3 Is a Tragic Number – The Superhero Trilogy

In recent years the superhero sequel has often surpassed its predecessor both commercially and creatively

Originally posted by Dan Allanson

With the recent release (and critical maligning in some quarters) of the third X Men film in its current incarnation, the question has again been raised regarding the superhero trilogy and more specifically why the third film of said trilogy seems to take a creative dip.

The difficult second album syndrome used to be an expectation after a hugely successful debut in all forms of the arts and film was no exception but in recent years the superhero sequel has often surpassed its predecessor both commercially and creatively. ‘Spider-Man 2’, ‘X2′, Days of future past’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘The Wolverine’, ‘Captain America – Winter Soldier’ and to a lesser extent ‘Thor – The Dark World’ are all stark examples. Of course the theory is not water tight, for every ‘Iron Man’ there is an ‘Iron Man 2’ , for every ‘Avengers Assemble’ an ‘Age of Ultron’.

Feature - pic 1The third film of these blockbuster franchises though have often proved a difficult hurdle for directors and studios alike. It could be argued that with the expectation raised so high amongst fans by the second instalment the trilogy closer is already at a disadvantage. ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is by no means a bad film indeed taken in isolation ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a very good film often bordering on excellence though in comparison to its critically lauded sibling it pales. ‘Spider-Man 3’ is perhaps a better example. Akin to ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ little changed between the sequel and threequel. The film maintained its director and stars and continued the narrative from ‘Spider-Man 2’ though was an inferior film. The film did have some excellent sequences and brought several character arcs to a close but was bogged down with the needless introduction of fan favourite characters Gwen Stacey and Venom and odd creative moments (EMO Peter Parker anyone?). Both Gwen Stacey and Venom would have fit into a less crowded forth or fifth instalment but pressure from the studio and the expectation to deliver a satisfactory trilogy closer combined to sink the third.

Often the third film of the superhero trilogy suffers from a change in consistency with its director. Bryan Singer famously departed the X Men series (he has since returned) to direct Superman Returns and was replaced by Brett Ratner for ‘X Men The Last Stand’. A serviceable director who had previously delivered at the box office but not known for his imaginative flourishes. Like ‘Spider-Man 3’, ‘The Last Stand’ was crowded with character introductions, central characters in previous instalments were jettisoned and another fan favourite ‘The Dark Phoenix’ arc from the comics was rushed to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Feature - pic 3Although Richard Lester is credited as director of ‘Superman 2’ the film belongs to Richard Donner in all but name. The bulk of the film was shot and compiled before creative differences between director and producers led to Donner departing and Lester finishing the job. Superman 3 is solely Lester and although blame cannot be apportioned to him again studio interference and an ill-judged accentuation of the sporadic comedy of the first two nearly sunk the franchise.

With the Marvel cinematic universe setting the template for the multi film arc and series such as Fast and Furious and Transformers forgoing trilogies altogether the curse of the third film could be a thing of the past though if ‘X Men Apocalypse’ demonstrates the problems with emulating the franchise high predecessors may still exist.

So what do you think dear reader? Spot on or completely wrong?

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One Comment
  • Adam Thomas
    31 May 2016 at 6:30 pm
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    It seems for most series, it’s Studio’s getting cold feet and not trusting their creative team to follow up on their success and finish a trillogy. This leads them to interfere and cause the very thing they didn’t want, failure in the eyes of fans even if it still manages commercial success.

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