Are we all tired of Superhero movies yet? Just this month both Marvel and DC have released their ‘angry superheroes fight each other because of reasons’, one dark and gritty, the other lighter and softer. Each film studio is trying to build up their own roster of superheroes in order to challenge Disney and Marvel empire. There are Avengers films planned until 2019 and we’re about to see the start of another Spiderman franchise. It seems we’re not going to be free of this craze any time soon. Great.
I don’t hate all superhero movies – heck, I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Winter Soldier and parts of Avengers Assemble. I think they’re great films that break out of the mould of the average superhero film. But for every Winter Solider you have to sit through multiple Thor and Age of Ultron. We’ve become saturated with superheroes, with only a couple of films that are better than 3 stars at most. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that they’re average. Nothing stands out for either how good it is or how bad it is. At least with the train wrecks that were early 2000s superhero movies we could all have a laugh at Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, or Toby Maguire’s “emo Peter Parker dance”. They may have increased in quality but most films we see now are no more than ‘passable’ and don’t aim any higher.
The lack of innovation within the superhero genre is the real issue. Going to see the latest Marvel film you can expect to see a white guy fight a poorly developed villain (that won’t be as interesting as Loki was) and maybe have a crisis in confidence before the last minute power-up or inspirational talk from the female sidekick he banters with. There will be an end credits scene with reference to a larger plot that you don’t really care about but is interesting enough to make you consider buying another ticket for the next film, because you don’t really want to miss out and you know its all anyone will be talking about for the next week or so.
The superhero films that really succeeded at anything in recent years were the ones that stepped outside of the usual confines of the genre. Guardians of the Galaxy’s focus on comedy was a welcome change, as it poked fun at its own inherit silliness in a way that didn’t feel embarrassed to exist, like most humour that comes with superhero films. Winter Soldier stood out as an intense thriller with layers of political intrigue and drama. But these films are the exceptions it seems. At their best superhero films can be a way to examine real world issues, but at its worst they are an excuse to watch people fly around wrecking things – because that’s what the kids want to see. And while there’s nothing wrong with simplistic tales of good versus evil, when it’s used for violence’s sake again and again it gets both tired and dull.
It’s not just the plots that are tired and dull, it’s the characters too. You’ve probably read a million think-pieces and tumblr posts bemoaning the lack of a Black Widow movie and how we need to go beyond the white saviour of humanity but it’s 100% true. DC seems to be taking steps with the Wonder Woman film coming out next year and casting Jason Momoa as Aquaman (which is to be released in 2018), but it will after 4 years since the start of the DC cinematic with Man of Steel. Likewise, Marvel’s first non-white male superhero will be Black Panther and Captain Marvel in 2018, ten years after Iron Man was first released. The constant prioritising of white male stories of saving the earth over anyone else’s further shows Superhero movies as tired and refusing to be innovative until literally forced to by fans.
The best place to look for superhero narratives isn’t the cinema but rather our TVs. In the Marvel universe shows like Jessica Jones use the genre to explore real world issues, and take care in putting more than just the male experience forefront. Similarly, DC’s TV shows like The Flash and Supergirl are arguably much stronger than their gritty films, because they’re allowed to be fun and silly while still injecting dramatic plot lines and characterisations.
Superhero films, and Marvel in particular, have gotten complacent and lazy, offering very little that is new and innovative, instead churning out more predictable origin stories and battles in a recognisable American city. The market has become saturated and instead of trying to stand out by doing something new, they resigned themselves to putting the bare minimum into offering anything truly different to their audience.
I wouldn’t want to stop superhero films completely (especially just as we start getting ones lead by women and people of colour), but I want them to be held accountable for their problems.
Image: Batman vs. Superman, 27% on Rotten Tomatoes