With both the colossal success of Avengers: Endgame and Joker last year, the superhero movie is currently dependent on two rather different modes of expression. Avengers: Endgame was the culmination of a decade’s worth of films, with tens of characters and endless spectacle, requiring previous knowledge of over 20 movies to truly understand. On the other hand, Joker, a standalone exploration of the masked Clown Prince of Crime, scaled the action back, providing a mood piece more indebted to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy than the previous Batman movies. Simply put, one represented the end of an era, the other heralded something kinda new (at least in the comic book movie world).
At the start of the new decade, the superhero movie is at a crossroads. And the movie business, to paraphrase Woody Allen in Annie Hall, is like a shark. It has to keep moving forward or it dies. Therefore, whether that’s hiring a more diverse roster of directors, exploring genres that the comic book film has yet to fully tackle, or finding fresh angles on the same old stories, 2020 promises to be a major shake up when it comes to depicting caped crusaders. Read on below to see changes one can expect in 2020.
The superhero movie season kicks off in earnest next month with the release of Birds of Prey: The Emancipation of Harley Quinn. A few years ago its release would’ve been a novelty, the comic-book movie mostly entrusted in the hands of white men. 2020 promises something completely different however, with all four major comic book movies directed by women. Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan), will be followed by Black Widow (Cate Shortland), Wonder Woman 1984 (a returning Patty Jenkins) and The Eternals (Chloé Zhao).
This is doubly exciting considering the arthouse chops of each new director: Cathy Yan’s China-set Dead Pigs was a low-key masterwork of social observation, Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome was a memorable take on the hostage thriller and Chloé Zhao’s The Rider brilliantly used non-professional actors to tell a devastating story of a cowboy losing his mojo. These wonder women promise to shatter the status quo: lets just hope that 2020 isn’t a one-off.
The Joker Effect?
Joker’s success will have massive ramifications on the superhero industry. With no magical powers, extensive special effects or large set-pieces, the modestly budgeted ($62.5 million) film proved that audiences were hungry for origin stories that did something a little different. One can already see this change with Birds of Prey, which was made for under $100 million but is likely to break at least the $500 million barrier.
Likewise Morbius and The New Mutants appear to be modestly budgeted films that could break big if they reach the right audience. They share not only a smaller budget, but a willingness to dive deeper into darker themes; bringing us nicely into our next point.
Comic Book Horror
M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable series aside, and horror and comic book movies interacted little in the past ten years. Nonetheless, as the success of the creepy, Cronenberg inspired body-horror Venom showed, there is a massive market for bringing the two markets together.
Over at Marvel’s 20th Century Studios division, The New Mutants, which has been delayed due to the Disney-Fox merger, takes the X-Men into horror territory, telling the story of young mutants trying to save themselves from a secret medical facility. Additionally, Jared Leto will try once again to be a convincing antihero (after his disastrous interpretation of The Joker in Suicide Squad) with Spider-Villain film Morbius, telling the story of a vampire trying the best he can to battle his difficult condition. Additionally, Venom will return once again, looking to replicate his surprise runaway success.
Openly Out LGBTQ Heroes (and Villains)
Hollywood in general, and the comic book universe in particular, is perpetually prone to the practice of queer-baiting: saying that a character is part of the LGBTQ community but doing nothing to actively prove it. Instead viewers are left to sleuthing clues together that Carol Danvers might be romantically involved with Maria Rambeau, or Valkyrie is actually a player that seduces both men and women left and right. In a most egregious turn of events, the Russo Brothers took it upon themselves to insert a token gay character in Avengers: Endgame that had no real relation to the plot played by none other than Joe Russo himself.
Gay fans of the MCU deserve better. Although they have been let down constantly, news out of both Bird of Prey and The Eternals suggests hope on the horizon. Ewan McGregor told Variety that Black Mask, the antagonist of Birds of Prey, was “most likely gay” while Kevin Feige told Good Morning America that The Eternals will have an openly gay character. Let’s hope its actually true this time.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe Starts From The Beginning
The MCU is a fascinating experiment, not only because its basically resembles the most expensive TV soap opera ever made, but due to its non-linear structure, filled with endless prequels, spin-offs and origin stories. Black Widow, for example, who for the record is dead, returns this year in a story that takes place before the events of Infinity War, perhaps filling in the gaps of what she was up to. More interestingly, however, is The Eternals who could turn everything we know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its head.
According to the comic books, The Eternals were established on the Earth seven thousand years ago, intended to be the defenders of the planet against the Deviants. They are immortal beings who have seemingly stood by and watched the world burn this whole time and done absolutely nothing to help. Now they will step in post-Endgame to fight the Deviants once more, perhaps answering even more questions about how the world of the MCU was created and just what might be in store for the future. Either way, there’s no sign of MCU fatigue just yet.