This year blockbuster season brought a record number of superhero movies. Thor, X-Men: First Class, The Green Lantern and Captain America. How they all fared, who won the fight and most important, what will be their future.
A little more than a decade ago this would be unimaginable. After Batman & Robin, superhero genre seemed definitely dead. But then the hopes were alive again with first X-Men, Spider-Man and the wheel started again. This year however, as there was a gap between major character releases, studios were gambling with lesser known heroes and, in X-Men case, with a new concept. Let‘s see how did it work for each movie.
Director: Kenneth Branagh | Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman
Budget: 150 million | Boxoffice: 450 million
Following a tradition of starting a summer in early May, Marvel opened this years blockbuster season with, what it seemed, a risky project. Outside the comic book fandom Thor is not very well known character and the Norse mythology background does not look very interesting from a global perspective. The selection of director was at least curious – it was given to a British Shakespeare expert actor and director Kenneth Branagh. However, he also worked with Frankenstein adaptation. Natalie Portman appearance after all the Black Swan fame was also a bit strange – it‘s just hard to forget that role watching her here as a simple scientist, and all the romance part of the story was a bit too cheesy.
The main guy, on the other hand, was cast perfectly. You really need a new face for a new character and the ideal situation is to have a famous, but not too much with other roles connected actor (in this case Captain America and especially Green Lantern are weaker). With just short appearance in Star Trek, the soap opera star of Australia Chris Hemsworth is a really convincing Thor (although he got a part only in the second try). Of course the appearance does all the trick, but the character and the humor feels natural. About Anthony Hopkins I‘m kind of indifferent. I wasn‘t sure it‘s him until the ending titles, which is probably a good thing.
As a character genesis movie Thor does a decent job. It will not be as exalted as the most famous superhero movies of past decade (the bar has been raised extremely high), but it makes a case for itself and for sure will not be rebooted after few years, as it happened to some more unfortunate colleagues. The little problem for me, as in Green Lantern, was the introduction of distant world – too soon and too artificial. I don‘t think movies can compete with videogames anymore in this field, unless they are of Star Wars or Avatar level. For people, especially those who don‘t know the comic book details, more important is a connection with real world, which makes a movie more believable.
In general the adequate for such case budget was well spent, the idea to build the town just for filming worked quite good. The task of providing more connections with next years Avengers was achieved too, except the disappointingly short Hawkeye appearance (there was a lot of talk about the casting of Jeremy Renner for this, so I hoped to see him more).
The future of Thor is definitely bright. With huge financial success and quite good reception even from critics, who generally dismiss such movies, the sequel was already greenlit and it will arrive in summer of 2013. By the time, hopefully, the comic book will gain more worldwide popularity, people maybe will find out more about Norse mythology and be even more eager to watch the return of the new superhero.
Director: Martin Campbell | Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Mark Strong
Budget: 200 million | Boxoffice: 220 million
Next in line is the only DC Comics fighter. Shortly – the numbers say it all. Although the USA opening was very successful and promising, the movie dropped sharply week by week, and it failed to attract enough audiences in foreign markets. That‘s the outcome of not famous character outside of the home country and in general failure to live up to the buzz.
Even the selection of quite famous lead actor didn’t help. That for me was very strange decision – he is already portraying a competing Marvel character Deadpool and he was successful enough to grant a separate movie in the future. And his solo independent gem Buried was really brave and impressive. So why jump to another hero?
The answer probably is the budget, which was quite a bit wasted for re-shoots and useless 3D conversion. The director Martin Campbell, with the controversial, but successful relaunch of Bond, should know how to work with such budgets, but it wasn‘t his cup. Again, as in Thor, the distant world and life forms are not very believable, there‘s little connection to our world and ground for the story.
The most interesting and unique feature, and actually the main reason I watched the movie was the suit. It was a really refreshing idea to make a CG costume and not rely on the tights. At least for me it was quite impressive, even though the novelty wore out soon and anyway they showed too much of it in the trailers. But designer Ngila Dickson deserves the praise for this idea and I hope there will be more such experiments in the future. CG already reached that point when you can enjoy it without irritation, if it‘s effectively created.
Another cool thing was a make-up for Sinestro – Mark Strong. It think he would be much more interesting enemy than the present smoky entity, as was obvious intention. But with the movie barely covering its budget, I don‘t think Green Lantern 2 will be greenlit easily. Maybe the DVD/BD release will help?
Captain America: The First Avenger
Director: Joe Johnston | Stars: Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving
Budget: 140 million | Boxoffice: 360 million
Marvel chose wisely to wrap-up summer superhero season with a bridge to next years all-star Avengers. Even the title is an advert for the next movie, so studios had a big confidence in this old school hero. They gave Captain America a big responsibility, because he will stick with viewers till the next summer and probably will be a major decision point to watch Avengers or to skip it.
From this standpoint I think Captain America did a great job. I didn’t expect the movie to have so close ties with the general Avengers story arc, especially with Iron Man. The movie puts quite a lot of pieces in the big puzzle and it‘s very intriguing to follow the story and find out more.
Another great thing was the villain. It‘s very important to have adequate and interesting enemies in the movie, especially in this case, as probably a lot of people know who is Captain America (even though the earlier movies are quite old) and what he does. Hugo Weaving was a great choice for Red Scull, although the words „it is inevitable“ were popping in my mind every time I saw him. I think Mr Smith deserves more attention and bigger roles, and at least this time we could see his face.
I wasn‘t so glad about the main guy though. I don‘t think the casting of Chris Evans was bad, I just don‘t like him without any obvious reason. Well, except the Fantastic Four and some other his too one-sided roles. The difference of the hero „before“ and „after“ was too exaggerated and very unnatural. Of course, it is a comic book character, but still somehow looked not nice. On the other hand, the light humour and the idea how he first became famous as a hero pleasantly surprised me.
Talking about the setting and production, it‘s good that the studios were not tempted to play too much with effects and stayed quite true to the comic nature. But they shouldn‘t have converted it to 3D. I didn’t watch this version, but I assume it‘s not very impressive (for me it was enough to watch Green Lantern 3D). The selection of director was again strange (is this a new trend to take not very obvious director for the job?): Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, Wolfman… Well, maybe the grittiness of the last movie was a good thing for WWII setting.
In the end Marvel and Pramount can rest assured, their famous patriotic hero did his job. The cash is still flowing in, the budget was repaid in couple weeks and the prospects for Avengers seem really bright. Let’s hope the stars will manage to fit their egos into one stage and won‘t try to get all the attention to themselves as it usually happens in all-star games.
X-Men: First Class
Director: Matthew Vaughn | Stars: James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence
Budget: 160 million | Box office: 352 million
It‘s not very fair to compare the new multihero X-Men with single hero movies, but from the perspective of moviegoers they are equal. People are attracted more by general idea than the amount of heroes or enemies on the screen. And First Class experimented and delivered a great idea. It was risky to jump back before the known X-Men story and show a new set of actors (except one…), who had to fill pretty big shoes.
Despite having many heroes, all the attention and burden, all the marketing machine fell on two actors shoulders, who in my eyes coped very well with the task. Taking the roles of Professor X and Magneto from established, even legendary actors, had to be very hard and they had to find a way to differ from them.
I was a bit sceptical about James McAvoy as Charles Xavier (it was good decision to focus on their real names), even though I like the actor. He is quite flexible and for me was equally impressive in Wanted and The Last Station or Atonement. But I just couldn‘t picture him as a leader of X-Men. Watching the movie though, his character kind of grows steadily and is becoming more convincing with every scene.
With Magneto – Erik Lehnsherr the situation was easier. Michael Fassbender has appeared in some highly regarded and famous movies (Inglorious Basterds), but he is not heavily connected with any particular role, at least for me (I haven‘t seen his award winning performance in Hunger). So I was watching the new Magneto from a clean sheet and again with every scene I was more and more surprised, astonished really. His episodes and story, character development and emotions were very powerful. Now the question is what will they do with proposed Magneto Origins movie?
Another person who made the movie very entertaining was Kevin Bacon and his villain Sebastian Shaw. I read just some of the newer X-Men comic books and I haven‘t seen his character earlier, so it was nice surprise to see his awesome power and general manipulation of others. He fits quite well in the story, which by itself is very suitable for such movie, as it connects real world events with fictional universe. The main setpieces with all the effects and soundtrack and emotions was really unforgettable experience.
Finishing with characters there were some decisions which I really didn‘t like, especially comparing with previous X-Men movies. Jennifer Lawrence for me didn’t fit the role of Mystique and all her story was kind of pale. The same with Azazel. I really loved as they say his son Nightcrawler in X2, but here the same powers and movement seemed much staler and in general not impressive. The minor young characters were so-so, some more impressive some a bit stupid.
The person who put all this together really has to be given a credit. At least this time director was chosen already with the right attitude. Even if he is just a newcomer as a director, previously helming just three movies: Layer Cake, Stardust and Kick-Ass, I really loved all of his work and his unique style, which translates very well in X-Men: First Class. And his former experience as a producer, including such cult hits as Lock Stock and Snatch, for sure is very valuable when directing movies.
With good box office numbers, reviews and generally open ending, there is no doubt this is a start of a new X-Men series. It will be interesting to follow how it will play out among the other planned or rumored X-Men titles.
So that’s the superhero fight of summer 2011. More or less successful individually, most important, these movies proved there is a very big audience for even less known or different superhero characters. This should be great news for studios, which are right now busy with the most important superhero movies of next summer: The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man and Avengers. Now that will be a battle to watch!
What were your favorites this summer and in general what do you think about all this huge superhero trend and its future?