Halftime Leisure

The Rise of the Shared Universe

October 20, 2014

The world of the blockbuster was turned upside-down this past week. First came the announcement that Robert Downey, Jr. would be joining Chris Evans in Captain America 3 to kick off Marvel’s “Civil War” arc. Then, as if on cue, DC announced its own plans for the DC Cinematic Universe. So who’s going to win? Probably everyone.

A “shared universe” is a group of loosely connected movies that share certain characters and plot points. The most famous example is, of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This cinematic juggernaut started in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, which turned into a runaway hit. The film jump started what would become known as “Phase One” of Marvel’s plan. Over the next four years, Captain America, the Hulk and Thor all made their appearances on the big screen separately, before coming together as an ensemble cast in The Avengers. The blockbuster set the stage for “Phase Two,” which, arguably, has been even more successful than Phase One. We’re currently nearing the end of Phase Two, (which included such hits as Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy.) As if this were not enough, next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron is set to become a box office smash.

Ever since Christopher Nolan’s sublime Dark Knight trilogy came to an end, DC has been searching for a way to keep up with Marvel’s phases. Last year’s Man of Steel was successful but did not make nearly as much money as DC and Warner Brothers wanted. The announcement that the Caped Crusader would join the Man in Tights in 2016’s awkwardly titled Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (which sounds like the best Supreme Court case ever) smacked of desperation. However, DC’s latest announcement could give it a leg-up on Marvel.

The highlights from DC’s announcement are as follows: A two-part Justice League movie, a Suicide Squad film, which is essentially DC’s version of the A-Team (potentially written and directed by David Ayer, of Training Day and Fury fame), a Flash film, a Shazam movie starring Dwayne Johnson as the villain, an Aquaman movie, and a Green Lantern reboot. Sound overwhelming? There are still two more films to go, and they’re perhaps the most important.

The first is a standalone Wonder Woman movie. Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman in Batman v. Superman to mixed acclaim, with many questioning the former model’s acting range. Still, Wonder Woman will be the first female-led superhero movie since Halle Berry’s horrid Catwoman back in 2004. The second film, a Cyborg movie, will be the first superhero movie to cast a black teenager as its sole lead. It’s inexcusable that Marvel still hasn’t made a Black Widow-centered movie. DC could potentially beat them with this move: a female-led superhero movie that would take great strides towards achieving gender equality in film.

Despite this, DC still indefinitely remains in Marvel’s shadow. The success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe came as a result of patience and careful planning. DC will forever be trying to copy it, and there’s every chance in the world that DC is rushing into trying to create a shared universe. Other studios are starting to take note: Universal recently announced that it would be creating a shared universe between its iconic monsters. Characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman would be facing off against each other. Sony is trying to create a shared Spider-Man Universe based off of the Amazing Spider-Man movies, with a Sinister Six movie uniting Spider-Man’s most famous villains planned for 2016.

Will these movies be successful? Regardless of their quality, yes. But at some point, the superhero movie bubble will burst. The market will become oversaturated, and Marvel and DC will be faced with cinematic failures. Until then, one thing is clear: The age of the sequel is over. The time of the shared universe has begun.

Photo: Joystiq

Graham Piro
Graham Piro is a former editor-in-chief of the Voice. He isn't sure why the rest of the staff let him stick around. Follow him on Twitter @graham_piro.

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Turd Turgenson.

In case you wanted a visual