Today: June 21, 2024

Don’t Blame The Superheroes

Last week Cinema Editor James Hay posed a question regarding the saturation of superhero movies in cinema. Let’s be honest, a look at next year’s big tent-pole movies tells its own story. We’re talking: Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, Dr. Strange and, in theory, Gambit. That’s a lot of spandex, rubber and, despite The Incredibles warnings, capes to digest in a cinematic year.

While I don’t agree with everything James said, I enjoyed Avengers: Age Of Ultron more than I do the stand-alone Marvel movies, he raises a key point about the direction cinema is headed. There is such a thing as too much Spiderman and the Fantastic Four reboot lays claims to being one of the year’s absolute worst films by quite some distance. But I wonder if superheroes are more a symptom of the issue rather than the cause.

A closer look at some of the highlights of next year’s tent-pole releases reveals a genuine concern: sequels and franchises are killing creativity. There are, at a glance, a count of no less than 35 sequels, prequels or follow-ups in cinemas next year. That doesn’t include the likes of Dr. Strange which is essentially an original film even if it is part of the Marvel universe.

Some of the sequels on the list feel particularly superfluous. Another Jason Bourne film might be welcome to many but the last film in the Matt Damon starring franchise back in 2007 wrapped up that character’s story neatly. Do we need another one? The last Bridget Jones film was back in 2004 meaning it would have been 12 years since the last instalment. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was released in 2002 but is getting a follow-up next year.

The point is this: Hollywood seems devoid of original tent-pole movie ideas. It’s all about cashing in on the franchises that already exist. Imagine if that had been the trend when box office takings for the likes of Titanic, Avatar, Jaws and the original Star Wars were made. Would they have come into existence? Probably not. It’s a sad thought.

But it gets worse, and this is the point that really irks me. The biggest issue is not even the superheroes, franchise cash-ins or reboots, remakes and prequels. It’s the obvious formulaic storytelling Hollywood has imposed on itself that is causing a spiralling lack of creativity in some of the most creative minds in the industry.

Yes, Marvel are the main perpetrators of this. When was the last time a Marvel movie didn’t end in a big CGI-infused battle in its climax. Guardians Of The Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier both, on the surface, offered something fresh in the Marvel world until their final acts. There is no question this is because the studios feel that audiences demand it but when you can see it coming a mile away it’s hard to remain invested for the two-hour build-up. In some ways this year’s Ant-Man toyed nicely with the concept by having it’s big third act climax go small, literally, and hence was almost a pastiche of its Marvel brethren.

Big bangs at the end therefore can work but for the most part it feels unoriginal. That’s not to say it can’t be done properly as Christopher Nolan, one of the few filmmakers who seemingly is able to assemble a big budget and still be original, proved this with his Dark Knight films. Each one felt fresh and smartly evolved from the last film. Can you say the same about the Marvel Universe? How much has said “universe” actually expanded or altered since Tony Stark donned the Mark One Iron Man suit?

And so we return to the waste of Hollywood talent on display in these franchise films. The likes of Rian Johnson, who has signed up for two Star Wars films (in either a writing or directing or both capacity), is a genuinely original filmmaker who is, in my opinion, three for three with his first features Brick, The Brothers Bloom and Looper. I love Star Wars, am a fully-fledged Jedi geek, but I’d rather Star Wars was handled by a workman-like filmmaker who is able to adhere to the strict rules of the Star Wars canon while allowing Mr. Johnson to go and make another original and progressive cinematic offering. I could be wrong, I hope I’m wrong, as he may do exactly that with Star Wars but he has to answer to both fans and moneymen before he is able to service his own creative flair. There’s a reason you don’t see the likes of The Coens, Quentin Tarantino and the aforementioned Nolan becoming embroiled in these franchise movies: because they want to retain their own ideas and visuals flourishes.

Remember the climax of Scream? When the killer turns to the scream queen and states: “Don’t you blame the movies. Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.” We’ve reached a point where the filmmakers have to be given creative freedom to inspire the psychos, or audience in this long-winded analogy, to be more creative. Don’t blame the superheroes, blame the studios for stifling their originality.

Image taken from San Andreas. 

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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