movies matter | criticism by maryann johanson
Thu Apr 07 2016, 05:19pm | 13 comments
I don’t believe “superhero-ness” has ever really been a genre to begin with. ALL superhero movies have always had to be ABOUT something, and that something could fit into whatever genre it happened to be a part of. The Richard Donner Superman movie was a superhero movie that was also a coming-of-age movie and a golden-age Hollywood comedy, among other things. Man of Steel was a superhero movie that was also a science fiction first-contact story. The Nolan Batman movies were noir and police procedurals. And so on. Just make sure the superhero movies have well-written, interesting stories, and the genre will take care of itself.
When I read your title, “Are superheroes alone not enough anymore?”, I thought it was going to be about how superhero movies need to show more regular humans with agency and journeys of their own. I’m super in favor of that. Having just finished Jessica Jones, I’m impressed with how that series really fleshed out its non-powered characters and made sure they had real impact on the story.
Have I told the potato joke here? “Monday you liked potatoes. Tuesday you liked potatoes. Wednesday you liked potatoes. Thursday you liked potatoes. Now, suddenly, today you don’t like potatoes?” Marvel and DC are trying to find ways of disguising the fact that it’s all potatoes. At the moment, they’re making the super-heroes fight each other instead of the villains. It’s novel if you haven’t read a comic book in the last 40 years.
Marvel and DC are trying to find ways of disguising the fact that it’s all potatoes.
Well, “potatoes” is the easy image, but you could just as easily say “olive oil” or “vegetables.” You can make a LOT of very different recipes with those same ingredients (and with potatoes too). Thor is a VERY different experience from Jessica Jones.
And it’s all about execution. Batman v Superman wasn’t a shit movie because of the “Batman fighting Superman” concept. I can’t guarantee it, of course, but I have a feeling Captain America: Civil War will take the same basic idea and execute it WAY better.
Well, yes. The Marvel filmmakers are really talented, and they’ve gone out of their way not to make the same movie (or the same TV show) over and over again. Screenwriters get sick of potatoes, too. I suspect they’ve had to sit through bad films in other genres: the tenth found footage movie or raunchy sex comedy or Adam Sandler movie in a row. They may also worry that, if super-hero movies become as formulaic as those films, they’ll appeal only to die-hard fans of the genre.
That’s a legitimate fear. I always hear people saying, “Not another super-hero movie,” even when the new movie is a comedy space opera or a film noir crime drama. They can spot the potatoes no matter how well they’re prepared. But filmgoers (me, for example) still respond to a well-executed film like The Avengers or Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The DC filmmakers are trying very hard to follow Marvel’s example. Zack Snyder’s Superman is certainly different than any other version of the character. Change isn’t always a good thing. When it’s all about execution, you have to find people who can do the executing.
The Marvel filmmakers are really talented, and they’ve gone out of their way not to make the same movie
I’m not going to bother linking to a defense of BvS (just don’t have the spoons for it), but one that I did read makes a reasonably compelling case that Disney/Marvel is making Spiderman 1 and 2 over and over again.
The default Hollywood reaction to a success has “make another one just like it” at least since the 1970s. And that’s what’s been happening: remember all that fuss last year about the slates of superhero films planned three or four years in advance? I think mainstream audiences are simply getting bored with Yet Another Superpowered Beat-em-up. (And the people who do like that stuff don’t have to go to every single superhero film to get what they want: there are so many that they can pick and choose the good ones.)
I’m not sure how seriously I should take that link.
After all, I had no idea from the trailer and the TV ads that Ant-Man was supposedly to be a heist film until I recently saw the movie on a relative’s cable. I just got the impression that it was about a man who had the power to get really small and who spent a lot of time with ants.
And the idea that a vampire slayer with superhero powers would be an instant success must seem to be quite an amazing idea to the producers of the big-screen version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a notorious flop n its day). And, of course, the idea that Blade‘s success might have anything to do with the appeal of actor Wesley Snipes or the novelty of a black superhero in a traditionally white-dominated genre goes totally unmentioned by this article. I wonder why…
I had no idea from the trailer and the TV ads that Ant-Man was supposedly to be a heist film
Right, but the point is that once you bought a ticket and saw the film, it might be the fact that there’s more going on that would cause you to like it and to recommend it to others.
the idea that a vampire slayer with superhero powers would be an instant success
I don’t think the piece is saying that at all. And the Buffy movie was 20 years ago (and not a superhero movie), so there’s really comparison there.
One big difference to me between BvS and the Marvel movies is that in the Marvel movies, even the people with superpowers feel like real people. Neither Clark nor Bruce in BvS feel like real people. (And of course in Jessica Jones, the people with powers are recognizable people first.)
I think the equilibrium is different for everyone. Comics were always just way too much superhero for me. The Warner Brothers DC cartoons were ideal, even though there was a lot more superhero there than we’ve seen yet on the big screen. Marvel can keep doing what it’s doing for years to come, as far as I’m concerned.
I think DC has two major problems right now; the first is that they’re REDONE the characters to death, the second is that all they are finally trying to shift from short-form storytelling (a three part Nolan trilogy, a two part Superman story) to franchise-building in mid-leap, requiring they retread ground that has already been strip-mined.
Excellent points all around. There’s a sense of desperation to the entire endeavor, and that doesn’t help this film: it feels like nothing but an attempt to kickstart a series.
I was thinking last night that DC could actually turn this around and make a strength out of this weakness; the trick is that they can’t go the Marvel Route.
Marvel is starting a fresh continuity from the ground up. They want to create a universe where every show, every movie is linked into a single universe. It’s very ambitious, but they hit the ground running with strong stand-alone films and a goal for the future.
DC can’t do that, but it also doesn’t need to. One of the biggest guns in DC’s arsenal is “Crisis on Infinite Earths”. The idea of a multiverse with hundreds of different alternate universes is baked into their storytelling; theyhave the freedom to experiment, start in mid story and see what resonates with people. Once they have a stable and a tone; Boom: crisis on Infinite Earths. Merge the multiverse into the DC Cinematic Universe, say all the terrible stuff happened in different timelines, enjoy 3 different batmen in the same movie, send it off with a bang, then start fresh with stories without having to retread origins and retellings.
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