The Superhero Movie Lull

By Patrick Hunter

    I remember going with my friends to see the first Iron Man film back in 2008 when I was a sophmore in high school, and I remember how excited each of us were to see this movie was just so electric. We had seen the trailers for it dozens of times, seen the shirts and other merchandise at countless stores in the mall and the general anticipation surrounding this movie. I remember my mouth dropping in excitement and shock when Robert Downey Jr. spoke his final line of the movie simply stating, "Truth is...I am Iron Man"; it was such a great and memorable ending to a film that, little did we know at the time, would change the way superhero movies were made, marketed and viewed.


    Looking back, I feel that both Iron Man and The Dark Knight (which were only released a few months apart) sent a general shock to the superhero film genre and showed that not only was there interest in good superhero movies, but that there was a tremendous amount of money to be made from these films. Even The Incredible Hulk came out merely a month after Iron Man, but it didn't receive nearly the praise or the box office return that Iron Man had gotten. Over the next four years the world would get the first "phase" of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which spanned six films and, in total, grossed $3,811,244,484. Yes, that is three BILLION dollars simply from ticket sales alone and not including sales from home media and merchandise sales. Obviously the heads at Marvel that planned out this cinematic universe did a great job and received quite a bit of money along the way, so of course there was no way they were going to stop there and already had the next two phases of their Marvel Cinematic Universe in the planning stages including not only films, but multiple TV series as well.


    Now of course Iron Man wasn't the first superhero tale on the big screen nor was it the first successful one either, but I feel that what Iron Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe were able to accomplish changed the general perception of superhero films and how a studio can be extremely successful at making both good products and getting their money back five times over. But here we are just shy of a decade after Iron Man originally premiered and countless studios have tried to repeatedly find any superhero license they could get a hold of and try to make their own cinematic universe with it. To me personally, the excitement and magic of the superhero film has long passed and now they feel more formulaic and copy-and-pasted than ever; they feel like cash grabs more than passion projects, they feel more stale and uninspired than anything. You of course will get a movie here and there that will actually grab your attention wholeheartedly and remind you that there is still creativity and fun to be found in the genre, but more often than not most superhero films now just fall flat and leave no lasting thought in your head before the next "Hit Superhero Movie of the Year!" is marketed to your grave and back.


    It's simply a case of an oversaturated market of too many films trying to essentially do the same thing over and over again; I've honestly found more enjoyment and excitement in Netflix's Jessica Jones series, a show that feels completely off the beaten path of it's genre that has me wanting to get to know the main character and sympathize with her and the journey she goes on. I will say that I found a lot to love about this year's Wonder Woman film, well until I watched the last 20 minutes at least. I noticed that even though it followed the usual tropes of a superhero movie, giving us the main character's backstory more than anything, it felt more like a character driven story where you sympathize with your protagonist and want to see them exceed as you follow them on their journey, much like with the Jessica Jones series. It felt more like a contained and focused story rather than the outlandish and overbearing themes of what feels like every other movie of it's kind, but it's not all great. The film does good job until again the last 20 minutes where it feels like someone said "Oh wait, this isn't superhero-y enough! We gotta throw in this unnecessary addition and tie-in into the story!" where it just feels like it reverts to being like every other movie of it's kind. We got close to something refreshing though, right?

    As I stated earlier, more than most of the films in this genre just simply feel too formulaic now more than anything and leave no lasting impression; you'll have standouts like Guardians Of The Galaxy, but then you'll see movies try to copy that off beaten film’s loose and fun style like Suicide Squad and Thor: Ragnarok. So where does that lead us? I feel that eventually the bubble that is the superhero film genre will burst and while that may not be soon, it will happen. Without some sort of progression, change, general shift in the way these stories are told or even just simply taking more risks like killing off beloved characters or shaking up the stakes for the characters in the films, they'll just continue to become more bland and uninspired than the trend they've already been setting.