Thursday, 22 December 2016

2016: A Year in Review - Superheros

This is the first part of my year in review series, this post will be about the superhero genre during 2016. You can expect a list of the best and worst movies at the end of January once I’ve seen La La Land, Jackie, Silence, Hacksaw Ridge and any other potential Oscar nominee. 

It’s been another good year for Marvel with highly positive reviews and vast box office takings for all of their films, some of which were record breakers as Deadpool (Marvel’s first film of the year) became the most successful R rated film of all time at the box office (not taking inflation into account). Deadpool started the year off well with its meta humour poking fun at the genre and R-rated gags giving us a rest from the repetitive tameness of superhero movies in general. Captain America: Civil War was the most financial successful film of 2016, making over $1,000,000,000 at the box office, and the year was rounded off in style by newcomer Dr Strange.

For the films from other studios (or set in another universe) things were not quite so rosy, Batman vs Superman started with a great opening weekend but it broke a record of its own suffering an 81.2% drop in its second weekend, one of the highest drops for a blockbuster in history. Negative word of mouth for Zack Snyder’s overlong, dark, and grimy film was perhaps responsible for this drop as the disappointing DC comic movie adaptions continued. The disappointing DC comic movie adaptions continued even further when the superhero/supervillain ensemble film Suicide Squad also failed to live up to the hype.

Like Captain America and Iron Man and Batman and Superman, DC and Marvel faced off and we’re left without any doubt who came out the fight a beaten man. The biggest error Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment made was rushing to the ensemble movie far too quickly. Marvel’s The Avengers was a good film because we’d gotten to know to most of the characters. Iron Man already had two films, Thor had a film of his own as did Captain America, and Hulk had already had two, albeit unconnected, films. This meant that director Joss Whedon didn’t need to spend too much time introducing the characters as we already know most of them. By the end of the second Avengers film, we’ve pretty much warmed to all of the Avengers.

In contrast, Suicide Squad tried to introduce all members of the group in the space of ten minutes with fancy text explaining who they are and their personality. This had a major impact on the quality of the film as we never cared about the characters and neither did we believe in any charisma or chemistry between the members of the group. DC and Warner Brothers were too quick trying to capitalise on the success of the Marvel ensemble movies, and as a result Suicide Squad lacked the immersive chemistry clearly evident in the Marvel films despite the terrific performances of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Deadshot.

The thing that people found to be the biggest let down was The Joker. Jared Leto’s performance wasn’t terrible but for all the hype and coverage generated by his on-set antics (such as sending used condoms and live rats to his co-stars) there is a lack of screen time dedicated to The Joker. Such is the little screen time he got and the lack of impact he made, Leto’s co-stars are probably thinking “we went through all that for this….?”. The viewers meanwhile were left feeling rather conned as the coverage and trailers suggested that The Joker would play a larger role in the film that indicated.

Ben Affleck impressed in his debut as Batman, he had a strong, brooding physical presence that was perfect for the role. Gal Gadot made her first appearance as Wonder Women in Batman Vs Superman in a bid to introduce her before her own film next year. The film, however, was a disappointment and suffered from pacing issues with Zach Synder pointlessly reliving Batman’s origins. Like the Batman films before it, Batman Vs Superman choose the dark and gritty route, but this means that the film was completely devoid of humour. It became a humourless exercise without the interesting dissection of the sentiments of the two opposing sides, which was evident in Captain America: Civil War.
There was also another X-Men movie which wasn’t particularly great, it had a pretty poor villain with a bog-standard generic world domination plan named Apocalypse (wasting Oscar Isaacs talents in the process). It turned out of be the worst film of rebooted trilogy as it fell victim to the usual superhero pothole where the film was unconcerned about the millions of deaths that would have occurred in the film’s dramatic climax. However, the film introduced some new characters, such as Jean Gray and Cyclops, who made good first impressions. Out of all the major superhero films, it’s the most forgettable and performed the worst at the Box Office. 

For Marvel the year was rounded off in style with Scott Derickson’s Doctor Strange, boosting some incredible mind bending visuals (not too dissimilar to Inception) and a good central performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange made a healthy profit for Marvel Studios despite the fact the film was based on a lesser known Marvel character. Its quality, yet again, left DC in its wake.
Out of the shadows, however, comes a new guy from Italy. They Call me Jeeg Robot is a film that critic Alan Jones feels that will have a huge effect on Italian cinema, dictating the direction it will go for the foreseeable future. It was a huge hit in Italy, winning numerous David di Donatello awards (the Italian Oscars) including Best Director and all of the acting awards. It was a great film that stuck to conventions of genre where the central character became a superhero (anti-hero in some regards as he spent time using his newly found powers to steal entire ATM machines) after falling in some contaminated water. 

The film was engaging on an emotional level and the central relationship between our hero, Enzo Ceccotti, and mentally immature Alessia, was engaging and had a Leon: The Professional vibe. The finale felt a little rushed, but it ended with a superb scene set during a football match (Roma vs Lazio if you’re interested) and actually had a decent villain in the shape of Fabio Cannizzaro/The Gipsy played by Luca Marinelli, who would have made a fine Joker.

It’s not a surprise that Marvel once again left DC well beaten both financially and critically. Marvel have well thought out plan, Warner Bros try to solve their problems by throwing money at it and it clearly didn’t work with two, mostly poorly received, superhero/villain flicks. Marvel made three good superhero movies in 2016, but the superhero film to check out from 2016 isn’t a Marvel film or a DC film, it’s a film from country you could never have possible envisioned making a superhero film.


  1. Not surprised about Marvel coming out on top either when they took the time to build their empire. Civil War is easily my favorite of all the comic book movies to premiere this year.

    1. Yeah. Marvel took their time. DC just threw the kitchen sink at the wall hoping it'll stick. For me, it is a tie between Civil War and Dr Strange.

  2. Looking forward to this new series. I like your take, but I have to point out a couple of things:
    1) SUICIDE SQUAD should be compared to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, while JUSTICE LEAGUE should be compared to THE AVENGERS. I agree about DC rushing things.
    2) X-MEN hasn't actually been rebooted... yet.
    By the way, I moved here months after the release of JEEG ROBOT, so I still haven't seen it, but I really want to. Your comments make me want to even more.

    1. It'll compare unfavourably to GOTG for sure.

      Yeah. Perhaps reboot is the wrong word. So many remakes, reboots, reimgangings that's it's actually quite easy to get it all mixed up.

      No idea when Jeeg Robot is actually out on DVD. I saw it a frightfest.