Thursday, 22 May 2014

Why an X-Men "universe" works but a Spider-Man "universe" doesn't:

Marvel's The Avengers movie has sent the world of cinema into a tailspin. While a lot of stand-alone movies weren't succeeding particularly well at creating critical acclaim in the first place outside of Christopher Nolan's seminal Batman Trilogy, now they are being forced to create entire universes around the properties they do own. You'd think that Warner Bros. would have been the first ones to create a unified cinematic universe and the ones giving it their dues, after all, they own DC comics and the licenses to their characters in their entirety unlike Marvel/Disney, who don't actually have the movie licenses to several Marvel characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men who are owned by Sony and Fox respectively. Not to mention they'd successfully done it twice on TV, once in the DC Animated Universe and once just using Smallville. But in spite of not having many of their star players, Marvel are the ones who brought their heroes together in The Avengers first and they are reaping the rewards of a crap ton of money and an ongoing franchise. So naturally this being Hollywood and all, everyone else has to cash in on this "collective universe" style of storytelling where they bring together dozens of heroes into one big movie and milk it for all it's worth, except DC are failing to realise why The Avengers worked in the first place, because each character had their stories set up in their own stand alone movies, not just Superman and Batman, who apparently the later of which isn't even getting his own stand alone this time around. But I'm not here to mock DC for their efforts, I do that enough on Twitter. I'm here to talk about two other companies, Sony and Fox and their attempts to create a collective universe using the superhero properties they already own, Spider-Man and the X-Men.

Now to Fox's credit, they'd already been doing X-Men long before Marvel released the first Iron Man or even the original Ang Lee Hulk, but they were stand alone movies, just like each Marvel movie, with no real ties to spin offs or anything like that until the tragically bad X-Men Origins: Wolverine, now they want to do Deadpool stand alone, the Magneto stand alone became First Class, and now they're trying to create a universe based around X-Men just as much as Marvel has the Avengers. They're also trying to add The Fantastic Four into this universe as they own the rights to that too. Sony on the other hand, are trying to create a series of films, "one per year" in fact to quote them, based around the ever-popular but with diminishing returns as of late, Spider-Man. This started because they made The Amazing Spider-Man after Sam Raimi, director of the original Spider-Man trilogy, wouldn't put up with their interfering bullshit any more after the dismal third entry, so they scraped Spider-Man 4 and made The Amazing Reboot-Man.

Now Spider-Man does have the rather impressive collection of characters in his "universe" as it were, from the Clone characters like Ben Reilly to Spider-Man 2099, which I've gone into a bit more in the past to his fantastic rogues gallery including the Sinister Six, Venom as an anti-hero and a ton more really cool characters. The problem however is that Sony wants to milk this cash cow for all it's worth and turn this into a fully fledged universe of it's own making already confirmed spin-offs for the Sinister Six, a group of villains who really serve no purpose outside of being villains to Spider-Man despite what their comic run says, Venom, a character who MUST be introduced via Spider-Man otherwise he makes absolutely no sense and apparently it all has to do with the evil Oscorp... corp.  From Green Goblin to Electro to Spider-Man himself to the Lizard, all superpowers stem from here. So it's really going to stretch this character thin and really going to milk it for all it's worth. I believe it's going to cause it to crash and burn, we've already seen that Amazing Spider-Man didn't do nearly as well as the previous movies nor did it's sequel, which critically has been panned but is still making enough money to clearly warrant the continuation of not only Spider-Man's films but to build a whole universe around it. They're already having to push the limits of what Spider-Man has going for him often repeating aspects in movies that we'd already seen in the previous Raimi-helmed trilogy. I admire their attempts to do something better, I really do and best of luck to them, but Spider-Man is one part of a larger universe, he's a single character in a single city, where apparently everything is Oscorp's fault. It's going to take some serious skill and balls to try and pull this universe off, something that based on the last two entries, they going to struggle to do.

X-Men on the other hand is a different story, unlike The Avengers, the X-Men is already a team united, and has a basic causal link between heroes powers. Ignoring the Fantastic Four reboot for a second, the X-Men and all the superheroes in these movies have got a common cause for their powers, they're mutants. In fact Stan Lee himself said it best when he said "... they didn't need to be exposed to gamma radiation or bitten by a radioactive spider, they were just born this way, it was easy." And so too is it easy for the writers behind these movies to say "this guy/girl was just born this way". In fact never once have the X-Men in their movies been referred to as superheroes in the same way as Superman, Batman or The Avengers have been. The heroes and villains in this series are complex characters who are just born with their gifts rather than bestowed upon them. This makes for a much more unified universe and as such, the X-Men characters can spin-off into more than just solo films, there can be whole new characters like X-Force, who are in the same universe but don't even need set up like Spider-Man, they are already set up by their premise "they're mutants". Marvel pulled off something miraculous and pretty soon we'll be finding out just how far they can push it with Guardians of the Galaxy, but X-Men, it's already it's own universe. Hell, I always get a little surprised in the comics when the X-Men crossover with other characters because it gets a little confusing when there are heroes who aren't mutants in this world. The X-Men has as diverse a cast as the rest of Marvel combined, hence the recent Avengers Vs. X-Men storyline. And this is where Fox may struggle, will the Fantastic Four be mutants or will they be something else, that's the question if they're going to merge these properties together. 

X-Men works on it's own, it's got it's own universe, method for powers and social setting that really is quite globe-spanning. We can see Wolverine stand alones, or maybe one day a Gambit stand alone. Spider-Man is a hero who works on his own or could work with a team like The Avengers but to create a whole universe around one character's premise is a little crazy. X-Men created it's own universe without ever needing to create a universe and now Fox are capitalising on the success they've already had and adapting to new expectations of Marvel and DC's expanding universes. Sony on the other hand feels desperate to milk their cash cow Spider-Man for all they can and they're going to try to create heroes and villains who are directly related to Spider-Man but without Spider-Man in the movie. At least when Warner Bros did Supergirl in the 80s, it was clear she was from Krypton, and didn't need an accident to happen. But every character will have to be introduced in a Spider-Man movie and then you end up with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, frankly an absolute clusterfuck.