Monday, May 9, 2016

Superhero Fatigue? Or, Where Should Superheroes Go?

Captain America: Civil War's weekend haul is $179 million...

$179 million...

That's a ridiculous amount of money.

To consider that a "disappointment", I think, is silly.

Some are already asking... Is there a superhero fatigue? Did Batman v Superman's quality affect Civil War? And so on and so forth...

My answer? Oh, and before you read on, there will be Civil War spoilers.

The Avengers overperformed.

That's right. The Avengers overperformed.

The Avengers was fresh and new in 2012, a movie where heroes from separate movies came together in one big, mega-budget, pull-out-all-the-stops epic. This wasn't some "for fun" movie crossover, this was a big, big, big deal. It also helped that both Iron Man films broke $300 million stateside respectively, were super-popular, and Thor and Captain America's MCU debuts were very successful as well. "Iron Man and these other superheroes? We gotta see that!"

It was so well-received, it made 3x its already massive opening weekend gross. That's extremely rare, especially for a blockbuster movie.

The Avengers to me was one of those "summit" movies, the summit of the "momentum mountain". I explained this back when Avengers: Age of Ultron came out a year ago, The Avengers was one of those movies everyone and their brother and their brothers' dog had to go out and see. Many people go to the cinemas on a regular basis, but a lot of people also stay at home. Some people might visit the movie theater only once a year, or maybe even every 3-5 years. The Avengers was one of those movies, like Titanic, like Spider-Man, like The Dark Knight, like Jurassic World, that got all of those people in alongside everybody else who was hyped... Hence that then-lovely, record-breaking $207 million opening. Star Wars: The Force Awakens makes that look like nothing, now. Again, everyone went.

I think the same thing happened with Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. In 2002, Spider-Man's $114 million opening weekend gross was then the biggest opening weekend gross ever, and that adjusts - a 2D film, no less - to a strong $169 million today. Spider-Man 2 got better critical reception and it was agreed by many that it was a superior film to Spider-Man, if not one of the greatest superhero films ever made... Yet it didn't open as high, and finished with roughly $30 million less domestically. Why? Simple, the first Spider-Man was fresh, new, and novel. Everyone, even those who don't hit the flicks, went to see it. That novelty for those other audiences isn't there when the sequel comes out - no matter if it's way better or not.

Anyways, The Avengers is just that to me, which is why I wasn't surprised when Age of Ultron posted $191 million on its opening weekend. If anything, it's impressive that the opening weekend gross was only a smidgen lower than the one its predecessor posted. Shows that Marvel has real momentum, and now Civil War landing above $179 million... It shows that very little has worn off. Marvelmania is still in full swing, plus... Who didn't want to see a Captain America movie that also starred 85% of the Avengers, introduced Black Panther, gave us the proper Spider-Man we've been waiting for for nearly a decade, and wasn't really about fighting a bad guy for once?

Yes, $179 million+ is fine. It's already at $673 million worldwide, it's only two weeks old. I'm sure big Disney and Marvel Studios aren't fretting.

As for superhero fatigue?

My theory is that people will keep seeing these films if they look good and they like them. Last year saw the release of the terribly-received Fant4stic, that didn't kill any momentum, for Fox's own Deadpool surprised everyone and opened with $132 million. Who would've thought? Ant-Man posted an okay $57 million on opening weekend - proving that even Marvel Studios/MCU isn't entirely foolproof - because the marketing didn't drum up as much interest, but none of those hurt films like Civil War and Deadpool.

At this point, I think experimentation and trying new things is important for the superhero film. Just look at some recent opening weekend grosses...

Ant-Man - $57 million: Lower than a majority of the MCU opening grosses because it looked sort of been-there done-that from the trailers, the typical origin story, and whatnot. Guardians of the Galaxy ($94 million opening) on the other hand looked like something new, something delightfully oddball and quirky... It had a space raccoon with a gun! The main characters were unabashed criminals, it was set in space, the sense of humor was unique, there was a talking tree... What did Ant-Man's marketing have to offer? Guy who shrinks and fights a bad guy. Big difference. Ant-Man's marketing hid how fresh and cool the movie itself was, but perhaps for the better, the film hit me by surprise.

Fant4stic - $25 million: Looked dull, was saddled with toxic buzz, and again, looked like your typical superhero origin story. Add to that the sour taste of the previous two films Fox coughed out, and that $25 million opening wasn't too shocking. Remove the bad buzz and I still think it would've underperformed. Deadpool on the other hand? A vulgar, decidedly R-rated, foul-mouthed mercenary that wasn't hung up on being a goody two-shoes? Much more of a draw! Opened with an unprecedented $132 million.

Then we have Batman v Superman. Opened huge for two good reasons... Batman and Superman together on the silver screen for the first time, not as a parody or anything. Second, they were going to fight each other. That was something new, and Civil War I believe benefited from this as well. $166 million is no laughing matter, but Batman v Superman has had pretty abysmal legs. Lots of audiences clearly didn't like it, even if it kind of did something new and had some interesting elements. Quality has to match the ideas...

Let's look at some recent multipliers for Marvel/DC/Fox-Marvel movies...

Guardians of the Galaxy - 3.54x
Ant-Man - 3.15x
Deadpool - 2.74x
Captain America: The Winter Soldier - 2.72x
X-Men: Days of Future Past - 2.58x
Man of Steel - 2.50x
The Wolverine - 2.49x
Thor: The Dark World - 2.42x
Avengers: Age of Ultron - 2.40x
Iron Man 3 - 2.35x
Fant4stic - 2.24x
Batman v Superman - 1.96x

If you notice, the films that are a little fresher, a little more than just "superhero takes on a bad guy" stories, or have something that's unique are in the upper level of this list.

I think if Batman v Superman were the film it should've been, perhaps it would've been a key piece in the new frontier of superhero movies, as I see it. I think Captain America: Civil War and Deadpool definitely are part of this frontier, as well as Suicide Squad should that be a good film.

In both Batman v Superman and Civil War, superheroes being against each other is the main conflict. However, in Batman v Superman, Lex Luthor uses Batman as ammo to destroy an already controversial Superman, already making their views on each other worsen, ending with the two heroes realizing their error and teaming up to stop said big bad. In Civil War it's spurred by a new law that intends to keep superheroes "in check", one that splits the Avengers. That conflict, already solid and having a rhyme-or-reason to exist in the story, is made even worse by someone who hates the Avengers because they accidentally killed his family in Sokovia... It all ends in a bittersweet manner where no one really wins, the Avengers are broken, the bad guy - Zemo - succeeded. One man effortlessly managed to do what a destructive robot and someone with magical powers couldn't do...

The future looks to have more interesting stories like this. Suicide Squad will be about supervillains taking on missions for their own survival, being "heroes" for once. Doctor Strange takes on magic and surrealism, even if it may be another good guy fights a bad guy story - still, the magic element, like Guardians and Ant-Man's quirkier stuff, differentiate it from many previous films. Then we've got Marvel Studios' 2017 wave of movies. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will probably go some exciting new directions, Spider-Man: Homecoming looks to be part superhero movie/part soap opera/part drama/part John Hughes movie, Thor: Ragnarok is a "cosmic road trip" with Thor and Hulk. That's to say nothing of early 2018's Black Panther, which has been said to be a geopolitical action-adventure, starring a superhero of color no less. There's also Fox/Marvel's third Wolverine solo film, which will indeed get an R-rating and be "bold", says the latest announcement. Wonder Woman and Justice League? Given what WB is going through right now, I'm not too sure... But those could also surprise, along with future DCEU installments.

That's all good. It's time to really do some cool stuff with the live-action superhero film (animation already did some really cool stuff!), more so than what Marvel has already done with it, what The Dark Knight did with it, and what Deadpool did with it. Civil War was truly exciting to watch for these reasons, for we see heroes let politics ruin their relationship, heroes who really take note of the collateral damage they cause, a villain who is motivated by revenge and not any desire to rule the world (he even tries to kill himself when he "succeeds" in his mission), and the fall of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark's stormy relationship. The Team Cap and Team Iron Man side-effect really just adds to the brilliance, and many people are passionately showing why they are siding with the hero of their choice. (For those who don't know, I'm Team Cap.) Pretty impressive that a "superhero" movie is inspiring such debate, as it has done so before...

As for Civil War's final gross... I think Civil War will have stronger legs than Age of Ultron, which only made 2.4x its opening weekend gross - indicating relatively lukewarm audience reaction, though its frontloaded opening kind of contributed to that as well. This, I think, should do much better. It feels like the real Avengers sequel to me and many, while Age of Ultron itself was the appetizer. With Winter Soldier legs, it would finish up with roughly $486 million. I think it can get that high.

So yes, I don't think superheroes are going anywhere anytime soon... But they should be going to exciting new places, in order to keep that type of movie fresh for us and for audiences. This goes for Marvel Studios, WB/DC, and Fox/Marvel. Civil War was a fantastic start to Marvel's Phase 3, which looks really promising from what we've heard so far, so... Game on!

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