Why Marvel and DC Are Making Longer Superhero Movies
There’s something about fantasy and sci-fi epics that seems to demand a lengthy runtime. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy features a Return of the King director’s cut over 4 hours long. Even Star Wars: The Force Awakens erred on the long side for the franchise at 2 hours and 15 minutes. The thing is that trend hasn’t really been prevalent in the superhero genre until very recently, and soon we’ll see it proliferate to new heights.
First, the facts: Superhero movies have been getting longer for awhile now, and audiences are only just now beginning to realize it’s happening. More specifically, it’s always been the law of the land for DC/Warner, going back as far as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman Begins was 141 minutes, The Dark Knight was 150, and The Dark Knight Rises blew both of those out of the water at a whopping 165 minutes long. Fast forward to 2013’s Man of Steel, and the trend continues with a 128 minute runtime. The bigger news is that Marvel is starting to follow in DC’s footsteps.
Following the report that Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice would be 2 hours and 22 minutes (the shortest DC film since Green Lantern), Marvel revealed that Captain America: Civil War would be the studio’s longest movie ever at 2 hours and 27 minutes long. The second longest Marvel film? Avengers: Age of Ultron, released almost a year ago to the day when Civil War hits theaters. In a strange reversal, we’re seeing Marvel follow DC’s lead for once. And while something like a movie’s runtime may seem trivial, at its most basic level it’s one of the most important decisions a filmmaker has to make.
Deciding on a longer runtime versus a shorter one is tantamount to a movie’s success. Make it too short, and your audience will feel unsatisfied. Go too long, and you’ll have a theater packed with full bladders and people checking their watches. Deadpool, in keeping with its complete counter-cultural appeal, was a tidy 1 hour and 48 minutes long, and it worked beautifully in the context of that story. Conversely, Age of Ultron‘s decidedly longer runtime tended to drag at times, punctuated by sequences that many felt deserved a place on the cutting room floor. It’s all a game of maintaining momentum, and making an audience feel as though they’re not wasting a single minute of their time.
So can Civil War maintain that elusive momentum over almost 2-and-a-half hours? Already, we’re hearing rumors leak out of a lengthy 15-minute IMAX fight scene, involving over a dozen different characters. It’s hard not to hear that and immediately feel as though Marvel is smashing action figures together for long stretches rather than telling us a well-constructed story, especially given the similar feel Ultron afforded us. DC has been doing this for a decade now, and even a hefty runtime for Dawn of Justice won’t be out of the ordinary for them. Marvel though is just now dipping their toes in the water of longer movies.
In many ways, Civil War will mark a massive turning point for Marvel Studios. It’s the first time Tony Stark and Steve Rogers will be going toe-to-toe in a real way. We’ll be getting introduced to Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man. The rest of the movie will be stuffed with every Marvel hero who isn’t Hulk or Thor, as a handful of characters battle for screen-time. It certainly makes sense to extend the runtime out with a crowded cast, but it’s still a trail yet to be completely blazed by Marvel Studios.
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