The Case Against Making Superhero Movie Sequels

There’s been a lot of discussion, over the last week or so, whether we’ll ever see a Man of Steel 2. Either it’s on “permanent hold,” will only happen if George Miller wants to make it, or is actually Batman v Superman, depending on whom you ask and when. But I’ve got to ask… is the potential lack of a sequel really a bad thing?

It wasn’t so long ago that a roman numeral after a movie title was the mark of cinematic crap. For every exception like The Empire Strikes Back, there’s a Ghostbusters II, a Highlander II, a Jaws 2… We could keep going. And to be honest, superhero movies have historically had this problem, too: Nobody knows that better than the studio that put out Batman & Robin. DC seems somewhat sequel averse; while it’s putting out at least two superhero movies a year for the next five years, and possibly more, only one is technically even a sequel, the second part of Justice League arriving in 2019. It seems that unless somebody delivers a massive billion-dollar breakout, any other sequels will have to wait until at least 2021.

More to the point: Do we really need a Man of Steel 2? I’m one of the few people who defended the first one, but I’m not really sure I need to see Supes punching Brainiac. DC’s greatest financial and creative success with superheroes was a sequel, but The Dark Knight doesn’t remotely resemble Batman Begins. Batman Begins is more or less a standard superhero origin story; The Dark Knight is a meditation on how terrorism taps into our primal fears, and why that makes us fools. It’s hard to see Man of Steel 2 pulling off anything like that, bar George Miller taking control.

But if it’s just going to be a retread, why bother? Especially because it’s not like heroes disappear off the screen in an interconnected universe; it’s often a lot more fun to watch a movie and find it has a clever use for a superhero who isn’t on the marquee. Part of the appeal of Batman v Superman is that they’re meeting for the first time on screen.

The Marvel cinematic universe is a good argument both for and against this. The Incredible Hulk, in the broad strokes, was essentially the same as Hulk; audiences didn’t bother with either. Iron Man 2 was essentially a retread, but Iron Man 3 explored why Tony built the armor in the first place and saw Shane Black use it as a metaphor for emotional distance.

That said, Marvel’s demand for sequels is compromising its movies. There was no reason for the Falcon to be in Ant-Man except to remind you he’s in the next Captain America movie. Marvel has spent years shoehorning Thanos into movies, solely to set up an Avengers sequel we’re all going to see anyway. But Marvel hasn’t made it clear why he matters, what his motives are, or why we should care.

DC, of course, hasn’t really had an opportunity to show us how they’ll connect their universes. But their 2016 slate is a massive superhero brawl introducing an older, angry Batman and a bunch of supervillains destroying Toronto for giggles. The two seem only lightly connected and entirely different in tone, style, and ultimate goals. And maybe, that’s the way it should be. Superhero movies can be anything a good director wants to make them, so let’s only have sequels if there’s something else to do with the character. I’d much rather have Superman be great in five movies than five disappointing Superman movies.