More than ever before, superhero films and the source material they draw upon are finally moving beyond the traditional expectations set by blockbusters, becoming more than mere ‘popcorn’ movies, but this doesn’t mean that comic book adaptations don’t have room to grow. As Shuri told T’Challa in Black Panther, “Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved,” and the same undoubtedly applies to the current wave of superhero movies.
Although the ongoing success enjoyed by blockbusters like Black Panther suggests that we’re living in a golden age of superhero filmmaking, there’s no guarantee that Wakanda or the comic book kingdom at large can continue this way forever. Marvel quite literally has an endgame in sight with their next Avengers movie, so how will they and the rest of Hollywood keep things moving forward in the future?
Sharing is Caring.
Much like the comics they’re based on, many of the major superhero movies developed in the past decade were actively linked together to build a wider universe. These connections initially helped cement the broader appeal of the MCU, but they’re hard to sustain in the long term, so Marvel seems to be pulling back now with new projects like The Eternals that will draw focus away from the flagship Avengers franchise. Warner Bros. struggled to emulate this approach with the same success, so it’s no surprise that DC is now gradually veering away from the shared universe model too, focusing more on standalone adventures such as Shazam!.
However, this doesn’t spell the end of the cinematic universe as a storytelling concept. Hoping to avoid the mistakes made by Warner Bros., Sony plans to build their own franchise based on the Spider-Man adjacent characters currently kicking around in their sandbox. Their first venture received a serious tongue lashing from critics, but Venom still performed well, devouring the competition and a few lobsters along the way too. If Sony has any sense though, they’ll realise that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the film that holds the key to their future success, introducing a new world-building trick that other studios may even try to emulate further down the line.
Although the multiverse concept has already gained traction in DC’s Arrowverse on TV, Spider-Verse is the first superhero film to mine gold from this notion on the big screen. By introducing the idea that there are an unlimited number of worlds that contain alternate versions of our heroes, Sony can now effortlessly connect each of their stories quickly without rushing things or sacrificing the internal logic of standalone movies. DC has been planning their own take on this for some time now through their ‘Elseworlds’ line, but it’s unclear whether this will materialise beyond the upcoming Joker origin story.
Anyone Can Wear the Mask
Spider-Verse isn’t just concerned with breaking down inter-dimensional barriers. Spidey aficionados know that with great power comes great responsibility, and this is something that screenwriters Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman clearly took to heart here, breaking new ground by bringing some much needed diversity to the genre.
In our review here at BMD, Leigh Monson encapsulated the film’s core message with the phrase “Anyone can wear the mask” and it’s through this mantra that Spider-Verse encourages genuine change in the industry. By introducing us to a range of Spider-folk who extend the character far beyond its white, male roots, Sony’s first animated take on the Webslinger has inspired fans to create their own Spidersonas... and could even inspire other studios to diversify more as well.
Biracial heroes like Aquaman and Miles Morales have helped redefine what a superhero should look like alongside female characters such as Wonder Woman and Spider-Gwen. Unfortunately, Marvel still lags behind in this respect, despite having a huge head start on both Sony and Warner Bros. We’re currently twenty movies deep into the MCU and only now has Marvel started to move away from the ‘White Heroes Called Chris’ template, thanks to Black Panther and upcoming releases such as Captain Marvel and Shang-Chi.
Now that wider audiences have had a taste of seeing themselves represented in these stories, it’s clear that more and more superhero movies will tap into this approach, and we’re already seeing this thanks to some much needed diversification behind the camera too.
It’s inspiring to see that men and women from all different backgrounds are finally squeezing into some spandex of their very own, but the one color that’s still glaringly absent on screen isn’t even just one color at all. It’s a whole goddamn rainbow.
Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige has teased — well, no, baited us with — the prospect of LGBTQ+ superheroes in his movies for a while now, and while it was disheartening to see queer scenes cut from both Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok, it’s only a matter of time before sexual diversity is finally incorporated into the MCU as well. In a world where giant toy trains and enthusiastic dance-offs can help save the day, seeing some LGBTQ+ characters on screen shouldn’t be too much of an ask, right?
The homophobic leanings of prominent international markets like China have been used as an excuse in the past to avoid queer content entirely, but as brands like Marvel and DC continue to grow in strength, all it will take is for one studio to make a stand and change the way that LGBTQ+ people are forever viewed by the mainstream. Such progress is already being made on the small screen and Hollywood can’t be far behind.
Ironically enough, Warner Bros. has made some very slow strides forward in this regard by casting Ezra Miller as The Flash, but the openly queer actor’s own solo venture in the role is currently running around in circles. When it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in superhero movies, it’s Fox who is leading the way thanks to the queer romance shared by Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Yukio in Deadpool 2, even if their screen time was reduced somewhat and Wade’s pansexuality is still ignored completely.
Embrace the weird.
It’s hard to imagine unusual characters like Spider-Ham working anywhere aside from animation, but that doesn’t mean their unique brand of weirdness will be off the table in future superhero endeavours. Whether these animated features take off or not, we’re still going to see more and more offbeat heroes take centre stage. The Guardians of the Galaxy might have seemed like a strange outlier back in 2014, but it won’t be long before oddities like them become the norm.
As the number of fresh new A-list heroes start to dwindle, studios will begin to draw inspiration from more unconventional sources and perhaps even create their own original superhero movies that aren’t based on any pre-existing properties. By doing so, these stories will also help draw in new fans who aren’t willing to go back and watch twenty-odd films just to understand what the hell is going on before the latest cinema releases.
That’s assuming of course that multiplexes will still take centre stage in future developments. TV and streaming services in particular are already embracing the weird with shows like Doom Patrol and The Umbrella Academy, along with B-list heroes such as Iron Fist, who were never deemed good enough to star in their own movies. As Netflix and its competitors continue to expand their original movie slate further, it won’t be long before superhero films find a home on these services too, especially if Mark Millar’s upcoming Millarworld franchise takes off with movie adaptations like Empress, Huck and Sharkey the Bounty Hunter.
When asked what the future of Marvel will look like, producer Kevin Feige told Collider that “It’s gonna be very, very different,” and this is likely true of the genre as a whole. Whether Wakanda goes on forever or not, it’s clear that comic book adaptations will continue to evolve with no endgame in sight, redefining exactly what audiences have come to expect from these blockbusters while shrugging off superhero fatigue with super-powered ease.