Quite recently, actor-director Jodie Foster — when speaking about the Black Mirror episode she helmed — made it a point to express her dislike of superhero films and what their abundance has done to cinema, claiming that they were the cinematic equivalent of theme parks and that they would eventually ruin the viewing habits of the world. She’s not alone in her opinion of superhero films. Several celebrities have expressed their disdain for what the genre has done to cinema, including Emma Thompson, Naomi Watts and Simon Pegg.
When we look at the state of cinema and television, it’s easy to see that these statements aren’t at all baseless. It seems as though everywhere you look, there’s another superhero film or TV show being released. It’s clear that studios are more interested in the superhero genre, or rather, the huge financial success they can squeeze from it. Superhero films and shows are pretty much a sure-thing while the art films of yesteryear and all their depth and emotional resonance, simply don’t carry as much promise for studios.
It seems as though all anyone ever talks about anymore when discussing film are the major comic book film franchises and their various universes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe, being one of the more prominent ones, alongside the slowly expanding DCEU and X-Men Universe, of course it also extends to television as well with smaller universes like the Arrowverse. These franchises are all undeniably popular and financially successful, but they don’t carry as much meaning or depth as other genres do. With few exceptions, the films and shows within these franchises follow formulae and fail to really say anything. They’re good, loud fun but they’re also an indication of studios their repetitiveness make it more obvious than usual that studios are only interested in making a quick buck.
None of this is to say that the superhero genre at its current height does nothing at all for cinema. Anyone would be remiss to claim that they’re completely pointless. The ever-increasing spectacle of these films demand progress and further development in the technical side of things. Think about the development of motion-capture and digital effects and how focus has been placed on them in order to keep things looking as realistic as possible, thanks to the popularity of the genre. Unfortunately, with so many of these films being released, they have made cinema feel just a little gaudy with their reliance on huge, rendered battles.
Given how relatively juvenile comic book media generally is, we’re sympathetic toward those who feel as though the multitude of comic book films have caused a certain amount of decay in both cinema and television, at least, where abstract concepts are involved. We’re not saying anything new here. In fact, Simon Pegg said as much, and then some in a blog post that drew a lot of attention and its fair share of criticism from dedicated comic book film fans.
Is that all superhero films can be? Large scale, boisterous spectacle? As we’ve seen, many seem to think so and so far, it’s difficult to argue otherwise. It’s rare for a superhero film to exhibit more than just an inkling of emotional depth and when it comments on society or the human experience, there’s seldom any real finesse. How could there be? At the end of the day, we can never fully relate to people who fly around in bright costumes to fight world-ending threats. That’s why it’s unlikely we’ll find profound moments in them. Unlikely, but not at all impossible.
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