2015 is looking like a bumper year for superhero movies. For the first time, the two colossi of Marvel and DC will be going head-to head as The Avengers: Age of Ultron takes on what increasingly looks like a full Justice League. Which is not to say that 2014 doesn’t have an impressive roster, too. Here we take a look at nine of the biggest comic book releases coming our way this year.
9. RoboCop (February 12th)
What is the new obsession with reimagining ’80s cult classics? As if 2012’s Total Recall hadn’t provided an abject lesson in tampering with the work of Paul Verhoeven – for one thing, it seems we’ve all forgotten the originals were satire – this year will see the release of the long-unawaited RoboCop reboot/remake.
Half man, half machine, the original film was about a heroic cop gunned down in the line of duty only to be resurrected by a greedy mega-corporation, OCP, as a top-of-the-line law enforcement cyborg. The film delved into themes of consumerism and identity, all while its protagonist, the formerly late Officer Alex Murphy, dispatched criminals and judicious one-liners with level aplomb. Think Judge Dredd with a less fascistic subtext. RoboCop 2014 puts Joel Kinnaman in the iconic body armor, slims it down, sprays it matte black, and apparently gives it robo-abs, “just because”, I guess. Kinnaman – best known for his role in another remake, AMC’s The Killing – was an unexpected bit of casting, despite plenty of experience playing a cop, so it makes sense that the studio should bolster the rest of the production with a series of more well-known faces: Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson (for the second time in this article), and Jackie Earle Haley among others.
As the trailer shows, José Padilha‘s reimagining is already tinkering with the canon: rather than being killed outright, here Alex Murphy is not killed outright, but “merely” crippled, possibly left in a vegetative state. Stripping away the 1987 RoboCop‘s Messianic undertones is an interesting choice, if only the 2014 version can make this decision mean something. Tinkering’s all well and good, but if all you’re looking to do is strip away the self-awareness and put on a new lick of paint, it can feel less like a remake and more like a lobotomy. For now, the film looks, well, functional; hopefully it’ll prove more than just a not-so dead man walking.
8. 300: Rise of an Empire (March 7th)
The first of the Frank Miller sequels due out this year, 300: Rise of an Empire promises to take all the testosterone and the violence of 2007’s 300 and literally hurl it out to sea.
Gerard Butler‘s King Leonidas’ chest-stomping days may be over, but the war goes on as Xerxes the God-King of Persia continues his conquest through ancient Greece. In Leonidas’ place, we have Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian politician-general who gets drawn into the conflict following the fall of Sparta. Lena Headey returns as Leonidas’ widowed queen, Gorgo, and promises to be on similarly vengeful form, while Eva Green takes on the role of Artemisia, the only female commander of the Persian navy and a bloodthirsty one at that. Less a study of the nation that birthed democracy than a excuse for some of the aforementioned chest stomping, 300: Rise of an Empire might have relative unknown Noam Murro in the director’s chair, but he seems to be going full-force in channeling his predecessor, Zack Snyder, who wrote the screenplay here and remains on-board as a producer.
In the end, it all boils down to your interest in buff sea-bound Greeks taking on a superior number of generally hairless Persians, but, given 300 more than sextupled its budget at the box office, that’s proven a popular enough formula in the past.
7.Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4th)
Of all the Avengers, Steve Rogers’ Cap’n initially seems like the simplest to get right. He’s a soldier, a patriot, a man of honor. That being said, it’s difficult to get much dramatic mileage out of such a white-bread, unambiguous hero. This is a guy who punched out Hitler on the cover of his very first issue. He’s as much an anachronism in our world as he is in the MCU and without the entertaining snarkiness of a Tony Stark or the tormented self-loathing of Bruce Banner, it’s difficult to imagine him anchoring a film much beyond his origin story.
That being said, if Marvel are gonna commit to the character as more than just “one of the gang”, another pretty face (sorry, Scarlett Johansson), then this feels like the way to do it. In The Winter Soldier, Captain America faces off against the titular Russian agent, his equal and opposite number. Unlike in The First Avenger, though, the Winter Soldier is more than just an agent of evil – say what you want about Hugo Weaving as the Nazi super-soldier Red Skull, he wasn’t the most subtly shaded villain. In discussing the film, star Chris Evans has talked about forcing his character to make decisions that compromise his core beliefs. Adding to this morally ambiguous Cold War vibe is the presence of ’70s icon Robert Redford whose role as S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran Alexander Pierce promises to harken back to the likes of Three Days of the Condor.
With Hayley Atwell apparently reappearing as the Captain’s war-time love interest (will they finally get that dance almost seventy years late?) and Anthony Mackie as winged superhero Falcon, not to mention Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson and Johansson herself, and the promising trailer you see above, Captain America: The Winter Soldier might finally succeed in giving Steve Rogers more depth than those pictures of him on Phil Coulson’s trading cards.