It’s been over a year, now, since I last commented on the MCU Copycatting phenomenon. Originally, I thought I would just be chronicling an update on the “superhero cineverse” race, but then it suddenly hit me: the race hasn’t just progressed, it’s actually evolved.
What I mean by that is how the introduction of a massive cinematic universe to the general public – thank you, Marvel – has altered what studios can do. Audiences like the connections between our favorite superheroes, so studios are catering to that. Marvel defined the race as creating one overarching franchise, with a single, many-threaded narrative, across multiple mediums, so I’ve been looking at the competition like one single race, in one single arena. But it’s not, or at least not anymore.
There are multiple arenas now, with the same companies creating contenders in each. So, in updating on the race, one must look at each arena separately. And, for present purposes, we are ignoring, due to inactivity and/or irrelevance, Universal Studio’s Monster Cinematic Universe, the Transformers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and all the comic book and superhero franchises that do not belong to a cineverse. We’ll touch on those some other time. This is just a snapshot of how things stand right now among our main group of contenders, in three main arenas: The Big Screen, the Little Screen, and Other Screens.
First and foremost, of course, is the The Big Screen. It’s the blockbusters that get the spotlight, and great heaping piles of cash, isn’t it?
2016 was quite the big-screen year!
Marvel remained leader of the pack, with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange launching the third phase of the MCU, and both were very well done and very well received. This year, we’ll get the much-anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. Next year will be even more packed with Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel. All of these are sure to be well-executed hits.
After that, however, we start getting into less certain territory. The penultimate 2019 Avengers film, originally the second part of Infinity War, no longer has an officially known title, and the much-anticipated Inhumans movie has been scrapped entirely. All we know otherwise is that they intend to release their sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming the same year.
One wonders just what is going on over at Marvel Studios, but they’ve bought a great deal of my trust, so I am going to just watch and see.
Meanwhile, Marvel’s most famous competitor, the Warner-DC partnership, produced two films last year, hoping to kick off the DCEU. That most definitely began on a sour note with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (seriously, they need to rid themselves of Zack Snyder), but was given a much-needed boost with Suicide Squad, easily the most popular film they’ve yet put out. Anticipation of the upcoming Wonder Woman is high, though the first Justice League has been given more of a lukewarm reception. People enjoyed the preview, but we don’t want to get our hopes up going into another movie where Snyder has been involved.
If they can keep our interest, DC intends to roll out, over the next few years, The Flash, Aquaman, Shazam, Cyborg, and Green Lantern Corps. There are a number of other films in development, including Batman, Deadshot, Black Adam, Lobo, Gotham City Sirens, and Dark Universe, as well as sequels to Man of Steel, Justice League, and Suicide Squad. It would seem that having their first well-received film be one that centered on the villains has encouraged DC to give them more attention in the future.
So, DC is movie forward, at long last, but at an unsteady pace. It’s like that one really interesting car that sputters, then explodes forward, then sputters, then explodes, all while looking like it’s about to fall apart.
As Sony has hitched up with Marvel on the Spider-Man franchise and has yet to produce anything in their partnership with Valiant Comics, the only competitor left on the big screen is Fox, which is looking to rejuvenate the X-Men. They produced a pretty good film in X-Men: Apocalypse, though it received mixed reviews and a lukewarm reception. Deadpool, by contrast, was a wild hit. 🙂
They scrapped plans for the Gambit movie that was supposed to hit theaters late on 2016, but the upcoming Logan has everyone excited. Beyond that, this year looks like it will be pretty bare. It would have been utterly stupid of them not to capitalize on that with a sequel, but it’s unclear when Deadpool 2 will be released, but Fox has already confirmed that they’ve begun developing Deadpool 3, so I think we can wait patiently for a little bit. At various stages in development, we have the next X-Men film, with a working title of X-Men: Supernova, as well as films for X-Force and The New Mutants.
The latter two are, of course, are an attempt to breathe new life into the franchise by moving away from the characters of past movies. It would be a good opportunity to connect these movies together more strongly, but I wonder if they’ll really attempt that. It’s not like they did a super job connecting First Class, Days of Future Past, and Apocalypse into a single story, so I doubt it.
So, Big Screen Summary:
Marvel is squarely in the lead, DC off to a faltering start way in the back, and Fox somewhere between but aiming to shrink Marvel’s lead.
Next: The Small Screen.
Here, we have a near-reversal of fortunes between Marvel and DC.
While they’ve been dominating the big screen, Marvel has been struggling on the small screen. Agents of Shield has been fantastic, and shows no signs of slowing down, but it also received some sharp and undue criticism in its beginning stages and its ratings have never been sky-high for some reason unknown to me. Meanwhile, Agent Carter was canceled after its second season (come on!), Most Wanted was never approved beyond the pilot (come on! I was really looking forward to that one!), and Damage Control is nowhere to be seen despite promises that it would air fairly soon.
I am quite glad to report that we have a firm date for a fall premiere of The Inhumans. I remain cautiously optimistic for the premiere of their “superhero love story,” Cloak and Dagger on Freeform in due time, supposedly next year. It’ll be good for Marvel to start catching up in that arena.
Meanwhile, DC has somehow come to dominate the small screen. Gotham stands alone, independent of any other series, but the Arrowverse, dubbed for the show that launched the rest, now includes Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and has been firmly connected with Supergirl now, as well as having nodded towards the ended Constantine last season. Said Arrowverse also includes an ongoing animated web series for Vixen and a freshly-beginning Freedom Fighters: The Ray.
An argument can be made that, for having such a quantity of shows, there is a certain lack of quality to be found. The third and fourth seasons of Arrow fell far short of fans’ expectations, The Flash has often left something to be desired, Legends lacked greatly in its first season, and Supergirl… well, I never made it past the first episode, though a friend of mine keeps challenging me to make it through the first season, at least. Apparently, it gets better in the latter half. I may take up that challenge sometime, but not yet.
So, you see my personal frustration here? I like what Marvel has produced better, and I like what they could have produced, yet they’ve gotten barely anything off the ground on TV. But DC is dominating the small screen arena, despite shows that have often been more mediocre. Gotham is their strongest show right now, and completely independent of the others, which rely on each other far too much.
And now comes competitor number three again: Fox’s X-Men.
Apparently taking a note out of Sony’s playbook, Fox has actually teamed up with Marvel to produce Legion, due for imminent release in early February. The trailers make it look quite interesting, which we’ll see soon enough. There are not obvious connections to any of the movies, or to any other show, which makes enough sense since connectivity has been one of Fox’s great weaknesses to date.
More surprising then, when they announced an X-Men television show which will be connected to the movies and even feature characters from such. They announced this the same day they canceled the development of Hellfire, and transferred the production staff from the one to the other. It doesn’t have a name yet, so who knows when or if it will even air, but they’re certainly putting some effort into this.
So, Small Screen Summary, much shorter than the big screen summary: DC seems to be ruling right now, while Marvel has been encountering difficulties just trying to increase their presence, like they’ve been unable to find their footing for some reason, and Fox is is about to enter the race as well.
And now, the third arena: Other Screens.
Dominating theaters and struggling on television, Marvel is surpassing all expectations on Netflix. Luke Cage and the second season of Daredevil aired in 2016, with wild reception, stoking people’s appetite for what comes next. Iron Fist airs within two months, to be followed by The Defenders sometime in mid-2017, and then The Punisher later this same year. That will likely be followed a few months later, in 2018, by Daredevil‘s third season, and eventual successive seasons for Luke Cage and Jessica Jones as well. Myself, I am also hoping for other such heroes to get their own shows, but that is mere hope and speculation on my part. In short: Marvel is doing very well in two arenas out of three.
DC may have no plans with Netflix, but they’re pumping out shorter animated movies in relatively quick succession. There is a loose continuity between some of these, or so they say. Said connections have been more evident in recent movies. 2016 saw the release of Batman: Bad Blood, the misnamed Justice League vs Teen Titans, and Batman: The Killing Joke. Upcoming releases include Justice League Dark, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, and Batman and Harley Quinn.
In regards to these “DC Universe Animated Orignal Movies” (sheesh, say that five times fast), I have to say that some of these movies especially the earlier ones, are fantastic. Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and, my favorite, Batman: Under the Red Hood, these were all great. The rest of them haven’t been very good, though. I haven’t seen Killing Joke, so I cannot speak on that one just yet, but I don’t think they were even really trying with Justice League vs Teen Titans. They basically just recycled the plot of Teen Titans‘ fourth season into a short movie and gave it a very inaccurate name.
Individually, most of these films are pretty amateurish. As a cineverse, they suck.
So, how does this entire race look now? In Summary:
Sony has practically gone inactive, but may come back in as a serious contender in due time. For now, their partnership with Marvel gives them 1 point.
DC owns the small screen, surprisingly, but is getting owned on the big screen, and has gone very downhill on other screens. That’s 1 for them out of 3 possible points.
Fox is experimenting on the small screen, and rising on the big screen. That’s one in their favor, and a tentative addition of half a point for experimenting with television, said half point to be either taken away or added to depending on the results. So, 1.5.
And Marvel gets a point for the big screen and a point for other screens. They also get a point for the small screen, but immediately lose it again for not being able to produce multiple shows the way DC has. So, 2 out of 3.
So, although the race has been changing around Marvel, they’re still in the lead! Yay! 🙂
Now, there is one thing which I would do, were I the owner of a studio. Having the Avengers, Justice League, and X-Men to compete with, I would look into two things: 1) other superhero franchises and 2) specifically, standalone franchises. We like the cineverse, yes, but we also like individual adventures, and we like new things. That’s the appeal of Valiant’s attempt, in particular. I would look into other comics like Fathom and literary properties like The First, which is practically already a movie script, and Wearing the Cape, which could easily become a television show if not a movie. If the race can evolve like this, then wouldn’t they benefit from thinking outside the box?