Seconds out... welcome the 4th annual Superhero Showdown!
LAST TIME OUT...
As always, we begin with a recap of 2011, which saw Marvel Studios continuing down the road to The Avengers with Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, Fox opening up the newest chapter of their X-Men franchise with the prequel X-Men: First Class, and Warner Bros. looking to do something… anything… with their latest DC offering, Green Lantern.
Last year’s prediction - “It’s hard to predict an overall winner here. Thor may not the most popular character in the Marvel universe but has the advantage of being the first superhero in cinemas this year so I’d expect it to perform well and probably exceed the $263m world-wide gross of The Incredible Hulk. It will likely be a toss-up between Captain America and X-Men: First Class for the North American box office crown, but First Class has to be the favourite for victory on a global scale and could go on to become the highest grossing instalment in the franchise. That just leaves poor old Green Lantern, whom I expect to be on a hiding to nothing with Warner Bros. once again struggling to recoup their outlay.”
The reality - Well, Green Lantern just managed to recoup its hefty production budget, limping to a haul of $219m, and Thor did exceed the world-wide gross of The Incredible Hulk. However, it also went on to become the biggest superhero movie of the year, banking $181m from North America and pulling in a combined world-wide gross of $449m. Next up was Captain America with $368m, while X-Men: First Class didn’t come anywhere near a franchise high, with its total gross of $353m only enough to overtake Bryan Singer’s 2000 original.
THIS TIME OUT...
Over the past three years Warner’s DC properties have taken a back seat as Marvel's characters raked in the box office, but with Christopher Nolan set to unleash the third and final installment of his Batman series with The Dark Knight Rises, the studio will be hoping to taste victory for the first time since The Dark Knight hit screens back in 2008. However, Batman will face plenty of competition as the three biggest superhero franchises in history go head-to-head-to-head, with Marvel Studios finally bringing their Cinematic Universe together for The Avengers and Sony hoping to replicate their earlier Spidey-successes with a series reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Oh, and Nicolas Cage is also back as Ghost Rider.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Johnny Whitworth, Ciarán Hinds, Violante Placido, Idris Elba, Fergus Riordan and Christopher Lambert.
A ‘sort of’ sequel to Mark Steven Johnson’s disappointing first effort from 2007 and the second film to be released under the Marvel Knights banner after Punisher: War Zone, Spirit of Vengeance sees Nicolas Cage return as Johnny Blaze, a.k.a. the avenging anti-hero Ghost Rider, as directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (Crank) look to inject some life back into the franchise. Severing all ties with the original save for Cage in the lead role, the new film sees Johnny hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe as he struggles to come to terms with his curse, but he is forced to embrace his power after he’s recruited by the church to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the clutches of the Devil (Ciarán Hinds).
Having been promised all kinds of insanity by the directing duo of Neveldine/Taylor, hopes were high for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance until the film was slapped with a PG-13 rating and some pretty harsh early reviews left fans fearing the worst. So far we’ve had two trailers (see them here and here) and while both were passable, it’s hard to see Spirit of Vengeance delivering anything above the standard we’ve come to expect from Cage over the past couple of years. Still, despite being terrible, the first Ghost Rider managed to pull in $228m at the global box office and with a reduced budget of just $75m for the sequel – coupled with the fact that Johnny Blaze will be the first superhero out of the gate this year – there’s a chance that Spirit of Vengeance could turn a decent profit, atrocious or otherwise.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is set for release in the UK and North America on February 17th.
Directed by Joss Whedon.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg and Amanda Righetti.
Back in 2005, the newly-developed Marvel Studios announced their ambitious plan to build towards an Avengers feature film by establishing a shared 'Cinematic Universe' through a series of solo movies. Fast-forward to the present and the studio have since laid those foundations with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, pulling in almost $2.3billion in the process; with their iconic line-up of heroes established and the majority of the original cast members still on board (well, except Edward Norton, who's replaced as Bruce Banner by Mark Ruffalo), Marvel have now set the stage for director Joss Whedon to deliver every superhero fanboy's wet dream.
Despite the release of the first trailer, all we really know about the film is that the Avengers will assemble to protect the world from Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army – an “unexpected enemy” widely thought to be an alien race such as the Skrulls or the Kree – although rumours about the villain(s) have also pointed to everyone from Thanos to Namor and the Atlanteans. So far their films have been pretty grounded in reality, so you have to wonder how the general public will react to an influx of extra-terrestrial life, should that prove to be the case. Still, Thor worked out pretty well and seeing the God of Thunder alongside the likes of Iron Man, Cap and the Hulk should be enough to ensure another huge hit for Marvel.
The Avengers is set for release in the UK on April 27th and hits North America on May 4th.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb.
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, C. Thomas Howell, Embeth Davidtz, Campbell Scott, Chris Zylka and Irrfan Khan.
Warner Bros.’ Batman films may have grossed more at the box-office, but Sony’s Spider-Man series is the clear champion when it comes to the highest average gross, with Sam Raimi’s three movies pulling in an astonishing $2.5billion between them. Still, an $890m haul for Spider-Man 3 wasn’t enough to convince Sony to extend Raimi’s stay as custodian of the series and instead they opted to start things over with a brand new 3D reboot. Following Raimi through the exit door were stars Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as Sony handed the reigns to (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, who then turned to up-and-coming actor Andrew Garfield for his interpretation of Peter Parker, a.k.a. The Amazing Spider-Man.
Garfield seems to be a great choice for the lead and judging by the first trailer, we can expect a true shift in tone from the earlier movies rather than a straight-forward retread, with a healthy dose of teen angst injected into the familiar origin story. However, the trailer also offered up some rather wonky first-person web-crawling action and it’s rumoured that Sony executives have been left unimpressed by some of the VFX, particularly Rhys Ifans’ Lizard – the final version of whom we’re yet to see. The production also seems to have spent more time on reshoots than principal photography, which is always a huge concern. Still, let’s face it – Spidey’s always going to be popular (especially with the little ‘uns) so there’s no way The Amazing Spider-Man is going to tank, even if it turns out worse than Ghost Rider.
The Amazing Spider-Man is set for release July 3rd in North America and arrives in the UK the following day.
The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nestor Carbonell, Juno Temple, Alon Abutbul, Josh Pence and Matthew Modine.
Last but by no means least comes the sequel to the biggest superhero movie of all-time and Christopher Nolan's epic conclusion to his Batman saga - The Dark Knight Rises. Shrouded in secrecy despite a seemingly endless flow of spy photos, all we really know about the film is that it will pick up some eight years after The Dark Knight and that Christian Bale's Batman will face his greatest test courtesy of the Man who Broke the Bat, Bane (Tom Hardy). Also getting in on the action is Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, while there's been enormous speculation surrounding the characters of 'Miranda Tate' (Marion Cotillard) and 'John Blake' (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), with Cotillard widely expected to be playing Talia al Ghul and JGL rumoured as everyone from Alberto Falcone to Dick Grayson.
Nolan has promised that The Dark Knight Rises will bring a definitive end to the story he started back in 2005 with Batman Begins and it's thought that both Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson will return for cameos as the Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul respectively. Naturally with Bane as the villain, there's also plenty of talk that Nolan will draw heavily on the classic KnightFall storyline and leave Batman 'broken' - or, shock horror, even dead - and going by the most recent trailer, there's little doubt that Bruce Wayne is in for a world of pain. Frankly, given Nolan's autonomy over the film, absolutely anything is possible and that's one of the main reasons why audiences are sure to flock to The Dark Knight Rises in their droves.
The Dark Knight Rises is set for release in the UK and North America on July 20th.
On paper, everything looks set for 2012 to become the year of the superhero movie and - done right - all four releases have the potential to become the defining installment in their respective series (which in the case of Ghost Rider, isn't saying all that much). Selecting a favourite will probably come down to personal taste, but in terms of critical and commercial success it's hard to look past The Dark Knight Rises. If the current level of hype is anything to go by, Nolan’s goodbye to Gotham City is going to be huge and may even surpass the billion dollar haul of its predecessor. It will also cut into the takings of The Amazing Spider-Man, so although Sony’s reboot will enjoy a fantastic start, I expect it to end up the lowest-grossing installment behind Spider-Man 2 ($783m). The Avengers on the other hand should set a record for Marvel Studios and will probably offer the most competition to The Dark Knight Rises, with the big event picture arriving early and facing little competition from fellow superheroes as it looks to overtake Iron Man 2's global haul of $623m. As for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, it won't set the box office on fire but will more than likely do just about enough to 'warrant' another installment.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts on 2012's big superhero showdown...
Holy Franchise, Batman! - Coming 2012.