The Coming Year in Comic Book Movies
I have always felt a great satisfaction having a good grasp of ideas before watching a movie or listening to a piece of music. You become at one with the message being projected.
This is especially so for movies because it allows you to enjoy something more beyond the base choreographed action scenes, the campy props or the deceitful special effects. You learn to deeply relish the dialogue, to take great pleasure in the contrasting themes, the sharp irony and, when you’re lucky, to pick out the subtle humour.
But to enjoy all this we need a bit of background so that we can relate. This is especially true when it comes to comic book movies. Comic books are a popular form of entertainment around the world.
They are collections of illustrations backed up with narratives to tell a story. There are a various types of comic books but the ones I will make reference to in this article are American comics based on superheroes like Spiderman and the Fantastic Four.
It is customary that comic book production companies will strike deals with film producers to adapt characters in their comic books for cinema. I’m sure most people are familiar with arguably the most famous Marvel Cinema franchise movie, The Avengers, released in 2012.
Another famous franchise is the Dark Knight trilogy which is based on characters from comic book publishing company DC comics. Those were great movies from an entertainment point of view. They were very profitable, with the Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers both making over a billion US$ in sales globally.
Most, if not all, people were drawn to great performances by actor Heath Ledger (God rest his soul) in his rendition of the joker in the Dark Knight. Younger audiences may be more familiar by the theatrics of Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Tom Hiddleston as Loki.
But beyond that there is a wealth of useful insight that would have made these movies ten times more valuable to the viewer. Information like the fact that the creator of The Avengers, Stan Lee always makes a cameo appearance in Marvel movies. Such information can only be gleaned from a study of the source material on which these movies are based on. Comic books!
Now as much as I’d love to go back and dig into the background information on movies like the Avengers and the Dark knight trilogy, I’ve decided to do something more interesting. And that is to venture into the biggest comic book movies coming out early next year.
These two movies are ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, directed by Zack Snyder; the mind behind the movie 300 and the Watchmen. The second most important comic book movie is ‘Captain America: Civil War.’
‘Batman v Superman’ is loosely based off a 1970s graphic novel called the ‘Dark Knight Returns’ penned by Frank Miller. It is a comic book that features an aged Batman in his 50s. It is a time when vigilantism has been outlawed. Superheroes either work for the government or are forced into retirement.
Superman is the only superhero that follows this directive. The others including Green Arrow, Wonderwoman and Batman all go into retirement. However with Gotham facing new threats from a gang of thugs known as “the mutants” and also the return of the joker, Batman is forced out of retirement.
After he levels the mutant threat and kills the joker, the US government is forced to send Superman to arrest the Batman whom the government considers to be a ‘security threat’. This leads to a final confrontation in which a weakened Superman is defeated by Batman.
This major confrontation is the premise for the Batman v Superman movie coming out next year. The costume batman will be wearing in this movie is based off of that in comic book. It is markedly different from the one we saw in the Dark Knight trilogy. Superman will also be wearing an armoured suit similar to the one seen in the comic.
Aside from the Dark Knight Returns comic book there are slight borrowings from other comic books in the DC roster. These include ‘Superman Red Son’, ‘Batman Year One’, ‘Superman Birthright’ and a host of others.
Marvel’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’ has a similar confrontational theme to it. It sees Marvel Cinemas’ biggest heroes, Captain America and Iron Man, pitted against each other in battle.
It is loosely based off of a marvel comics event called ‘Civil War’ which contains a combined total of about 106 comic books and features characters ranging from Spiderman, Wolverine, Deadpool, Fantastic Four and the Avengers.
Unfortunately we won’t be seeing most of these characters in the movie because the film copyright for these characters are spread across other production houses besides Marvel Cinemas, which is owned by Disney.
The film rights to Deadpool, Wolverine and the X-Men franchise are owned by 20th Century Fox and as such Disney’s Marvel Cinemas cannot depict them in their movies. The characters we will be seeing are the normal Avengers with the exception of Thor and Hulk. There will however be new additions in the form of Spiderman and Black Panther.
The whole premise to Civil War is that, after a confrontation between Superheroes and a couple of villains, a disastrous event culminates in the death of innocent school children. This prompts the government to intervene.
The government makes it mandatory for all superheroes to reveal their identities and register with them or face imprisonment. Tony Stark (Iron Man) together with Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic) are on board with the idea. But Captain America takes great exception to this policy and resists it.
As a result different heroes pick the sides they will fight for and there are casualties on both sides. Aside from this confrontational theme there will be stark differences in how the story is told in the movie. What will trigger this government policy, I suspect, will be the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron which was released in May this year.
In that movie, Tony Stark created an Artificial Intelligence called Ultron which ran amok and put millions of lives at risk and saw property worth millions across the globe, including in Korea, East Europe and South Africa, destroyed. This will perhaps be a measure by the government to try and make Superheroes accountable for their actions.
These two movies also symbolise an important aspect of comic books called crossover events. Now, crossovers work in this fashion; suppose every character in Marvel comics had their own book at the beginning. The Hulk for instance was in his own universe (in the sense of his own separate stories).
At one point in time DC comics decided it would be great to have these individual stories joined together in one story. Sometimes this was done in pairs like in the Batman and Superman comic books. Other times the roster was much bigger in comic books like the Justice League.
A similar thing is being done in the movies. Marvel Studios has already travelled the path of crossovers assembling a team of heroes in movies like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers and Avengers Age of Ultron.
However in the case of DC comics this is the first time we will be seeing a crossover event so this is a big deal. In fact it is not only the first time we will be seeing any crossover DC event, but also the first time we will be seeing Batman, Superman and Wonderwoman in the same movie.
These three are a triumvirate called the Trinity, the team that preceded and was behind the idea of conceiving the Justice League. The movie ‘Batman v Superman’ will also witness the first time Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash will be seen on the big screen.
Another important aspect that we may not have noticed is the global appeal that one of these movies is trying to accomplish. All the major actors portraying these characters are from diverse cultural groupings.
Instead of seeing the typical American actor being cast for every role including non-American roles as we have seen in many films, particularly those depicting Jesus Christ, Batman v Superman has demystified those roles and will for the first time feature a woman in a dominant role in the form of Wonderwoman.
The actress is a former Supermodel who hails from Greece something that seems to have been a deliberate move, seeing as Wonderwoman in comic book canon hails from the fictional island of Themyscira in Greece and is the daughter of Zeus!
Aquaman is portrayed by Jason Momoa who is Hawaiian and Cyborg will be portrayed by an African American. And if you’re not convinced by the whole inclusivity idea then get hallo to this; the most American hero figure, Superman, is being portrayed by a British actor.
However, the one point everyone should take home is this; governmental control. It is a pertinent question that we must have asked ourselves. Does there come a time when it is our obligation to stand against authority? Are we obliged to obey the law, even when we feel it unjust? And if not what should we do about that?
These two movies will seek to answer that question. In a world ravaged by crime and all forms of injustice, where organised government and the criminal justice system has failed, men and women of courage have stood up and decided to make a difference.
Sometimes they have done this outside the law. The annals of history are replete with quintessential examples of this, from Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi in India to Martin Luther King Jr in the United States, all fighting for right even when the authorities weren’t on their side.
‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ and ‘Captain America: Civil War’ will see the ideals of non-conformity and obedience to the law put at loggerheads. These two movies will portray the conflict differently. But at the end of the day it will be you to judge what the right path to take is.