Under Construction – looking back at the summer franchises
Another summer has come and gone and with it another leg of the now never ending, race to build cinematic universes. What started with a surprise appearance by Nick Fury at the end of 2008’s Iron Man has led us to a world where the Universal Monsters are making a comeback and nobody ever dares to leave the movie theater until the curtains close and the ushers give them the “all clear” for hidden scenes. With so many universes on the go, I thought it was worth checking in with some of them to see whats being built and if it’s worth sticking around.
When it comes to universe building, the big dog in the yard is Marvel. Not only have they successfully created a film formula that prints money at the box office, but they have also used the Disney machine to turn their pantheon of heroes into house hold names. This summers entries included Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the long awaited Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Picking up where it left off, Guardians 2 gave audiences more of what they never knew they wanted: more heart, more classic tunes, more space adventure, more obscure comic references and more Groot. While it could be said that some of the humour may have been a little much for an action movie (Drax’s nipples…) the introduction of Kurt Russel as Ego the Living Planet, Star Lord’s long lost father, proved to be yet another casting slam dunk for the MCU.
While it didn’t leave us with a direct connection to Avengers: Infinity War, the end of credits did tease the introduction of Adam Warlock, a character with heavy comic ties to Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet. Providing us with one more reason to be excited for the magical moment when all the Marvel Chrises (Pratt, Evans & Hemsworth) appear together on the big screen alongside their team mates.
From deep space, to the heart of New York city, lets talk Spider-Man!
After his scene stealing debut in Captain America: Civil War, fans everywhere were hungry for a bigger serving of their favourite wall crawler… and they got it! The success of Spider-Man, you know, besides the millions of dollars it made, was that it established the newer, younger Peter as a future cornerstone for their universe. By pairing him up with the father of the MCU, Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man, it really felt like a full circle moment for Marvel. Where it took Tony the suit to find himself, it took losing the suit for Peter to find Spider-Man.
Worth noting from Marvel as well were the excellent trailer drops for Black Panther, the looks-way-too-fun-to-be-a-Thor-movie, Thor: Ragnarok and that sideways leaked copy of the Avengers: Infinity War trailer that I totally didn’t watch. All of which point to the continued, cohesive growth of the Marvel money making… MOVIE making machine.
Next up, the DCU. After the mixed reception of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and the critical bomb (if commercial success) that was Suicide Squad, it fell to Wonder Woman to give fans hope for the coming of the Justice League, which she did while smashing the glass ceiling for future female led super hero flicks on the way up.
After enduring the 2+ hours of Batman v Superman only to be left with a (SPOILER ALERT) “dead” Man of Steel and a repentant, but still aged and surly Batman, what Wonder Woman had to do was breath hope into that universe. She needed to be bright, hopeful and most importantly, a clear and identifiable good guy… gal. To that end, credit goes to them for making a film that refocused their expanding universe on a hero that fought the good fight without moping around or punching other good guys. Also… who’s mother’s name wasn’t Martha (never gonna live that one down guys).
While the Justice League trailer still doesn’t have that same electricity around it that the first trailer for Avengers did, I think we all have more hope that the film will exceed our more pessimistic expectations.
Another franchise that showed up to blow up this year was the Michael Bay explosions and plot holes show known as Transformers: The Last Knight. The studio has their eye on creating an expanded universe including the robots in disguise and other Hasbro toy properties. (G.I. JOE, M.A.S.K., ROM – Space Knight, Micronauts and other forgotten 80s toys are all on the table).
This years Transformers entry was another off the mark attempt to feed hardcore bot heads pieces of their past with nods to the classic ’80s animated film while still selling mountains of toys and making huge piles of money. Since it got the last two right, we will definitely be seeing more of the Transformers, including a Bumblebee spinoff movie set in the 80s starring 16 time world champion, John Cena. Something I never in my life expected to say out loud or in print.
From here on earth, to the depths of space, the Alien universe also rolled out a fresh entry with Alien: Covenant, a prequel sequel to Prometheus. Since the Alien universe already crossed over with Predator as far back as the Alien skull in Predator 2 (Danny Glover, though), I remain disappointed when one doesn’t pop out of the woodwork from time to time. That aside, this was a weird, creepy chapter in the Alien story that gave us a definitive explanation for the creation of the eggs, face huggers and Xeno-morphs we have all come to know and love, with a promise of more of the same to come. It also gave us that creepy Fassbender on Fassbender robot kiss… but we can look past that.
There was no trailer for the next chapter in the Predator saga as yet, but I’ll be holding out hope for at least one hint at their connection to H.R. Giger’s favourite children to keep that shared universe in play.
I’d like to say that I watched The Mummy to check in on the Universal “Dark Universe”, but that wouldn’t be true and, based on the box office, it seems like I wasn’t the only one.
So thats where we are; a world where sequels and prequels were not enough. Where spinoffs, end of credits and walk on recurring characters tying films together have just become part and parcel of the summer movie scene. A world where I typed “Bumblebee sequel set in the 80s starring John Cena” not once, but twice in one sitting.
And with that, I’m going to go back to the universe that I share with my cats, the couch, so I can watch some more stuff blow up.