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Grading the Superhero Movies of 2013

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Dec 23, 2013 | 4:51pm EST

Iron Man, Superman, WolverineWalt Disney Pictures/Warner Bros/20th Century Fox via Everett Collection

It's been a busy year for superhero films, and whether it be on screen or inside closed boardrooms, film studios were making moves to create or continue their ongoing franchises. While 2013 could be seen as the calm before the storm, with a huge number of big superhero films making their way towards cinemas in 2014 and 2015, It's still an exciting time to be a comic book fan at the movies. In order to wrap up 2013, we've decided to grade each studio based on the films they've released this year, and look forward to what they have planned for 2014 and beyond.

DISNEY

Films
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World

Disney proves that there are still stories worth telling outside of The Avengers
With The Avengers, Disney capped off the first phase of its ridiculously ambitious superhero multi-tiered plan with an emphatic exclimation mark. But that question that was no doubt rattling around the heads of Disney's executive board was: what happens now? How do you keep people interested in stories with lone heroes when they've already seen the big superhero team take form? Is there still interest in touching base with Iron Man or Thor when they're not assembled into something bigger and greater? The answer to these queries turned out to be a wholehearted yes from both audiences and critics. Disney succeeded in continuing its franchise of super hero films by telling well-made adventures that still resonate with each individual hero's storytelling strengths, while simultaneously gearing up the universe for a second Avengers film. Iron Man is still telling stories about corporate evil and white collar super-villainy, while Thor is still blending myth and science in super-sized tales about clashing universes. While neither film reached the dizzying height of The Avengers, they are both welcome additions to Marvel's ever growing cinematic universe.

Looking ahead
If the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier is any indication, Disney will continue to tell stories steeped in each character's own story telling strengths, and the second Captain America film looks to be a politically charged action film that duly fits the first Avenger. Disney is also expanding their universe with other film projects outside of The AvengersGuardians of the Galaxy, featuring a rag tag group of the Marvel Universe's underdogs, is slated for August 2014, while 2015's  Ant-Man has just found its hero in Paul Rudd. The big Kahuna, The Avengers: Age of ultron, is coming in 2015.
Grade: A-

20TH CENTURY FOX

Films
The Wolverine

Fox gambled with different story telling and came out ahead
After the one-two punch of disaster that was X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins, Fox decided to save its fledgling X-Men franchise by taking it in a different direction. Instead of rebooting the series, Fox took a hard left and used all of the messy continuity it has built up over the years to create X-Men: First Class, which threw the franchise into the past and told a 1960s prequel film featuring younger versions of both Professor X and Magneto. The film fed off of that era's social and political touchstones to create an engaging super-powered period piece the crackled with cold war tension and slick spy thrills. With this year's Wolverine, the studio took an even harder left by telling a stand-alone Wolverine tale set almost entirely in Japan, and told a story that almost feels more like a moody a Japanese melodrama, with Wolverine getting embroiled in the machinations of a wealthy Japanese family. When the film finds time to take a break from all the claw slashing and Yakuza fighting, it stops to focus on what makes Wolverine's character tick, and delivers a mostly successful Wolverine film. Fox is making its X-Men series one of the most exciting superhero franchises, by not being afraid to be daring.

Looking ahead
Fox is taking the biggest chances in super hero cinema by not being embarrassed by their comic book origins, and instead embracing them for all of their oddities, something that other studios sometimes feel too afraid of doing. They threw the X-Men back into their original decade and adapted one of Wolverine's best stories successfully by keeping it set in Japan. Now with X-Men: Days of Future Past,  The Studio is bringing one of the X-Men's most important story arcs to the screen, and they seems to be fully embracing the original time travel narrative that made that story so popular and resonant with fans in the first place.
Grade: B+

WARNER BROS

Films
Man of Steel

Warner Bros. went too dark but is still moving forward
Warner Bros. has long stumbled in trying to create a superhero franchise outside of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, but in 2013 they've finally managed to get their feet on the ground and release Man of Steel. But just because they're finally getting somewhere, it doesn't mean they are doing so gracefully. Man of Steel was a clunky Superman origin story that had critics and fans divided into an all-out war of opinions, and we stand firmly on the side of its detractors. Man of Steel was a dreary, unweildy mess of a film that was to focused on being gritty and dark, and forgot to embrace the virtues that make Superman the big blue boy scout that he is. With all that being said, credit still goes to Warner Bros. for finally making Man of Steel a financial success that can support future films, after its previous missteps.

Looking ahead
Warner Bros. isn't fooling around anymore, and in a series of volley of emphatic moves since Man of Steel hit theaters, they've announced that: 1) They're making a Batman/Superman film, 2) They will have Ben Affleck, of all people, playing an older version of Batman, and 3) Wonder Woman is also going to appear in the film played by Gal Gadot. Something has lit a fire under the studio, and whether it be desperation or confidence at their latest success, the studio is quickly moving forward to compete with Disney and 20th Century Fox's upcoming big blockbuster team-up films, without slowing down to make individual films for the characters. Only time will tell if these moves are good ones, but hopefully fortune favors the brave.
Grade: C

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