most authentic character developments in terms of maturation and internal conflict, but expect its third installment to be much more than another film about Steve Rogers–the film’s source material comes from one of Marvel’s most iconic crisis crossovers(Mark Millar’s Civil War), instead of a Captain America comic, so fans have been speculating toward a more Avengers themed movie event.

Speaking of the Avengers, this has got to be the largest ensemble cast in an MCU film(meaning we exclude the X-Men series) up to this point. We’ve got two titanic personalities with African American sidekicks(who are both donned in high-tech flying gear), two newcoming foreigners played by Americans, two quirky bug based superheroes, two severe-faced bad-guy-turned-good-guys, and two lone wolf government agents without superpowers (Wait…are we watching the same two teams here?). Which leaves one wondering what they’ll do when it comes to Infinity War. No wonder it was split into two parts(to be released in 2018 and 2019)–to accommodate shrinking average screen time.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse May 27th, 2016

Director: Bryan Singer

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Oscar Isaac, Alexandra Shipp, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Evan Peters

 

Remember the Statue-of-Liberty-scaling thrills of the original X-Men trilogy? Well, as Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique says in the new trailer for Apocalypse, “forget everything you think you know”, because after the last film installment reset everything in the mutant world Back to the Future style, the playing field has been cleared for a whole new batch of films. Pretty convenient way to churn out all of your comic book story arcs given limited short-run production capacity, eh?

The X-Men are back, grim and leather-clad as ever, in the second film after the triumphant return of director Bryan Singer, whose seminal work on the first film back in 2000 showed audiences that comic book films can be fun, which is why some now call him the godfather of superhero films in retrospect. The series has always taken a path of its own when compared to the mainstream MCU, but now seems to be straying into the Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy realm, in terms of its main villain. The antagonist Apocalypse is supposedly the first mutant in existence, with ancient Egyptian roots(Gods of Egypt fans rejoice!). He commissions Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel as his four horsemen(now we’re in biblical territory?), with plans to wipe out humankind. It seems that under such an epic end-of-the-world premise, the original theme of humans v. mutants, a metaphor for racism and xenophobia, may potentially be lost. But we all know how end-of-the-world superhero movies sell at the box office.

 

Suicide Squad August 5, 2016

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Jared Leto, Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Cara Delevingne, Jai Courtney, Viola Davis, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Kinnaman, Jay Hernandez

 

Bold move, DC. Let’s count how many things are risky here. Releasing an ensemble movie before individual origin movies. Check. Releasing a villain movie before most of your hero movies. Check. Adapting comparatively obscure characters before best-known mainstays. Check. These are all gambles that Marvel hasn’t been gutsy enough to take, and only act as further proof that DC is sick of sitting on the sidelines of comic book cinema. Batman vs Superman was supposed to be the flagship that started it all, but with the greatest weekend drop-off in box office attendance ever for a superhero movie and a critical death warrant, that may not happen. Suicide Squad has gone from being the studio’s second litmus test, to the make-or-break film for the rest of the DC movie universe lineup.

So far though, things look good. The use of a deniable, dispensable criminal group to perform the US government’s dirty work provides an interesting prospect, and the film’s creators seem to have gotten the tone just right. But with two films so far and only trailers up to Suicide Squad, the DCEU seems to have become perpetually trapped in the gritty mood of the Nolan Batman trilogy. That being said, Suicide Squad grew right out of the Dark Age of Comics, so it may not be the best harbinger of films to come. If the movie is as psychotic as the trailer shows it to be, we should expect nothing less than two hours of sustained anarchy, despite characters as ridiculous as Captain Boomerang.

 

Doctor Strange November 4, 2016

Director: Scott Derrickson

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Scott Adkins, Michael Stuhlbarg

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The world’s foremost authority on all things supernatural is getting his own movie. Eight years ago, Marvel studios released a movie about a scientific genius constructing an energy reactor in a desert cave, in hopes of it being successful at the box office.

The subject matter of Marvel films has certainly evolved over time as producers have realized they can make audiences gobble up nearly anything. Doctor Strange is part of the studio’s foray into (somewhat) less known characters, but also into the realm of magic. With an already strong tradition in origin stories, the studio is likely to portray surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange’s training with The Ancient One in the Himalayas at a slower pace, giving the experience a more psychedelic treatment. As Marvel president Kevin Feige has explained, the project is the MCU’s entry point into its interdimensional side, raising questions about what else the studio has up its sleeves.

And just look at the cast! It seems more akin to the nomination list on Oscar night, rather than something in the ending credits of a superhero movie. Indeed, the film’s four most important characters are portrayed by Academy Award nominees/winners, which goes to show how much of a superpower Marvel has truly become. Is a golden statuette for a comic book film still too much to hope for?

 

2017:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 May 5th, 2017

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Tommy Flanagan, and Chris Sullivan, Kurt Russell

 

If you haven’t already been weirded out by the fact that Dr. Strange is the first individual origin story flick on this list, team-up spectacles have become the new mainstream, taking up an increasingly large portion of studios’ planned releases(one film in the MCU’s phase 1, half of all films in phase 3). Here’s another ensemble movie coming your way.

James Gunn took the helm of GOTG Vol. 2 once again after the first’s success, and has articulated his struggle with what now must be known as the Every-Comic-Book-Filmmaker’s-Inevitable-Character-Development-Quandary: increase the number of characters by pulling key people from the source material, or leave it be, choosing greater depth over abundance? Initially, Gunn told fans that there would be two new major characters in the script, but he soon revealed a new revision with fewer roles than the first film, and a reduction from two newcomers to one. With a not-so-subtle hint at certain other series, he commented, “Everything is just getting too sprawling and too crazy for me in these superhero comic book movies…There’s just too many characters so you can’t concentrate on one and really get to know that character, and I really want to get to know the characters that we know better.”

What do we know so far of the said soul-searching? For one, Peter Quill a.k.a. Star-Lord embarks on a journey and learns something of his father, in the tradition of Kung-Fu Panda. Although Empire Strikes Back may be the better analogy in this case, given the cosmic-theme and highly anticipated second installment jazz, GOTG Vol. 1, likely being the film with the most obscure characters to make it to MCU so far, achieved astounding success with its snark-infused comedy. Just beginning production, Vol. 2 will hopefully offer a much-needed streak of lightheartedness amidst a myriad of depressives in 2017.

 

Wonder Woman June 23, 2017

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Robin Wright, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Lucy Loven Kongsli, Danny Huston, Ewen Bremner

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Kick off the summer with this highly introspective superhero origin movie, which also happens to be the first in recent history with a female lead(save perhaps 2005’s Elektra, a film best not talked about). Yes, Marvel has yet to adapt any of its heroines in a lead role, despite the facts that women make up a larger share of moviegoers than men, comprise nearly half of comic book fans, and statistically spike in box office attendance when films starring female characters(The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy) are released. Even when they do appear, female characters tend to be relegated to positions of love interests, and a sense of male dominance pervades. Antman and the Wasp, to be released in 2018, is currently the MCU’s only glimmer of hope. Well look no further, as comics’ most popular feminist cultural icon is becoming the second hero to receive a stand-alone movie in the DCEU.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, one of the redeeming features of Batman vs. Superman, will be portrayed in what at the moment seems like a cross between 2011’s Thor and Captain America–part mythology, part period film. Set before the events of BvS, her lesser known origin is about her discovery of air-wrecked soldier Steve Trevor on her secluded island home of Themyscira. She leaves her all-female Amazonian family to deliver Trevor back to Man’s World(engaged in the First World War) where she learns about the true nature of humanity. Although released featurettes make the film seem just as bleak as its predecessors, the character of Wonder Woman will add a powerful dose of strength and compassion to the DCEU.

 

Thor: Ragnarok November 3, 2017

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Jaimie Alexander, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo,

 

This will be the film to prove once and for all that the MCU has become a finely woven gossamer, and that standalone films in the true sense don’t exist anymore. With an exposition in Age of Ultron, an expected collaboration with the Hulk, and a prelude to Infinity War, Thor: Ragnarok’s importance will transcend beyond itself and fit snugly within the MCU continuum. Though within the comics there exists a character by the name of Ragnarok, this movie will more than likely be about the titular Norse apocalypse, where the gods perish and a harmonious new order takes their place, following the ruination of earth. The Thor series has been pretty heavy in mythology, but it  always had a twist, so cross your fingers for the unexpected.

And who should be behind all of it but Loki, whose name has become synonymous with villain, and has already starred as the antagonist of 3 films so far? That has to be some sort of record. On a sadder note, Tom Hiddleston, who portrays Loki, has mentioned that this will be his last performance as the mischief-maker deity. But new faces will make their appearance as well, with Cate Blanchett expected to take the role of an Asgardian goddess. Marvel continues its outstanding tradition of commissioning lesser known directors from other genres, this time choosing New Zealander Taika Waititi, a dramedy director you’d more expect to see at Sundance. Hopefully, Ragnarok answers some of the lingering questions from its prequel The Dark World, and provides the final link of the chain leading to the ultimate MCU showdown.

 

Justice League Part 1 November 17, 2017

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Ray Fisher, J.K. Simmons

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Overhyped fan bait? Doomed venture? Movie event of the decade? Whatever you predict Justice League to turn out to be, there’s no denying that the golden age of superhero films has dawned. Nothing else in cinema remains nearly as highly anticipated, and the release of a comic book film can truly feel like something you’ve waited your entire life for. Though DC’s early-on adaptation of its most iconic franchise easily reflects the studios’s eagerness to have an ensemble to compete with The Avengers, Justice League will be symbolic of the vicissitudes of the entire superhero genre, no matter how it turns out, though a failure of epic proportions could spell Warner Bros. return to rough waters. With a surfeit of ponderous foreshadowing detracting from the quality of Batman vs. Superman, this one better be good.

How do you portray veritable gods on the big screen, and then make them join forces in a coalition? That’ll be the question fans want answered the most, without a doubt. The diegesis of the DCEU has turned out infinitely darker than the Marvel mainstream, and it’s hard to imagine its titanic personalities cracking jokes with each other while taking down evil. Zack Snyder’s choice to present a more grounded version of beloved characters is immensely interesting, but will consequently demand impeccable vision and storytelling. But if there’s one thing that the path we’re on has taught us, it’s that superhero films are where anything can happen.

 

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