We have now seen footage from every superhero movie coming out next year, save for Dr. Strange (Gambit will most certainly be moved to 2017), and while they all look solid in their own ways, there’s one similarity between them all – they all look absolutely bonkers. One of the many superhero films to come out next year is Batman v Superman, which pits the normally grounded Dark Knight (at least cinematically) against the nearly indestructible alien Superman. Filled with over-the-top, cartoony visuals that we’ve come to expect from Zack Snyder and a large ensemble looking to tie itself into the Justice League, the film will most certainly do gangbusters at the box office. However, it might not do as well as similar “versus” movie Captain America: Civil War. Why? The teaming up of what is arguably the two most popular superheroes in pop culture will be displayed a totally different way from what most people are expecting with these characters.
While the film has its fans (myself included), Man of Steel was very divisive due to the fact that it turned an inherently light-hearted, kind character and plopped him into a dark and grim setting not unlike one you’d find in one of the Christopher Nolan Batman films. Some didn’t like the film because it clashed with the characters background and tone of the comics, while others found the dark tone to awkwardly mix with the goofy, highly stylized action on display. Because of this, the film opened quite strong, but finished its run with less than initially expected. But since Warner Bros., the company that behind the DC films, wanted to distance itself from the upbeat Cinematic Universe that Marvel has created, they have stuck with this darker tone. Personally, I think it’s a smart move, as having similar toned superhero movies would be boring and kill off the sub-genre much quicker.
That being said, since comic-book adaptations and superhero movies are the “it” thing nowadays, people are warming up to the weirder, more fanatical elements that most audiences would have balked at less than ten years ago. Or so we’d like to think. While Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films had a silly, free-flowing feel to them, the playing field for superhero films changed so much in the past few years. While the first two Iron Man films were grounded in reality and real-life politics, films such as Thor and Captain America introduced some more off-kilter elements to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, thanks in part to the good will they received from those previous films. When it was all said and done, it worked, and now Marvel has taken this laid-back and strange tone and have used it to their advantage. The reason why it’s worked so far? These films never seem to take themselves that seriously. Every time a human brings up Asgard or someone mentions Ant-Man’s name, it’s played off as a joke. Because of this, the audience laughs along with the film at its silliness, leading them to get away with some really weird shit.
Now I’m all for these films to get a little weird and jokey from time to time (they’re superhero films, for crying out loud), but I don’t think they always need to be played off as a joke every time they introduce a silly character or concept. That’s why I welcome films like Batman v Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse with open arms while remaining cautiously optimistic for Marvel’s upcoming output, even if I seem to be in the minority on that opinion. The problem for most people with these two upcoming films is that they don’t expect them to be weird. From a cinematic standpoint, Batman has always been grounded (remember when they stripped Ras al Ghul of all his magical powers in Batman Begins?) and Superman hasn’t had much to work with besides Zod and Lex Luthor in his cinematic endeavors. So, not only are they keeping with the more-serious Superman that we saw in Man of Steel, but they’re showing a more comic-book-y version of Batman that general audiences aren’t used to as well.
Instead of looking and knowing that one of the two won’t be giving their all during their fight(s) against each other (spoiler alert: it’s Superman) or even looking at the plot synopsis of the film, most people seem confused as to why these two would even fight. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people complain, “Why are they fighting? Superman would kill Batman easily. It’s just stupid.” No shit it’s a tad bit silly, but when you put Batman and Superman in a film together, I don’t know what else you’d expect.
The reason why people are having such a hard time grasping this concept is this: the tone is much darker and less playful than with Marvel’s films, and many people are taking the “vs.” literally (which is more of a marketing problem; World’s Finest or Man of Steel: Dawn of Justice would’ve worked much better in the long run). And because they’re introducing elements such as Wonder Woman and Doomsday in the film, audiences are at odds with it. Most seem to relate “dark” with “realistic”, whereas darker toned superhero franchises such as this new DC Universe and the X-Man franchise are trying to maintain their tones, while trying to dab their toes in weirder material at the same time. This is not an attempt to copy Marvel’s formula, per se. It’s more of a realization that general audiences are finally ready to accept some strange elements that they once avoided. However, audiences aren’t quite sure about fanatical elements in films that don’t ultimately joke about them with the audience, and that’s where the problem lies.
The X-Men films have always been serious and (for the most part) grounded as well, so introducing an Egyptian God and a world-threatening plot after mainly using Magneto and William Stryker as the franchise villains is a huge jump. A franchise that at one point was embarrassed to admit its comic roots is now going all-out, and it’s shows. Granted, Days of Future Past was a bit of change for the X-Men franchise, but the threat (in the past) wasn’t nearly as large-scale as the destruction found in The Avengers or Man of Steel. Not a complaint at all, mind you, it’s just that the series wasn’t known for going that big. It also held on tight to fan-favorite Wolverine, despite his character not usually leading the teams in the comics.
Now, Apocalypse looks to expand the scope of the X-Men films while also keeping out their most popular cinematic character in favor of introducing an X-Men team more similar to ones found in the comics. Risky, no doubt, but the main takeaway is that X-Men isn’t afraid to be X-Men anymore. It’s just that it’s confusing some modern audiences who only know the X-Men we’ve previously seen on the big screen. Deadpool faces the same problem as well, because even though it’s only barely related to the franchise, it still technically is and will be moreso in the future. And that vulgar, 4th wall-breaking is nothing like the other X-Men films, which will most certainly put off some of the fans (as will the R-rating).
The only non-MCU film that is mostly in the clear is Suicide Squad, if only because its tone fits the plot (villains forced to do suicide missions to shorten their prison terms) and a villain team-up movie is a completely new and fresh idea in a sea of superhero movies. It may have a lot of Batman villains, but it (seemingly) isn’t taking them as far as facing a threat such as Doomsday; they seem to be in a dirty, gothic world that wouldn’t be odd for fan favorites such as Joker or Harley Quinn (who makes her cinematic debut here) to live in. It works and since it’s a mostly new world with new characters, it doesn’t face the harsh feedback that Batman v Superman or X-Men are and will be facing up until their release dates.
That’s a luxury that Disney’s Marvel has, and they have the good-will to do it. If Marvel had attempted to do Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy before they were an established brand, the films would have bombed badly and we wouldn’t see any films like them for a while. But since we’ve finally reached a point where we are accepting these odd-ball films, other are finally doing the same, but without the good-will that backs those films. So far, a lot of fans seem weary and it’ll most certainly take time for audiences to warm up to them like they did with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.
I know a handful of fans are loving the fact that there’s a film with Batman in it is hinting at Darkseid, the original X-Men team finally being formed while taking on a foe that isn’t Magneto, and the fact that we’re getting an R-rated Deadpool film, but maybe we aren’t ready to accept superficial elements in superhero films that don’t joke about themselves in the process. Maybe I’m being too cynical, because I do enjoy the MCU films for the most part and they do mostly respect the comics (minus The Mandarin, ugh). But, it’s felt like since The Dark Knight and The Avengers were both released, superhero films either have to be super dark and serious or super silly and fun. Any films that fail to match one of those two seem to fail, mostly because the studios themselves are trying to desperately figure out which side to cater to at the last minute when they try to please both (Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man films are great examples of this).
This is most likely the reason why there might be pause when getting excited for films trying to blend these tones together, because in the past, they haven’t worked well at all. But the difference is that those films that tried to mix tones because it didn’t originate with an established one; the tones those films had were “found” in post, which is the reason why they failed at capturing audiences. But in this new era of superhero films, the mixed tones isn’t because the filmmakers are confused, but because people are finally accepting superhero films to be just that – superhero films. It might take time to get used to from a studio that isn’t Marvel, but I for one love seeing these films getting weird and meshing dark with silly, because even though some might not want to admit it, that’s what a lot of comics are like.