The Problem with Superhero Movies

There’s been a bit of talk recently, mostly from filmmakers who don’t make superhero movies who would appear to be a bit jealous by the amount of money superhero movies make, about how superhero movies are ruining the film industry. Notoriously, Martin Scorsese called them not-films, theme park rides, and candy. Recently Steven Soderberg talked about how he could never make a superhero movie because they are too far detached from reality, specifically in how infrequently these characters appear to have sex.

As someone who has had a lifelong obsession with comic books and superheroes in general, I find myself cringing at these big name directors talking smack about superheroes. Oddly enough, I also find myself talking a lot of smack about them as well, finding myself in arguments with people because of how although I found Thor Ragnarok quite funny, I really hated it because of how much it avoided the emotion that Thor should be going through in that film. I was quite happy to see him finally dealing with his emotions (through avoiding them) in Endgame, still through the humorous lens of him gaining weight and not leaving his house because of playing video games, but we still saw Thor absolutely depressed.

Similarly, with Spiderman No Way Home, we got an incredibly fun film that gave us all the fan service we could have asked for, returning to beloved characters and storylines from Spiderman movies since he first hit the big screen. But, while we were dealing with a big storyline for Tom Holland’s Spiderman, the reality is that we spent the majority of the movie dealing with resolving storylines for …ummm…I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie yet so we’ll just say “other characters”. Characters whose storylines resolved as far as we needed them to already. And these were all distractions from the main character who really had a lot going on, who ultimately got his storyline brushed under the rug and completely ignored the actual issues set up by the previous movie by basically making them all go away through some plot points that don’t exactly make sense.

These were amazing spectacles, but ultimately, when it comes to storytelling, I found them lacking in their character developments.

I also struggle with the fight sequences in these movies, generally going for splashy moments instead of any form of real exciting fighting. When you have huge battles going on that end up being CGI’d fights in a blank netherverse that look like they should have been a short cutscene in a video game, it really feels like someone wrote the equivalent of “big fight sequence here that our computer nerds will make” on the script page for this piece.

Of course, then we finally get Shang-Chi, which gave us some of the most amazing actual fight sequences where we could see some true talent on display…which still ended with a CGI battle in a netherverse…

But the truth is, I can gripe about most movies, if I really want to. While I complain about Thor Ragnarok’s lack of character depth, I’ll still watch that movie whenever its suggested. I cheered and cried numerous times during the new Spiderman. Because these movies do what cinema was intended to do, give us an amazing thing to watch and talk about afterwards with our family and friends. Things that surprise us, even if we’ve watched every trailer and read every rumor. They’ve given us an experience.

While Marvel definitely has a roadmap it follows for most of its movies, I can still go into them and have actual physical or vocal reactions to what happens on the screen. And although Scorsese has made some of my favorite films of all time, his most recent movies seem to follow his own road map, but lack those big amazing twists and turns that make them feel fresh. And Soderberg…I mean, look, I loved his Ocean’s Eleven, even if it was a remake of an old flick that was actually more faithful that I would have expected to the source material. But the dude made two sequels to that movie. And yeah, Traffic was eye-opening, but the dude’s currently working on a third Magic Mike movie as well. If he wants to talk about the detachment from reality, it’s the idea that we need yet another Magic Mike sequel without Matthew McConaughey.

As a writer, I often find myself wanting to talk down about the current biggest thing. While I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series, I think the fandom for that series takes things to a level I just can’t understand, which I also know is at least in part due to my jealousy of the success of the series. But the reality is that to talk down about something that people enjoy as being something that is ruining the industry, this is just the old guard getting mad about things changing and them being left behind. It happens constantly in music, where musicians who defined a genre get pissed at younger musicians for evolving the genre into something new. It’s this gatekeeper aspect which, if people actually listened to it and changed their mind because of it, would mean that our artforms would absolutely stagnate.

While I think Marvel Studios hardly needs anyone to stand up for them, as the new Spiderman movie is poised to take over Avatar in all time money making, I do think there’s something to be said for telling these old men to shut up when they complain about the newest fads and interests. Because even if some of this superhero cinema is nothing more than screen candy, we also get films like Joker or Logan which have something much deeper to tell.

Not to mention, these are all an homage to America’s first and greatest art form, the comic book. An industry that would have died if it hadn’t been for the modern love of the superhero movie. And an industry which has been telling some of the most creative stories which push the line between reality and fantasy for far longer than people like Scorsese or Soderberg have been doing so.


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