Written by Matthew Leather
With the release of Thor: Ragnarok trailer and leaked potato-quality camera footage of the Avengers: Infinity War trailer finding its way on to Youtube, I have been thinking about Marvel and what they achieved in cinema. Marvel is definitely my favourite movie franchise right now and has paved the way for other studios to follow suit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Phase One started with Edward Norton’s depiction of the Hulk in 2008 and they have continued to expand from there. The MCU and the banner of Cinematic Universe helps to avoid the constant moans of prequel, sequel, remake and reboot in cinema’s current climate. This is due to the size of the cinematic universe and its complexity with all the undoubtedly intricate/interwoven character relationships. They started with the stable hold of Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and Thor (currently they are the forefront of the Avengers in the MCU) and year after year they made sequels to their Avengers squad to progress the universe they all share.
Marvel have now reached a stage with such a loyal fan base that they can release a feature length film about lesser known characters to the casual movie goer with no worries about hitting high box office figures (with the draw of current Hollywood A-Listers that is). Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr Strange and Ant-Man are the start of this, however I am personally waiting with bated breath for Howard the Duck.
Due to the success of the MCU it wasn’t going to be long until its main competitor in the comic book world started chomping at the bit to follow suit. DC had a slow start with their Extended Universe (DCEU) with both Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice not competing at the box office with Marvel. I personally believe the choice to rush towards an Avengers style buddy up film in Justice League was just that… rushed. The only saving grace to this approach was the release of Wonder Woman. The femme fatale played by Gal Gadot was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and a film that I believe if not made, may have dragged the DCEU further behind. Right now Wonder Woman most definitely surpasses Batman as the audience draw. The DCEU also made quite a bold move with the feature film dedicated to the Suicide Squad. This also didn’t fare well at the box office and much has been speculated to the reason behind this film’s low ratings, ranging from castings to acting ability. In my opinion the reason behind the low ratings is simple: Again it felt hurried. DC provided no prior introduction to the lesser known members of the squad and the teaser trailers just didn’t suffice. Aside from the Joker, Harley Quinn and possibly Deadshot, unless you are a massive DC fan and/or have played through the Arkham series of videogames intensely (like myself) you would struggle to find a connection to the rest of the characters.
DC have started pushing forward with the Justice League and are setting up the characters stand alone films for the future. Regardless of the success Justice League has, I have no doubt that the stand alone movies for Aquaman and Wonder Woman will be the major hits in the coming years. Nevertheless the future of DC will be focused on a darker tone that will mirror the comic books directly and ultimately draw more fans into the gritty and less PG movie releases.
As mentioned previously the banner of ‘Cinematic Universe’ has created a domino effect wherein all studios are now jumping on the bandwagon to kick-start their very own. Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures whom after a high regarded reboot of both Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) have made it very clear they want to expand the “Monsterverse”. The next instalment is set to be released in 2019 titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This film will introduce three new, albeit lesser known, monsters to western audiences- Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. These studios are going to mesh these gargantuan characters together in a battle royale style fight inevitably dragged over multiple movies and have acknowledged that this phase of the Monsterverse will be culminating with the big fight – King Kong Vs Godzilla. They were able to create a human feel to the films and this must continue to ensure the success of this franchise.
The studios are using the big names to draw movie goers out and using these stand alone films as easy introductions for the lesser known characters (completely the opposite of what suicide squad did). Previously owned by Toho, a Japanese film/production company, all three confirmed new monsters had multiple stand alone movies and Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures will be hoping for the same.
Finally, Universal Studios have thrown their hat into the ring and have started a revival of their monster characters in what they are titling the “Dark Universe“. The Mummy reboot was their flagship movie in this venture which unfortunately didn’t fare too well at the box office and isn’t a high scorer on any of the rating sites (scoring 16% on rottentomatoes.com). They have however not made any indication that they are going to slow down and have set the wheels in motion for a wide variety of their old characters stand alone reboots; Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Invisible Man, Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Currently the only Dark Universe movie to have a date mark is the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ in Feb 2019. Universal definitely have the ability to create some fantastic horror movies in the years to come incorporating their classic monsters and I will be watching them to see how they fare.
There is undoubtedly many people who aren’t a fan of the cinematic universes and are more interested in indie releases or stand alone/original films not too snappy to jump onto the sequel band wagon, but due to the continuous churn of franchise movies it helps the smaller films to stand out as they are clearly unlinked and have a genuine feel to them.
So a lot has to be said about the current state of cinema, but I for one am genuinely excited for what is in store with all the franchises. Let the battle of the cinematic universes begin.