While I suppose that things can always be better, we've certainly been in a Golden Age of superhero movie making for the last decade or so. Sure, there are some bad ones here and there, but overall they've been pretty good and even the worst of them aren't as craptastic as Batman and Robin.
There is some talk of superhero fatigue though among the critics. I don't think that we're seeing it with audiences just yet, but I suppose it is possible that eventually people will lose interest when they finally get around to making that Brother Power the Geek movie. Let's break things down by studio and see who's going in the right direction and who's pushing the genre too close to a cliff.
Things got off to a bad start with the disappointing Green Lantern, and even though Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy ranks as some of the best superhero movies to date, the door seems to have closed on that particular incarnation of the character. With Man of Steel, they had enough of a success to keep going with it, as Batman Versus Superman is coming at us in 2016. The rest of the recently-announced schedule is as follows:
July 2016 – Shazam
Xmas 2016 – Sandman
May 2017 – Justice League
July 2017 – Wonder Woman
Xmas 2017 – Flash and Green Lantern team-up
May 2018 – Man Of Steel 2
My biggest worry is that they're trying too hard to jump the gun and give us Justice League too soon. Obviously, they're trying to compete with Marvel, but Marvel gradually introduced us to the major players of The Avengers before teaming them all up in one movie. I'm not saying that it can't work, but it does feel a bit like putting the cart before the horse.
I'm also not that excited that Zack Snyder is down for at least Batman versus Superman and Justice League. I don't dislike him as some folks do, as I don't think that he's in the Michael Bay territory of crappy action directors. Still, I'd like to see Warner take chances like Marvel did with guys like Jon Favreau and the Russo Brothers.
Overall though, this isn't a bad plan, and I'm curious to see who they're going to get be Green Lantern. Are they going to pretend that the first movie never happened? Maybe they'll just ignore it and not necessarily go out of their way to contradict it. I wouldn't think that it's the worst thing in the world to bring back Ryan Reynolds, but for diversity's sake, it might be cool to get a black guy play the John Stewart Green Lantern and pattern his character off of the way they did it on the Justice League cartoons.
As for Ben Affleck as Batman? I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other. I've learned to be pleasantly surprised with casting choices (Heath Ledger, Anne Hathaway, even Michael Keaton) in the past that I'm willing to give him a chance. The man does have talent, and he's a fan of the comics, so the potential is there.
I should also point out that Sandman isn't a superhero story if they're basing it on the Neil Gaiman stuff. Personally, I think that would be a great idea to do that for some storytelling diversity.
Not everybody realizes this, but the movie rights to all of Marvel's characters do not belong to one studio. Fox and Sony have owned the rights to some characters since before Marvel got their own studio. This is why we're not seeing Spider-Man and Wolverine join The Avengers as they did in the comic books, and while such a thing is technically possible, it would require some major studios collaborating in an unprecedented venture. It should also be noted that if Sony and Fox stop making movies with the characters they have the licenses to, the rights revert back to Marvel. This is why Fox made a Daredevil movie, but now Marvel will be using the character as part of their Netflix lineup of shows.
With this in mind, let's break down the Marvel characters by studio:
Marvel Studios (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, etc.)
These guys really are the gold standard right now for superhero movies. While one can argue that the Dark Knight trilogy gave us better movies, Marvel hasn't really given us any duds. What's the worst one? The Incredible Hulk? Thor? Neither one of those are what I'd consider to be bad on the level that Green Lantern or Daredevil was.
Basically Marvel took things to a new level when they brought their major characters together with The Avengers. Then they continued to head in the right direction with Iron Man III and Thor: The Dark World. Things got bumped up another level with Captain America: The Winter Soldier which might have been a superhero movie, but it certainly didn't feel like one. By looking directly to the comics for inspiration, we got something that a lot of people probably weren't expecting. I hope that they take a hint from this success when they make the next Thor movie, as the current comics written by Jason Aaron would make for some great movie making.
You also have the aforementioned Netflix deal, which will feature four different series: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, and The Defenders. The last show will unite the heroes from the first three, and possibly even a few others (The Punisher, perhaps?) This has got me excited, as if you think about it, as serialized installments will be much closer to what you get to the comics. There's a lot of great comics material for Daredevil in particular that would lend itself to this format much better than it would a series of movies.
As for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I haven't been keeping up with it, sorry to say. Maybe I'll get caught up when it eventually comes on Netflix as well.
Fox (X-Men, Fantastic Four)
These guys were looking like they were going to screw things up royally, but they've really turned it all around. Things came to an all-time low with X-Men Origins: Wolverine, as it was clear that they just wanted to throw as many mutants at the screen as they possibly could without stopping to think whether it made any sense to the story or not.
We saw a real turnaround with X-Men: First Class, and things kept getting better with The Wolverine. Now they have a big hit on their hands with X-Men: Days of Future Past. I think that they have the right idea, as the last movie shows that you CAN actually have a lot of mutants so long as you keep the focus on a few main characters. Plus, it was an ambitious story to take on, and it looks like they're continuing this theme with Apocalypse.
The X-Men comics are nearly a comic book universe unto their own, and there are a lot of characters and teams that they can do some cool stuff with. There is word about an X-Force movie. I'd like to see that, along with one based on what Peter David is doing on X-Factor. Days of Future Past proved that you can get some great stuff if you look directly to the comics. Let's hope that the folks at Fox remember that.
As for The Fantastic Four, they're getting a much-needed reboot, as the previous two films weren't very good. I don't know too much about director Josh Trank or the cast, but the latest bit of info is that it will have a "found footage" vibe to it. My first reaction to that was that I didn't like it, but now that it's sunk in, I have to wonder why not? Sure, the found footage genre may be overplayed, but we haven't seen it in a superhero movie yet. Why not try something a little different? At the very least, it doesn't seem like they're going for the same-old, same-old.
And here's where we go off the rails. I think that Sony wishes that Spider-Man was a universe unto itself the same way that the X-Men are, as there has been talk about making a Sinister Six movie, along with a Venom movie. I haven't read much about either one since the somewhat disappointing reception for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (while hardly being a flop).
Is it possible to make an interesting movie about villains? I suppose so, but this really feels like they're trying to milk the Spider-verse for all its worth. The current movie is an example of this, as it was crammed with far too many characters.
A part of me hopes that these movies will bomb and Sony will no longer find Spider-Man to be profitable for them. This, of course, would mean that the rights would return to Marvel Studios, and perhaps we'd finally get Spidey to join the Avengers.