If 2007 was the year of the sequel, 2008 is the year of the superhero movie. With the obvious money to be made in the genre, production companies are buying up and churning out as many big-screen adaptations as they can, some with skill and respect for the source material, some with hasty disregard for anything than can be remotely described as quality. There have been some phenoms (Spider-Man) and some stinkers (Catwoman), but there’s no shortage in new material. Here’s my best attempt at a rundown of what you can expect to see (or avoid) in 2008, bypassing the fanboy BS and campy (Marvel vs. DC) loyalties.
Release Date: March 28
The Gist: A parody of superhero movies, in the same spirit as Epic Movie, Date Movie, Scary Movie, etc.
Why it might be great: Not much is going well for this one, but there have been enough superhero movies in the last few years (both good and bad) to provide ample material ripe for parody.
Why it might be terrible: Nearly all of Craig Mazin’s “parody” films are terribly received, but due to a low production costs, these movies don’t need mass appeal to turn a profit. Mazin’s last film, Epic Movie, is still listed as one of the worst movies of all time on IMDB and RottenTomatoes. Superhero! has been plagued by production problems since 2004, and rumors originally suggested it may be shut down completely. Now that it’s officially going to make it to the big screen, what plot and casting information that has been made public seems to be a lot of the same old material. The film stars Leslie Nielsen, whose comedic career has come crashing down since the days of The Naked Gun and who has become the official poster-boy for bad parody films.
Why I will never see it: Parody is not as easy as Mazin seems to think it is. Like every “Movie” movie to come out since the original Scary Movie, this one will have the same pitfalls. Instead of clever parody, it will probably be full of simple references to other films with poop jokes thrown in.
Release Date: May 2
The Gist: Billionaire Tony Stark is injured, kidnapped, and forced to build a weapon for extremists in Afghanistan, but instead builds a powerful suit of armor that both gives him super abilities and keeps him alive. Upon returning home to America, he becomes “Iron Man,” while his political and business connections foster more threats to deal with.
Why it might be great: Stark is not a typical good-natured superhero. In fact, he’s not even a good person at first. There’s strong potential to see a deeper origin story that most comic movies present. Downey’s personal life has hurt his career at times, but may actually help add credibility to the character of Stark, who battles similar personal demons. Samuel L. Jackson is Nick Fury, so we already know who is in charge of the comic relief. The single image of Iron Monger leaked online shows promise for a kick-ass climatic battle.
Why it might be terrible: Jon Favereau has limited experience as a director, and even then his focus has mostly been on comedy and family-friendly action (Zathura). The screenwriters don’t have any major films to their credit. Despite massive budgets and big names in starring roles, most Marvel adaptations have missed the mark in recent years.
Why I’ll see it in theaters: Iron Man’s story is more complex and has more real world attachments both to politics and corporate America, which, when coupled with power based on creativity and intelligence rather than being simply “super,” may give the genre a much needed entry that is both grounded and believable.
The Incredible Hulk
Release Date: June 13
The Gist: After the poor reception Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) received, Marvel has decided to reboot the series in a new direction. It says a lot about the film when the series is given a reboot in half the time it took DC to recover from Batman and Robin. Lee’s attempt to give emotional depth to a character that did not need it came off as pretentious and artsy, a bad combination for the superhero film genre. Somewhere along the line, Lee forgot people who were fans of the character wanted to see “Hulk smash,” not “Hulk has unresolved issues with his father and is struggling to understand himself as well as his powers.” To stop the eyes rolling from critics and fans alike, Marvel quickly hit the reset button. The new film disregards the first film (and its cast) entirely and follows Dr. David Banner (Ed Norton) as he searches for a cure for his condition. Banner must simultaneously battle his own condition while facing the threat of Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), a former KGB agent who transforms himself into The Abomination via the same gamma radiation that created The Hulk.
Why it might be great: Marvel’s quick decision to reboot the series shows they (hopefully) learned from their mistakes and are looking to cater to their fans this time around. The casting choices, particularly replacing Eric Bana with Ed Norton, shows promise for strong performances, and Roth rarely disappoints. Pitting the Hulk against an arch-rival also promises to improve the action quality. The effort Marvel is putting into this one to show they can get the story right may pay off in the end.
Why it might be terrible: The first one suffered from too much effort going into creating a false sense of depth for character who didn’t need it, and the reboot may suffer from too much effort going in the opposite direction. In an effort to separate themselves from the original, the filmmakers may go too far and make a film that is so cheesy that it insults the intelligence of their fans (see Daredevil, Elektra, Catwoman.) Like the first one, this film is shaping to be highly dependent on CGI for action sequences, and the cartoon-like Hulk (and possibly Abomination) may not look anywhere as cool as people hope they do.
Why I’ll wait for the DVD: Though this film will undoubtedly be better than its predecessor, the Hulk has never had the same appeal as more complicated superheros. Lee’s failed attempt to force complications upon the character showed how unnatural it seemed, and though Norton will certainly do better than Bana as Banner, the story is still shaping up to be a CGI-slugfest and not much more (we all know there’s no way Marvel is going to “cure” the Hulk.)
Release Date: July 2
The Gist: Will Smith is Hancock, a superhero who has seen better days. He’s not the public superstar he once was, and has turned to booze and womanizing to dull the pain. While trying to regain some of his prior glory, Hancock must deal with his personal demons, which include having an affair with a married woman (Charlize Theron).
Why it might be great: Peter Berg is writing/directing. Previous works like Friday Night Lights prove he’s capable of taking a unique look on a common topic with great results. The story of Hancock is not based on any comic or previous story, though the idea of a superhero dealing with realistic personal demons rings of Watchmen. Whether or not the film is heavily dramatic or comedic, Will Smith has shown enough range in the past to cover both. The unique story could provide a refreshing look at the life of superheroes that is missing from most other movies in the genre. Just because someone has a heroic job doesn’t mean they are a good person, and like with Iron Man, a serious look at the differential could be a nice change.
Why it might be terrible: This could very easily be the next My Super Ex-Girlfriend with the genders reversed. Smith can have his funny moments, but an over-reliance on it could turn this into an amalgamation of Men in Black and Hitch. The original story could also hurt the film, as there’s no major fan base to guarantee opening weekend numbers or word-of-mouth buzz. These things won’t affect the quality of the film of course, but could still hinder its success.
Why I’ll wait for the first reviews to come in: Despite a relatively original story, Hancock doesn’t seem that interesting. Hancock‘s issues might be uncommon for superheros, but not for movies in general.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Release Date: July 11
The Gist: Hellboy, the demon raised by humans who works for a secret government organization to combat the supernatural, is back for more. This time, the Earth is threatened by the old gods and supernatural creatures of the old world, the world we have long forgotten. But in order to take back the world they once controlled, they’ll have to get through Hellboy and his friends.
Why it might be great: Guillermo del Toro is once again writing and directing the film. After the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro seems at the top of his game, and will likely bring the same look and feel the original film had to the sequel. Everyone is back, including John Hurt despite his character being killed in the first film, keeping the superb cast intact. Perlman is perfectly cast, and we’re likely to be treated once again to the costume design and makeup work that made the original look so incredible. It’s amazing what good costumes can do to set a film apart in the age of CGI, and Doug Jones has proven he knows how to bring the bizarre character of Abe Sapien to life with striking realism.
Why it might be terrible: Not much is going against this film. Even changing production companies due to Sony’s lack of faith in the series hasn’t significantly hindered production. The only real risk the film might be taking is the same one all sequels take, that it may try to do too much (with a whole army of creatures this time) and the plot may become convoluted. However, with del Toro at the helm, this seems unlikely.
Why I will see it: The first one was amazing, and all signs point to the sequel offering more of the same quality.
The Dark Knight
Release Date: July 18
The Gist: The sequel to Batman Begins (2005), the immensely successful reboot to the Batman series. Picking up where the first film ends, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) battles the world of organized crime in an effort to save Gotham City. The mob is in disarray after Batman’s efforts to take down mob boss Carmine Falcone. The ensuing underworld chaos gives rise to the Joker (Heath Ledger), who looks to seize control of the city’s crime syndicates. Meanwhile, Batman works with Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to maintain order and take down the criminal mastermind.
Why it might be great: This film has a lot going for it. All of the major players have returned for the sequel, both behind and in front of the camera. Most importantly, Christopher Nolan is once again writing and directing, and as one of the best young English directors working today, he is likely to bring the same dark, yet realistic and very human quality to The Dark Knight that made the original as powerful as it was. All his prior films have shown that Nolan cares more about his overall vision for film than its marketability, so there’s little to fear that this is simply a hasty and haphazard attempt to cash-in on a sequel. David S. Goyer was brought back to pen outlines for both The Dark Knight and a planned third film, hopefully preserving the continuity the original series lacked throughout. Bale is arguably the best Batman ever, and Gary Oldman has shown to be a fantastic choice as Gordon. The only change up in the cast (Katie Holmes being replaced with Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes) will likely prove to be an upgrade. The Batman mythos has been invigorated by the most realistic approach ever taken, and seeing the origins of both The Joker and Two-Face may prove the best yet. Reports speculate that Nolan gave Ledger a copy of Alan Moore’s immensely popular one-shot The Killing Joke as source material for his character study.
Why it might be terrible: A lot of pressure is already mounting on Ledger for portraying one of the most famous comic book villains in history and doing so in the shadow of Jack Nicholson. Talk has begun already that Ledger sounds like he is trying to imitate Nicholson’s performance. It’s likely some fans will not like his performance regardless of how original it may be. Even if the remaining aspects of the film are strong, it’s likely this film’s reception will be based mostly on Ledger.
Why I will see it immediately: There’s no good reason not to. Nolan and Bale alone are almost guaranteed to make this film amazing. What has been shown already promises this one will be darker than Tim Burton’s original film.
The Punisher: War Zone
Release Date: Sept. 12
The Gist: Even though this film is officially a sequel to the 2004 film, none of the original cast members are returning, including Thomas Jane as Frank Castle/The Punisher. This time around, Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) is at war with organized crime in New York City, pitting him against disfigured mafia assassin Jigsaw (Dominic West). Plans for a sequel were announced before the original hit theaters, and Jane was attached to the project until early 2007, when he left citing creative differences. Jane originally turned down the role as well a part in the X-Men series, reportedly because he doesn’t feel he fits the superhero archetype.
Why it might be great: Even with the loss of Jane as Castle, Stevenson’s talents have been showcased before in Rome and he definitely looks the part. The inclusion of Jigsaw will likely give the the series a boost with two arch-enemies combating one another.
Why it might be terrible: Barring reboots or sequels that are made decades apart, changing stars between films is usually a bad sign of things to come. Val Kilmer and George Clooney can vouch for this. Jane had originally expressed enthusiasm over the sequel, but left the project after nearly four years of script problems.
Why I’ll wait for the DVD: Even the best efforts to adapt the Punisher character can barely raise him above the typical shoot-em-up movie cliches. There’s still some entertainment value there, but it’s unlikely to match the quality of the comics.
So there you have it. Rumors abound about other superheros who may grace the silver screen in 2008, but without solid news of production, there’s no certainty of when, if ever, we may see them. One thing’s for sure, even if every film on this list is poorly received, there’s likely to be more behind them in 2009.