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The Problem With Superhero Movies

I’m a huge Marvel fan, so it’s an understatement to say I love superhero movies. Despite my abounding enthusiasm, I’ve begun to grow wary of such movies. Not due to lack of execution or general boredom, but because of what the […]
| Jan 12, 2016 | 5 comments |

I’m a huge Marvel fan, so it’s an understatement to say I love superhero movies. Despite my abounding enthusiasm, I’ve begun to grow wary of such movies. Not due to lack of execution or general boredom, but because of what the future may hold.

The problem is this: after a while, the plots, characters, battles, smash ‘em scenes—they begin running together. A river of repeats that instead of standing out in stark, interesting ways contentedly flows along in its success.

Which points to the intriguing problem of continuing on the established path versus branching out and taking risks. ‘Tis the bane of storytellers. How can we craft a compelling, original story that captures the imagination and attention of the audience, while remaining moored to the pier of proven history?

A Delicate Balancebalancing

What’s your favorite superhero movie? In what ways did it stand out, cause you to think, make you go rigid in anticipation of what lurked ahead? What set it apart from the deafening throng of other superhero movies crowding the entertainment industry like cosplayers at a comic con?

In the past ten years or so, movies centered on people with amazing powers have emerged from the shadowed corner of loyal fandom into the consciousness of mainstream entertainment. Thanks in large part to the success of the Marvel franchise, superhero movies are in vogue.

Two of this year’s most-anticipated movies are Civil War and Dawn of Justice. At this point, the engine driving the trend isn’t important. What is, however, is the path leading forward.

If Hollywood keeps pumping viewers full of endless CGI, bigger explosions, more largescale destruction, it will eventually morph into a cacophony of meaningless noise. People will still watch and enjoy them, because above all, our culture demands an entertainment value emphasizing the thrill, the visual grandiosity, over thought-provoking content.

Yet at the cost of truly inventive stories.

Understanding and fulfilling viewer preferences and expectations is important in any form of entertainment. But a balance is necessary. If we don’t see any innovation, any injection of storylines that blaze a new path, the familiar elements will grow dull and unexciting.

The Problem

You know the old saying, “You can have too much of a good thing.” Loathe as we sometimes are to admit it—mostly when it refers to cherished favorites—this stands true. In the case of superhero movies, too much of a good thing could lead to disaster.

boredThe more movies I watch, the more I notice patterns, repetitions, familiar elements. Nothing wrong with that—until it becomes cliché to the point of monotony. Same reactions, same lines, same outcome, same motives.

The problem is simple: superhero movies keep returning to same well for their content.

Since Marvel currently rules the superhero galaxy, I’m going to pick on them. (Heresy, I know.) Marvel movies sorely lack compelling villains—not include Loki, because he’s awesome. Yeah, they add some flair, a target for the hero to pursue, and excuses to blow up and smash more buildings, but their motivations and intentions rarely explore new avenues.

The job description for these villains, with variations, fits into one simple phrase: world domination.

How about something new for a change?

The Strong Weakness

This may sound like a contradiction, but another problem with superhero movies is the focus on all the awesome things they can accomplish with their powers. Which is great because it appeals to us and makes for some electrifying exploits. At the same time, such an emphasis undercuts other aspects of the story that would add depth, complexity, and meaning.

Not all superhero movies are guilty of this, but place them on a scale, and the flashy, pulse-pounding movies easily outweigh the ones containing a compelling narrative.

What Does the Future Hold?

Right now, Marvel rules supreme, but DC is attempting to play catch-up. Superhero movies are here to stay in the foreseeable future.

As we move into Marvel’s Phase 3, I’m interested to see how stories such as Doctor Strange will add a new and much-needed twist to the superhero landscape. On the DC side of the house, Suicide Squad has potential to be highly fascinating as well. Its unique approach could provide a breath of fresh air.

And of course, we have Civil War (can’t May be here already?). Pitting superheroes, once team members and friends, against each other is a recipe for an outstanding story. Let’s hope the execution does justice to the potential.

What are your thoughts on superhero movies?

Zachary Totah writes speculative fiction stories. This allows him to roam through his imagination, where he has illegal amounts of fun creating worlds and characters to populate them. When not working on stories or wading through schoolwork, he enjoys playing sports, hanging out with his family and friends, watching movies, and reading. He lives in Colorado and doesn't drink coffee. He loves connecting with other readers and writers. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Goodreads, and at his website.

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman)

Last night I watched the episode of Minority Report where a group called Momento Mori develop a DNA virus they infect a senator with because she wanted to make it legal to tamper with a person’s DNA in utero to cure genetic defects. The police catch the bad guy who says he is not a monster. He wants to stop the progression of the technology because in the future a motivated high schooler could deliberately or accidentally release a DNA changer that could end up killing all of humanity. Whoa! Where would you be on the issue? And what would you do to prevent or encourage one side or the other? Great episode! I’m looking forward to watching how the issue plays out.

Royce Hunt

I agree that the villains must be more compelling. One of my favorite villains showed up in Daredevil Vol 1 Issue 208, The Deadliest Night of My Life .

The villain was a wealthy person who made her mansion into a death trap after Daredevil had killed her son. She died, but not before setting the bait for the trap (no spoilers here). Daredevil’s deadliest villain ever was not even alive.

However, such a villain would not make a good movie. It might make a good television episode (I hear that there is a cable TV Daredevil series now). Movies tend to demand world-threatening villains.

Audie Thacker

It might be good if Marvel movies would finally get Doctor Doom right. The Fantastic Four movies keeping trying to make him some kind of…I don’t know, it’s just odd what they’ve done with him. He’s one of Marvel’s biggest villains, and could probably work as a good villain if they would simply make him what he is in the comics–a genius at magic and technology who is also a despot.

I think the recent Star Wars movies may prove some of your points about effects and story. When the first teasers came out, they didn’t seem to have been all that well received. Roly-poly droids and strange people in the desert weren’t cutting it, the last trilogy had made viewers not get too excited by neat effects. It seemed like it was the trailer that gave us a brief look at the characters of Rey and Fin, who they were and what they were thinking, that got people really interested.