I think it’s been a respectable time since Avengers Age of Ultron came out and now we can point out all of the things that seem to be pushing Hollywood in an oddly peculiar direction. X-Men Days of Future Past came out last year, and with the Rogue Cut just released it’s time we do a piece on comic book movies that may point out why they need to better, what they can do better on their own, and how they can work on their flaws (which may seem like the same thing but believe me, they’re not).
Movies are coming out all of the time, so many in fact that most people will never see all of the movies from a given year. Comic book movies seem to be clogging up the schedule and with Sony knocked out of the fight (having partially given Spider-Man’s rights back to Marvel), there are three studios left in Marvel, D.C., and Fox. Of course we’re letting everyone know that this is alright but continuing to accept subpar and, even worse, formulaic movies from these studios and others.
Just because a movie makes a several hundred million to over a billion dollars does not mean that you should do the exact same formula, and at times Age of Ultron truly felt like it was the same formula as the original Avengers (not that it was bad but it was underwhelming). There were many issues that went into the final product of this box office smash, and while I ultimately love the movie that doesn’t mean that Marvel, Fox, and especially D.C. should sit back on their laurels and shovel shit down our throats with the expectation of it continuing in this manner. Even X-Men Days of Future Past found itself floundering at certain points and this film is almost universally considered the best film in the franchise thus far. Here are a few points that Ultron and Days of Future Past failed on and a few succeeded on.
Both are interlaced as they are interconnected production wise no matter how much they’d like you to forget that little detail.
For one, many of you might have heard about a character named Quicksilver from Marvel Comics. In the comic books Quicksilver (Pietro Maximoff and is here played by Aaron Taylor Johnson of Kickass fame) is the son of Magneto and twin brother of the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff played by Elizabeth Olsen), they’re mutants and members of the Brotherhood of (sometimes Evil) Mutants. Notorious or being in an incestuous relationship in the Ultimate Universe, many viewers may have found themselves chuckling at the fact that Olsen and Johnson played husband and wife in Godzilla just a little over a year earlier. But Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were made further notorious because of the fight that Fox and Marvel went through over two of the most unimportant and uninteresting characters in the catalogue and they were battled over as if they were Wolverine.
Aside from a few storylines, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch did nothing of any note and yet they warranted what almost amounted to an all-out war over characters who aren’t really all that much to look at. Days of Future Past featured, inarguably, the winner of the two Quicksilver’s (for one there’s the obvious that will not be spoiled for those who haven’t seen them both), but in DoFP he was underutilized to the point where he was introduced and then disappeared (much like Rogue in The Rogue Cut). And as many of you now know (what with it having made well over a billion dollars) the fight ended up proving my point. Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch were treated like secondary characters (or ignored entirely). So two multi-billion dollar companies almost shut down production on two films that cost almost half a billion combined over characters that were outright ignored or misused to the point where they could have been cut and I doubt it would have made a difference.
Scarlett Johansson is an interesting actress who is starting to branch out and find what it is she wants to do. Whoever it is that is in charge of hair and makeup needs to stop making so many drastic changes to her look between films. Long to short back to long then back to short and finally it’s long again. One or two is understandable, and I understand that hair changes can happen at the drop of a hat for some people. But five different hairstyles over five different films that take place over the span of a few months? Now this one can be mitigated by her profession as a top assassin. Being a chameleon is a must. Maybe it wouldn’t be as drastic if there were (GASP!) more than a single female character of import in the series (Colbie Smulders is amazing but she’s barely a supporting character). This is cast aside in Age of Ultron of course, what with the Scarlet Witch joining up but that still leaves two women to four men. At least there’s a chance that Scarlet and Black Widow could pass the Bechdel Test….
This leads into a major problem for all three studios, which seems to be being addressed in the upcoming sequels (X-Men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War). There are hundreds of strong female characters in various levels of Marvel and DC, the problem is we’re not seeing them or they’re being represented in a painfully bad manner. For the longest time there wasn’t a single female superhero in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (it took until Iron Man 2 for one to be introduced and she was impressive but not overly so). X-Men on the other hand started out with three, count them three, of the most impressive female characters to have ever graced Marvel’s pages; Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue. No matter how much I prefer Bryan Singer to everyone else, he royally screwed them over and (while he may not be the only one to blame he was the Director) they proceeded to grow worse over the franchise as (expected of course) Wolverine gained more screen time. In DoFP Jean Grey is a cameo (it’s been a year it’s not a spoiler) and Storm and Rogue are glorified cameos (Rogue to the point where she was in three seconds of the original cut and overly limited in The Rogue Cut). For a film series that managed to mishmash powers with characters without abandon, I’m surprised they couldn’t just craft someone with similar powers to Carol Danvers (AKA Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel who will be debuting in the MCU during phase three) or thrown a grab bag together like they did to poor Callisto and Psylocke in The Last Stand. If only to give Rogue something other to do than angst. But simply having an abundance of female characters does not mean that they’re good female characters.
Up until Phase two the only film to pass the Bechdel Test of the MCU was Thor… Phase Two had more success with far fewer films failing it. X-Men, on the other hand, only has its first film and DoFP as having failed the test despite each film having four or five named female characters in it. It is notable that the failure is only because none of them have a single conversation with one another in either film that lasts more than a few lines (If that for Days of Future Past). The second (United), third (The Last Stand), fourth (Wolverine Origins), fifth (First Class) and sixth (The Wolverine) all pass it with flying characters even though The Wolverine only features four female characters of any import. This is where I personally believe Batman v. Superman will fail.
Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is being advertised as part of the power trio (As she should be) but it doesn’t feel as if it will do much better than Man of Steel (in which there were a few named female characters who interacted with one another throughout the movie but had entirely one sided conversations when two need to mutually talk with one another in order to pass). With Amy Adams playing Lois Lane, Holly Hunter playing a Senator, and Diane Lane returning as Martha Kent there is some hope what with four big name actresses playing supposedly integral roles in what looks to be a movie all about Batman (much like the eighties, nineties, and noughties) and Superman (much like the eighties, nineties, and noughties) next to Wonder Woman (not a single film).
Finally, we are left with the most grating things that Age of Ultron and Days of Future Past has put before us, an average villain played by a superb actor. Ultron is a complex character, there’s no doubt about that, but he was simplified for the casual movie goer and a lot of what makes a complex character complex is the finer details that are often left out of the final product. Do not misunderstand me, for a villain Ultron was interesting and had some weight to him, but I felt as if there was more that could have been done with the character. There was a lot that could have been done for each character (sans Hawkeye who finally got some attention after two lackluster appearances in Thor and The Avengers and not even a mention in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). In Days of Future Past we had unstoppable enemies in the Future Sentinels and an interesting villain in Bolivar Trask played by Peter Dinklage (Of course Magneto as well because there cannot be an X-Men film where he doesn’t usurp the villainous position in the same vein as Wolverine does for the heroes side). A movie tends to be as good as its villain, and each film features strong villains that simply need more material. That doesn’t mean more scenes, however, just more material to build off of their characters where they should logically show up. James Spader had many scenes as Ultron and during his fights against the Avengers it felt a little forced in his favor. He was built up as a badass, and did manage to win several times, but it always seemed to be contrived in my humble opinion. Bolivar Trask never really fights the main characters of Days of Future Past, which is good because a normal human versus the likes of mutants would not be in his favor.
The good news for Marvel is that all of this can be addressed. The new sequels, Apocalypse, Civil War, and of course the myriad of movies coming after each of them in their respective franchises which include: New Mutants Deadpool, Gambit, and the third Wolverine movie supposedly based on Old Man Logan for X-Men, Thor Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Black Panther, An untitled Spider-Man reboot that should be taken out back and shot like Superman and Batman, The Inhumans, and Avengers Infinity War for the MCU, and of course DC is trying to figure out their slate so they can play catch up.
There are dozens of movies coming out based on comic books featuring more characters than you can shake a stick at. With Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman as the only two listed (Fox come on with Storm or Rogue!) there are only two comic book movies featuring female leads, which is a major step forward if we’re being quite honest. Characters that aren’t Superman, Ironman, Batman, Spiderman, or such other White Heroes are also being set aside (for the most part) for characters whom have been ignored for the most part like the (unfortunately named) Black Panther, and films featuring ensembles with strong female and minority presences such as New Mutants (Kama, Mirage and Sunspot being notable members who are Vietnamese, Native American, and Brazilian respectively) and the Inhumans (We swear they’re not mutants, they’re just so like mutants that no one in the universe can tell the difference or cares to) which can build on dozens of characters from the vault. Really there is so much material to work with here for each industry and it’s time we stand back and say “Enough with the tried and true let’s try the new and unexpected!”
Let’s hope the new Fantastic Four will exceed expectations.
Thank you for enjoying this Random Review on Comic Book Movies!