2016 is another promising year for movie fans. It is clear that among the selection of sure-to-be upcoming hits, two of the most anticipated movies are the comic book films Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (due in March) and [Captain America: Civil War](tag:994409) (to be released in April).
And in both of them, there is a lot to look forward to.
Each trailer promises us epic battles of morality; characters in their secret identities exchange terse remarks, shadowy organisations shift in the background and fan favourites prepare to wage war upon each other, a war that we get glimpses of as the conflicts escalate out of control.
It all looks suitably awesome; so why should we be slightly concerned?
In short, it is because of each shared universes. Both of these movies are at a juncture in the continuity, progressing established story threads and adding fresh faces to the mix. Whilst it all sounds great, this now means that there is so much going on that the movies are threatening to burst at the seams.
For Marvel it is the beginning of Phase 3, and whilst it has been stressed that Civil War will remain focused on Captain America and follow him throughout the story, the directing Russo Brothers have a lot to contend with. Not only have they got to progress his relationships with Bucky, Iron Man, Black Widow and Falcon, but also give each member of Stark and Roger’s teams some form of interplay, flesh out the new villain Baron Zemo (played by Daniel Brühl) integrate Ant Man into the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe and introduce the newcomers Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), perhaps others that we have do not know about yet, and most likely link into their future releases (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Infinity War). That is not counting the scenes with William Hurt and Martin Freeman's characters!
With DC, the stakes are even higher. This is the launch of their own expanded universe and they don’t have the same luxuries of leisurely expansion that Marvel have had. Dawn of Justice not only has to establish a new Batman and his status-quo to complement what was begun in 2013's Man of Steel, but also continue Superman’s story with Lois Lane, his mother, his life at the Daily Planet, as well as introducing Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), Doomsday, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), set the stage for future films and if recent reports are to be believed, feature an appearance of an assembled Justice League.
This does seem like an awful lot of plot threads to feature within two and a half hours, not to mention that characters have to feature in the right way so that they are not shoehorned in.
Indeed movie audiences tend to be more discerning now, and cameos of recognisable characters are not enough anymore. Fans want their characters to be done (ahem) justice, and are often quite particular and vocal about it.
This is not to say that every criticism is always valid, but many common gripes are often based on some form of flaw or controversial point. Clearly, with the inclusion of these characters and subplots in ensemble films like Dawn of Justice and Civil War, the main feature is that they must be relevant to the story, and substantial enough to be make an impression, but present only long enough that they should not hog the limelight.
These ideas are certainly worth thinking about, especially with how massive franchises such as Star Wars function through their fan service.
A point of criticism amongst fans is (SPOILER) the small amount of screen time that the previous protagonist Luke Skywalker received in the latest installment Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The writers Lawrence Kasdan, J. J. Abrams and Michael Arndt have since discussed the dilemma that they had with Luke: give him more depth and overshadow the new characters or relegate him to the movie’s end. They went with the latter. It seems that either way, they could not outright win.
Worryingly, in both Marvel and DC’s cases these aren’t characters that can be served by a few minutes of screen time. Spider-Man, Black Panther, Lex Luthor and Wonder Woman are all big hitters in terms of popularity and their role within their respective universes. Heck, in the comics Luthor, Black Panther and to some extents Wonder Woman, have ties to nations and companies that could change each world dramatically.
It will be interesting to see where Marvel and DC go, especially seeing as how the superhero genre has suffered from this problem of subplots before.
The debate constantly rages even now over how much the world building of Iron Man 2 negatively impacted the story of Tony Stark, or how the derivative Norn subplot affected Avengers: Age of Ultron; arguably these toe the line, providing rewards for repeat viewing rather than sinking the film completely. But the less that is said about Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2's collapse under too many villains, the better.
Then again, the minds behind Civil War Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely delivered to us The Winter Soldier, and Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer produced the acclaimed Argo and The Dark Knight Trilogy. These factors definitely work in their favour!
The rivalry between Marvel and DC does not enter into this argument; I’m not wishing ill on either film, either studio or either franchise. In fact I hope that both movies, whether it is from Zack Snyder or the Russo Brothers, succeeds to the pleasure of us all, but I cannot help but feel concerned that the past may yet again repeat itself.
But as always, I hope for the best!