comic book movies

A Discussion on Worldbuilding in Superhero Movies

worldbuilding superhero movies

With 2016 just around the corner, we’re all currently readying ourselves for the biggest year of superhero movies.  All the studios are in competition with each other to continue to grow and expand their cinematic universes, and with that comes a lot of worldbuilding. But people seem to have a problem with it, so let’s look at the nature of worldbuilding in a superhero cinematic universe.

Arguably the two biggest superhero movies coming out next year are Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What’s common in both is the large role worldbuilding plays in their films.

Let’s first look at Captain America. Yes the film will be showing a story built off the world already created in the MCU, but it will also be introducing a lot of new elements to build their world more. There’s going to be a lot of major characters in this film, including new additions Spider-Man and Black Panther.

Introducing Black Panther is a big deal and adds a whole different political and cultural scope to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It means introducing Wakanda further, one of the most technologically advanced nations who could lead the world in learning and culture. By introducing Black Panther and his world (which was teased in Age of Ultron), his transition to a solo film will be much easier. However the elements of his story must be balanced, and introduced naturally into the main story of Captain America: Civil War, which is superheroes fighting over their different ideologies.

marvel cinematic universe black panther

How will Black Panther fit into everything that’s going on? Considering the conflicting ideologies and political aspect of the film, it does make sense to add Black Panther. The political scope of the film will move beyond from superheroes in the U.S., to how these superheroes interact with the international political environment.

Then you have Spider-Man, what role will he play? Because he is such a big character you can’t just show him and not explain where he came from/how long he’s been around for. There needs to be a little bit of story time devoted to Spider-Man and what his backstory is. Once again this needs to be threaded into the current Civil War story naturally.

And this is where the problem is, because sometimes studios are so keen to introduce new elements into their worlds, that they forget to think about what the actual story is. We all saw it in Amazing Spider-Man 2. There were too many unconnected threads that made the film lack cohesiveness and instead feel stuffed.

worldbuilding superhero movies spider-man

The aim of Amazing Spider-Man 2 was to build the world enough to allow them to make Sinister Six and other Spider-Man related films. However when worldbuilding took preference over story, the movie ended up being a mess, and completely destroyed the Amazing Spider-Man universe.

Then you have Batman v Superman. The past week has brought up a lot of complaints surrounding the film, and recently it’s been confirmed that The Flash will definitely be showing up in the movie as well. People have been complaining that there’s too much going on in Batman v Superman, there’s too many characters. Worldbuilding should support the story you’re trying to tell. When creating a world it should reinforce the overall themes, conflict, mood and purpose of the story.

When looking at Batman v Superman it’s a story that is responding to Man of Steel. It’s looking at a world that is now dealing with powerful figures like Superman having a huge impact on society. It’s looking at how individuals react to this power, and what it means for society going forward. It’s clear that the film wants to set up that with the creation of the Justice League, the world will have a new sense of hope, that power can be good. So looking at that it does make sense for characters like Aquaman and Flash to show up, as long as their roles complement the overall story instead of overbearing it.

worldbuilding superhero movies batman v superman

Really that’s the key to the whole thing. At the end of the day, story should come first. These movies need to decide what story they want to tell and how the world will accommodate the story that is being told. It’s not saying oh we have to put character X and setting Y in the movie, so I guess we’ll just add this story thread. So it’s fine if Civil War and Batman v Superman keep announcing new characters, as long as these characters serve a function to the overall story.

So before everyone starts freaking out with the additions of new characters and plot, remember that these films do need to create an expansive world. However that world should be built to complement the story, and as long as that is done, we’re going to be getting some awesome movies in the near future!


Categories: comic book movies

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7 replies »

  1. At this point, they really don’t have to explain much…we all know the basics of Spider-man, thanks to five movies, and I doubt that he will have more than a cameo appearance in Civil War. Just enough to tell the general audience “yes, this next Spider-man movie is part of the Universe you like so much”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah it’s more just acknowledging that he’s part of the universe, but because Aunt May is in this movie as well I’m guessing we’ll see a bit of time with him as Spider-Man and Peter Parker


  2. That’s always the pitfall, putting anything before the story itself.

    I know what you mean about Amazing Spider-Man. As much as I personally enjoy it, it needed some streamlining. Heck, at least one of the trailers involved Peter and Harry talking about OsCorp spying on Peter’s parents way back when, and they never even touched on that in the movie itself. They tried to do too much, and it backfired. (which I am personally happy about, as Marvel has Spidey now! 😀 )

    I trust Marvel enough not only with Spidey’s role in Civil War, however small or large that might be, and also with Black Panther’s role. If there’s one thing they do very well, it’s tell us a story. 🙂


    • They have done it before. The Winter Soldier had the conflict between Fury and Pierce, the emotional aspect with Steve and Bucky, The soldier vs Spy aspect with Steve and Black Widow, Falcon as a new character, and also characters like Bartok, Zola and Crossbones. Meaning, if you count the Winter Soldier, it balanced five villains perfectly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heh, as a friend of mine always says, “In Marvel we trust!” 🙂

        That’s really their biggest advantage right now: being the ones who started this, having consistently, over time, delivered quality products, and some masterpieces (like Winter Soldier), and proving the doubters (like me) wrong (with Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Ant-Man, all of which I had my doubts about, especially Ant-Man), they have built up a lot of credit with us, the fans.

        DC and Warner? Not so much. And they keep proving we should not get our hope up too high.


    • I remember those trailers and then watching the movie it was like wow, they cut a lot out. But yeah very true, they’ve been good at building their world so far, so I’m sure they’ll do the same with the new additions

      Liked by 1 person

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