How The 'Avengers'-Izing Of Blockbusters Is Killing Movies

Is it enough to just make one movie anymore? In the wake of Marvel’s audacious world-building in an assembly line of completely indistinguishable adventure movies, the studios would answer no. What used to be one series of movies has become a web, one that involves various other series’ and offshoots of one particular brand. Fittingly, the last to jump into this web was “Spider-Man,” as Sony recently announced a writing team to tackle both a “Sinister Six” and a “Venom” film that would interweave themselves through the three more “The Amazing Spider-Man” films coming from 2014 to 2018. But no one should be surprised: every studio has been headed in this direction for quite a while now.

When Marvel hired Samuel L. Jackson for what seemed like a day of work on a post-credits sequence in “Iron Man,” few imagined it would be the beginning of something much bigger. The fans turned out for the “Iron Man” films, but they showed up in lesser fashion with “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor,” and few had complimentary things to say about “The Incredible Hulk.” But joining those characters together provided the bingo Marvel sought, with “The Avengers” becoming the third biggest film of all time. It seems clear that teaming these characters with each other affected their individual bottom lines: “Iron Man 3” nearly doubled the gross of its predecessor, and “Thor: The Dark World” nearly tacked on an extra $200 million from the first “Thor.” Unifying these characters cast doubts as to whether the separate franchises were viable afterwards, but those fears have long been put to rest.

Man Of Steel

Warner Bros.
It’s the approach Warner Bros. has in mind for a follow-up to this year’s “Man Of Steel” as well. $662 million worth of viewers enjoyed the latest exploits of Superman, but the studio racked up a massive tab putting this latest adventure together, and they were out-grossed 2-to-1 by “Iron Man 3." Their contingency plan seemed to involve dusting off Batman, who had been retired in 2012 with “The Dark Knight Rises.” But now that we’ve had the casting of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, as well as rumors about the involvement of major DC Comics characters like Nightwing and The Flash, it looks like this is the WB’s chance to chart the course for the next few years of blockbuster offerings. A “Justice League” movie has been bandied about, but this latest film, tentatively slated for 2015, seems to be packing in plenty of heroes already. Why just have Superman and Batman when you can have the whole crew?

All those years of television trying to be like television, and now the biggest movies in the world are being run like an NBC show.

20th Century Fox 
The shared universe hasn’t been ignored by Fox, who have turned to Mark Millar and Simon Kinberg to map out the futures of their two Marvel properties. “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” will be the seventh film in that series, tying together the various continuities set forth in these pictures, leading into 2016’s “X-Men: Apocalypse.” Lest we feel any suspense regarding the fate of these characters, a follow-up to this year’s “The Wolverine” has also been promised, while Jeff Wadlow (“Kick-Ass 2”) will write a script for an “X-Force” film. Fox also relaunches “The Fantastic Four” in summer 2015 under the hand of director Josh Trank. Because both are under the Fox umbrella, Millar and Kinberg have been tasked with finding a way to tie those franchises together, possibly sharing the same stories and characters. It’s a stretch, but it was done in the comics many times, so Fox probably isn’t fazed by the challenge.

What hasn’t been done in the comics often is the sort of experiment Sony is trying. They only have one Marvel franchise, and “Spider-Man” isn’t necessarily team-centric (Sony recently let go of their other Marvel property, “Ghost Rider”). Their solution suggests they’ve been watching the Marvel films, but seek to one-up them with villain team-up pictures. Fans know two facts: That Marvel tends to have more relatable and exciting villains than DC, and that outside of Batman, Spider-Man has the strongest rogue’s gallery. But those two facts are larger in opposition of each other: Spider-Man’s villains, with the exception of grim-and-gritty Venom, tend to be a little silly and larger-than-life. When they get together in the source material, either they’re a one-dimensional threat, or they’re the source of gags: the recent comic “Superior Foes Of Spider-Man” mines Peter Parker’s villain depth chart for working-class gags about being a gimmicky bad guy in a world of omnipotent heroes.