Hollywood has been mining comics for years and is now looking at second-tier superheroes to guarantee a steady churn of reliably profitable movies. Call it cultural fracking: digging into an over-tapped vein that at this point could be running dry.
With Warner Brothers' announcement Wednesday that from 2016 to 2020, it will release at least 10 superhero films from its comic book unit DC Entertainment, according to CBS, adding to 16 more in that period from other major studios, it seems fair to ask: Are 26 superhero movies in the next several years too much?
A few months ago, Indiewire asked movie critics that very question, and their answers were an illuminating if equivocal “not necessarily.” Although some critics agreed that the number was indeed too high, others were willing to give the genre a chance as long as there wasn’t an overreliance on CGI and if there were actually some character development along with all the action.
There does seem to be a reflexive bias against the genre that might not be fair. “No matter how many superhero movies the studios may churn out," wrote the New Yorker's Richard Brody, "there are still -- and always will be -- a whole lot more mediocre, even execrable, lower-budgeted naturalistic dramas about so-called real people. A bad superhero movie is no worse than a bad adaptation of an acclaimed novel or a bad political drama.”
One thing these 20-plus superhero films should not do, critics agree, is rely on CGI, which John Keefer of 51 Deep calls “lazy,” accusing the technology of “[taking] away from the magic-trick element of special effects.”
To dodge charges that the superhero genre is a juvenile, culturally bankrupt one, the superhero films need to care about their characters and stories. “[O]n an artistic level," writes the New York Post's Farran Smith Nehme, "these films desperately need a touch of the poet. They need a John Ford.” Or at least a Joss Whedon, according to The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde. And although action is OK, it can’t be everything. “The best comic books deliver plenty of large-scale action,” he wrote, “but they also create characters who are funny, tragic, empathetic and compelling, and that's what the good superhero movies figure out how to do.”
The genre could defend against accusations of being exhausted as a possibility if the superhero were unconventional. “I'm not sure we've seen a gay superhero movie, yet,” writes Gary Kramer of the Philadelphia Gay News. “So that would be novel and not a rehash of what's been done before. How about it Hollywood? You already have hot guys in tights.” This year's "Captain America," for example, will feature the first African-American superhero.
The desire for an unconventional superhero may account for the particular excitement Wonder Woman fans -- who have been asking for the movie for years, according to CNN -- have about the female superhero finally getting her own movie. 29-year-old Gal Gadot, who will also be in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," will star as the Amazonian warrior princess gifted with superhuman fighting skills and glamorous weapons including a Lasso of Truth, indestructible bracelets, a projectile tiara and the occasional invisible airplane.
Primed for female superhero
“I'd be interested in a Wonder Woman movie,” writes a male commenter on the movie blog Ropes of Silicon. “I didn't realize until recently that her character was created in the early '40s and, like Captain America, she would fight against the Nazis. Bit more interesting.” It remains to be seen whether a standalone movie about a female superhero will do well – Halle Berry’s Catwoman was a box-office bomb – but Jezebel's Dodai Stewart speculates that with the success of films such as "Maleficent," "Divergent" and "Hunger Games," audiences are primed for a female superhero.
Warner Brothers' superhero onslaught will begin in 2016 with "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," continue with "Suicide Squad" (2016), "Wonder Woman"with Gal Gadot (2017) who is also in “Justice League Part One” (2017, with Ben Affleck, Amy Adams and Henry Cavill), "The Flash" (2018, starring Ezra Miller of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and “Aquaman” in 2018 with Jason Momoa. A "Justice League, Part Two" is set to arrive in 2019, along with a “Green Lantern” reprise for 2020.