As a genre of film that has dominated the box office time and time again, the superhero movie has been, ahem, going strong for some time. For years it seemed like the genre could do no wrong.
Ever since the well received ‘X-Men’ ushered in the genre’s “renaissance” in 2000, superhero movies have captured the imaginations of critics and fans alike. By veering well away from the campy Batman crisis of the late 90’s and aiming instead for darker and more socially aware subject matter, comic book movies hit the new millennium in a very big way with plenty more to take us right through to 2019:
We don’t have to look far back to remember when Joss Whedon gave us ‘The Avengers’ which, after a long wait and much hype, was everything our little nerdy hearts desired. When Chris Nolan gave us ‘The Dark Knight’ it fast became a genre-defining pinnacle of modern cinema and an enduring testament to Heath Ledger’s immortal genius. We even remember when ‘Iron Man’ happily gave us the antidote to doom and gloom and managed to rescue what many of us thought to be beyond saving; Robert Downey Jr.’s acting career.
But it looks like there’s trouble brewing in what used to be cinematic, money-making, career-defining paradise.
Don’t believe me?
Take this professionally curated list of ‘Best Action Movies’ for example. Yes, superhero movies are represented, but with only two from 2012 or later making the list, it seems action movies without a comic book premise are proving more popular.
Marvel director Joss Whedon recently said that making ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ made him feel “like a miserable failure”. Little White Lies said on ‘Captain America: Civil War’ that calling this the best Marvel movie is equivalent to proclaiming “this is the best Dorito I’ve ever tasted.”
It gets worse. Last year’s ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot earned a depressing 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and the massively overhyped ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, to which The Guardian referred to as an “overcooked, underlit, indecipherable pudding of a movie,” disappointed pretty much everyone.
But it’s not all doom and gloom
The genre has been in dire straights before and managed to pull through. Even though these box office behemoths have come out slightly worse for wear, there are still some rays of hope left.
Take the incomparable ‘Jessica Jones’ for instance. Hailed by critics as “the best show on TV”, ‘Jessica Jones’ was a powerful, female-led superhero detective drama, with diverse, raw, and believable characters. It didn’t feel the need to talk down to its audience; instead it allowed itself to become a shattering exploration of rape, addiction and control.
The pretty much universal acclaim of ‘Jessica Jones’, considered alongside the audience’s appreciation for Wonder Woman in ‘Dawn of Justice’, and the upcoming big screen debuts of Harley Quinn, Enchantress, Amanda Walker, and Katana in ‘Suicide Squad’ later on this year might indicate that the world is finally ready for the superhero genre to stop being such a sausage fest once and for all.
That’s why the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is so exciting; it’s going to be the first female led superhero movie since the ‘Catwoman’ and ‘Elektra’ debacles. But if the studio gets it wrong, it could mean that we’re back to living in a world where female superheroes are just “box office poison” for another decade.
Then there was ‘Deadpool’ – the biggest R-rated movie ever. ‘Deadpool’ was a funny, fan-pleasing game changer. After all, R-ratings are supposed to be bad for business, especially in the PG-13 dominated genre of superhero movies. There’s also ‘The Killing Joke’ to consider. Officially the first R-rated Batman film and due to be released later this year, the animation is set to be a brutally faithful adaptation of one of the darkest Batman storylines ever written.
And now there are rumours surrounding the recent reshoots of ‘Suicide Squad’. Some say that the reshoots are an attempt to make the film funnier in the wake of the comedic success of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Deadpool’. However David Ayer insists that the idea of them reshooting for humour “is silly”.
One thing is for certain though; it’s kept the wheels of the media hype train rolling when people were in danger of abandoning the new DC universe as a lost cause. After all, what better way is there to get Heath Ledger off of people’s minds than with a steady drip of of well publicised, sexualy themed eccentricity?
So what does it all mean?
The superhero movie is in danger of going out of style. So many superhero movies have been made that now the conventions of the genre are starting to look a lot like cliches. It’s time for filmmakers to switch it up and give us something new. If directors are intending to carry on making obscene amounts of money from comic book heros and withstand the oversaturation of the genre, then they must learn from the success of projects like ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Jessica Jones’. Both of them took risks and spun the genre on it’s head, proving there is still life in the superhero movie yet.