There are certainly many bloggers and writers who think so. Add director Matthew Vaughn, who told the LA Times Hero Complex in August, “It’s been mined to death and in some cases the quality control is not what it’s supposed to be … People are just going to get bored of it.” Recent failures, such as the poor performance of “The Green Hornet,” seem to indicate that Vaughn might have a point.
I won’t deny that the last 10 years have seen more superhero films than over the last 50 years combined. And, unfortunately, not all of those movies are good. Some are very bad. Some are “X3.”
However, I’ve always been wary of proclamations that a film genre is dead, especially given that the internet is prone to a “the sky is falling!” mentality when faced with the slightest crisis. People have made the same claim of Westerns since the ’50s. But the Western never went away, it simply just wasn’t as prominent as it had once been.
Hidden somewhere in the “end of the superhero film” debate is the idea that somehow there were no superheroes on screen before Spider-Man showed up in 2002. Yet Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Richard Donner’s “Superman” were entertaining people in the ’80s and ’70s, respectively. If we go back even further, we have the Batman series in the sixties, and the Superman cartoons in the forties, plus tons of pulp heroes who were featured in cinemas and in Saturday morning cartoons.
The superhero genre has always been around in one form or another. But now we’ve reached saturation point. It was once only the most devoted nerds who could name every single member of the X-Team. Now the general public is in on the fun. And whether we nerds believe it or not, the general public demands a certain quality for a film to be successful. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a great film, but it needs to have enough funny moments, or enough action, to draw people in.
But do a few bad superhero films and a wider audience mean that the genre is dead in the water? Not by a long shot. What it does mean is that we’re going to have to demand originality from our filmmakers who are still creating superhero films. Already, in Christopher Nolan we have someone who has shown that a superhero blockbuster can be intelligent without sacrificing the big explosions. And though “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” was a box office failure, Edgar Wright’s film was a unique meld of the real world, comics, and video games.
Wright’s next project is “Ant-Man” and I think that without the strict constraints of canon (which he had to adhere to in “Scott Pilgrim”), Wright can really do something special. Ant-Man has enough backstory in Marvel comics that Wright is free to pick and choose where the plot goes. According to SFX, he’s already proposed an offbeat approach with a heavy dose of humour. Plus, rumours that he might cast Simon Pegg (who is always welcome in any film in my books) and corroborate with Pixar hint at what could be a highly original take on the genre.
Also to be released this year is James Gunn’s “Super,” a well-received take on heroes existing in the real world (see our review HERE). “Super” gives me hope because it’s a true original. While it’s be inspired by a few comics, its hero only exists in that film. Maybe with more originals like “Super,” we can convert some of the naysayers who think the sky is falling.
So, is the superhero movie dead? No; it’s just is going to look a little different.
. . .
Follow H.G. Watson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HGWatson7.