Special Features – An Orgy of Excess: How The Avengers’ success has spoiled Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman vs. Superman‏

Anghus Houvouras on how The Avengers’ success has spoiled Spider-Man, X-Men and Batman vs. Superman….

Does anyone else feel like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is overcompensating?  I mean, really overcompensating, like the middle aged guy who buys a monstrous Hummer or garish sportscar to make up for the fact that he isn’t quite the spring chicken he used to be.  Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man sequel looks like the mid-life crisis of Superhero films: flashy, bloated, and desperate.

Let’s be honest: The Avengers has potentially ruined the superhero movie genre.  Any studio with licensed comic book characters is now trying to figure out how to turn their single franchise into a multi-headed monster that will give birth to multiple mega-blockbusters and keep them cash flush for years to come.  The Marvel paradigm was unique in that it had never been done before.  They had a very clear picture of what they wanted to accomplish and have delivered on that plan to the delight of both fans and stockholders.  With that success comes the inevitable imitators.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is ridiculously overstuffed with characters.  I don’t need to see a single frame of the film to confidently say that the goals here feel lofty.  You have four movies worth of story lines and plot points being crammed into a single sequel in the hopes of birthing multiple franchises.  Green Goblin, Rhino, Electro, Black Cat, Shocker and god only knows how many other villains they’ll make room for.  Gwen Stacy, Mary-Jane Watson (now shuttled to the inevitable third film), Harry Osborn, Aunt May, and god only knows how many other secondary characters they’ll try to shoehorn in. 

Amazing Spider-Man 2 looks like, at best embarrassment of riches.  At worse, an orgy of excess.

I realize that pleading for restraint for a 250 million dollar franchise blockbuster is comical.  But at some point if the studios don’t find another storytelling metric other than ‘bigger’, the whole thing is going to burst.

20th Century Fox has shown a modicum of restraint with the X-Men films, only indulging in a handful of Wolverine spin-offs.  Based on what the trades are telling us and what I’ve seen from X-Men: Days of Future Past, it seems like those days are coming to an end.  The latest X-Men film looks like another attempt at cramming as many characters as possible in an effort to sell more action figures or create potential new franchises.  Future X-Men, Present Day X-Men, the groovy 1970’s First Class all stuffed into one grand adventure.   Frankly, it feels like too much.

It feels like a whole lot of people who don’t understand the basic tenants of storytelling who feel that you can’t make something truly great without throwing everything and the kitchen sink into the production.  The same kind of rumblings are coming from Batman vs. Superman which seems to be adding characters left and right too potentially spin off into their own movies.  God knows Warner Brothers has been hell bent on reverse engineering the Marvel paradigm ever since Avengers crossed a billion dollars in record time.  The focus has become less on delivering a good movie than delivering a ridiculous amount of fan service in the hopes of having these overstuffed monstrosities spill over into ancillary revenues.

If we’ve learned any lesson since the advent of the comic book adaptation, it’s that more villains rarely equal a better movie.  No franchise should be more aware of this than Spider-Man, a series that practically fell apart when the foundation was stressed with too many characters and plot lines.  Spider-Man 3 is a movie choking on excess.  While we can’t really argue what might have been with the third Spider-Man had they trimmed the narrative and focused on either Sandman or Venom or Harry Osborn’s transformation into the new Goblin, I can say unabashedly that the first two were more rewarding films because they kept the conflict focused and gave time to let the characters develop.

This constant game of one-upmanship going on between these franchises is reaching a fevered pitch with each studio trying to raise the bar in terms of size and scope.  There’s a real danger of all of these movies becoming carbon copies of one another.  Some believe we’re already there.

I think I’d admire the level of ambition of these new comic book adaptations if I felt it was being done for the right reasons.  The Avengers was a natural progression, the successful harvest of seeds planted years earlier.  Now, every super hero wants to achieve an Avengers level of success without doing the ground work.  Amazing Spider-Man 2 feels like the most blatant participant in adopting the Avengers paradigm.  Crammed with characters and plot lines, desperate to feel epic in the wake of other franchises. 

I was a staunch defender of The Amazing Spider-Man, a flawed film that I rather enjoyed.  However, I find myself less excited about the sequel and more daunted by the volume.  At the end of the day, size and scope is less important than delivering a rewarding movie that devotes enough time to develop engaging characters.  I don’t really have an interest in seeing every super-hero franchise become a two and a half hour special effects reel. 

I expect like most orgies it seems like a great idea in theory, but the execution is often sloppy and rarely lives up to expectation. 

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the novel My Career Suicide Note, is available from Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/My-Career-Suicide-Note-ebook/dp/B00D3ULU5I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371583147&sr=8-1&keywords=my+career+suicide+note

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