I’m very pleased to have my most recent essay, on the nature of franchise films in Hollywood, featured on the website for Bright Wall / Dark Room.
The big movie story of last week, as fans of The Avengers (apparently every person on the planet, based on how hard it was to get a ticket for 11am on a Sunday) will already know, was Samuel L Jackson’s vitriolic response to AO Scott’s ambivalent review of the movie. It’s not surprising that Scott’s review wasn’t glowing – he’s as good as openly admitted to having little tolerance for Supers – but Jackson’s response seemed out of proportion, and, perhaps, in its mild air of entitlement, a depressing exclamation point on the seeming irrelevance with these movies, not of critics and criticism, exactly, so much as the very idea of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Back in 2000, 20th Century Fox took a gamble on the idea that taking Marvel’s campy superhero properties and cinematizing them with high production value and top talent would pay off at the box office. They hired a hot young director, to whom they gave significant creative control, and recruited two highly-acclaimed veteran actors to headline the cast. The result was X-Men, which was critically well-received, which, with a gross of just under $300 million, was one of the top ten earners of the year, and which set off the ongoing trend of giving every possible superhero franchise the screen treatment.
With today’s release of The Avengers and the upcoming July premiere of The Dark Knight Rises – not to mention the surely-misguided reboot of the Spider-Man franchise and February’s superhero-subversive Chronicle – 2012 may well prove to be the pinnacle of that trend. Both movies should finish among the year’s top movies, and if Rises is anywhere near as good as prequel The Dark Knight, it’ll probably have the inside track to the genre’s first Best Picture nomination. While there’s no such thing as a sure bet in this industry, the modern superhero movie may be the closest thing to it; even Bryan Singer’s mediocre Superman Returns made almost $400 million.