Superhero Movies Are Turning Into Comic Books, And It’s Not Good
What do Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse have in common? Other than, you know, the fact that they’re all full of superheroes fighting against each other, and each one of them has a colon in their name? Seriously, what happened to the numbers? That aside, all of these films have one other thing in common: the stakes are both as high as possible (the end of the world is near! Again!) and as low as possible, with the films being more concerned with remain “likeable” than to deliver on the thematic promises they have established.
At one point, it seemed like Marvel couldn’t do any wrong; the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe built a world of very different movies; the Your of Iron Man was so different from Captain America, who in turn was separate from Thor. And the first Avengers built a stunning crescendo on that. And then the studio gave us Guardians of the Galaxy, proving it could make a giant team without a lot of backstory, and still deliver exactly the kind of fun we expected.
From there, we hit a time of giant fun like Age of Ultron and Civil War. And that’s exactly the point – crowds will, by definition, be bland and unambitious to appeal to the widest possible audience. They’re such watered-down movies that the only reason we still watch them is because they’re generally amazing in terms of technical presentation and include lots of extremely likable actors who do their best to be charming. It’s a powerful combination and it almost works, but if you’re really honest you’ll admit that the only part of Civil War that made you sit up and pay attention was when Spider-Man was onscreen.
Paul Rudd as Ant-Man was incredibly charming and did a fantastic job of what little he really had to do, but Spider-Man stole the show in one scene. And that’s at least partly because the rest of the movie was afraid to show real drama. The fight between Iron Man, Captain America and the Winter Soldier near the end of the film was so amazingly choreographed you should have watched in white terror, but you were so confident that nothing real would happen that you could only admire technical finesse.
On the other end of the scale, Warner Bros. seems totally uninterested in making its characters likable. Batman and Superman brood so much that even Jon Snow in Game of Thrones is starting to look cheerful in comparison. They don’t talk to each other, exchanging jokes as well as punches. Instead, every word is a tortured grunt, costing the heroes more than all the punches in the world. The movies seem unwilling to risk even a single moment of happiness – which sounds like the opposite of our complaint about Marvel, but the results are the same. Everything is dark all the time and the world ends all the time, and so the setbacks a character faces are just the norm, and nothing really matters.
And at the same time, even as Batman v Superman tried to raise the stakes to impossible levels in the titular fight, it brought things crashing down by resolving the conflict in the dumbest way possible. The film tried to redeem itself through heroic (again, stupid and unnecessary) sacrifice towards the end, except that, as is the case with most superhero movies now, it refused to smash itself. engage in the story and gave us a scene at the end to let us know that all is well and the status quo will continue.
Civil War did the same, trying to end on a high note, with a phone delivered to Tony Stark by Steve Rogers, and the implied promise that even though the two are sworn enemies right now, reconciliation is not only a phone call away, so we’re back to square one, and all the narrative growth and character development we’ve seen is worth nothing.
X-Men: First Class, another happily decorated title, has done a great job of bringing relevance back to the X-Men franchise. Its sequel, Days of Future Past, had a few missteps but managed to overcome them with a dose of humor and style heavily inspired by Marvel Studios. The third film in the series, Apocalypse, strives to revisit the strengths of the previous two – oh look, here’s Quicksilver in a hilarious sequence on another classic number, oh look, Magneto has suffered and cuts people up again, oh look, Mystique once again has an inexplicably big role because Jennifer Lawrence is huge right now — and again, downplaying the stakes.
Again, the question on the table is the end of the world, but we all know that will never happen. The only person who actually loses anything is Cyclops, and it’s glossed over so quickly you’d think Havok was a truly terrible brother. It gets boring and predictable, like watching a movie with Hugh Grant in it. Yes, this kind of thing used to be fun, but can we see any real growth?
Unless of course we can’t. These movies are designed to come to you at a brutal pace – you have roughly enough time to watch the last one before the next movie releases – from several major movie studios, leaving you with little time to actually process what’s on. happened in any movie or care about the characters. Let’s face it – we remember Robert Downey Jr., not Iron Man.
So you have a flood of movies coming your way where characters that aren’t really memorable are trying to hold your attention for the ten minutes of screen time that they get because there are now a dozen tracks in every movie. Except for Batman v Superman, but that movie didn’t have a single protagonist so it’s not really a good example. And at the same time, the status quo can’t be challenged either because every studio seems to have a long-term vision for the characters, which means we’ll never get to see them grow up or risk someone’s death. important. War Machine can take a beating, but he can’t die. And Batman certainly can’t kill Superman.
Each movie morphs into another volume within a comic, with a built-in reset button to ensure fans who love what’s made get exactly what they want – and nothing more. At some point, this audience is going to get bored, and the state of the comic book industry should tell you why movie studios better try to think of something new, fast.