Comparison of First and Third Installments in Comic Book Franchises

Published on December 2nd, 2013 by TPajaczkowska. Filed under Film & Movies, Movie Trailers

It feels like every other movie released in the last few years is a sequel or part of a franchise, the box office always dominated by films from the Marvel or DC Universe. Sometimes we forget that movies based on comic books were not always the blockbuster, guaranteed-to-succeed powerhouses that they are today. Franchises have a beginning, and sometimes their success can come as a surprise. For my six trailers, I chose to examine three major comic book-based franchises: X-Men, Batman (Christopher Nolan’s reboot), and Iron Man. For each franchise I chose to compare the trailers for the first and third installment in each series.

For the first group of trailers — X-Men (2000), Batman Begins (2005), Iron Man (2008) — it’s important to remember that while these films helped launch billion dollar franchises, none of them were considered guaranteed successes. X-Men represented a shift in the tone of comic book films, choosing to forgo the campiness of older Marvel adaptations. Batman Begins was an attempt to reboot a series that was considered on its way out. (1 Batman & Robin (1997) received abysmal reviews and has a rating of 12% on RottenTomatoes) Iron Man was not expected to be a smash hit, but greatly exceeded expectations becoming the second highest grossing movie of 2008, beaten out only by The Dark Knight. The stars of these films were not superstars at the time, but were soon after. Robert Downey Jr. was a cautionary tale of how drug addiction could destroy a promising career before Iron Man. Hugh Jackman had barely broken into the film industry before X-Men. (2 His filmography on his imdb page shows he was only in one film before X-Men, the musical Oklahoma!, and several television shows) These films have had a long term effect on both actors’ careers. Downey and Jackman now top the highest paid actors of 2013 in spots one and three, respectively, according to Forbes.(3 Celebrities 2013: Highest paid actors : http://www.forbes.com/pictures/mfl45egdgg/robert-downey-jr-8/) Christian Bale was already a respected actor when he took the role of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, but Christopher Nolan’s gritty adaptation gave him world wide notoriety he previously had not experienced.

The second group of trailers — X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Iron Man Three (2013) — are all the third film in established, successful franchises. These movies were all released between five and seven years after the start of the series. Their lead actors were now established faces of the franchises. The directors were given bigger budgets, as it was considered a safe bet that these films would be incredibly successful, summer blockbusters. I thought it would be interesting to see how these factors affected four different visual aspects of the films. For my analysis I chose to examine editing speed (in shots per minute), lighting style, the quality and prominence of special effects, and the amount of screen time dedicated the “star” of the franchise. (4 I put “star” in quotation marks only because the X-Men series, while having an ensemble cast, tended to focus on Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character to get his own solo franchise separate from the series.) I included a detailed chart that contains the exact breakdown of each trailer, including the percentage of screen time for each actor and the number of shots in each trailer (as well as I was able to measure on my own) but here I will discuss my overall findings and the trends I noticed.

First, both The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three decreased in editing speed and included more extended shots of visually engaging action sequences, with only flashes hinting at other aspects of the movies. These movies use similar techniques, omitting plot in favor of demonstrating one example of a particularly spectacular moment from the film. (5 In Rises the shot of the football field collapsing, in Iron Man Three the shots of Tony Stark’s house being destroyed) Iron Man and Batman Begins attempt to convey far more information and thus cut more quickly between scenes. These films need to take the time to introduce the audience to the protagonists, clearly demonstrate the tone of the story, and give as much information about the plot as possible. Rises and IM3 on the other hand already have a built in audience and have the opportunity to peek curiosity by showing less plot, but demonstrating why it would be incredible to watch. X-Men and The Last Stand did not change in editing speed, partially because the ensemble nature of the cast requires a lot of cuts to show as many of the character as possible.

Second, special effects and lighting change distinctly between films. The changes in special effects are very noticeable and lighting is used to enhance this change. In the trailers for the original films, CGI is less frequently shown and the action that is present is done using primarily practical effects. (Quick shots of real flames and explosions are found in all three trailers) The small amount CGI that is shown in the X-Men trailer looks cheesy and unconvincing. The lighting in all three movies also tends to be less saturated and darker. While this helps set the more serious tone that these movies are trying to get across, it also help hide some of the less convincing special effects. In the sequels, the trailers focus far more on special effects and there is significantly more CGI. As I previously mentioned, The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three dedicate a significant amount of time to longer shots of specific almost entirely CGI action sequences. X-Men: The Last Stand similarly dedicates more time to displaying its improved special effects and CGI. It’s telling that even Rises focusses on CGI given that director Christopher Nolan is well known for trying to avoid using CGI as much as possible in his films. These movies are all marketed on the basis that the audience already knows the characters and are already committed to the franchise. The trailers are trying to build excitement to get more audience members to show up to the openings weekend and pay to see these spectacular special effects on a big screen, not wait for them to be released on DVD and Bluray. The lighting is also brighter, the colors more saturated. It heightens the details of the special effects and makes the overall look of the films more engaging. Also because these films already have the established serious tone from the original films, the darker lighting isn’t necessary to communicate that feeling.

 

Finally, the screen time of the star. Originally I predicted that the stars of these franchises would be given more screen time as they became more famous and successful. However I was mistaken. The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man Three devoted significantly less screen time to Christian Bale and Robert Downey Jr. Perhaps at this point the franchises themselves were enough of a draw that the actors’ star power was not necessary. Or perhaps these franchises are now so intrinsically linked to these actors, its not even necessary to show their faces as much. Perhaps the extra focus on CGI and spectacle just left less screen time to devote to the stars. Once again X-Men was the exception, Hugh Jackman was given almost the same amount of screen time in The Last Stand, most likely due to the ensemble nature of the cast.

 

 

 

Film

Budget (USD)

Gross (USD)

Screen Time of star

Special Effects

Lighting

Editing (# of shots,shots per min)

X-Men (2000)

 

$75,000,000

$157,199,717

8s of 2:30min (~5%)

-Very little amount of CGI, most of the CGI looks cheesy

-Primarily show practical effects and makeup work

-Dark lighting, high contrast lighting

~119, 48spm

Batman Begins (2005)

$150,000,000

$205,343,774

~23s of 2:24min (~16%)

-Almost no CGI, focusses on practical effects primarily

-Not very saturated, limited color palettes in shots

~111, 46spm

Iron Man (2008)

$140,000,000

$318,298,180

~50s of 2:29min (~34%)

-Hardly show the actual iron man suit, only from a distance in quick cuts

-Nothing too flashy, mostly explosions

-Primarily dark, higher contrast lighting, mostly desaturated colors

 

~87, 35spm

 

 

Film

Budget (USD)

Gross (USD)

Screen Time of star

Special Effects

Lighting

Editing (# of shots,shots per min)

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

 

$210,000,000

180% increase

$234,360,014

7.25s of 1:39min (~7%)

-Noticeably superior special effects, far more and better CGI

-Longer shots of special effects, trucks flipping over,Golden Gate Bridge scene

-Brighter, more saturated colors

~83, 50spm

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

$250,000,000

67% increase

$448,130,642

7s of 2:04min

(~5.5%)

-Focusses on one particularly CGI heavy shot, a few brief explosions, otherwise not effects heavy

-Very blue and orange color pallet

-Contrasts rich color outdoor scenes with muted  indoor/underground

~51, 25spm

Iron Man Three (2013)

$200,000,000

43% increase

$408,992,727

~23s of 2:05min (~10%)

-A lot more focus on special effects, shows the multiple Iron Man suits up close and in action, interacting with actors

-Dedicates screen time to incredibly effects heavy action (house getting destroyed)

-Brighter, richer colors

-Even darker scenes have bluer blues

 

~60, 29spm

 Trailers:

 

X-Men: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi339519001/

Batman Begins: httpv://youtu.be/vak9ZLfhGnQ

Iron Man: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi447873305/

X-Men: The Last Stand: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1258225945/

Dark Knight Rises: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2823134745/

httpv://youtu.be/GokKUqLcvD8

 

Iron Man Three: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1265935385/

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