Before Warner Bros gets too carried away with the record-breaking box office take of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice over the weekend, the studio might want to take a breath.
The grim, galumphing behemoth has earned an admittedly impressive US$424 million ($634 million) since Thursday, US$254 million of it in overseas markets. But many observers estimate that Batman v Superman, which had a combined production and marketing budget of about US$400 million, will need to earn at least US$1 billion in order to break even, after theatres take their cut.
Even if word of mouth on the movie isn't quite as damning as its poor reviews, chances are that business will drop off precipitously this week, making it hard to go too far past that magic US$1 billion number.
For those keeping score at home, Batman v Superman was announced with great fanfare by its director, Zack Snyder, at ComicCon a few years ago. But what Snyder didn't predict - and apparently wasn't nimble enough to respond to - was how much the superhero gestalt would change.
Warner was so successful with the Christopher Nolan-era Batman movies that setting up the Caped Crusader for similar cross-pollination was a vertically integrated no-brainer. But even before Batman v Superman had started, they'd boxed themselves into a corner - by the time of the final instalment of the Nolan trilogy, the self-seriousness was starting to wear thin.
Two years later, the big comic-book-based hit was Guardians of the Galaxy, a gleefully irreverent riff on superhero tropes. This year's version of the Guardians zag is Deadpool, a similarly cheeky, if far more cynical, exercise in self-referential japery. When Batman v Superman lurched into theatres with its unsmiling stars, paranoid vibe, weak-tea colour scheme and by-the-numbers action scenes, audiences could be forgiven for experiencing cultural whiplash: Weren't we just laughing at Ryan Reynolds profanely taking the mickey out of all of this stuff?
The question raised by the success of such movies as Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool is whether they prove what many of us have been saying for years, which is the typical, monotonously glum genre that Hollywood has worked over like the bones of so much carrion is, finally, exhausted beyond resuscitation - at least in America. An unmistakable malaise has set in when it comes to tight-lipped men in tights, marshalling their Y-chromosomal angst to once more do what a man's gotta do. Which explains a phenomenon that Batman v Superman might be credited with creating: According to a Fandango poll, viewers were most hyped about one character. It should come as no surprise that the person best equipped to save superheroes for Hollywood is none other than Wonder Woman.