Defending Self-Contained Movie Universes

It’s most certainty a great time to be a comic book fan. With new stories instantly available on your digital device every week and movie studios endlessly bringing new superheroes and comics to the big screen, this once ambiguous hobby has turned into the hottest movement in entertainment.

Although, things have changed quite a bit since the early ‘90s Tim Burton and Michael Keaton rendition of Batman. Indeed, comic book movies got off to a bumpy start but soon started to hit their stride with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films and ultimately Christopher Nolan and his excellent Dark Knight trilogy (and please pay homage to the original Blade while you’re at it).

When Marvel Entertainment formed their own movie studio in 2008, as The Joker would say, they “changed things…forever.” They created a cinematic universe where all the characters would interact with one another. This started with films Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) before culminating with the epic Joss Whedon helmed Avengers movie in 2012. After the success of the Marvel blueprint, many other studios tried to follow suit. At the same time, cinematic realization started to set in.

Man Of Steel Young Clark Kent

Man Of Steel Amy Adams

Ben Affleck Batman Suit

DC Entertainment released Man in Steel in 2013 as a launch pad for a DC cinematic universe with the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice due for a 2016 release. The cast of the film is perhaps one of the most criticized in recent history. Ben Affleck was cast as the Caped Crusader, and fans thought he was all wrong because…well, just because. Israeli actress and fashion model Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman and was scrutinized for being too skinny to play the Amazon warrior princess. Jesse Eisenberg was cast as super-villain Lex Luthor and, presumably, because he is still seen as a Mark Zuckerberg/Zombieland nerd, he didn’t seem quite right for the role either; time will tell. The rest of the cast from the original Man Of Steel – Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishbone & Diane Lane- are all reprising their roles, respectively.

Also, many fans were apprehensive due to the fact that they felt Superman himself wouldn’t be getting a proper sequel. With a film consisting of Superman, Batman, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman and presumably a slew of Gotham City mainstays, it’s going to be hard to get much Man Of Steel screen time. Also, it’s been officially announced that the next film is going to be Justice League which is going to make another Superman film in the near future unlikely.

The recent ‘The Amazing Spider Man 2’ is essentially the next step in an expanded universe with Amazing Spider-Man spinoff movies Venom’ & Sinister Six officially announced not long afterwards. ASM2 is a film that, when it’s not over-stuffing itself with pathetically corny villains—don’t get us started on Jamie Foxx’s Electro again– spends never-ending time on convoluted conspiracies aimed at setting up future sequels. This strategy ends up with a subtly damaging effect. Rather than making each film feel like part of an expansive larger-than-life world, this inter-connectivity instead turns each story minute and insignificant, more weighed down by its obligations than livened up by them.

Mystique Wolverine Claws

Jennifer Lawrence Mystique Raven Darkholme

X-Men Days Of Future Past Mystique Split Kick

X-Men: Days Of Future Past has recently renewed our faith in the comic book movie genre. Director Bryan Singer did an admirable job at merging the cast of the original X-men trilogy as well as Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class. Singer meshed the two generations of characters and story-lines (almost) flawlessly. Bringing back characters like Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Professor X (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen), and of course Raven Darkhölme / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) who is no longer the meek mutant of the previous film but rather a split kicking, blue makeup/ computer-generated bad-ass.

Although, as much as we praise the film and its cinematic universe, it too isn’t without its faults. With so many mutant characters to juggle, many main characters get squeezed to the side. Just look how they re-twerked the Days Of Future Past story where it is actually Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) who is the hero of the story.

The godfather of it all, Marvel has also been criticized endlessly with fanboys seemingly praying for their downfall. Noting, for instance, that big actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans – who plays Tony Stark and Captain America respectively- are eventually going to move on leaving a hole in the MCU. Or the fact that every movie has to worry about what’s happening with other characters elsewhere. The fact that the movies are becoming more and more factory like with their assembly line method of production. Or that there seems to be no real sense of a timeline. Or “The Avengers Problem” which essentially means if one of the individually Avengers (Captain America, for instance) is having an issue in a solo movie why doesn’t he simply call on his Avenger pals?

Iron Man One Liners

Scarlett Johansson Captain America 2

Marvel Rocket Raccoon Movie

With all that said, let’s discuss for a moment why a comic book cinematic self-contained movie universe is a great thing. First off, let’s look at the source material. The Marvel Comics Universe has been running strong for over 70 years and proves that it does just fine even with timeline, plot-hole and inconsistency issues, different interpretations of the characters, plot holes, good stories, bad stories, etc. And of course all the main characters will be recast at some point, and that will happen over and over again for the next hundred years. How many Batman’s have there been so far? After Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and now Ben Affleck people are still excited to see what the future holds. The fact that people feel a cinematic superhero can only have but so many arcs need only look once again to the source. Superman has had endless story arc’s over his seventy-five year run.

So, let’s not worry…yet. With the release of X-Men Days Of Future Past and Captain America: The Winter Soldier these films seem to be getting progressively better and better. With films like Guardians Of The Galaxy, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ant-Man and X:Men Apocalypse all on the way, things are as exciting as ever. Seriously, who would have ever thought they‘d see a Marvel Rocket Raccoon movie one day?

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