Blockbusters in the Post-Avengers Cinemascape

Two months ago Marvel studios released Avengers: Endgame to great acclaim; both the critical kind, and the kind that transcends a review. A LOT of people watched this movie, and not because it’s a fantastic film (even though I would still say it sort of is). For ten years the MCU has been a snowball rolling down a hill; starting out tiny with Iron Man in 2008 and achieving massive size and velocity by 2018 with Infinity War. So many people were invested in the patchwork story by the time it hit the bottom of the mountain that the film broke records left and right. But this is the end of an era, as sad (or happy) as that may be. Yes, of course marvel still has contracts extending into the next decade — they wouldn’t be a movie studio if they quit while they were ahead — but this is the last superhero film that will be an event. Look at Dark Phoenix, statistically very few of you have seen it but you probably know what it is. This film absolutely tanked, only just breaking even and earning a paltry 34 million over the profit line at that. The story arc that the film is based on is one of the most significant comic book story lines of the Twentieth Century, Dark Phoenix should have been a smash. Whether or not people realize that the golden age of superhero movies has come to an end, they understand it subconciously with their moviegoing decisions. Maybe in ten years, we’ll get to see “revisionist superhero movies” but for now, the genre that catapulted from kitschy nerd-bait to the most popular in the world is going to take a break.

This isn’t all bad. Horror movies are definitely grabbing a piece of this newly open real-estate. Jordan Peele and his chilling thrillers are definitely going to be around for a while, and last month’s Brightburn was a pleasant surprise. What entered my periphery as a somewhat clever pitch (Superboy but he’s a serial killer) blasted into theaters with clever camera work, emotional performances, and a helpful bit of self-awareness. I legitimately want more of this; give us horror-movie Batman, shark-flick Aquaman, Wonder Woman and an army of Amazons tearing down the patriarchy one gory invasion at a time.

Chad Stahelski’s third installment in the John Wick franchise proved to be a smash both financially and critically. Writer Derek Kolstad trims the fat on this venture and eliminates anything that could possibly be labeled an exposition dump. Does this make some of the movie harder to understand? A little, but the missing chinks of information add to the overall experience by augmenting that air of mystique that surrounds Wick and his deadly world. This film gives me hope for the future of movies, but does make me wonder if Keanu Reeves’ undying work ethic is necessary for a project of this quality.

A big wide vacuum is going to open up in the middle of the film industry and though horror and action will try to squeeze in a little bit, the past few months have made it agonizingly clear what our next cinematic obsession will be: Jukebox Musicals. This is what Rocket Man became, what Bohemian Rhapsody wanted to be, and what the highly successful Mamma Mia franchise has been all along.

We should have seen this coming. Guardians of the Galaxy essentially redefined the classic rock canon, and Baby Driver captivated audience with its fluid marriage of music and action. La La Land is everyone’s favorite bit of Oscar Bait cinema, and The Greatest Showman broke records left and right. Music has proven itself to be extremely bankable; audiences like songs they can sing along to, or soundtracks they can listen to later on. This is what allowed us to be fooled into thinking Bohemian Rhapsody was a good movie (you read that right).

The musician biopic is nothing new at all, but Rhapsody has set a new precedent in its disregard for factual accuracy in service of a compelling narrative. This new breed of movies will not be designed to tell the story of an important artist, they will be vehicles for hit-song-based setpieces.

The explosion of these films has yet to happen, but we are sitting on the ticking time bomb. Later this summer we will see the release of Blinded by the Light; the story of a Pakistani kid growing up in England that becomes attached to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Next year, a Trolls sequel about six tribes, each devoted to different styles of music will hit theaters, with a hit soundtrack to boot, I’m sure. There’re also several broadway musicals being adapted to film next year including West Side Story. It would seem that the storm of music-based movies is going to come whether we like it or not. Maybe it isn’t all bad though. I love music and there could be a lot of fun to come out of this new trend. We may as well sit back and enjoy Starman, Dexter Fletcher’s inevitable David Bowie picture.

P.S. That last part is a joke, I couldn’t resist.

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