When it comes to quantity, the theatrical division of Marvel Comics, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, owned this summer. With Thor, X-Men: First Class and Captain America: The First Avenger all looking to jump-start new or rebooted franchises, Marvel had just about every month of summer covered.
And there’s no denying that when you compare Marvel and its natural rival DC Comics, Marvel has its act much more together – DC is continuing to struggle to turn many of its properties into movie franchises, and its one attempt this year – Green Lantern – was a critical and box office failure.
With three major tentpole releases this summer – and more on the way next year, led by the ultimate fan orgasm The Avengers – Marvel seemingly has its act together.
So why am I so underwhelmed?
After the first couple X-Men movies, Spider-Man movies and Iron Man, Marvel has, rather bluntly, informed audiences that it is content with giving them mediocre-to-average films to watch. While a few of their recent releases have been utter crap (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), most have been enjoyable, fun, even entertaining… but hardly excellent.
This is fine, to an extent. I liked the three Marvel comic book movies that were released this year. Again, to an extent. Thor was thoroughly entertaining, but would I describe it as epic? Do I really have an urge to watch it again? No. Despite the oddly strong reviews, X-Men First Class was a bit of a rushed mess. Entertaining, yes, but by no means a cohesive masterpiece of a movie. Captain America was fun but dumb, and got dumber as it went along.
Again, this is sufficient for the time being. Audiences were by and large entertained, and some new franchises were born.
But Marvel shouldn’t settle for such average quality. Why? Because you won’t, not forever.
Hollywood has already begun to see comic book fatigue among audiences. Thor opened as strong as I could have expected at $65 million domestically. Captain America also opened to $65 million. X-Men: First Class opened to only $55 million, well off X-Men 3‘s massive $122 million opening. All of these openings are good, but not great, far short of just a few years ago when products like Iron Man ($102 million), Spider-Man ($113 million) and Spider-Man 2 ($115 million) were being released. Let’s not forget The Dark Knight‘s record $158 million opening.
These numbers are going to continue to decline, but not just because of quantity. The quality has gone down, too. Marvel wants to create franchises, not masterpieces. I don’t blame them, and yet I do. I want to see franchises, too, but I want to see movies that are aggressively good, that try to be more than just a comic book movie, that try to extend beyond their genre. Marvel and other studios can still make money by striving to make high-quality products. In fact, they”ll make more money as a result. Better movies get better word-of-mouth, bringing more people to theaters. It’s simple business, and yet Marvel has somehow lost sight of this.
Marvel, step it up. If you don’t, audiences won’t be the only ones paying the price.