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Will ‘The Avengers’ Torpedo the Superhero Movie?

by on April 10, 2012
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“The Avengers” is arguably the biggest movie of the summer 2012 movie season. (Sure, you can make a case for “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Prometheus,” but I doubt anyone would argue it’s not at least top three.) And with it comes a whole host of issues for Marvel, for Disney and for the superhero movie genre in general.

Of course, the entire endeavor is the culmination of Marvel’s ambitious multi-film arc. It started with a post-credits tease at the end of 2008’s “Iron Man,” during which Nick Fury, director of Marvel’s superspy organization S.H.I.E.L.D., broke into Tony Stark’s house to discuss the “Avenger Initiative” and continued as similar teasers were sprinkled into subsequent Marvel hero films like “The Incredible Hulk,” “Iron Man 2,” and last summer’s one-two punch of “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Each teaser offered a superhero crossover, with the ultimate result being the mashup flick “The Avengers,” in which those four heroes combine along with secondary characters Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner, who also cameoed in “Thor”) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who played a part in “Iron Man 2.”

It has been a film four years in the making, and the buzz has reached deafening proportions since the calendar hit 2012.

It seems like a no-brainer to throw groups of heroes into one pot, but the question remains: What does this do to the modern superhero flick? When “The Avengers” promises all-out superhero chaos, mixing heroes and creating (presumably) a richer, broader Marvel universe, can something like “The Amazing Spider-Man” be the blockbuster the first films were with only the presence of a single hero and a single villain?

It’s not a stretch to say the mere novelty of seeing an on-screen superhero has worn off. The backlash was already in force when “Fantastic Four” hit the big screen in 2005, and shouts from the moviegoing public that there are too many repetitious superhero flicks bouncing around Hollywood are growing increasingly louder as the gallery of untapped costumed crusaders grows thinner. For every superhero blockbuster there has been one or two duds that underperformed.

And now, with the stakes being raised higher than they ever have before, is Marvel upping the ante too much? Will Superman and Batman have to finally interact in a celluloid environment? Will we get a Justice League movie now that the Avengers have laid the blueprint?

But what happens when the previous blockbusters become old hat? Will “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” have to include a cameo from His Amazing Friends to maintain its blockbuster status? Will we need additional Green Lanterns like John Stewart, Kyle Raynor and Guy Gardner to join Ryan Reynolds’ Hal Jordan?

This of course constitutes a big problem, especially for Marvel, which sold off a lot of its properties. Sony still owns the film rights to “Spider-Man” and is unlikely to relinquish them. Fox owns “Fantastic Four” and “Daredevil,” among others. Various other heroes are hitched to other studios, making the process of squishing them into one film quite problematic.

Fanboys are notorious for spoiling faster than unrefrigerated milk. Raised on comic books where crossovers were commonplace, the first “Iron Man” was but the first crack in the dam that will lead to an inevitable floodgate opening where Spidey and Hulk will have to meet, Wonder Woman and Superman will have to finally hook up and a double bill might become the new standard.

They’re already responding to rumors that Spider-Man makes an appearance in “The Avengers.” When some poo-poohed the idea given the contract situation, they made up their own way around it: Some suggested giving Tobey Maguire a camera and having him walk across the screen playing an unnamed photographer who may or may not have the proportionate strength and speed of a spider.

Be on the lookout: Given the nature of studio heads, if “The Dark Knight Rises” or, more likely, “The Amazing Spider-Man” falls short, look for teamup movies to become the norm. All fanboys can hope is that the studios don’t get desperate and start chucking together heroes and villains haphazardly. Remember “Batman and Robin,” where WB threw together the most illogical Poison Ivy/Mr. Freeze villain pairing? It can get worse than that, you know.

Hollywood, beware. The gauntlet has been thrown down. Status quo isn’t going to cut it any more.