It’s the time of year where we examine the upcoming release schedule for superhero movies , and where I guide you lost lambs through the complicated field to the greener pastures of cinematic enjoyment.
As the years go by (this is the third year I’ve done this), two things become apparent: 1) these movies are relatively unchanging and 2) I still get most of this stuff wrong.
To the first point: corporate money, and global investment, mean that each of those movies is basically like the other ones in its corporate stable. That is to say: the movies have similar tone, similar levity, and similar endings within any given over-arching rightsholding company.
To the second point: I have no idea why that is. I will say that at this time last year I predicted Logan would probably be a dumb cash-grab, and it’s probably the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2017.
Nevertheless, this is the year I get it completely right, so it’s worth your time to read on!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
WHAT IT IS: It’s the sequel to one of the best superhero movies ever made! High adventure in space! Wisecracks! Seventies radio music on the soundtrack! This time with Kurt Russell!
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I mean, even if the fact that it’s the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy and it has Kurt Russell in it , it’s probably worth pointing out that while the cracks are starting to show in the MCU, GOTG was a pretty out-there idea for a successful superhero movie, and James Gunn has yet to have a misstep in pretty much his entire career.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, there’s always the chance that this whole thing could collapse under the weight of its own cleverness, but I don’t see much call to worry about that. Nope, this thing is gonna be great.
WHAT IT IS: The first female-led superhero film, and also the first successful deployment of this property in something like a decade straight of trying , so that’s cool.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was clearly a lone bright spot on the endless grimdark blight that was Batman V. Superman. She was positively delightful, and clearly has the charisma to handle a larger part. The trailer at least has some colors in it, which is something. For most franchises, the mere presence of color in the trailer wouldn’t mean anything, but in this one it means a stark shift in the way the movie is presented. Sigh.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Lots of movies can’t get past the use of color and a charismatic star. Hell, Suicide Squad had no fewer than six people who I have thought of as charismatic people that couldn’t possibly fail that hard, and that’s even if you don’t count Jared Leto, and that was a garbage fire. The DCU has pretty much failed to capture anything that’s good about superheroes, and has put on a masterclass in what’s terrible about them, and, frankly, while I have hopes that this could be the vehicle that changes everything, it probably won’t be.
WHAT IT IS: It is, somewhat unbelievably, another new Spider-Man. This time the film is made in an unprecedented show of cooperation between Sony (who owns the rights to the property) and Marvel (who makes good movies out of superheroes). It focuses on the youngest Spider-Man yet, and somehow involves a battle with Spider-Man’s oldest – I mean literally oldest as a character, not, like, first, dude is meant to be geriatric – villain, the Vulture.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Tom Holland was just great as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. It was probably my favorite portrayal of Spider-Man on film to date. Disney has promised that there is no origin story in this one, which throws out my most major misgiving about the thing, and the supporting cast (Keaton as the Vulture, with Marissa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. reprising their CA:CW roles, and Donald Glover as one of the Vulture’s mooks or whatever) is pretty great. Spider-Man is a strong enough character to be the central character of movies as excellent as Spider-Man 2, so we know the possibilties are there.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: The Vulture is such a fucking stupid villain. I mean really. He’s the worst. But that’s kind of it, really. Without an origin story, there’s not a whole lot to complain about bogging the film down that I can see coming from here.
WHAT IT IS: The third Thor movie, and the putative end of a trilogy. It is also, if the press and rumor mill are to be believed, heavily dominated by an adaptation of the excellent Planet Hulk storyline, which deals with the problems of the Hulk being alive and running around in the world. But also probably Loki is doing something which will be dealt with in act 3.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The Thor movies have been pretty good in general, and Taika Waititi is turning out to be a tremendously talented director. It’ll be interesting to see him tackle the action concerns that go into a Thor/Hulk movie. This is also probably the last solo Thor movie with Chris Hemsworth in the role – his contract includes this and the two Infinity War movies – so they’ll pull out all the stops. In the wake of Logan, I’m generally up on the end of an actor playing a role.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Thor movies are always poised on the edge of too much – too big, too operatic, too long. “Pulling out all the stops” could mean giving the enormously charismatic Hemsworth a big finish to go with his also-impressive start , but it could also mean “piling on the heavy meaning and ‘significance’ until even the enormously-charismatic Hemsworth collapses under the weight.
Justice League: Part One
WHAT IT IS: The Avengers of the Snyderverse, this is (as the recently-released trailer shows) evidence that there is basically no force on Earth that can stop the DCU movies from happening. Unlike The Avengers, most of the members of the Justice League will not have received their own solo films yet . Nevertheless, here they’re all going to team up to stop Steppenwolf from assembling Mother Boxes.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Steppenwolf and mother boxes come from Jack Kirby’s peerless New Gods series, which is as weird and wooly as DC comics ever got, so it’s at least a sign that they could be going in some strange directions. The cast seems great. We’ve already watched Henry Cavil struggle to imbue his Superman with any kind of life, but Batfleck turned out fine, as far as things go, and, as previously mentioned, Gal Gadot was just delightful as Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa has a good track record, and the kid from We Need to Talk About Kevin was a pretty good child actor with a knack for conveying some dark, brooding material.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Leaving aside my general feelings about Zack Snyder, it sure seems like the direction the DCU is moving is “more like the MCU, only with more gritting of the teeth and bloody explosive punching”. Steppenwolf is a herald slash underling for Darkseid, and they’re assembling mother boxes for some grand scheme of Darkseid’s, which is, y’know, an awful lot like The Infinity War, and the infinity gems and Thanos . So that’s not exactly promising. Couple the fact that the last couple of DCU movies have had real problems with the scripts being rushed out , and the editing being tinkered with up to the last minute, and you have the makings of something that is tonally the same drab blah that the other DCU films have been, plus derivative, plus possibly-incoherent, and frankly, I have no idea why anyone would be looking forward to this to begin with.
WHAT IT IS: Black Panther, as introduced in Captain America: Civil War, is the current king of Wakanda, a fictional nation, and a place we got to see only briefly. Black Panther in general is the ruler and defender of Wakanda, and is a dude with no super powers, just a lot of cool gadgets and the support of a nation. Sort of an alternate Sub-Saharan Captain America.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: The look we got at Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War was pretty great, and Chadwick Boseman did a great job with him. Ryan Coogler is 2-for-2 when it comes to making great movies, and Creed shows that he’s got a reasonably effective way with at least some kind of fight scenes . The characters that are returning to this one are Martin Freeman’s inexplicably American antiterrorism/antisuperhero military dude and Andy Serkis’s Ulysses Klaue (nee Klaw), who is a prominent Black Panther villain and was last seen in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both of them did a good job and will be welcome back, along with Michael B. Jordan, whose last superhero outing was the disastrously terrible Fantastic Four reboot (Fan4stic?), but who can generally be counted on to deliver the groceries , and also character-actors extraordinaire Angela Bassett and Forest Whittaker.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It’s unlikely, but it’s not exactly all the way out of the question that the Black Panther movie could be a well-intentioned but insulting mess. But that’s really quite unlikely. What is more likely is that there won’t be a lot to differentiate this one from, say, the Iron Man or Captain America movies, although I hope there is: I like the creatives involved a whole lot, and I generally like Black Panther.
WHAT IT IS: By this point we will have seen The Flash in a full movie – Justice League Part 1 – in addition to his brief appearances in both Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, but this is his first full solo movie. Naturally it will have nothing to do with the beloved television show. Naturally.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Miller and Lord (The Lego Movie, the Jump Street movies) wrote the story, and Seth Grahame-Smith (The Lego Batman Movie) wrote the screenplay, so there’s some real talent behind the pen there. It doesn’t currently have a director, and because I am choosing to be a complete optimist here I’m going to hope that that’s because they are going to want to make a major shift in tonal and artistic direction for this one, and that it’ll be a comedy , which would be just ducky. I mean, it’s years away, so a boy can dream.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: This is all pretty unknown-horizons here. The post-Justice League DCU is going to be a kind of interesting thing to watch develop – the movies are generally reviled (critically, publicly, all of it), although they certainly have their defenders, but they also make truckloads of money. So do you plan to change up the formula, or do you just keep making truckloads of money with literal flaming nonsense all the time? The Flash will, as the first thing that we see after The Justice League Part 1, probably let us know. The reason this is a reason to waffle is 1) I’m conjecturing that entire situation and 2) I do not have a lot of faith in the executives at Warner Bros to manage and/or shepherd any of this anywhere good. Plus they’re already making truckloads of money, so it’s not like there’s any real incentive to do anything different than they already are.
Avengers: Infinity War Part I
WHAT IT IS: The proverbial it. As in: this is it. Thanos almost certainly has the gems, and then Earth’s heroes have to go stop him. This is Part 1, so they probably get their butts kicked up and down the multiverse for a while and it ends on a major bummer.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: If it’s possible to trust the creatives behind the MCU to build toward something and then pay it off, then this is that thing. All the people we’ve built cinematic relationships with over the last decade or so culminate in this, or actually in the sequel to this.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, for starters, this is part 1 of 2, and part 2 comes out a year later. So that’s…not great. But also splitting a finale into two parts has not worked out once – not one time – and I think that maybe it’ll be overstuffed and bloated. I mean, those are the reasons I’m waffling, but keep in mind that the intensity of my waffling is not much to speak of – I’m still pretty excited about this movie.
The Incredibles 2
WHAT IT IS: Please not that it says superhero movie, not comic-book movie. This is the sequel to one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because The Incredibles was a basically perfect movie. Because there was a lot of clamor for this sequel, but no contractual or deadline-related reasons to make it. That means the whole thing could wait for the conditions to be right and inspiration to be present, which is great. I mean, you probably know why you should be excited for this.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, for starters, no pressure to make it is not the same as there being no commercial or business reasons for making it, so it could still be pretty mercenary, although that seems unlikely. Also, Brad Bird is a Randian weirdo, and there’s always the danger that could come into play.
Ant-Man and The Wasp
WHAT IT IS: The second outing for Paul Rudd’s shrinking (and growing!) ex-thief, this time with more Janet Van Dyne in the title! I mean, probably also in the movie as well, but definitely in the title. We all thought she was going to be in the first one more than she was, so I’m trying to manage my hopes here.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Paul Rudd is always delightful, certainly. And there’s nothing wrong with the first Ant-Man , so a sequel could be fine. He was great in Captain America: Civil War. Adam McKay has a writing credit! He wrote Anchorman! Which had Paul Rudd in it!
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It is just really hard to get excited about this movie. There wasn’t anything about the first one that made me hope desperately for more. I dunno. Maybe I’ll be surprised again, but I pretty genuinely do not have a great deal of excitement here. Although it is also the case that while there aren’t a lot of reasons to be excited for it, I suppose I can’t think of any real reasons not to be.
WHAT IT IS: Drogo, Khal of the wa….oh, I made that joke last year. I mean, that’s what it still is, and it doesn’t come out for another couple of years, so I guess I’ll have to come up with something new next year. Jason Momoa plays a guy who talks to fish.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: I am always willing to stand up to the memetic, nonsensical idea that Aquaman is somehow not cool. He can control water creatures. Just because the writers of Superfriends didn’t know what to do with him doesn’t mean we need to pretend like that word is gospel . While it’s impossible to know what any given movie is going to do, it is worth pointing out that before James Wan was the guy behind the Fast and/or Furious movies, he was the guy that created both Saw and The Conjuring . Anyway. I like Aquaman as much as I like pretty much any DC superhero, and I like Jason Momoa just fine, so if there’s a movie that’s going to get me to go see it, it’s probably this one.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I mean, still a DCU movie, but beyond that: the reason that people think that Aquaman is lame (Superfriends joke above notwithstanding) is that he is forced to appear in ensembles where the fact that his powers have an identifiable locus is a liability. It is possible that James Wan – coming from a horror-movie background – could do something with the fact that the deep ocean is super-scary. It is also possible that he could just have Jason Momoa flex, bounce a cannonball off a dude’s head and, I don’t know, eat a fishing boat or something. I’m saying this could be both ridiculous in the James Wan way and the DCU way, in which case I can’t imagine how it would even be watchable.
WHAT IT IS: Marvel’s first female-led superhero, and participant in the events of The Infinity War. There are a lot of different Captains Marvel. This one is Carol Danvers , and is going to be played by Room’s Brie Larson.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Brie Larson is just great, and the current run of comics (from maestro Kelly Sue Deconnick) is as good as the character has ever gotten, and includes lots of run-ins with the Avengers and with the Guardians of the Galaxy, so the whole thing is sort of primed for the time and place into which it’s being released. Plus, Carol Danvers’ Captain Marvel is of the knockaround, high-spirited sort , and so far that has made for some highly entertaining Marvel films.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: Well, the big thing is that Marvel hasn’t been very enthusiastic about the idea of a woman-led film (and the recent announcement that there would be two directors, only one of which was a woman), and so who knows what sort of meddling they could get up to? That said, meddling to make something more marketable hasn’t been something they’ve dabbled much in to this point, and this will probably not be the point that they start. But they could is all I’m saying.
WHAT IT IS: A little boy who, with the help of his trusty magic word, has the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury . This piece only covers movies with a definite release date, but somewhere down the line this is going to have a companion Black Adam movie. The Rock is attached to this movie, even though he’s been cast as Black Adam. So clearly we’re doing a thing here.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Well, Shazam can be a lot of fun. The Rock is generally pretty great, and Black Adam is the sort of anti-hero opportunity that is usually pretty satisfying to see fun action-movie types play. It’s hard to get more excited about it than that without knowing anything else about what’s going on (a result of the fact that it won’t come out for years yet), but if you’re inclined to look forward to a movie about Billy Batson’s superpowered alter ego, then I guess you’ve probably got plenty of reason.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: I just don’t find Shazam that compelling, and at this point it’s hard to believe that I’m going to have any leftover faith or goodwill for the people of the DCU. Maybe they’ll change their approach or whatever by then, and this will be a quirky little movie about a bland superhero who, nonetheless, has a really weird history, but that seems like betting for the underdog.
Avengers: Infinity War Part II
WHAT IT IS: The second half of the big banana. The end of the Thanos era. Possibly the end of the current MCU . Expect it to have a significantly different ending from the book, and if you don’t want spoilers about how the book ends avoid the footnote that follows this sentence
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: This is it! You’ve watched (or, y’know, wikipedia’d) a decade of superhero movies to get to this very point. It’s the knockest-downest, draggest-outest fight in superherodom, and it will involve every single bit of business that has been set up in every single one of these movies thus far. Plus, really, we could hope for that ending.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: as with pretty much every ending to something this big, there’s always the chance they’ll swing real hard at “significant” and “load-bearing” and end up with “overwrought” and “inappropriate”. Plus it’s going to be kind of anticlimactic if what actually ends up happening is Thanos walks out of a blue portal, punches everybody a bunch of times, and then is defeated by everyone using their powers on him together. So we’ll see.
Justice League Part Two
WHAT IT IS: Presumably the big banana and all that other stuff, only now instead of mucking around with Steppenwolf, they’re bringing the fight straight to Darkseid and including Shazam and Black Adam and all the rest. Probably not Gleek, though.
WHY YOU SHOULD BE EXCITED: Because maybe after this we will all get a break from the DCU.
BUT I’M WAFFLING BECAUSE: It will make a billion dollars and we will never be free.