Who’s Next? A Preview of Comic Book Movies in 2016

Marvel, Fox, DC, and even Nickelodeon are looking to make this the biggest comic book movie year yet

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By most accounts, 2015 was a 50/50 year for comic book movie fare — maybe 65/35 depending on what you thought of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Things kicked off with the surprisingly stylish and entertaining Kingsman: The Secret Service, fluttered a bit with the uneven AoU, hit an apex thanks to the plucky and enjoyable Ant-Man, and crashed and burned on the troubled mess of Fantastic Four. While Kingsman proved there’s plenty of indie books still worthy of big-screen adaptations (especially from Kick-Ass and Kingsman creator Mark Millar), it’s possible that had Ant-Man failed to be a solid movie, superhero fatigue would’ve felt crushing in 2016. Thankfully, that’s not the case, which means the anticipation for this year’s crop of superhero flicks is as high as ever.

And oh, Odin is there a lot to look forward to. DC Comics will finally enter the game as a big contender with two massive team-up features. For the first time ever, we’ll be seeing multiple films set in the X-Men universe in the same year. For the last time ever, we’ll be getting only two new Marvel films. And then there’s a sequel to a bastardization of one of the coolest comic creations ever coming courtesy of Michael Bay.

So are we in for another up-and-down year? Is this when the sheer quantity of comic movies finally wears out the patience of audiences? Or is 2016 going to be the best year of live-action superheroes since, let’s say, 2008? (Sit down with me and talk Punisher: War Zone; it’ll be fun, I swear.) We’ll see for sure as the movies begin rolling out, but for now, let’s take stock of what’s coming down the pipeline.

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Deadpool

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Release Date: February 12th
Company: 20th Century Fox
Outlook: Hot chimichangas!

From the outside looking in, it’s hard to believe how right everything seems to be going with Deadpool. It’s one of those wishful-thinking movies that you (and everyone involved) thought would never get made and certainly never in any quality way. Moviegoers have already witnessed 20th Century Fox mutilate the “Merc with a Mouth” once before — to the point where they literally sewed his mouth shut in X-Men Origins: Wolverine — so having them get it right a second time around was almost unthinkable.

Enter Ryan Reynolds. The man’s passion and determination for the project led to the now infamous test footage being shot, the leak of which led Fox to finally greenlight the movie. Amazingly, the studio appears to have kept listening to Reynolds. The film is officially rated R (due to “strong violence and language throughout, sexual content, and graphic nudity,” according to the MPAA), something fans have clamored for since the beginning, as ridiculous violence and sexual deviance have long been part of the character. Yet Deadpool also remains firmly planted in the world of X-Men (and its new, post-Days of Future Past timeline, meaning Origins never happened (yay!)) thanks to appearances by other mutants like Colossus. Filmmakers are even getting that right, as this version of Piotr Rasputin is a towering figure with a Russian accent, just like his comic counterpart and unlike the portrayal we’ve seen in other X-films. Right down to the marketing, which actually spent money on this ingeniously absurd billboard, what we’ve seen so far paints the picture of the bonkers, brutal, and hilarious Deadpool we’ve always wanted.

But that could be a double-edged katana. Studios have long been cautious about the money-making potential of R-rated superhero films, and that’s what initially kept Deadpool in development hell for so long. If it doesn’t turn a decent profit on its comparatively modest budget, it could cool future enthusiasm for similar movies. Not helping things is the fact that it was just banned from China, with sources saying there’s no way to cut down the objectionable content without decimating the plot.

That said, The Dark Knight didn’t see a Chinese release either, and the studio was just fine without it. Besides, from a purely fanboy perspective, this movie isn’t about the money anyway; it’s about watching a clinically insane, fourth-wall-breaking, super-powered badass stabbing and shooting things while making with the funny. On that front, Deadpool looks ready to deliver in bloody spades.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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Release Date: March 25th
Company: Warner Bros.
Outlook: Do you bleed? You might.

Without a doubt, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is the one we’ve all been waiting for. Marvel or DC fan, doesn’t matter — the fact that we’re going to be seeing The Dark Knight battle the Son of Krypton on the big screen is chill-inducing. It’s just a shame that, so far, there hasn’t been a lot to inspire pure confidence in what the movie as a whole will provide.

I was probably one of the few who wasn’t immediately put off by Ben Affleck’s casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman. If anything, I was more concerned with Zack Snyder being handed the reins of setting up the entire cinematic world of the DC Extended Universe. Trailers released so far have failed to assuage that unease. Much like Man of Steel and the movie’s own title, BvS:DoJ looks to be overstuffed: Big effects, thin characters, and loose plot all serving to get iconic characters creating lots of destruction and explosions up on the screen. I’m super intrigued by the Batman storyline, what with the Robin suit hinted in the trailer. Unfortunately, it’s worth wondering how much of that can really be explored in a film that also has to carry his fight with Superman, the introduction of both Wonder Woman and Aquaman, and the actual battle with Lex Luthor (apparently played largely with clowning unappeal by Jesse Eisenberg) and his monstrous creations.

And oh, the monstrous creations. Did Snyder/WB really have to reveal Doomsday? Snyder said showing the ogre villain was a way to tell audiences “there’s also a bigger world to start to think about,” which is sort of explaining the obvious. Besides, Bats and Supe are clearly going to team up — that’s how the Justice League works! Now filmmakers are hinting that there’s yet another surprise bad guy in there (rumors have swirled about the backwards Superman, Bizzaro, plus we’ve already seen teases of a “dream sequence” involving Darkseid), as if to say the trailer hasn’t given away all the surprises. Even if that’s true, it’s just more weight on a film that already looks to have squandered one of DC’s most ferocious and threatening villains and stuffed too much onto the reel.

What’s more, after rewatching the first Avengers trailers, I wonder if WB gave up a lot of the ghost too soon. The BvS trailer seems to be built along the same arc as we might expect from the film. With so many key moments all but spoiled, my excitement to go into the theater is simply at nerd joy and not necessarily looking forward to what could be a great feature. After all, I sort of already feel like I know what happens and that I’ll be unsatisfied with what’s been kept from me. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

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Captain America: Civil War

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Release Date: May 6th
Company: Marvel
Outlook: Ready? Fight!

After eight years of Marvel on the big screen, they can still make me excited for their films. Captain America: Civil War will be the fifth blockbuster to star Chris Evans as Cap, and I’m probably more hyped for this one than I was for First Avenger or even Age of Ultron. Considering how incredible this one looks, that’s not really all that surprising.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo became Marvel’s new golden children after Captain America: Winter Soldier, and with good reason — that is by far one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Russos have mastered the Chris Nolan trick of making a superhero flick that also holds up as a strong film. Here, their playground is even wider as they’ve got the entire MCU to toy with. Of course, that runs the familiar risk of overcrowding, but they have an advantage that Snyder and BvS:DoJ don’t in that these characters are already established. We don’t need Iron Man’s background the same way we do Batman’s, so that’ll allow the characters and story to progress more naturally.

Already knowing all the players so well also raises the personal stakes of seeing them fight. We’re not watching them duke it out over some misunderstanding or petty squabble (as in Avengers or Ant-Man), but over beliefs and moral opinions, which makes for a far more interesting battle. True that Bat and Supes’ confrontation could also be construed as a moral one, but I don’t know that I’ll care enough about either hero to care about their disagreement. Having Bucky act as such a central motivator for Cap also grounds the conflict in relatable human emotions.

On the flip side, CA:CW and BvS share the onerous task of introducing two new characters to a universe. Again, the overall advantage is that said universe is already established here, and with Black Panther being an African king, he can be worked into the politics at the core of Civil War’s plot with relative ease. The big, exciting question mark is Spider-Man. There’s every chance we could get a one-and-done scene with Tom Holland that has that forced, Thor-in-a-pool feeling. But at least it’s a more exciting introduction than Aquaman. (Kidding. I’m super pumped for Aquaman; he’s just such an easy target.)

X-Men: Apocalypse

xmen Whos Next? A Preview of Comic Book Movies in 2016

Release Date: May 27th
Company: 20th Century Fox
Outlook: Does bigger equal badder?

Why is it that every third X-Men movie feels the need to go so completely for broke? The first time around, X-Men: The Last Stand took on (and completely botched) the Phoenix Saga. This time out, they’re going with the biggest, baddest evil mutant of all: Apocalypse. He’s one of those characters fans have been waiting forever to see translated to the big screen, so there’s a heavy burden in pulling it off.

Thankfully, Bryan Singer actually stuck around this time, and they cast the invariably incredible Oscar Isaac as the title villain. Off to a good start, but things get tricky when you look at all the threads going on here. X-Men: Apocalypse introduces us to younger versions of mutants we’ve already met (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler) while also giving us (supposedly) accurate takes on comic favorites we’ve seen muffed before (Psylocke, Angel). Plus, we still have to follow up on the characters we’ve grown fond of through First Class and Days of Future Past. That’s a lot to cross stitch together in a way that feels gratifying, and we’ve seen similar patterns fall apart before in the threadbare Last Stand.

It’s not just making these new characters seem “cool” and exciting, either, as there are deep personal relationships that warrant exploring. Cyclops is Havok’s brother; Nightcrawler, at least in the books, is Mystique’s son with Azazel (who was in First Class); and there are at least three romances that will require attention (Cyclops and Jean, Mystique and Beast, and Xavier and Moira MacTaggert). The movie can throw as many cool-looking mutants, powers, and effects as it wants at us, but if it can’t put forth characters and a story worth following, it could easily fall towards X-Men Origins: Wolverine in the rankings of X-Films.

Odds are that won’t happen, but there’s always the chance. Like BvS:DoJ, I’m not entirely sold yet on this one; unlike that distinguished competition, however, Fox and Singer have earned enough trust that anticipation exceeds nerves.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

turtles Whos Next? A Preview of Comic Book Movies in 2016

Release Date: June 3rd
Company: Nickelodeon/Paramount
Outlook: Bummer, dude.

I actually tried to start a “#NoBayNoPay” boycott over the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. Michael Bay had already ruined one beloved childhood franchise, and seeing him blow his huge-budget, low-quality CGI load all over another even more dear to my heart was mortifying. (I know he didn’t direct, but his hands are all over this.) A cheap, soulless, illogical shell of a movie, the film proved all my fears warranted. I’ve since resigned myself to the fact that these things will keep making money, and they’ll keep getting made. But I don’t have to like it.

A typical response to gripes about this franchise is that it’s a kid’s movie about comic ninja turtles, so why expect anything too serious? Well, so was the 1990 movie, and that thing still holds up today as a well-made, entertaining film. And heck, every comic book movie is a “kids’ movie,” but that doesn’t mean Avengers is any less enjoyable as an adult. Besides, if this were really a pure kids film, would Megan Fox have ever been cast? Would that scene in the trailer of her tying her shirt up all sexy ever have been filmed? Would Mikey have ever uttered, “I feel my shell getting tighter” in the first film? So, no, I’m not going to accept that this is a children’s movie, and it doesn’t have to be a great film on top of it, because we’ve already had a long history of that not being the case.

As for Out of the Shadows, on one hand, my nostalgia cortex is simply burning at the idea of Bebop and Rocksteady. On the other, oof, do they look terrible. Rewatch that scene in the trailer where Rocksteady chases Casey Jones (who could turn out to be this film’s saving grace or worst wasted opportunity) — it looks like 1960’s claymation. It’s also pretty clear that we’re going to see Krang, indicated by the Turtles bouncing between spaceships at one point. Whether it’s the Utroms from the comics or the invaders from Dimension X from the original cartoon is anyone’s guess, but either way, there’s no reason to expect its presentation to be any less cringeworthy than Shredder in the first one. Plus, adding aliens to the plot can’t possibly make it any more sturdy than the first’s slipshod structure.

Let’s be clear: I have no problem with these films referencing the TV show(s) over the books (past or present), and I have no problem with the general target audience being younger. But that doesn’t have to come at the sacrifice of logic or the qualities of a truly decent movie, and I just don’t see this being that.

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Suicide Squad

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Release Date: August 6th
Company: Warner Bros.
Outlook: At least it might be a fun gunshot wound.

By and large, my previous impression of Suicide Squad holds true. Still, had you asked me a week ago how I felt, I would’ve said more intrigued than excited; after the recently released official trailer, the excitement bar has certainly risen. Part of that has to be credited to WB/DC taking a page out of Guardians of the Galaxys advertising playbook. (If only BvS had referenced CA:CW.) It was a smart play, especially considering the mixed reaction to the overly-serious Comic-Con preview.

The Queen soundtrack does a lot of that heavy lifting, but we get some compelling character insight too. I’m already endeared by Jai Courtney’s rascally Captain Boomerang. I can see myself warming to Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, although I’m worried her performance might actually become as eye-rolling as her last moment in the trailer (that gratuitous ass shot didn’t help matters); it may try too hard to rub her craziness in our faces, leaving her a sort of cartoonish adaptation of cartoon. Jared Leto’s Joker also titillates me more now, as we’re given peeks at a seriously deranged, awfully scary villain. (His character design, motivations, and role in the film still worry me considerably, though.) Even Will Smith’s Deadshot wins me over thanks to that pretty badass moment on top of the car.

Slow down, though, because I’m not a complete convert yet. From glimpses in the trailer, the “bad guy” in this bad guy shoot-’em-up appears to be a throwaway CGI mess who creates disposable foot soldiers with whatever that black ooze crap is everywhere. It’s possible it’ll end up being a worthwhile addition to the DCEU, but as of now, it doesn’t feel like anything more than Avengers’ Chitauri without a Loki to give it weight. It’s a MacGuffin personified, meaning we might not really care about the stakes here as much as the characters, which is fine only if the characters are really good.

There’s also still this very Hot Topic feeling that I can’t shake, and the neon font doesn’t help. I’m getting closer to chalking that up to a failure in marketing design than anything, though, as David Ayer seems to have crafted a pretty fun action flick. Whether it can hold up as a film that helps establish the DCEU (Joker, magic, the sheer number of characters) while also remaining an entertaining cinematic experience is still wait-and-see. But at least I’m getting more excited for the see bit.

Gambit

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Release Date: October 7th
Company: 20th Century Fox
Outlook: See you in 2017, mon ami.

Much like my reaction to Bat-Affleck, I’m actually pretty interested in seeing Channing Tatum as the Ragin’ Cajun in Gambit. (Comic movie fans should have learned a long time ago not to judge a film by its casting.) He can pull off the charm, the humor, and the action. The idea of Gambit as a “heist movie and a sexy thriller,” as Simon Kinberg described it, seems exactly right for the character.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll actually get to see how that all pans out this year. Technically, Fox still has the film on their schedule for an October 7th drop date, but after a director shuffle up that may or may not have ended with Doug Liman taking the job, and now a spring start date, it’s hard to imagine that target being hit. There’s still the chance we’ll get a cameo out of Tatum in Apocalypse —  sort of like how we’re getting our first glimpse at Spider-Man in Civil War, but without the fun of it being taken away like Doomsday — though that’s also unconfirmed.

Sorry, mon ami, but this one’s gonna be awhile.

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Dr. Strange

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Release Date: November 4th
Company: Marvel
Outlook: Magical.

Casting Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange was so on-the-nose that the announcement was almost uninteresting. Seeing the actor in character, though, had my heart doing jumping jacks. The beard, the cape, the tunic — the outfit is perhaps the most wonderfully recreated comic costume ever. (Points also to Sami Rami’s Spider-Man, and, yes, Bat-Affleck.)

Marvel’s casting just got better from there. Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One is not only inspired, somewhat daring casting, but it means Doctor Strange has the most base Oscar power of any MCU film since the original Iron Man. Thanks to Spotlight, you can add Rachel McAdams to that elite-level talent roster. (Mads Mikkelsen doesn’t hurt, either!)

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Marvel has historically been shrewd with actor hires, knowing that many of its odd properties could feel terribly gauche if they weren’t carried by the right people. Bringing magic and interdimensional demons into the MCU might be even more daunting than space aliens that look like walking trees, but credit the House of Ideas for having such a refined hand. The same can be said for bringing Scott Derrickson on as director. If nabbing an indie horror director worked so well for GotG, why fix what ain’t broken?

We don’t have much to go on yet for this fall flick, but there’s every reason to be as jazzed for Doctor Strange as we have been for pretty much every Marvel movie to date, perhaps even more so considering the surprise success of other obscure figures like Ant-Man. I’m looking forward to seeing what they conjure up for this one.

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Netflix Releases: Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones

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Release Dates: March 18th, TBA, and TBA
Company: Marvel
Outlook: Punishingly unbreakable.

Though not feature films, the fact that Marvel’s Netflix shows are set firmly in the same universe and could theoretically jump to the big screen (hello, Avengers: Infinity War) makes them worth mentioning here. So does the fact that so far, each of the series to come from this landmark deal has been spectacular.

First up would be the hotly anticipated March 18th release of Daredevil Season Two. While Charlie Cox and Rosario Dawson brought plenty to the first 13 episodes to make them as great as they were (Elden Henson’s Foggy was merely good, and Deborah Ann Woll was engaging more for her character’s history than her performance), it was really Vincent D’Onofrio‘s villain that made the show. With him out of the way, we can only hope for a new antagonist only half as fascinating. If gossip is to believed, Jon Bernthal’s Punisher should fit the part nicely. Word is he’s delivered such a winning performance that execs are already considering him for a spin-off series. Plus, there are rumbles that Bullseye might show up as a primary threat, and if the team that designed that hallway fight can come up with something half as dazzling for a DD/Bullseye throw down, it could be one of the best superhero battles in the entire MCU.

Oh, and Elektra’s coming, providing yet another level of deeply loved Daredevil lore getting the serialized treatment. We might not know a lot yet, but we know that anticipation is valid.

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Luke Cage will also probably see air sometime this year, as it’s currently filming with star Mike Colter. After his stellar debut as the character in Jessica Jones, there’s every reason to believe this will make it three straight home runs for Marvel/Netflix. He was charming, sexy, and powerful — both in performance and actual abilities — allowing him to steal almost every scene he was given. There’s also the fact that Colter will be the first black actor to lead his own superhero franchise since Blade (we can all agree Catwoman was a major failure), so there’s reason to keep an eye on this one even from a cultural perspective.

Then there’s Jessica Jones, which odds are won’t make it out in 2016, but still has a chance. Netflix renewed the series in January, taking slightly longer to do so than they did when renewing Daredevil. Still, Jessica Jones may actually have had a better first season overall, and it’s perfectly conceivable that Netflix was just waiting until the TCA winter tour to announce the pickup. Regardless, Krysten Ritter led an incredibly impressive initial run of the series, delivering the sort of female lead character the entertainment industry has long demanded. Jessica Jones never makes excuses for or adds undue emphasis to the gender of its characters, allowing them to unapologetically exist in a world where, yes, women can be high-powered, vicious prosecutors; strong, driven fighters who refuse to be victims; and tough-as-nails, super-powered detectives.

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With fascinating characters and riveting stories, Marvel has so far hit every possible mark with its Netflix shows. It’s been the violent version of the first four years of the MCU, where expectations were shattered, rules were rewritten, and the buildup to something bigger kept feeling more and more exciting. I’d say, “I can’t wait for The Defenders,” but in reality, I’m too hyped to see these next series to even get impatient.

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