Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Superheroes Enter Their Super Death-Throes

Back in February I wrote a piece on how the superheroes' moment had passed and an irreversible decline was setting in. I guess I hadn't anticipated how accelerated that decline would be, or how a very weak slate of upcoming superhero movies would only put the pedal to the collapsitarian metal. 

Now I'm beginning to think we'll be seeing the last wave of big-budget superhero movies in the next eighteen months, or however long it takes to clear the decks of the projects already in production.

The numbers are looking increasingly grim:

Several titles have posted big openings over the last month or so including Fast & Furious 9, Black Widow, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Jungle Cruise, but they’ve been outliers. The Top 10 has combined to crack $100 million just once this year, and that was thanks almost entirely to Scarlett Johansson’s Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster bringing in $80 million of that total.

Black Widow and the Space Jam sequel both suffered massive drops the following weekend, and after a global debut north of $150 million, the MCU’s feature-length Phase Four opener has struggled.  


But now Marvel/Disney seems to be getting a little nervous about this new slate's viability:

Earlier in July, we got our first Marvel movie since 2019 in the form of Black Widow, which appeared to promise that things were returning to normal when it came to the MCU. However, the recent rise in COVID-19 Delta variant cases across the nation has led to speculation that the studio’s next film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, could be held up yet again. 


I'm not surprised. Shang-Chi looks terrible and the trailer has none of the weird pizzazz that made Master of Kung Fu a cult hit. But wait: there's more!

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is currently undergoing reshoots, according to one of its actors. The Marvel Phase 4 movie is slated for release in March 2022 but, in a recent interview with Collider, Benedict Wong revealed that the Sam Raimi-led superhero flick needed additional work before it meets that launch date.

Apparently, they're putting the breaks on the new Spider-Man movie as well. The new Venom movie looks like it's still on the schedule but I think that's a Sony picture. Plus, it's well outside the MCU mainstream.

The Eternals looks to be an epic bellyflop of Inhumans-level proportions, as one would expect for a property that has never been successful as a comic series. The Eternals, like the Inhumans and the New Gods (whose movie adaption was shitcanned by Warners) make for great supporting characters but just can't cut the mustard on their own. 

Giving the team a Benetton ad makeover may get back-pats at the commissary but ensures it will have absolutely zero built-in constituency.

As I wrote in "Twilight of the Spandex Idols":

Marvel seems to be very gun-shy about releasing Black Widow, not exactly a vote of confidence in a picture that was finished some time ago. And they're pinning their "Phase Four" hopes on a clutch of characters with no constituency or track record. In fact, they're following in the footsteps of Marvel Comics in the 1970s, and adapting a lot of the characters launched to reverse the company's fortunes after the superheroes of the 60s-- the same ones who made billions for Disney in the 2010s-- began to sputter in the sales department. It didn't work then; why should it work now?


And now the writs fly, a sure sign there's more than a little blood in the financials water:

Scarlett Johansson sued Disney in July for allegedly breaching her contract by releasing Black Widow on Disney+, and the company has reportedly cut all ties with Johansson in response, according to Giant Freakin Robot.

In late July, Johansson filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming Disney breached her contract by releasing Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ simultaneously. The suit claims her salary was agreed to be primarily based on the theatrical release of Black Widow. Marvel reportedly agreed that the film would receive a theatrical release and not be released on Disney+ simultaneously. 


Disney put themselves in a lose/lose situation, and apparently hoped that a day-and-date release would help recoup an investment on a film that has no reason to exist in 2021. Unfortunately, all they did was piss off a lot of people by putting the shiv to America's Sweetheart, Scarlett Johansson.

With four straight high-profile superhero movies -- Wonder Woman 1984, Birds of Prey, Justice League: The Snyder Cut and Black Widow --  all underperforming or outright bombing, the last thing Tinseltown needed was another box office super-bust. Sadly, they got one anyway:

But The Suicide Squad is the first and probably the only member of a new weird box office "club." It's the first sequel to open with over $100 million less than its predecessor. David Ayer's first Suicide Squad opened with $133 million despite terrible reviews in August of 2016. The Will Smith/Margot Robbie flick boasted the first DC Films appearances of Harley Quinn and the Joker, along with a much-hyped cameo from Ben Affleck's Batman.


Even with poor reviews, and much-publicized studio tinkering in the aftermath of Batman v Superman's poor reception and Deadpool's breakout success, audiences showed up in record numbers. In weekend two, the film plunged 68% but still managed to leg out to $325 million domestic. That's thanks to the appeal of its marquee characters, the Will Smith factor and its place as the last big movie of the summer. 

Five years later, with few of those elements intact, The Suicide Squad opened with $26.2 million, or $107.482 million less than its predecessor. 


This one has to hurt, since The Suicide Squad has been well-received by critics and fans alike, something you don't see much of anymore. It was made by Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn, who got the gig after being 86'd by the Mouse House after some edgelord tweets -- from back in the day when everyone was sabotaging their futures with edgy-boy tweets -- resurfaced.

And now the entire DCU looks like a dead franchise walking. Rumors are flying about Margot Robbie getting the axe and the making of the new Batman movie has been a ridiculous soap opera. 

And apparently the regime up at Warners are so clueless that they've hired  JJ Abrams -- the King of the Franchise Killers, the bargain-basement Steven Spielberg -- to race-swap Superman and a bunch of other characters on account of he is the most perfected living embodiment of chicanery and fraudulence Hollywood has ever produced. Which is a super heroic feat all its own.


The Woke contagion -- AKA the terminal anal cancer of popular culture -- has claimed a lot of scalps. But aside from Howard Stern's full-monty auto-castration, few have been as inexplicable as Kevin Smith's mewling primate submission to the Khmer Woke. 

Smith spent the better part of three decades waving his dick at Hollywood hypocrisy and methodically building his own entertainment empire and die-hard loyalist audience. And for some reason I personally will never fathom, he threw it all away for some crappy Netflix superhero cartoon no one cared about in the first place.

He-Man fans have overwhelmingly rejected both Kevin Smith and his woke Masters of the Universe: Revelation series on Netflix, which follows it learned the show recently disappeared from the Top 10.

While Kevin Smith and the shill media attempted to downplay the negative reaction to the series from thousands and thousands of fans on Rotten Tomatoes by excusing it as "review bombing" (the same excuses didn't work for Star Wars: The Last Jedi or Captain Marvel) the official Netflix YouTube account happens to offer confirmation that fans aren't happy at all.

Not only did Smith turn He-Man and the Masters of the Universe into Xena, Warrior Princess and the Cat Ladies of the Universe, he lapsed into the tired, old "bait the babymen" routine that coke-addled Hollywood executive shitheads still haven't realized is a surefire money flusher. 

I really don't get it: Kevin Smith is a genuinely decent guy who hates Los Angeles scuzz-bucketry as much as any other sentient human. And the fanboys he was presumably ordered by his new paymasters to antagonize are the exact same people who come to Smith's shows and buy his swag. 

All I can think is that it was all a setup, and the sulfurous demonic vessels who run Netflix wanted to destroy and humiliate some Jersey loudmouth who thought he could write his own ticket forever.

Either way, Kevin Smith was a huge cheerleader for superhero culture and a major figurehead for geek culture, and this catastrophe is just one more shovel of dirt on its casket.

The Guardian recently ran an article on the Coming Comic Book Movie Collapse, and hot damn if it doesn't sound like the writer didn't listen to my recent interview on Aeon Byte, touching on that very same phenomenon. He (I assume) hits a lot of the bullet points I laid out for Miguel.

Beginning with X-Men in 2000 and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man in 2002, the superhero movie has over the last couple of decades grown to become Hollywood’s obsession. In recent years, as mid-budget movies disappeared and original blockbusters became ever rarer, studios have begun to bet the house on their extended comic book universes. 

All the while, commentators and some major film-makers (including, most famously, Martin Scorsese) have bemoaned the cultural dominance of superhero franchises at the expense of most everything else. As Marvel plans its next phases into 2026 and beyond, it could almost seem as though the superhero’s on-screen golden age will never end. As James Gunn himself admits, however, no genre remains popular forever.


The musical, the epic, the romcom – all have enjoyed their day in the sun as reliable box-office draws. Once upon a time, the western ruled. For years, western movies and TV shows were churned out with such regularity it might have seemed like the stream of cowboy content would never dry up. As the fanbase grew older, the genre simply evolved. The spaghetti western replaced the traditional “white hat” with the antihero and then, beginning with films like Sam Peckinpah’s bloodbath oater The Wild Bunch, the western entered its revisionist phase, a period of reflection which birthed some of the finest ever examples of the cowboy picture. Then the genre exhausted itself and petered out.

With The Suicide Squad, as well as TV shows like Watchmen and The Boys, it would seem the superhero genre is now in its own revisionist phase.  

Some might be wondering what I think about the future of superhero comics, but the plain and immutable fact is that I don't. 

I haven't bought a new superhero comic since the Bush Era. And if superhero movies dry up, Marvel and DC's parent companies will most likely go strictly reprints. The way Disney did with their own comics, which used to sell in the millions per copy back in the day.

 I've had both a former EIC at DC and a former VP at Marvel tell me that comics don't actually make money and are just published as a loss-leader. The former told me that in 1992 and the latter told so in 2012. Just to put it all in perspective.

Woke no-talents took over the publishing arms of these companies a long time ago and no human soul will shed a single tear when they end up on the street. Top writers and artists have been streaming out of the mainstream comics for a while now, and to be honest I don't even know -- or care-- who actually writes and draws them anymore.

I started this blog 15 years ago to promote Our Gods Wear Spandex and that book was a great ride. It got me invited to all sorts of interesting places and asked to do all kinds of media appearances. It was a lot of fun for about six months. After that I winced whenever anyone asked me to talk about comic books or superheroes. Especially if it was for a video taping.

Even so, Our Gods Wear Spandex prefigured the rise of the superheroes to cultural dominance and now here I am to watch them slink off to Valhalla. No tragedy in it, they had their time and now it's their time to go away, like all the other once-dominant genres that preceded them.

We're having a wake in the Den of Intrigue. Come pay your last respects.