We’re midway through the summer of superhero movies – Thor and X-Men: First Class are behind us, with Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger still to come – and a couple of things have happened that you might not have expected. Is this the summer that ignores conventional wisdom and offers (gulp) good superhero movies that are also reasonably successful?
Of the two movies released to date, I think it’s safe to say that Thor did almost exactly what everyone both expected and wanted it to: It more or less hit expectations in terms of box office – and did so despite concerns that 3D might damage gross, which may end up being important by the end of the summer, interestingly enough – and was as enjoyable as people expected it to be (I keep seeing commentary to the effect of “It’s not as good as the first Iron Man, but better than the second,” which seems entirely right to me). But X-Men: First Class is the surprise in two ways; firstly, that it wasn’t as bad as many – myself included – had feared, and secondly, that it didn’t underperform as badly as many had expected (Yes, it’s the lowest opening of any of the X-Men movies to date, but considering the state that the franchise has been in since The Last Stand and Wolverine, I’m just surprised that it made more than the high $40 millions in the first place, never mind it dropping less than 60% in the second week). Does this mean that the audience appetite for superhero movies isn’t dipping? And, more to the point, does this mean that we’ll somehow magically get four good superhero movies this summer?
Well, we’ll see. Like almost everyone who’s seen the trailers, I have my worries about Green Lantern because… well, what is awesome on the comic page apparently looks day-glo dumb on the cinema screen. I’m also worried that it might be too out there for audiences used to the more grounded superheroics of Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman – although, perhaps, Thor will end up acting as an accidental gateway drug to the full-on cosmic of Lantern for many moviegoers, which would be both ironic and probably annoying to the more realistic Marvel – meaning that, even if it turns out to be wonderful, it will still be far enough away from what audiences thought they’d get to release a wave of disappointment that could lead to box office failure. That said, audiences seem to dig the similarly ridiculous, out-there Transformers movies, and if the high concept of “Lord of The Rings meets Star Wars” means anything, it should mean “smash hit,” so we’ll see.
Similarly, Captain America: The First Avenger feels like an unknown, still. It feels very similar to Lantern – Relatively unknown character to non-comic readers, heavy on the backstory versus the high concept, with a well-known lead actor not known for this kind of role, and director that doesn’t necessarily seem like they’re cut out for this kind of thing. I suspect that, of the four, Cap will be the one that comes closest to failing, if only because I doubt that the international audience will be as excited to see such a patriotic/jingoistic character at the core of their big-budget bonanza, but… stranger things have happened, especially if rumors of Raiders of The Lost Ark-style tone and humor turn out to be true.
So, will this be the year when four superhero movies turn out to not only be good but also not eat into each other’s audience? I’d love to be able to say yes, but… let’s face it, what are the odds, really? Put your predictions as to which ones will end up letting us all down in the comments, as ever.