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The Good and The Bad of Superhero Movie Crossovers
Seems like superhero movies are finally gaining ground, no? After godawful adaptions from the 90s and early 2000s (Batman & Robin and Daredevil come to mind), superheroes seemed to have carved a respectable position in Hollywood. Franchises like X-Men and Batman stand among the strongest in the subgenre, and their success has spawned quite an ambitious, and successful, project: the Marvel Cinematic Universe (aka, the Avengers films). Seeking to do what no one has done in film before, Marvel took seemingly standalone film franchises and realized every comic book nerd’s dream of joining them together in one superfilm.
The results speak for themselves. The Avengers was tremendously successful and lauded for its fun atmosphere, refraining from taking itself too seriously (apparently that was reserved for Iron Man 3). But there was another effect, wasn’t there? It wasn’t even terribly unpredictable. Seeing the success of superhero collaborations, DC quickly announced plans for a Justice League film and is now developing a Batman vs. Superman film, with Wonder Woman making a notable appearance. Not to be outdone, Fox has mentioned an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover. Now, Sony is trying its own hand with an extended Spider-Man film series, already confirmed to feature a spinoff Venom film and a Sinister Six film.
All of this sounds really exciting, yet I can’t help but feel apprehensive. Granted, I was apprehensive about an Avengers film, but I was never an Avengers fan as a child (I did enjoy the film, however). Crossing distinct franchises such as Batman and Superman and X-Men and Fantastic Four, though, has me a bit more nervous, partially because I thoroughly enjoy X-Men and Batman. As for Spidey, well…that franchise has been hit-or-miss since its debut on the big screen. But like all things, there could be good and bad in it. Let’s discuss, shall we?
Who doesn’t love geeky fantasies being played out on film, right? For the Avengers fans across the world, seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, and co. battle it out against Tom Hiddleston’s brilliant portrayal of Loki couldn’t be anything less than sublime. And anyone who read my ideas on a Spider-Man film series knows I’m all about Spidey having it out with his nemeses over several films. Then there is the oft-asked question: Is Superman or Batman better? We’ll finally get that answer when the film hits theaters! (Spoiler alert: they’ll end up coming together against a common enemy, because superheroes never fight other superheroes for very long.)
Film series have been historically limited to a trilogy, and spinning together a series of superhero movies tied in together allows for more films to cover character storylines and introduce new villains. Given that most of these characters have half a century or more of comics, there’s a near limitless supply from filmmakers to draw from. And who hasn’t dreamed of their favorite comic book arcs being portrayed in film?
Of course, there’s also the obvious: it could make for some great entertainment. The Avengers was hugely entertaining. What’s stopping other superhero franchises from emulating that great movie experience?
You’ll notice I made no mention of the X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover in “The Good.” That’s because I utterly believe that cannot work. While I love the X-Men, let’s face it, that film series has had a hard enough time standing on its own feet lately, and the Fantastic Four films were so bad they couldn’t even make it to a third installment. If they plan to do a crossover, it shouldn’t even happen for another few X-Men films. The franchise is incredibly botched up from shifting directors and screwing up the continuity. One would assume Days of Future Past will partially serve to address and correct those problems, but time will tell. Given I thought First Class warranted its own standalone sequels apart from the original trilogy, I feel the franchise has far too much ground to cover without crossing into other superhero spectra.
As for Fantastic Four, Fox at least has the right idea. While I’m vexed by the constant rebooting going on in Hollywood, this particular series cannot continue where it left off. Furthermore, Marvel had the right idea by starting their films with the idea that they would all cross over at some point. That is the only true way to cross different superhero movies over, which is probably one of many reasons the Batman portrayed in the Superman crossover will be of a different timeline than in the Dark Knight trilogy. That is another reason I feel an X-Men crossover with Fantastic Four will fail.
As for all the others, the bad is fairly simple. While Marvel made their films work well together, DC didn’t really set up for that, and besides, a project of that scale is a tough thing to pull off. Could they succeed? Yes. Could they just as easily fail? Definitely. Sony is playing it a little safer with Spider-Man, merely introducing spinoff films set in the character’s own universe. I’m personally more excited about that than superhero crossovers. As I said earlier, there’s plenty of material in each character’s own comic series. I’d like to see filmmakers cover more of that than insisting on crossing over.
I am by no means swearing off the ideas before I see the end result, but I feel Marvel was successful for two reasons: one, as mentioned earlier, they designed the films to cross over from the beginning; two, they carefully planned this out. They were the first to do it. They weren’t pressured by rivals’ successes. It was a bunch of people saying, “Wouldn’t this be cool and fun?” not, “Oh, look what those guys are doing! We have to compete with that!” That, more than anything, would be the true reason I would see all these crossover films failing. It’s not about doing something they’ve always wanted to do; it’s about keeping up and turning profit. Hopefully they can do that without forgetting about the fun of making superhero movies.
How about you? Excited about these films? Dreading them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!