Cycles Within Cycles
Current and continuing successes for the super hero genre may mean that this could be quite a tiresome cinematic cycle. Certainly, these are enjoyable blockbuster movies playing into comic book nostalgia and the new wave of geek/pop culture. The genre doesn’t halt at film, instead taking a popular foothold in television. Both Marvel and DC have footholds on the small screen, though the latter is significantly stunted by the campy CW network; how many times did I have to bear witness to Barry Allen crying because he is the fastest man alive who also isn’t the fastest man alive before I became exhausted chasing the super fast bore?
There too are recently somewhat smaller super endeavours, marked by shows such as Powers, Misfits, Heroes, and the upcoming super comedy Powerless. In more general graphic novel terms, we have experienced darker, markedly more mature works being adaptated for tv, including Garth Ennis’ Preacher, iZombie, Legion, Robert Kirkman’s Image comics (The Walking Dead and Outcast), Netflix’s forthcoming Punisher, spinning off the back of Daredevil season two with hopefully lots of continued reference to Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX series. Rumoured talks also exist of Brian K. Vaughn’s epic series Y: the Last Man being adapted, though we can pray that Will Forte hasn’t muddied the apocalyptic water with the cringe-inducing The Last Man on Earth.
We even got a brief peek at what a Vertigo’s Hellblazer adaptation would look like; Supernatural‘s foundation had been set long ago, with similar themes touching upon religion and myth, so it could be that the twelve season success rubbed off on John Constantine, as that stark, grungy feeling and social commentary of the 300 issue series was dulled so furiously it led to the show being cancelled after a mere 13 episodes. Such an iconic, chain-smoking anti-hero deserves better, and what do we have left but a brief appearance on Arrow‘s Workout Tutorials and the 2005 Keanu Reeve’s atrocity. So there’s that, right? Right!?
It would be safe to say that superheroes and graphic novel adaptations continue to dominate (or inundate) both the small and silver screens. Once in a while a change of pace or mixing of genre, as with Logan, results in film that transcends the simple boundaries of the exciting-come-cash-grabbing cycle. Forgettable Iron Fist forgotten, Marvel’s Netflix series, from detective neo-noir Jessica Jones to blaxploitation-based Luke Cage, offer audiences a quick detour from the cycle’s circle of forced humour and sky battles, opting conversely for street-level anti-heroes and action sequences that mirror that of Oldboy and The Raid more than the typical Man of Steel carnage.
However difficult it is to imagine, the superhero genre cycle will eventually finish, opening the gates for a new genre to have its time. Only time will tell concerning the nature of the cyclical finale; one would hope that the genre will go out on a high note with a bang. But, it’s just as likely that, if DC keep their course and track record of making fairly dull, poorly executed, incoherent movie messes cut to an eclectic soundtrack that ceases to stop, and Disney’s Marvel hits a dud or two out of the park as they insist on churning their butter past its sell-by date, we could be in for a hilarious conclusion, Green Lantern style.
Marvel’s Phase 3 has come and gone, and we can consult the list of films still slated for release and see that there are films planned for as late as 2020. As Paul Feige stated, the future of these films is comparable to a chess board – we may witness a checkmate before the intended end. One could posit what kind of cycle may yet follow the caped crusader genre, but I would argue that we have already had a much slower cycle turning like a cog underneath the metaphorical super-wheel.
If there is a film sub-genre is doing nearly as well at the box office, and more s critically, it’s the space genre. It is interestingly obvious to note that, of course, both the space and the super sub-genre fit snuggly underneath that of the science-fiction umbrella, heavily implying that the sci-fi genre is possibly the one of the most popular of genres for the average cinema goer. 3D excels with science-fiction spectacle, with fantastic worlds, amazing aliens and breath-taking set-pieces. It is strange that, only a few decades ago and arguably up until only fairly recently, science-fiction was a niche for the nerds. ‘Now look! LOOK AT ME! WITNESS HOW POWERFUL I HAVE BECOME!’
It is not to say that space movies have never before been popular, with Apollo 13, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Flash Gordon, yet it is not too difficult to discern where the current underlying cycle may have started. Until 2013, there were frequent flights of fancy into the final frontier, with films the likes of Pandorum, Moon, and Europa Report, to name just a small few. As subjectively good as these films are, none of them were big or bold enough to go where we had not been before and kickstart a new cinema trend to bring in the big bucks.
The release and major success of Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity marks the beginning of a possible new cycle of mature, authentic (or semi-authentic) space movies. Since Sandra Bullock was dizzyingly thrown around above the Earth’s atmosphere not four years ago, audiences have seen a dramatic increase of activity for the sub-genre, only with better-looking movies made more frequently than before. Star Trek Into Darkness and the sequel pull big stars and budget, regardless of the connotations that derive from the ‘Trekkie’ (the first 2009 film is not of concern due to the four-year hiatus, that failed to kickstart a sequel in good time, let alone a new cycle). Films that follow include Marvel’s own Guardians of the Galaxy films, which interestingly fit both sub-genres on topic, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar epic, Ridley Scott’s Golden Globe winning The Martian (for best comedy…), the star-based vehicle Passengers, where we find that big names don’t especially equate to big plots, and the recent Life.
Further, this is not to mention the continuation of two of the biggest science-fiction franchises, Star Wars and Alien, respectfully picking up after a universally hated trilogy (Are You an Angel?, I Hate Sand, and Killing Younglings) and a slightly convoluted origin story for the acidic alien. Spectators are soon to see how Alien: Covenant fares, but so far it’s looking promising. There has also lately been news that Neill Blomkamp (famous for District 9 and, well, District 9) will no longer be directing an Alien movie himself. Bets on whether Sharlto Copley would have starred are now off. Perhaps having little input in the Blade Runner sequel saw Scott wanting to return to helm at least one of his masterpieces in science-fiction.
As for Disney’s Star Wars, these films are too slated for release at least up until 2020, coinciding with Marvel’s superhero films. Of note is that fact that these current Star Wars films began releasing in only 2015, as opposed to Iron Man‘s cinematic universe-defining 2008 debut, so it is likely that audiences will become fatigued by space and Star Wars movies long after our superheroes have been pummelled into primordial jelly and laid to rest. Perhaps it could be argued that, as it’s all science-fiction, it’s all one, big cycle, but tights and capes may not be turning in the washing machine at the same time or the same speed as our deep-space adventures.
In short, though it makes less of a bang than thunder gods and green giants, the space genre cycle is very much evident under the rippling surface of the Hulk’s celery-coloured stomach. The new Star Trek: Discovery television series is set for release this year, and The Expanse adaptation is going well on Netflix. It is likely that new space films will continue to ride off the success of The Martian and Gravity and the bigger franchises that have a few years of extraterrestrial life yet left in them.
The Film Fanatic