Is There Still Room for Spoof Movies on the Big Screen?

By  · Published on October 22nd, 2016

Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars is a thing that’s happening.

What if there was finally a movie that brought the DC and Marvel movie universes together, and nobody cared? That’s kind of the case with a newly announced project, which also loops in the Star Wars franchise, titled Avengers of Justice: Farce Wars. The title is obviously lampooning The Avengers and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice plus Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that’s indication this isn’t exactly the crossover fans are looking for. Spoof movies aren’t cool anymore. And they’re not necessary.

If you want something more authentic-looking and somewhat serious, search around the internet. There are mashup trailers for fake DC vs. Marvel movies, as well as an epic trailer that also incorporates Star Wars (yet another goes an extra measure with Transformers added in). The only problem is they just recycle footage from other movies. For something more clever, there are animated mashups and parody sketches, but then we’re back to the fact that these things are generally, for legal reasons, comedic.

Because spoofs and mashups are so much more immediately available in multiple forms and with varied senses of humor online (some are already lampooning next year’s releases), feature-length movies such as Avengers of Justice feel dated by the time they come out. That’s one reason spoof movies have all but died out on the big screen. Given that this movie is being produced by the indie company SSS Entertainment, which mainly focuses on VOD, there’s a chance it won’t even hit theaters. Or many of them anyway.

But they can be profitable if kept small enough, and they’re probably a lot of fun to make. We’re currently experiencing a wave of blockbusters considered to be big-budget fan films, as in the superhero and Star Wars reboots are being made by directors who grew up fans of the previous generation of these properties. However, the kind of amateur films that pit characters from different brands against each other have no such authorized Hollywood equivalent. The closest thing is a spoof film that changes all the names.

In Avengers of Justice we’ll be getting characters that are actually more mashup than joke: SuperBat (Superman and Batman), Jean Wonder (Jean Grey and Wonder Woman), ThorBacca (Thor and Chewbacca), and Dark Jokester (Darth Vader and The Joker). Of course, there are also still bad pun names like Beaverine and El Capitan South America. The question is, are the makers of the movie fans of all the real characters? The only evidence is an overexcited 2013 tweet from screenwriter Richard Dane Scott, seen below.

That’s literally all the properties being mashed and spoofed now (save for some X-Men references in the character names). He also acted in and was a producer on a low-budget superhero comedy called Now Hiring. As for the director of Avengers of Justice, Jarret Tarnol, there’s no known love for the genre or the specific franchises being lampooned. Does it matter? The best spoof movies do tend to be made by people who genuinely appreciate the stuff they’re making fun of. In fact, it actually seems better for spoofs to be made by fans of the subject matter than for the serious adaptations to be.

Still, someone with all the best intentions can easily screw up a spoof movie, or be involved with one that’s screwed up by someone else. When thinking of superhero movie parodies, it’s hard to ignore the literally titled Superhero Movie, the awful quality of which writer/director Craig Mazin blames on his being forced to add in jokes he didn’t find funny. Meanwhile, years earlier he directed the superhero spoof The Specials, which was written by James Gunn (now of legitimate superhero movie Guardians of the Galaxy fame), and critics blame Mazin’s direction for its faults. Ironically, Mazin had this to say about another failure of his while promoting The Specials in 2000:

I think the thing that pissed me off the most was that a screenplay, ideally, has its levels and it has its layers and a director can literally ignore all of them but one. He can take away every joke that plays to a smarter audience. A director, for example, can take a script of The Simpsons and make the dumbest cartoon you have ever seen by just doing little tiny things, ignoring the subtleties, taking away some of the subtext, misplaying jokes, bad timing, whatever.

The other thing about superhero spoofs specifically ‐ and this is true for horror, too, yet we get a lot of parodies there, as well ‐ is the genre is regularly being seriously subverted and deconstructed within the genuine movie base. Some of the directors who do this, including Gunn and now Taika Waititi, have previously made spoof films and know how to break down and laugh at the material (Waititi also recently made a Thor spoof promoting his real upcoming Thor movie). Maybe Richard Dane Scott will get to that point, too, though. Perhaps this is just a similar stepping stone.

Parodies continue to fall between brilliant or terrible, on both the amateur and professional level. Christopher Guest’s new mockumentary Mascots is a disaster, but the doc-spoofing Documentary Now! series is superb. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Vampires Suck is awful to the point that it seemed that subject matter just couldn’t even inspire great comedy anymore, and then Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s What We Do in the Shadows comes and proves vampires are still a gold mine for parody.

The All-Time Greatest Cinematic Universe Is Branching Outward

For all we know, Avengers of Justice could be the masterpiece in contrast to Superhero Movie. It sounds cheap, but quality writing doesn’t have to cost a thing. The premise, in which the world is suffering from too many superhero vs. superhero battles, even sounds like it could be promising. Still, it’s a matter the actual superhero franchises have addressed themselves, as have plenty of free YouTube sketches, animations, Honest Trailers and more over the years. It will have to go above and beyond if anyone’s going to pay for it.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.