2014 is shaping up to be the biggest year for comic book movies since at least 2013, with a whopping eleven theatrical features being released between January and December (August, in particular, is going to be a busy month at 24 Panels HQ!). Join us as we share our thoughts on each of these upcoming films, and be sure to let us know what films you’re most looking forward to this year. Write to us on Twitter @24panels.
The Film: I, Frankenstein
The Comic: I, Frankenstein by Kevin Grevioux
Release Date: January 24, 2014
Summary: In a dystopian world, two races of supernatural beings war with one another for ultimate control. An unlikely hero is caught in the middle with a secret that could sway the balance of power. This hero’s name is Selene—oops, wrong film—this hero’s name is Adam Frankenstein (Aaron Eckhart), the patchwork masterpiece of “mad” (cough—brilliant—cough) scientist Victor Frankenstein, who granted immortality to the golem, Adam, and this secret is something the vigilant gargoyles and brutal demons seek.
This action thriller film has a look-and-feel that’s very similar to another supernatural franchise written by Grevioux. That movie is Underworld, if you didn’t pick up on that already.
Now, for those unfamiliar with the graphic novel of the same name, you could presume that Grevioux was adapting the comic to film using a proven formula that worked for his Underworld series but that surely the comic story itself is something entirely different. What if I told you that you’d likely be wrong though because the comic was also written by Grevioux. Not only was it written by him, it was produced by him under the Darkstorm Studios comic imprint… which he started up in 2006.
I think it’s fair to say that the structure of this film was very much influenced by Grevioux’s experience and success with Underworld. I, for one, am excited by that association. For others who may not have enjoyed the Underworld franchise, there’s a good chance this movie won’t do it for them either.
Prediction: The comparison to Underworld is too easy to make. This deals some good and some bad omens for this film.
To start with the bad: if it’s anything like the Underworld series of films, it will deliver on visual style and action spectacle, and make the story elements either a derivative paint-by-numbers experience or overly convoluted, but fail to find the golden spot in the middle.
For the good: for those who just seek out a simple, competent, action romp instead of a super-hyped, blockbuster powerhouse once in a while, then this film is what I’d consider a masterpiece of its kind. Underworld may score horribly on sites like Rotten Tomatoes, but the reality is that, collectively, the franchise returned a profit nearly three times greater than their budget internationally, and most of the films score near 80% in terms of audience enjoyability (all but Underworld 3).
I believe Grevioux excels at writing screenplays that a) result in cinematic failures to movie critics, b) promise a rewarding visual spectacle to the average audience, and c) promise a return on investment to producers and studios.
I believe I, Frankenstein will greatly outperform any of the Underworld films, and it will certainly do well enough to give us a sequel in 2017. Whereas all the Underworld films had an R rating, I, Frankenstein is PG-13; this detail alone will draw in a younger audience that the former franchise couldn’t take advantage of—especially the high school movie goer demographic, who tend to transform weakly constructed films into outrageous box office performers in the last decade. I, Frankenstein has the potential to become a solid player in the adventure horror franchise over the next 10 years… and I, for one, will be at each, and every, opening to cheer it on! (Nuno XEI)
The Film: 300: Rise of an Empire
The Comic: Xerxes by Frank Miller
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Summary: Following the events of 300, Xerxes and his army continue their efforts to conquer the Greek city-states, starting with Athens. Defending Athens is Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), who commands the city’s navy. However, in order to overcome the threat of Xerxes, Themistocles may need to turn to Sparta, whose own troops have already confronted Xerxes forces before.
When Zack Snyder’s 300 was released in 2007, the film made a pretty big splash in popular culture. Vapid, violent and stylish, the film’s rather simplistic nationalism and problematic subtext struck a nerve with audiences still early in the process of coming to grips with the events of September 11, 2001. A sequel was a given.
Somehow though, it has taken seven years for a sequel to appear, and it is hard not to feel that the time for 300: Rise of an Empire has passed. Beyond the fact that the political and cultural landscape has significantly changed since 2007, the style which helped 300 make its mark has been imitated to death in film (Immortals) and television (Spartacus) in the years since its release.
Not helping matters are the changes both in front of and behind the camera on this film. While Snyder is involved with 300: Rise of an Empire as a producer and writer, directing the film this time out is Noam Murro, director of the 2008 comedy/drama Smart People. While it is unfair to judge his work based only on the trailers, thus far Murro appears to be a merely aping Synder’s style, with nothing thus far suggesting that he has brought anything new to the table (save the colour blue). Meanwhile, the bulk of the cast from the previous film is nowhere to be found. While Eva Green is a major catch for the film, will audiences embrace Sullivan Stapleton as they did Gerald Butler?
Prediction: Given these issues and questions, I’m expecting 300: Rise of an Empire to be a dud both with audiences and critics. The film will likely make its budget back, but Warner Brother’s executives had better not be expecting the smash success that was the original. (David Babbitt)
The Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Release Date: April 4, 2014
Summary: Captain America gets his first standalone adventure in present day with The Winter Soldier. As Cap acclimates himself with the 2010s, he faces a new threat and might not know who he can really trust. Looks like we’ll get way more S.H.I.E.L.D. action and lots of espionage. We covered the trailer for this one pretty extensively not too long ago—read that here.
Prediction: I think The Winter Soldier could be the surprise of the summer. We’ve got a pretty good sense of what to expect from big hitters like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past, but The Winter Soldier is a wildcard. It looks markedly different than other Marvel films, especially its predecessor. Marvel honcho guy Kevin Fiege cites the (great) ’70s political thrillers The Parallax View, All the President’s Men, and Three Days of the Condor as reference points for this film, which has me very excited; appropriately, the tone of the film looks a little more sombre, the cinematography a little cooler. I also think we’ll get a better sense of Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers here, and I have a feeling I’ll really dig the direction they take with him—he’ll need to distinguish himself further from other Avengers headliners like Robert Downey Jr and Chris Hemsworth. Evans was The Avengers’ secret weapon, so I’m looking forward to seeing him develop this summer. (James Hrivnak)
The Film: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Release Date: May 2, 2014
Summary: Picking up sometime after the events of The Amazing Spider-Man, it looks like Peter Parker’s in for a big whoopin’ at the lightning hands of one Electro (Jamie Foxx), Rhino (Paul Giamatti), and possibly a Goblin who may or may not be green (and may or may not be Dane DeHaan or Chris Cooper). But nobody cares about that—just get to the charmingly awkward banter between Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and Peter (Andrew Garfield) and I’ll be happy as a clam. The trailer looks to be emphasizing the action, which looks spectacular, but what works in Webb’s earlier outing has more to do with the chemistry between the actors.
Prediction: The marketing campaign for the original film (“The Untold Story”) may have slightly overplayed its hand—okay, that’s an understatement, but I’m a big defender of the film—and I think they’re actually underplaying it this time. They’ve got some surprises in store, to be sure. To be honest, I am expecting a decline in quality from the first film, but not necessarily because they’re stuffing in more (too many?) villains, but rather because it looks like they’re expanding the universe in a fairly grand way (building up to already announced spin-offs focusing on Venom and the Sinister Six). Spidey’s at his best when the stakes and consequences are more personal, and I doubt that new screenwriters Kurtzman and Orci get that. We all know whose death these films are building to, but I don’t think it’ll happen in 2. Expect this one to end with a cliffhanger! (Dru Jeffries)
The Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Release Date: May 23, 2014
Summary: Remember how everything was supposedly fine and dandy at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand? Yeah, turns out in the years since things have kind of gone to hell. Sentinels — giant robots built by humanity as a weapon against mutants — have been laying waste to mutant kind with extreme prejudice, leaving the world a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Luckily, Chuck Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen) have cooked up a plan to try and save the world by changing the past. To this end, the pair send Logan (Hugh Jackman) back in time to the not-quite-as-hellish 1970s in order to recruit their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) to change… something. Along the way, expect to see half of Hollywood starring as your favourite (and not so favourite) X-Men characters!
Like the James Bond series prior to 2006’s Casino Royale, the X-Men series of films have been in something of a rut. Once, Fox’s X-Men films were the trendsetters of the superhero genre, but that crown has long since been handed over to Marvel Studios, whose big risks have engaged audiences and critics, even when they haven’t exactly panned out.
Days of Future Past though, Fox appears to be bent on getting the X-Men franchise back in the game. By finally incorporating some of the wilder elements from the comics such as the Sentinels, bringing back director Bryan Singer to the series, and utilizing a time travel plot which will allow for a Star Trek-style meeting of the original X-Men cast and the cast of X-Men: First Class, Fox seems intent on the film being nothing less than a major kick start for the franchise, WITHOUT taking the lazy route of simply rebooting the series. And while the cast of thousands, time travel plot and (presumably) grandiose action could result in a mess of a film, the emphasis on character and theme in the initial trailer makes a strong case that the film is going to be far more than empty spectacle.
Prediction: Days of Future Past is going to be the film to beat this summer, both financially and creatively. (DB)
The Film: Hercules: The Thracian War
Release Date: July 25, 2014
Summary: Hercules has faced the Twelve Labors which ultimately robbed him of his family. His lineage has brought him nothing but torment, and this causes the hero to turn to becoming a sell-sword. Hercules bonds with an ensemble of anti-heroes and come face to face with the depths of their depravity when they work together to train an army, and make them as bloodthirsty as they are, in order to overthrow a tyrannical warlord for the King of Thrane and his daughter.
What will surprise people is that this will be like no other Hercules seen on film (at least I don’t think so anyways). The comic grounds the Greek myth and legend within a gritty and grounded reality. This version will be more akin to Conan than anything Greco-Roman influenced that’s come before. This is Hercules as maniac, wearing the golden hide of the Nemian Lion, a vessel of rage and intimidation. This is a Hercules who embraces being a sword for hire and a pit fighter for glory.
This film is still unrated and is devoid of a trailer. I can only gander a guess that they were avoiding any possible confusion with the upcoming Hercules: The Legend Begins (which looks to be the exact opposite of what The Thracian Wars will be). I can’t see The Thracian Wars rated as anything but R. If this movie is out to model itself after any predecessor of the same ilk, it’ll be 300, one of the top R-rated movies of all time, and a movie that was epic, violent and distinctly targeted at an adult audience. It’d depress me to learn differently in a month or two when trailers start to get leaked to the public.
Prediction: It won’t break any records, but it’s got Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson leading is his own potential action-adventure franchise series, and that’s going to mean something. It’s inevitable. The dude’s got presence and charisma, he’s a crowd pleaser. As far as wrestler-actors go, he’s a goddamn prodigy.
That Brett Ratner has taken time away from directing his next Mariah Carey video to direct this movie doesn’t bother me. The obvious association for CBM fans would be to bring up X-Men: The Last Stand with grumbles, and pouts, and a series of feet stomping. Listen, X3 may be considered the worst of the original trilogy, but in the context of all X-Men (and Wolverine) flicks to date, it’s the highest grossing film of the stack. So critics aside, this movie will make a lot of money. Period.
That this movie is based on a comic by Radical Studios, one of the smaller comic publishers in the top tier market, means little to nothing in its marketing. What is worth saying, for background context, is that Radical is a unique publisher in that it focuses very strongly on delivering high quality, digital painting style art in its books. From the early days, back at San Diego Comic Con 2009, my perception of the company was that it was positioning itself for manufacturing properties meant to transition to other media.
I do have one concern, though: Radical Studios books lean heavily on the artwork to carry the story, which causes the script to under-perform. I’ll be curious to see if this issue migrates to the film version as well (see X3 comment above). Overall, I think this movie will do much better than people anticipate. (NX)
The Film: Guardians of the Galaxy
Release Date: August 1, 2014
Summary: I’m going to go ahead and steal this directly from Wikipedia: “In the far reaches of space, an American pilot named Peter Quill finds himself the object of a manhunt after stealing an orb coveted by the villainous Ronan. In order to evade Ronan, Quill is forced into an uneasy truce with a group of misfits including Gamora, Rocket, Drax the Destroyer and Groot. But when Quill discovers the true power of the orb and the menace it poses to the cosmos, he must rally his ragtag rivals for a last, desperate stand — with the galaxy’s fate in the balance.”
The Guardians of the Galaxy comic series was positioned as one of the leading titles in the “Marvel Cosmic” lineup of books, alongside Nova and whatever other miniseries was out to support whatever cosmic event was running for the year. During the Marvel cosmic event “Annihilation,” Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning pushed out a Nova miniseries that became a hit and triggered an explosion of activity over the next half decade. Abnett and Lanning were the major front-runners for running the line-up and taking on the majority of writing duties. The result was a very tightly crafted cosmic tapestry that intertwined countless cosmic concepts together in a way never done before.
Whereas the rest of the Marvel Universe was caught up in their Civil Wars and Secret Invasions causing an orgy of hero-fighting-hero absurdity, where some titles seemed to ignore the shattering events happening to the world around them, the cosmic line was doing the exact opposite. The cosmic books were building up cultures long forgotten in Marvel continuity, immersing underused cosmic characters into forefront plots to imbue them with new life, and for the most part, they were crafting a space epic that actually benefited off the line-wide event plots because each and every book provided additional context to the world building masterpiece.
It’s no surprise that the Guardians of the Galaxy movie is my most highly anticipated Marvel film of all time. For what it’s worth, to provide some context a general audience can understand, this team is essentially the “Cosmic Avengers” if you will… well, with a splash of Farscape and Star Wars thrown in the mix.
Prediction: This movie will destroy the summer blockbuster wannabes. Heck, this movie will likely overtake Iron Man 3 for the second spot on the highest-grossing Marvel cinematic universe flick. Hell!—I’d even go as far as to believe it will challenge The Avengers for the lead spot! Yes, I believe this movie will be that good!
Interlude Begin—Guardians of the Galaxy have Rocket Raccoon. Rocket is a hard-assed, war-hardened, gun-nut (the bigger the better), anthropomorphic raccoon. Think that’s a silly concept now, but just you wait—that CG character will own the screen and make screaming maniacs of children everywhere, and amuse adults in unsuspecting ways. Alongside his word-challenged companion, Groot, these two characters will be the “Hulk” of this film. Characters you’d think would provide the weakest offering to the whole but would return the most memorable entertainment bits.—Interlude End
Consider the seeds already planted from a marketing standpoint. The Infinity Gauntlet was seen in the Thor post roll in 2011. Thanos was teased as the post roll in The Avengers—the top returning Marvel flick to date in 2012. Many in the general audience gave a damn. Then the Aether was referred to as one of the Infinity Stones (“1 down, 5 to go”) in 2013. Once again, these hints leave the general audience clueless. On the other hand, the geeks are sent in to a frenzy, blogging wild to perpetuate the buzz for something major to come! What does this all lead to? Well, Guardians of the Galaxy. Drax the Destroyer was made for one purpose: to track, hunt, and kill Thanos. Gamora was saved and raised by Thanos. So, for the Marvel zombies out there, especially those of the cosmic variety, seeding Thanos as a Big Bad was an outrageous move because it suggested that Marvel was taking off its gloves (gauntlets, heh) off and wasn’t playing around anymore.
The Infinity Gauntlet/Thanos was a huge comic event back in 1991. It has meaning and weight and that teaser promised fans that the long-term Marvel movie plan wasn’t going to be restricted to Earth heroes and stories anymore. But here’s the most exciting aspect of this whole strategy: it showed that Marvel was committed to bringing unestablished properties from the obscure Marvel Universe to the general audience. They were going to take a bold chance and push themselves to deliver truly unique entertainment to their own Studio’s brand name. They weren’t even going to dip their toe cautiously in the pool water first—no, no fine people—no, they were cannonballing into the pool and getting the party started, for good or bad. That’s commendable and exciting. (NX)
The Film: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Release Date: August 8, 2014
Summary: This reboot of the Ninja Turtles franchise finds an alien race invading Earth and the accidental mutation of turtles who learn the ways of the Ninja. Plus, they’re teenagers. Details are slim on this so far, but it’s already seen its share of “controversy”—at one point, producer Michael Bay was attached to direct and wanted to drop the “teenage” and “mutant” aspects of the Ninja Turtles, to outcry from all corners of the internet. Now Jonathan Liebesman is in the director’s chair, which doesn’t instill a lot of confidence, since he’s mostly know for bad sequels to bad movies.
Prediction: The previous Ninja Turtles films were all quite family-oriented, or at least “soft” enough to be enjoyed by a range of ages. I’m not sure what the angle is on this one—though likely it’ll be a heavily-violent PG-13. A darker, more violent Ninja Turtles film would be more faithful to the original vision of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, but that may not be exactly what audiences are looking for. Anyway, I’m just speculating here. Regardless, the cast looks like they’ll be able to have fun with the material, particularly William Fichtner, Danny Woodburn, and Will Arnett. My only other question is what the hell is Whoopi Goldberg doing here? (JH)
The Film: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
The Comic: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For by Frank Miller
Release Date: August 22, 2014
Summary: In this anthology film follow up to 2005’s Sin City, audiences will be treated to four tales: “A Dame To Kill For,” in which Dwight (Josh Brolin) gets mixed up in murder and mayhem when he agrees to meet a former flame (Eva Green); “Just Another Saturday Night”, in which Marv (Mickey Rourke) has to piece together the chain of events which led to him waking up surrounded by dead bodies; and two original stories written for the screen.
Prediction: There was a time when a Sin City sequel would have had people foaming at the mouth in anticipation. However, whatever excitement a sequel might have generated is all but gone now, and it isn’t entirely down to the fact that it somehow took nine years to get the film into production.
Since 2005, the main men behind Sin City, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez, have managed to burn their respective film careers to the ground. Miller managed to prove he was no screenwriter or director with his 2008 film The Spirit, while Rodriguez has spent the last nine years producing trashy action films and children’s movies that look like they were intended for DTV, but somehow ended up in cinemas. As such, can audiences be blamed for being leery as to the film they’ll be getting?
That is, of course, if audiences even know the film is coming out. Originally set to be released last year, A Dame To Kill For was pushed back until August of this year, for unclear reasons. So far, no trailers for the film have been released, with the entire marketing for the film consisting of one still and a poster. Certainly, a bigger marketing push will come closer to the film’s actual release date, but given that August is going to see the releases of Guardians of the Galaxy, The Expendables 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the highly anticipated adaptation of The Giver, will A Dame To Kill For even managed to raise an eye brow from audiences? I think not. (DB)
The Film: Big Hero 6
Release Date: November 6, 2014
Summary: A loose adaptation of a rather obscure comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 is the first animated film from Walt Disney to feature Marvel Comics characters. The film will tell the tale of child genius Hiro Hamada who, along with his self-created robot Baymax, joins a group of crime fighters to protect San Fransokyo (I am not making that name up).
While there is pretty much next to nothing known about Big Hero 6 at this point, it is hard not to get excited about a Walt Disney animated film based on Marvel comic. Sure, even most comic book fans would be hard pressed to remember Big Hero 6, but that is partly what makes the film exciting. Unlike Marvel’s big properties, Disney cannot rely on name recognition to help sell the film, which suggests that those behind Big Hero 6 have found something of worth in the material, even if it is being loosely adapted.
Best of all? If Big Hero 6 works, chances are Disney is going to start digging even deeper into the Marvel vaults to find material worth developing into films. My hope for a Stilt-Man movie lives on.
Prediction: From a box office perspective, there is little doubt Big Hero 6 will hit it big, as the Disney marketing machine is a near unstoppable force. As a work of cinema though, I’m willing to bet that Walt Disney’s first dive into the Marvel Universe is going to produce something rather special. (DB)
The Film: Annie
Release Date: December 19, 2014
Summary: In this contemporary update/remake of the musical stage show (which itself was based on the classic newspaper comic strip about the adventures of a Depression-era orphan), Quvenzhané Wallis steps into the role of Annie, who is taken in by a billionaire (Jamie Foxx) looking to improve his image. New music for the film is being produced by rapper Jay-Z.
With many families still suffering from the fallout of the 2008 economic crisis, the political/cultural moment for an updated take on Little Orphan Annie is about as good as it is ever going to get. But is this take on Annie is going to tackle the economic realities of modern life in a meaningful way, or is it going to be a sugary sweet and utterly vapid musical which glosses over some very important issues?
Given that this project began life as a starring vehicle for child star Willow Smith right before everyone realized she wasn’t a star, it is hard not to view the new Annie as anything more than a calculated product at this point. The film does boast a heck of a cast—in addition to the already noted Wallis and Foxx, the film also features Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, amongst others—but it is a cast under the direction of Will Gluck (director of Friends with Benefits and creator of the perfunctorily named The Michael J. Fox Show, which is currently bombing on NBC), a director who has shown no signs of being anything more than a hired gun on studio films. At least it isn’t Adam Shankman (Hairspray, The Pacifier), I guess.
As for the Jay-Z factor, I have to plead ignorance. I know nothing about his work or style, so Annie is going to be the first time I’m exposed to his music. Feel free to fill me in on what I’ve been missing in the comments section, music fans!
Prediction: The last time Will Smith produced a film project for one of his kids, it was The Karate Kid remake. That film made a bucket load of money at the box office, so I’m not willing to bet against Annie being a hit with its target family audience, even if a Smith isn’t the star of the show. Will it actually work as a film though? I’ll have a better sense once I see a trailer for it. (DB)