The Days are Numbered for Comic Book Movies

I remember when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze reached its zenith in the early 90’s. I was a pre-teen boy – ideally positioned to sop up every bit of Ninja Turtles ephemera they could throw at me. But then I started to notice something weird… the turtles were looking noticeably crappier.

They went from looking like this, in the 1990 live action movie…

To looking like this, in the third live action movie…

To finally, the godforsaken “Coming Out of Their Shells” live stage show that toured around the country for a time, and looking like…

And of course, they didn’t just look crappier – the quality of everything took a dive, becoming progressively more kiddie and incoherent.

At the time I couldn’t comprehend why the Ninja Turtles were looking crappier, but eventually I came to understand the concepts of budgets and profits, and how companies that make entertainment for children are often looking for an easy way to exploit their impressionable, low-standards tastes. As time went on and I started seeing the same patterns emerging with craze after craze, I came to recognize this as the phase when a fad starts to die. Executives get overconfident, original creators get lazy or disinterested, and companies move to a “squeeze every dollar we can get out of this while we still can, and don’t spend a dollar you don’t have to” philosophy.

So how does this relate to comic book movies?

For years cynics have been eagerly waiting to declare that the current explosion of comic book/superhero/children’s toy-based Summer tentpole movies is about to die off. And yet, this trend has technically been going strong since about 2002, when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man dominated that Summer’s box office. That’s 15 years with absolutely no signs of slowing down.

And then, Marvel announced a new TV series in development called Inhumans with this image:

I’ll be honest; I laughed really hard at this. I laughed hard, and I laughed long. Look at that red wig! Look at those plastic shoulder pads! She looks like somebody wearing a store bought Jean Grey costume. Look at mean dude in the front, looking like the main character in Wolfenstein 3D. And because these are mutants-by-another-name, there’s gotta be a guy whose powers come with face tattoos.

With San Diego Comic Con happening, more images and footage from this show have come out and many have commented about how cheap it all looks. By the way, there’s a CGI dog in it.

I mean… does nobody remember the live action Scooby Doo movies?

I know that Marvel’s done pretty well with their TV ventures up to this point. Daredevil and Jessica Jones were good, Luke Cage and Iron Fist maybe not so much, and Agents of SHIELD has managed to survive several seasons in prime time on a major network without getting cancelled – so that counts as success I suppose. But this, so far, looks like garbage. And it looks like Disney knows it’s garbage. This is a TV show about superpeople living in a city on the dark side of the moon, and they have a giant teleporting CGI bulldog. Stupid.

(Yeah, I know Guardians of the Galaxy worked. Still.)

All this to say, I’m aware that the Marvel MOVIES are still mega-budget, spare-no-expense affairs, and I’m also aware that Disney isn’t the only player in this comic book movie game, but come on. Justice League is on the horizon, predicated on three poor movies and one good one (so far), and I don’t know anybody who’s legitimately excited about it. Avengers 3 is coming next, and it’s about to try to loop in all the classic Avengers, all the new guys 1, and the Guardians into one overstuffed behemoth of a movie (in two parts, of course). I’m not saying it can’t be done well, but Captain America Civil War was already straining at the seams. Fatigue is setting in hard.

And that fatigue, I think, is only going to grow when people see this Inhumans nonsense show up on their TV. It’s the first official Disney/Marvel superhero product I’ve seen that looks noticeably cheap. Normally the involvement of a juggernaut like Disney guarantees at least a certain level of competent quality, if not a lack of samey blandness. Here we have the first signs that the turnip is starting to get squeezed.

This does not make me feel happy, even as an avowed cynic. I end up seeing most if not all of the big comic book movies, not as a die hard fan, but for the simple reason that they’re usually at least decent. More importantly, they are currently the main financial engine keeping movie theaters in operation as the convenience of anytime/anywhere streaming and amateur YouTube content continue to leech dollars from Hollywood. The theater is something I desperately want to survive. The fatigue of comic book movies is also affecting unrelated mega-budget, effects-heavy blockbusters that are similarly starting to feel lazy and derivative. The ravenous Chinese market is their only saving grace.

So let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts. I’m not sure how much longer that’ll be.

Comment (1)

  1. Jordan

    I’ll take a step further and say for the most part they’ve run their course, but I don’t think it’ll be a permanent thing. I think we just need a good long break.

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