Are Superhero Films Too Toyetic?

Iron Man

Image by Ridho Nur Imansyah via Flickr

Welcome back to the blog. I haven’t posted anything in a while due to work commitments therefore I thought I’d come back with something a little bit different. I want to highlight and discuss the relationship between the current influx of superhero movies and the toy industry. This idea came to me recently when I was browsing through a local toy store and saw a large amount of shelf space devoted to Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger merchandise.

Granted most comic book movies will have toy lines to appeal to the young children or collectors who’ve seen the films, but when does it get to a point when the movies themselves are constructed with the toy lines in mind? Joel Schumacher‘s Batman & Robin was criticised for being a two hour-long toy commercial, which illustrates how film studios do factor in how the films can generate money from toy merchandise. It didn’t stop there for the Batman franchise, as some would argue his latest in film gadget, The Bat-Pod was purposely created to sell toys.

The Iron Man film franchise can easily be seen as having a vast toyetic approach. Robots vs. robots, the toys basically sell themselves. It was Iron Man 2 however that raised questions over how much planning had been put into the film’s toyetic appeal. The ending of Iron Man 2 was essentially a battle royale for robots. In what was a clustered finale, Iron Man and War Machine unleashed fire upon countless Hammer Drones in a scenario that didn’t really fit in place with the rest of the film, considering how little action was found in Iron Man 2’s first half. Was the action focused ending just a way to make sure the film generates toy sales?

Last month’s super debutant Thor is a little harder to make toyetic. But what the toy companies did do is generate toys based on the weapons in Thor. For instance Hasbro created an electronic hammer and heavily advertised it though television. What child wouldn’t want to be a Norse god? Captain America: The First Avenger is the toyline that most got my attention. It’s obvious Cap’s figures and play sets have been heavily designed with G.I. Joe in mind. That’s a great and clever marketing technique, but to what extent does that ideology cross over into the film? Is Captain America going to be driving a 4×4 and a fighter jet as well as his trademark motorbike throughout the film? Are The First Avenger’s action scenes going to be story devices for advertising toys?

These are just some examples of how some comic book movies have made their marketing intentions clear throughout the films. In some cases the toyetic approach is not a problem, providing the action scenes are well constructed and actually fit into the context of the films. The X-Men franchise (bar X-Men Origins: Wolverine) is probably the best comic book movie franchise that doesn’t over exploit the toyetic approach. That’s where FOX trump over Marvel Studios. Marvel need to make sure they don’t spoil any future movies, buy trying to generate toy sales.

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