It's often said that a week is a long time in politics; I wouldn't have thought you could say the same of superhero movies, but here we are. In the week just gone Sony have released The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to limited crowds outside the US, and already there's an indication of what The Sinister Six, who will have their movie before 2018 (the date AS-M 4 will be released) will look like. Fox of course have announced a Fantastic Four sequel for 2017, a year after the third X-Men film of the current trilogy, as well as possible spin-off movies for other X-Men characters (Mystique being a likely contender.) Combined with Marvel's schedule the on-screen superhero world looks like it's going to get very crowded
May 6 - Captain America 3
May 6 - Batman vs. Superman
May 27 - X-Men: Apocalypse
June 10 - The Amazing Spider-Man 3
July 8th - Untitled Marvel Film
Who will blink first? I think of the May releases Fox can least afford to take the risk, and may well move theirs, but it’s the 6th which is the doozy: Warners take the greatest risk with an almost-new franchise, while Marvel can afford to lose a little if CA3 under-performs because of the clash. It’s not a helpful confrontation, and a lot of commentators think Warners will be the ones to blink, but that comes from a 2014 viewpoint, with Captain America 2 now having beaten The Dark Knight’s box office record. Where will these players be, two years from now, if superhero fatigue once again strikes its general audience in the mean-time?
I think the winners may still come down to the classic rivalry of DC/Warners and Marvel Studios, probably with Marvel on top in the long run (where they already lead), but I think Warners will fare well enough – they are merging DC’s greatest two superheroes for the first time, and on paper it will be the event of the year. Unprecedented. Outside of May I think Sony will probably do well enough, also – again, on the strength of the Spider-Man brand, which has already survived a reboot in very short time. Fox, on the other hand, will be working with an aging franchise in the X-Men, and may or may not be sitting between the fortunes of a Fantastic Four reboot and its sequel – depending on the success of this current reboot. If both under-perform, that may be it for the studio’s superhero reign for a while.
And that's the question I find myself asking right now - when will the second shoe hit the floor and the current age of big screen superheroes close again? It's not a question I relish, but there's an inevitability about it, and possibly the only reason it hasn't yet happened is down to the inventiveness and genre mobility of the current crop - Marvel, obviously, and the Nolan Batman trilogy, but the fate of more traditionally-plotted movies (Green Lantern? Fantastic Four?) may bear that out, too.
We'll see. Comic fans themselves know the medium is far more flexible than its big screen adaptations often end up being, but maybe the success of these latest movies points towards a further maturing of the film genre. Perhaps in the right hands, this golden age of heroes will be a long-lived one as well.
In the mean-time, I'm on a break from capes and body armour. I went to The Grand Budapest Hotel over the weekend and loved the change of scene. Vive la difference!
Until the next hero movie, of course...