-- "Captain America: Civil War" was very well received by fans and critics, "Suicide Squad" was not. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" sits somewhere in between and for a 2016 that could have been one of the best in superhero films, it really didn't deliver -- at least yet.
We can debate whether this is the beginning of what Steven Spielberg predicted last year -- that eventually superhero films would go the way of the Western and disappear after audiences have had enough. The movies have dominated the industry ever since Toby Maguire took on the mantle of Spider-Man and Hugh Jackman became Wolverine -- more than 16 years in all.
But that's a longer debate that we can examine later, after we get a look at "Doctor Strange," "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," "Wonder Woman," "Spider-Man: Homecoming" and more over the next year or so. What we can examine now is what's happening on Netflix, over at The CW and other television networks.
Depending on what you're into -- if you like superhero mythology at all -- there's something for everyone. With streaming platforms quickly joining and possibly overtaking the major networks, fans and critics alike have said we are currently in a new golden age for TV. That's also true for comic book TV.
The CW is what it's supposed to be; a lighter, more positive network with shows like "The Flash," "Legends of Tomorrow" and now "Supergirl." Even "Arrow" has become lighter, having been a bit darker in its early seasons. Basically, Oliver Queen isn't killing bad guys anymore. But this works for The CW and fans know what they're getting before they tune in.
Then there's Netflix. Wow, this network truly is the Yin to CW's Yang and are making some remarkable shows that are NOT for kids. "Luke Cage" is out today and the reviews have been positive, calling the show and Mike Colter's Cage one of the most relevant superheroes around, especially with what's going on in this country in terms of race relations.
In addition, "Daredevil" has been a revelation and "Jessica Jones" has been a surprising deviation. Still to come are "The Defenders," Netflix's complement to "The Avengers," and "Iron Fist."
I'm the first to admit when I'm wrong and I wrote a column last year about 2016 being an epic year for superhero films. I may have missed the mark there, but I'm back and can honestly say, it's turned out to be a special year for superhero TV.
Is TV Just a Better Fit?
In the case of Netflix, show-runner and head of Marvel TV Jeph Loeb (Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, etc.) will tell you the streaming medium gives you the freedom to really try anything and craft the show into exactly what you want.
Loeb chatted with me earlier this year at the season 2 premiere of "Daredevil" and he gushed about working with Netflix, the lack of limitations, and the company's enduring support, no matter how controversial the subject matter gets. They also try not to compare themselves and their projects to the films and Marvel Studios, which is smart.
Though she doesn't live in the superhero world (at least for now), the same sentiments were also shared by Tina Fey, who created Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
Coming from writing "30 Rock" on a major network, Fey couldn't say enough at her show's premiere in New York (also this year) about the value of not having time restraints and working in the internet space. The content still has to be good, but Netflix produces shows that might not get made if not for the open platform they possess.
The best Marvel comparison is the most obvious one -- "Daredevil."
While Ben Affleck was unable to grab and hold our attention in 2003, Charlie Cox created a darker, more gripping Man Without Fear just last year. Season 2 (2016) upped the ante, introducing Jon Bernthal as The Punisher, a cult character in Marvel books that also never found solid ground in theaters.
Now, Bernthal is looking at his own spin-off and it's well deserved. The Punisher works so well on TV, where it was hard to market in films like Thomas Jane's 2004 attempt opposite John Travolta. Punisher is just a strange, but wonderful hybrid between an antihero version of Batman and Jason Bourne and that's a hard sell to the masses, especially today.
Netflix has also been able to avoid the pitfalls (re-shoots, studio involvement) that reportedly plagued "Suicide Squad" a few months back and which has allowed Bernthal to really shine in just a few episodes on the new-ish network. His solo scenes were incredible and looked to play up to his natural strengths as an actor, not altered to boost tickets sales or reactive to what fans have said.
Then you have "Jessica Jones." I cannot say enough about this show. It's entirely for adults, entirely brilliant and like nothing you have ever, ever seen before in superhero TV.
There are elements in "Jones" -- drinking, hooking up, you name it -- that you would never let your young child see and for good reason. It deviates greatly from the marketing for say a "Captain America: Civil War" or an "Ant-Man," both solid films, but nothing like this or say, a "Deadpool," another recent adult success. The only downside to the movie from 20th Century Fox is it took 10 years to make.
So, love it or hate it, you have to respect the chances Netflix and Marvel are taking together or apart. I mentioned Cage being lauded as one of the most relevant and timely superheroes we have.
Daniel Fienberg from the Hollywood Reporter wrote earlier this week that this latest Netflix offering is "vital and alive and of-the-moment" and described the show based in Harlem with a black superhero as "street poetry."
"It's the logical extension of Marvel's niche-y approach to its Netflix offerings, a specificity that has yielded shows that are far more provocative, but far less universally accessible than the company's blockbuster movies," he added.
I couldn't agree more.
Another element that is the case across any platform, Netflix, The CW, Fox, you name it, is the expectations are lower. And for good reason.
If you spend an hour at home and don't like an episode, there's always next week and it was essentially free or tied into your monthly cable cost. BUT if you wait two years to see Ben Affleck as the new Batman in a film that has been marketed and branded for as long, then spend $40 dollars for two people to check it out, you are bound to be disappointed.
I'm very passionate about these storylines and have spoken constructively with plenty of fans regarding "Dawn of Justice." I have seen the movie four times and have listened to passionate viewers who love what Zack Snyder brought to the screen or to the ultimate, clearer edition, which is 3 hours long.
To be fair, I think there are very solid, even brilliant elements in the film, but it was burdened with "The Dark Knight" coming out less than a decade prior, arguably one of the best, or the best, superhero films of all-time. So, it may just be a lose-lose situation for some of these blockbuster projects now.
There is no way to make everyone happy. For example, "Civil War" had rave reviews, but I know a decent amount of very talented, smart people who didn't like it or understand a lot of the characters and elements.
But in the case of a network like The CW, I'm just looking to escape and have a good time for an hour or so, and they've come through big time.
"Legends of Tomorrow" is for the die-hard fan (There's a market there) and "Arrow" has dealt with the hurdles any show would face after 5 seasons and will most likely rebound, but "The Flash" -- to me -- is head and shoulders one of the best shows on TV. Both seasons were compelling, surprising and more importantly ... FUN.
I waited each and every week to find out all about big bad guy Zoom this past year and was not disappointed at the reveal, even though I figured it out early. Now, with season 3, we get "Flashpoint" on Oct. 4! "Flashpoint!"
I won't spoil it, but this stand-alone season (an alternate reality of sorts) is classic CW and classic superhero TV that you could never get in a movie. It's such a fun, yet niche story-line in the DC world that it couldn't be the premise of a "Justice League" or solo "Flash" film. I'm not knocking the movies, it's just fact, this could only happen on TV or in like the fourth movie of a character's arc.
Ownership and a Different Perspective
And that brings me to my next point(s). Grant Gustin IS "The Flash," exudes his persona right off the pages of DC Comics and is beyond grateful for this opportunity. Let's be honest, A-list movie stars aren't always geeking out or beaming about their superhero role. Most often, it's a job. To Gustin, it's his life and it shows. (To be fair, Ezra Miller is also geeking out about his upcoming movie stint as "The Flash," but Gustin is just a solid example.)
From consistently sharing videos, pics, story-lines and more with his fans, Gustin epitomizes what a superhero actor should be. To his fans, Gustin is a superhero, which is why they were up in arms when he wasn't cast as the Scarlet Speedster in the films, as well. True to form, he took to Twitter to show respect to Miller and tell fans to give his counterpart a chance.
The same can be said for Melissa Benoist as "Supergirl" or Stephen Amell as the Green "Arrow," all actors who embody the characters and have a close connection with their fans. I also think that's exactly how The CW planned it.
Where the Netflix Marvel world is grittier and more mysterious, The CW has created an inviting world, where their stars are as approachable as possible.
Furthermore, they say variety is the spice of life and these days, superhero TV is a buffet of creative story arcs for enthusiasts. So, the TV variety doesn't have to be in a mutually exclusive set with the films.
Fans will decide who they like better as the Man of Steel next month when Tyler Hoechlin becomes Clark Kent on "Supergirl." They will obviously compare him to Henry Cavill, who is currently the brooding version in the films. But does this have to happen? I don't think so.
My point is if you don't want to debate TV or movies, you don't have to. There are millions who love watching "Agents of SHIELD" parallel to the Marvel films. The same can be said if you can't get enough Superman, or even Batman with animated arcs, critically acclaimed by the way, from the likes of Mark Hamill voicing the Joker in films like "The Killing Joke."
Fans can really dive head first into these worlds and enjoy them from every angle, with complementary offerings. The same can be said in regards to shows like "Rebels" for "Star Wars" fans, projects that fill in the plot gaps left by the films.
I hope he's wrong, but if Spielberg is on point and the clock is ticking on superhero films, hopefully TV can be the medium that keeps our heroes around in live action past changing box office trends.
Maybe, stretched out on Netflix, Hulu or The CW, these characters can live past the shelf life the movies may have.
Robert Downey Jr. is 51 and still kicking butt -- but we'll see how much longer he wants to play Iron Man. The same goes for Chris Evans as Cap. He's made it clear he wants to direct down the road and his first offering behind the camera, "Before We Go" showed some solid potential.
Plus, all story arcs have to come to an end at some point. Just like at the end of "Civil War" or even "Age of Ultron," the upcoming "Infinity War" is going to shake the Marvel Cinematic Universe up big time.
TV opens the door to recast without rebooting, like producers have done in "Gotham" and have complete freedom to tinker with an iconic storyline -- like producers have done with "Gotham." The show is beloved and it would be tough to pitch a blockbuster movie about Batman without ever really seeing Batman. But the fans have embraced the prequel.
Hopefully we have superhero movies for years to come, but either way, there's always TV!