When I was a little girl watching Christopher Reeve in "Superman," I dreamed of the day when I'd see Wonder Woman, the X-Men, and the other superheroes I loved on the big screen as well. Back then, between the weird looks I'd get for loving superheroes (this was before the world at large acknowledged that people of all genders could love anything they wanted), I read comics and thought up storylines that could work in a film.
As technology advanced, it seemed more and more likely that the caped heroes would finally break through and become more common as film subjects. I remember the day I interviewed Jon Favreau for a comedy film and asked him about the upcoming "Iron Man." He told me he was surprised and happy that I'd heard about the character — a whole lot of people hadn't back then. You can imagine how I felt during the lead-up to "Avengers: Endgame." There were a few clunkers, sure, but overall, the world-building and execution were so much fun! I explained comic book history to my family members. I made a noise only dogs could hear when the "Wonder Woman" film was announced. I cried joyful tears at the premiere, even though the third act was messy, just for getting to finally see her on the big screen. I have spent my career writing about superheroes and genre projects, thrilled with each announcement … until I wasn't. It wasn't one or even several bad movies that did it, it's the sheer frequency with which they're being churned out and a few other, more complicated factors.It's time for superhero films to take a break — or at least give us a bit of a pause — before they kill the genre for decades.
We Know Too Much About The Behind-The-Scenes Dealings
I can't mark the exact moment that I started to feel superhero fatigue, because I've genuinely liked some of the recent ones. I thought "Shazam!" and its sequel "Shazam! Fury of the Gods" was lovely, though the box office for the sequel was pretty dismal at $30.5 million opening weekend. I'm sure Zachary Levi's recent comments about vaccines didn't help the number, going by the Twitter comments I got for posting my interview with him. I loved "The Batman" and "Joker," and I adored "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," while also realizing it was overstuffed.
At this point, we're not just invested in the story of the superheroes themselves; we're also invested in what goes on behind the scenes. The nine-picture deals that started with the MCU were a huge piece of news when they first happened, and now we hear about them all the time, taking some mystery away. The actors' personal lives and controversial comments and actions absolutely affect people's feelings about a film; consider how embattled "The Flash" has been with star Ezra Miller's issues.
The rise of superhero films as the dominant box office money makers coincided with the rise of social media. It isn't just what stars are saying, as the toxic side of fandom can put people off as well. As someone who loves both Marvel and DC, I've seen cruelty and harassment on both sides. If I like a film, I'm told the studio is paying me. If I dislike a film, I'm apparently a monster who should be killed. (Yes, this has actually been said to me more than once.) Personal, yes, but it's indicative of the culture of these films. It's hard to support a film if talking about it publicly runs the risk of harassment.
Too Much CGI
For a while, fans were more likely to forgive things like "Wonder Woman" and so many others like it having a third act that's largely CGI, but once the glut got bigger, it started to grate on audiences. "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania" broke my heart because I loved the first two films, but the effects and background in the Quantum Realm were so awful (not at all helped by the way effects artists are treated these days) that it took me right out of it.
There is only so much money at a studio, and if you're putting out five superhero films a year instead of two, not to mention all of the TV series, it's just not sustainable. Going by the restructuring of Warner Bros./DC and Disney CEO Bob Iger talking about how we don't need so many sequels, the studios know it as well. Superhero movies were once considered "too big to fail," but as we've seen with diminishing box office returns, that belief system is breaking down.
But knowing a star is a troubled figure or that mistreated effects artists lead to lackluster final results aren't the only issues. There are also the problems of homework and frequency.
I Thought I Was Done With Homework After College
As someone who took 20 pages of notes on a documentary about the history of the Hot Gates before "300" came out — before I wrote about entertainment for a living — I don't mind researching a film. I love that stuff, but in the case of "300," I didn't need to do that. I did it because I wanted to, not because it was required to watch the film. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to understand what's going on in these superhero stories if you don't already have a pretty good knowledge of the MCU or the DCU.
I've been a fan of this stuff for most of my life, and even as someone who can tell you a lot about obscure characters, I still have to give myself a refresher course for every entry. People like my parents, who don't have a deep knowledge of this stuff, have already given up. I used to be able to explain some things to them before a film, but it's too much now. I'd have to give a college-level class on it, and they have, you know, lives to live.
It's a tough line to walk for the studios. You have your hardcore fans who want you to go deep, but you've also got the general audience who is just tired of being forced to do schoolwork to enjoy a two-hour film. You can see it with titles like "Thor: Love and Thunder" (which I genuinely enjoyed despite its flaws) and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" which didn't exactly storm the box office.
Too Much Multiverse
Something else to consider as superhero stories continue venturing into multiverses, is confusion. The multiverse is a super fun concept when you're talking about comics. You have to wait for each issue so you have time to absorb things. With films, it's a lot to take in when they're happening this frequently. "Everything Everywhere All at Once" did well with it, but that's a standalone film. Different versions of characters are great for a little while, but if this is going to be an ongoing thing, it's a bit much for someone who just wants to watch a film at the theater after the pandemic to blow off steam and have fun.
Add to that the fact that it's getting harder and harder to watch a single film without having seen every other offering, and it's asking a lot of people who are giving you money to see a film. "Fury of the Gods" has a mid-credits scene that requires you to have watched a TV series that isn't exactly friendly for all ages. (A film that is targeted at kids might not want to use an R-rated show as a reference point.) If you didn't see "Loki" on Disney+, you are probably not going to get a lot out of "Quantumania."
The Plot Of The Show Is; Here's What You Need To Know To Watch The Next One
As these multiverse stories continue to expand, every new project seems to be an ad for the next one. In theory, it's fun to build and build on something, but this is not a book series that gives you time in between to process and remember what happened (or the lead-up to "Endgame," which gave us fewer things to keep in our heads). I've been hearing friends and family (and social media acquaintances) complaining that if they're going to have to catch up on every single show and film to watch the new one, they're going to bow out. No one has the time for that. Plus, if you have people watching these shows because they have to, you're not doing the job of entertaining. You've given us an assignment, and the grade depends on whether or not we can follow a whole lot of details and retain them for years.
All of this is only exacerbated by the fact that even the writers seem confused by things, going by how convoluted everything is now. If we're getting new directors and writers for each super secret project but telling them next to nothing about what they're supposed to be pointing to or what their plot is setting up, it's a recipe for disaster. Maybe it will make sense once the entire MCU or DCU run is finished, but it doesn't look like there is a wrap-up plan of any kind.
What Can We Do?
The thing is, I love superheroes. I want to keep watching these films. I just want them to be worth my time. If nothing changes, maybe fantasy flicks like "Avatar: The Way of Water" will replace the superhero genre. Maybe action films like "John Wick." Horror is certainly having a heyday, but that's parring for the course. The thing is, the box office can't sustain things the way they are now. If spectacle films are the main movies getting people into theaters, then messing up one of the major genres is a problem.
So how can this be fixed? If you want to keep people interested, something will have to change, like the frequency. Marvel and DC are not going to stop making superhero films, but they could maybe do less. If you want casual fans to absorb deep cuts — and it's fine if you do — you're going to have to give people some breathing room to absorb it all. Give them time to get excited and want to look things up/do a rewatch. Make us miss the films before you do another one. Marvel released eight projects in 2022. That's insane. It's time to scale back. Do more one-offs like "Werewolf by Night" or "The Batman." Let a story end. Let the reaction to a film breathe. Lots of people might be willing to catch up if it doesn't require one-fifth of their life each year.
I love these films, and I want to continue loving them, but if you've lost me, you've lost a whole lot of other people.
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The post It's Time For Superhero Movies to Take a Nice, Long Break — For Their Own Good appeared first on /Film.