With Fox’s Fantastic Four movie coming out this Friday the superhero movies of 2015 will be closing out their runs. With only three movies coming out this may well be the lightest year of superhero movies in a long time. We have to go all the way back to 2002 to find a year that has three or less superhero movies (Spider-Man and Blade came out that year), and look forward to 2020 before finding another year that has less than four confirmed movies. That is keeping in mind, of course, that this is only because most studios haven’t bothered to announce movies past 2019. So with such a light roster of movies lets see how they stack up.
The year started with a bang in the form of the much hyped and anticipated sequel to 2012’s record-breaking trendsetter, Avengers: Age of Ultron. I, like apparently many people, found it to be an extremely enjoyable action movie with good fights, excellent special effects and a slightly underwhelming story. In fairness there probably was no chance that Age of Ultron would ever live up to the hype, but it is also hard not to feel like it never quite got out of the shadow of its predecessor. Some of that also likely stems from the fact that the first Avengers was the culmination of several years worth of stories and characters coming together in an ensemble effort, whereas Age of Ultron feels more like a stepping stone that the Infinity Wars movies will be building on. There’s more setup and less resolution to this movie, and that isn’t quite as satisfying. Still, it was a good way to start the superhero year, and I eagerly await its blu-ray release in the near future.
Ant-Man was always going to be a huge risk, even following in the footsteps of last year’s surprise hit, Guardians of the Galaxy. Like Age of Ultron before it Ant-Man wasn’t quite able to catch lightning in a bottle a second time, and it failed to reach the marks left by the movies before it. Which, again, is not to say it was a bad movie, because it wasn’t. Switching over from the straight superhero story to something closer to a heist flick was a good move by Disney, and the casting is as spot on as we’ve come to expect. Darren Cross (aka Yellowjacket) may be one of the weakest villains we’ve had yet (which is, sadly, actually saying something), but this was never really a movie about villains to begin with. It is still in theaters at the time I am writing this, and if you haven’t seen it then it is worth at least checking out. I wrote in much more depth about this movie previously (check it out here), but I do want to add that Michael Peña has a stand out performance in the movie, and it is criminal that I neglected to mention that in my previous post. Seriously, he is awesome.
Which brings us around to Fantastic Four. I have not seen the movie, so I cannot comment on its actual content, but judging by its critical reception so far (at the time I am writing this it is sitting at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes) it is safe to say that this will probably not be mimicking Fox’s success last year with X-Men: Days of Future Past. I see most superhero movies on their release day, but this one I will be waiting on until I can see it on half-off Tuesdays (and thank goodness that’s a thing that is catching on). This one has all the marks of a rush job being thrown out to audiences simply so that Fox can hold on to the Fantastic Four license, which has certainly caused a significant amount of tension between Marvel and Fox over the last few years. Making movies simply to hold on to the license “just in case” has never been a good idea, and it sure seems like this is just another example of that. A more full review will come once I’ve actually seen the movie, assuming I can find enough nice things to say about it.
So where does that leave us? It is certainly hard to argue that 2015 meets the expectations set by the absolutely stellar year that 2014 was for superheroes, and I expect these titles will become footnotes rather quicker than some of their contemporaries. That is too bad for Age of Ultron and Ant-Man since they are genuinely good movies, they just don’t excel in the way those that came before did. Last year saw the release of not one, but two of my top 3 favorite superhero movies of all time (Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier), as well as one which could be in the top 5 (Days of Future Past). Add on to that the less stellar, but still enjoyable, Amazing Spider-Man 2 and you have a year that will probably remain one of the benchmarks for superhero movies. Technically Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also a comic movie that came out last year, and it made a large sum of money for Paramount, but I would rather forget it exists for the most part. Frankly, 2015 never really stood a chance against such a lineup.
The question remains, though, can 2016 possibly stand up to the heights reached by 2014? Well, let’s see at what we have to look forward to. Coming up first is Deadpool in February, which struggled to get made, but I am so glad it did. The trailer that was released earlier this week may not be the greatest (I’ll post more in-depth thoughts later this week (Edit: and here it is!)), but it does hint at a solid foundation for what could be a decent franchise for Fox. The fact that it is rated ‘R’ is a plus for people who know the character, but may make it a harder sell at the box office. I am hesitant to be too optimistic about it, but I really want it to be good. This really could go in any direction, but the passion that Ryan Reynolds has expressed for the project should hopefully translate into something entertaining. I also hope that he gets to kill the crappy version of Deadpool that was in the Wolverine: Origins movie.
Following Deadpool is DC’s first foray into their own connected universe since 2013’s Man of Steel with its sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first trailer for it has a lot of fans buzzing with positive feedback, but I remain skeptical. A large part of what makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) work is its mix of both humor and serious stories, but Dawn of Justice looks like it comes from the Frank Miller school of grim and gritty seriousness. A superhero movie that takes itself too seriously runs the risk of imploding on itself, even with two of the most well known superheroes in existence, and I’m not certain that DC has the necessary deftness to pull it off (just look at their track record). Add on to that the fact that DC seems to be cramming every single hero they can think of into the movie and this could quickly become a convoluted mess. It is a risky move, at best, and we’ll see how well it does against Marvel’s method of slowly introducing characters in smaller chunks over time.
Speaking of the Marvel method, let’s return to the Marvel proper with my most anticipated movie of next year: Captain America: Civil War. In reality this should be called Avengers 2.5 since it stars pretty much everybody Marvel has ever introduced, and is really about a critical divide in the team’s philosophies (as the title would suggest). Certainly it will also pick up plot threads leftover from Winter Soldier, but the core is really about Captain America’s ideologies going up against Iron Man’s. Even though the cast is massive most of the characters in it have already been introduced in previous movies, so there shouldn’t be an information overload like I’m sort of expecting from Dawn of Justice. It will still bring Spider-Man into the MCU for the first time, as well as introducing Black Panther and a few other minor characters, but that’s small potatoes compared to everything else. The movie may be bigger in scope than Winter Soldier, but with the same directorial team in place and a great cast backing it up my hopes for this movie are sky high.
Taking another look back to 2014, the sequel to Fox’s wildly successful Days of Future Past comes to the plate with X-Men: Apocalypse. We’ve already gotten some preview images from this one, and the pedigree of the story is nothing to sneeze at, so expectations are running high. Fox seems to have realized that X-Fans will be patient so long as the movie is good, so the missteps of Wolverine: Origins and X3 are (hopefully) a thing of the past. I expect we’ll start seeing more news about this one soon as Fox begins the marketing wheels.
After going through the movies that are more than likely surefire hits (Deadpool sadly excluded) we get into more experimental territory from Marvel, Fox and DC. First up is Suicide Squad, which is apparently playing up its (almost non-existent) connection to Batman. The concept is the Dirty Dozen meets superheroes, with the titular squad being made up of supervillains who will be allowed to go free if they complete their missions (and have their heads blown up if they decide to go rogue). Most of the cast (both actors and villains) will be relatively unknown to most movie audiences, but they did manage to score Will Smith as Deadshot, so they have that going for them at least. The Joker, played by Jared Leto, will also be playing a role in the movie, and his girlfriend, Harley Quinn, is a prominent member of the squad. This one is a fairly big risk for DC, but big risks have worked for Marvel in the past, and I actually have higher hopes for this one than Dawn of Justice. We’ll see whether or not the movie going public agrees with me next August. The costume for Killer Croc does look really stupid, though.
Fox will be going for the X-Men trifecta in October with Gambit joining their slate. The character, like Deadpool, made an appearance in Wolverine: Origins, but it would seem that we’re meant to forget that (as would be wise). Fox has only just confirmed that Channing Tatum has been officially signed for the role (after it sounded like negotiations had fell through), and fan reaction to that has been extremely positive. More than that we really don’t know. Given the character’s history I would expect this to be a heist thriller, though probably less tongue-in-cheek than Ant-Man. The real question is how they are going to do the accent, which could potentially be terrible.
Marvel will round out the year with Doctor Strange, which is still in casting at this point. We do know that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the title character, and we’ve heard rumors surrounding other actors and actresses for unknown roles, but little else has been publicly revealed. Frankly all I need to know is that Cumberbatch is involved and I’m on board, even if Doctor Strange has never been a character I connected with. I am hoping that Doctor Strange will eventually meet Iron Man in the movies and they can share a moment since both actors have famously played Sherlock Holmes in recent years (Cumberbatch’s is the better one). Too bad we can’t also work in Magneto from the X-Franchise, since Sir Ian McKellan is also a veteran Sherlock. Cumberbatch’s Sherlock companion Martin Freeman will also appear in Civil War earlier in the year in a as-yet undisclosed role (I’m hoping for Everett Ross from the Black Panther comics). We’ll learn more as we get closer to the end of the year.
It is also worth mentioning that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will also be getting a sequel in 2016, and despite the addition of Stephen Amell as Casey Jones I remain apathetic. We are still a few months from 2016 so it is possible a title or two may slip from the list or even be added, though that is unlikely. While 2015 may be a weak year on the superhero calendar in terms of amount of content the quality has been solid, if perhaps unremarkable. Next year, however, is stacking up to be one of the most impressive superhero movie years yet, and my wallet is already crying just a little in anticipation.