Let’s talk superhero movies: how they have invaded movie culture, and how they’ve affected it.
Since the “Iron Man” back in 2008, the concept of an expanded movie universe has become a household idea, even if most people don’t know the technical word for it.
It’s the idea of using several movies that share the same universe of reality, where characters can exist and move between movies. This is perfectly exemplified by the harbinger of this to our time — the Marvel movies.
Expanded universes definitely existed before Marvel (I’m looking at you, “Star Wars”), but Marvel’s been the one to repopularize them. Starting with the credit scene in “Iron Man,” when Nick Fury talks to Tony Stark about the Avengers, all of the Marvel movies have shared and expanded the same universe, with giant crossover movies like “The Avengers” and occasional character cameos.
You can find an example of this in “Ant-Man,” where the Avengers base and the character Falcon are incorporated into what was supposed to be a low-stakes heist movie. Marvel weaves this superhero tapestry with a good bit of finesse (and cutting out directors or producers who don’t share their vision), and it’s caused other movie studios to try to reach the Marvel’s level of success.
The most obvious example of this is DC, which since 2013’s “Man of Steel” has tried to create a gritty expanded universe among its comic characters.
“Man of Steel” did not get the best reception from the public. Poorly directed and seemingly a bit misguided, the movie tried to portray Superman in a different light — one that seemed like a poor imitation of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.
Even after these reviews, however, the studio was determined to continue to make more movies in the same universe, and DC fans went along with it hoping that the quality would turn around as more movies came out.
But three movies later, there has not been much progress. And the idea of an expanded universe is the only thing that’s keeping these movies going.
Before, a bad superhero movie was a bad superhero movie, and the studio would end up just recasting the role of the superhero and trying again in a couple of years. But now, with all of the hype of planning moves five years in advance, releasing teasers and casting decisions as they happen, the idea of starting fresh is impossible.
Simply put, because of the expanded universe, it seems like the movies are treated like they’re too big to fail, because if they do, it’s not just one movie that is failing, but rather a whole pantheon of them.
DC recently has made the choice to split its superhero movies into two lanes — the normal expanded universe and standalone movies — which a decision I agree with. But the idea of an expanded movie universe has already spread past superheroes.
Universal Studios is creating a “dark universe” consisting of its monsters, the first addition being “The Mummy” movie. Warner Bros. has created “MonsterVerse,” a franchise framework that puts all of its monsters together, specifically King Kong and Godzilla. The company has projects lined up until 2020.
It’s easy to see why. The Marvel universe pulls in a ton of money for the studio, and the model seems to be one that studios can easily replicate. I’m not saying these expanded universes are inherently bad because they’re expanded universes, but I worry.
I worry that the idea of having interconnected movies is more popular than the movies being actually worthwhile to watch on their own. Call me a pessimist if you must, but I call myself cautious.
These franchises have the opportunity to be great, and hopefully, the franchises are popular because they’re good. Not because they make the studio so much money it keeps cranking out sequels and prequels and spinoffs no matter how the movies are received.