I’m Sick of Cinematic Universes

Today, I watched Universal’s feeble attempt at kick-starting its new “Dark Universe”, The Mummy. Unsure as to whether it wanted to be a horror, adventure movie or Tom Cruise action vehicle, the muddled and overstuffed turkey left me feeling cold and fatigued with the modern plague of shared universes. Within the confines of superhero films, the concept makes perfect sense: Comic books have always took place within a consistent, single space that allowed for equal parts crossover and self-contained yarns. The negative knock on effect of Marvel’s staggering success with their own media franchise, however, is that everybody wants to hop on this gravy train. DC’s response felt like a natural one, the historic competition between the undisputed titans of the genre called for these two opposing sides to duke it out, with The Avengers on one side and The Justice League of America on the other.

Not even superhero franchises are safe from failing with their own universe, Sony were eager to announce their numerous Sinister Six and Venom spin-offs ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. When ASM2 became the lowest-grossing Spidey flick in history, they were forced to reevaluate and lease the character to Marvel for Captain America: Civil War. After the overwhelmingly positive response to Tom Holland’s portrayal in that film, Sony have made it clear that they intend to press forward with their original plans, confirming the casting of Tom Hardy in a Venom solo movie. While not directly connected to Marvel’s money making leviathan, the common thread of Spider-Man will exist simultaneously in both worlds and factor into the web (this is where you laugh) of Sony’s plans.

If your head is hurting from trying to process how the same Spider-Man can exist in two separate cinematic universes that are not connected by continuity, then we’re in the same boat. The bloated mess of all this franchise synergy has caused fatigue to set in on a narrative technique that isn’t even ten years old yet. It is a sad indicator of such fatigue when I’m actually dreading the potential incoming universe that The Mummy is trying to usher in. The original Universal Monsters were the precursor of what we know as a cinematic universe, the blueprint, if you will. The crossing over of franchises was an unheard of exercise until the world was introduced to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, a groundbreaking film that deserves more credit for inspiring a commonplace trope today. There was once a time when crossovers felt special, a cinematic event that would unite characters from other worlds and have them either team up or test their mettle against one another.

I don’t want to sound overly nostalgic, but the pure overexposure of crossover movies had led to us taking them for granted. Ten years ago, we would have all collectively soiled ourselves at the prospect of Iron Man showing up in a Spider-Man film. Fast-forward to now, when we’re actually getting this fabled blockbuster, and the overall response to the marketing has been a unified shrug. What happened? Things like this should feel like the biggest cultural phenomenon of our time, instead it’s just another movie. Dr. Strange can have Thor cameo in the middle of the credits, and rather than being a mind-blowing moment, it’s just a funny little side gag that sets up Ragnarok. In 1993, the ninth instalment in the Friday the 13th franchise hit theatres, and was titled Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday. Despite the series overstaying its welcome and the movie itself not being good at all, I’ve read stories of audiences erupting with excitement, throwing their popcorn in the air and screaming at the top of their lungs at the final shot of the film. As the camera lingers on Jason’s iconic hockey mask, an equally recognisable prop in horror lore shoots out of the ground to pull the mask downwards towards damnation. That prop was the clawed glove of Freddy Krueger, as his chilling laugh is heard in the background. This was confirmation that Freddy vs. Jason was happening, and even though it would take ten years, just the thought of it had slasher enthusiasts chomping at the bit.

Had that movie come out today, it certainly wouldn’t have people at a fever pitch. The current climate of cinema has spoiled us with constant nods to other characters and events that have ceased to be Easter eggs to merely become commercials for the follow-up. This is one of the many reasons why Wonder Woman works so well, it is self-contained enough that someone with no knowledge of the other DC films can follow and understand it, but adds dimensions to the character of Diana Prince that the fan base can engage with in the upcoming Justice League. Our consumption of these blockbusters has made it so many of us will theorise over potential post-credits stings in the next Marvel movie, rather than what will actually occur in the film itself. People were legitimately mad over the Howard the Duck cameo at the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, despite the fact that it was tonally appropriate and served as a meta joke on the film being so far removed from the rest of the MCU that it could exist on its own merit.

I can’t deny the prevalence of the cinematic universe, as it’s undoubtedly the single biggest innovation in blockbuster filmmaking since the original Star Wars in 1977. But since Nick Fury first propositioned Tony Stark with the Avenger Initiative back in 2008, everyone seems to think that they can pull off Marvel’s once in a generation home run. Every other month, something will come down the pipeline about a new Transformers spin-off or fifty more Fantastic Beasts movies to link up with the incomparable Harry Potter juggernaut. It’s just gotten to be too much of what was once a good thing, and it has now inevitably soured. I’m all for seeing the Justice League on the big screen for the first time, or The Avengers fighting Thanos, but when it comes to connecting everything for the sake of it, can’t we just go back to letting a movie be a movie?

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Wonder Woman, Feminism, and the Two Most Important Women in my Life

The word “feminism” seems to be the single most offensive word in the English language if you’re to believe any Internet thread you might find yourself reading. Just bring up that dreaded F-word and the comments will light up with a stream of misogynistic vitriol that makes me wonder who hurt these poor people. Call me crazy, but I was raised to believe in the equality and inclusion of both sexes by my mother, and was told that this belief is called “feminism”. Obviously, silly old me then decided that I must be a feminist, but apparently, all feminists hate men and want to murder anyone with a Y chromosome so they can then dominate the Earth. Strangely, I’ve never met anyone that holds such a belief, clearly I’m running with the wrong crowd.

I proudly call myself a feminist, as does my mother, so our joint excitement for the upcoming Wonder Woman film is palpable to say the least. Wonder Woman is nothing short of an icon, and possibly the most significant contribution to feminism in the history of modern literature. She gave female comic book readers a Superman of their own, someone to relate to and idolise. I do find it outrageous, then, that of the five most popular superheroes of them all (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and Wolverine), the Amazonian goddess is the only one without their own movie franchise. All she’s gotten so far is the 1970s live action Lynda Carter TV show and an appearance in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The fact that the only mainstream superhero movie to be released with a female lead is 2004’s Catwoman honestly makes me a little sick.

Wonder Woman’s success is important to me and the women in my life, I want my mum to have her hero done justice on the big screen and I want my little sister to have that hero. The happiness I felt when seeing my mum’s reaction to Wonder Woman’s appearance in Dawn of Justice made me realise just how important this movie could be. As she drops down to confront Doomsday, leading the charge while flanked by Batman and Superman and being led by one of the best superhero themes possibly ever, I could hear an audible squeal. Looking over, I was treated to seeing my own mother jumping up and down with glee like a kid on Christmas morning, exclaiming, “Yes! She’s here! She’s my favourite! She’s my favourite! Show them how it’s done!”

Given that my mum is a fan of superhero movies and comic books in general, this was the most invested I’d ever seen her in a single moment from the genre, which is when it clicked for me. She’d never had her Captain America kicking the shit out of Nazis moment, nor had she fully experienced the majesty of Christopher Reeves’s Superman reversing time itself to save Lois Lane. For the first time ever, she was seeing a woman march into battle in a comic book movie, taking on the enemy at the front of the pack and stealing the spotlight from the two figureheads of the medium. It became apparent that it had been too long, the world needed its first Wonder Woman movie.

Then I look to the future generations of women, the age groups populated by people like my sister. In a time where America’s President can freely brag about sexually assaulting women, the empowerment of a female superhero is what young girls need right now. About a month ago, I saw a little girl staring up in awe at the Wonder Woman poster on display at the cinema I work in, a single image of the central character with the word “power” accompanying the title. This small child was being shown that there is indeed a power and a strength in being a woman, that she could grow up to inspire awe in girls her age. This experience stuck with me and put a smile on my face, this is the effect this film can have.

As my sister settles into the middle of the hell that is being a teenager, she is discovering more each day about the history of feminism. She’s learning the valuable lessons of independence and that it’s not okay to be treated as an inferior being because of your sex. The impact of Wonder Woman was felt when she asked me if I could bring home a poster of the film from work for her not long ago. I’d already reserved a poster for myself months in advance, but I knew that she needed it a lot more than I did. For me, it was a poster to have for the sake of having it, another cool design to add to my collection. For my sister, it was a symbol of female empowerment that she could draw her own might from. She’s never read a comic book in her life, and the only superhero movie she likes is the universally accessible Guardians of the Galaxy, so to see her take such an interest in one of my personal favourite characters touched me.

All of this is why I’m frustrated with the publicity that Wonder Woman is receiving. All I seem to see on the Internet is the apparent “lack of marketing” that Warner Bros. are doing for the film. I find this claim to be dubious at best, as I would think that numerous TV spots, posters and giant freaking billboards all over Times Square constitutes as strong marketing. We need to embrace the film for what it has the potential to do for women, and the audience that it can connect with in a way that no other superhero film has. I have full confidence in the success of Wonder Woman, and I frankly don’t care for what anyone has to say about feminist agendas or whatever nonsense that might be spouted. This is a movie that isn’t just long overdue, it’s owed to women the world over.

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