"Captain America: Civil War" is the highest-grossing movie of the year so far. The Marvel movie has made over $1.1 billion.
But it wasn't successful just because it had Iron Man, Captain America, and a bunch of other flashy Marvel superheroes in it. And it's something future ensemble movies like "Justice League" should remember.
When you're watching the commentary for "Civil War," which is out on Blu-ray and DVD Tuesday, co-director Joe Russo and screenwriter Christopher Markus explain there were many factors that made the success of the movie possible.
But there was one thing in particular that helped the film really come together — relying on the movies that came before it.
"Something that is interesting about the film, and I think something that we were excited about when we all stumbled on the concept for 'Civil War' is that this is a unique kind of storytelling, and it's not something you can do unless you have a Cinematic Universe — a healthy Cinematic Universe — that has a lot of movies before it which basically allows us to focus on character interaction for a majority of the film," explains Russo. "We don't have to do setup."
"This movie is impossible if you have to set up every character in the film," he continues. "If you had to follow a traditional, you know, cinematic structure or what we've come to know as a two-and-a-half hour closed-ended experience. We could've never made this movie."
Much of Civil War relies on the films before it. It brings together and answers many questions:
How does everyone deal with the fallout from the last "Avengers" movie?
How has Tony Stark's relationship been affected since he broke a promise to Pepper Potts at the end of "Iron Man 3"?
Was Bucky Barnes responsible for the death of Tony Stark/Iron Man's parents? (Something that was hinted at in "Winter Soldier.")
Christopher Markus also brings up a great point about adding new characters to the script.
"We didn't have to do backstory on the new characters, either. We have one [Spider-Man] that people have seen five movies about and one who is necessarily a mystery in the movie itself [Black Panther]," he notes.
Though these sentiments from Russo and Markus may be describing "Civil War," it's difficult not to think about another upcoming superhero team-up that's on the horizon — "Justice League."
Clearly, Warner Bros. is expecting this to also be a big billion-dollar movie, but it will be introducing a lot of big, iconic superheroes on screen for the first time — new versions of The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg. There will also be more of Ben Affleck's Batman, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman, and, most likely Superman.
It's difficult to introduce a bunch of new characters on screen without having a whole lot of setup and exposition in the film, something Russo points out "Civil War" didn't need to do because it's the 13th film in Disney's Marvel wheelhouse. All of those movies have been leading up to "Civil War."
How many DC movies have come before "Justice League"? By the time it debuts, we'll have had four: "Man of Steel,""Batman v Superman,""Suicide Squad," and "Wonder Woman." The majority of those films are team-up movies and they haven't all been received well. I would not call Warner Bros.' DC Cinematic Universe a "healthy" Cinematic Universe, to borrow Russo's phrase. "Man of Steel,""BvS," and "Suicide Squad" were by no means ballpark hits.
And the only characters who will have had their own screen time and development by the time "Justice League" comes out in November 2017 are Superman (who has been criticized for his brooding tone) and Wonder Woman (who, so far, has been the only bright beacon of hope in the DC on-screen universe).
We know from a Comic-Con trailer that Bruce Wayne/Batman will be gathering together a group of superheroes to protect the world. It's impossible to imagine the movie won't waste precious time introducing a character like Aquaman (who has basically always beenthe butt of jokes to fanboys).
Not only will the film have to show some sort of setup, but it also has the danger of feeling all too familiar. Audiences have seen a "Justice League"-type movie several years ago when the Avengers assembled together. That movie worked because there was anticipation to see all of these characters that audiences met over the course of four years finally on screen together.
Meanwhile, "Justice League" audiences don't even know if they'll like Cyborg, Aquaman, or The Flash (especially when audiences have already fallen in love with a TV version of The Flash). After "Justice League," there are still another 10 DC superhero movies planned, including solo movies for Flash and Aquaman.
To put it bluntly, it just all feels fast-tracked. Warner Bros. has felt the need to play catch-up to what Marvel already has accomplished onscreen with its superheroes, something which feels ironic when you realize that WB had a successful superhero franchise in Christopher Nolan's Batman series before the Marvel movies really took off.
Russo points out in the "Civil War" commentary that you need more than just popular characters teaming up to make a successful movie. He stresses the need for a healthy cinematic universe, and that's simply not the case with Warner Bros.' superhero movies at this point.
As Markus pointed out, it would have been impossible to do "Civil War" if they had to set up every character in the film. I can’t imagine a "Justice League" movie introducing so many new (and well-known) characters without spending time on some backstories. Sure, characters will have their own films to further explore backstory, but they aren’t due in theaters until after "Justice League" debuts.
It seems like the studio is going about building its cinematic universe backwards, and that may in time prove to be a mistake.