In the last decade there has been an influx of superhero movies and not all of them were particularly good. But for every Catwoman there was a Spider-Man 2, for every Fantastic Four, there was a Batman Begins. Nowadays we rarely, if ever, get a superhero movie that sinks down to the depths of a Ghost Rider. Even with my constant disappointment in Man of Steel and the unintentional hilarity of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, superhero movies have come a long way from being just superhero movies. They’ve become the standard for Blockbusters in general because the best superhero movies are something more.
In 2008 Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was released to critical acclaim and box office success. It wasn’t just a rousing superhero epic, it was a full on crime drama with Batman as the lead detective. The movie had intense action throughout but the main focus was always on the ideological conflict between Batman and the Joker while Gotham’s soul hung in the balance. It’s a movie about the burden of being a hero (Spider-Man 2 also covered this in a much lighter, but still exemplary, fashion). It’s also the only superhero movie that garnered actual Oscar buzz beyond the visual effects category. Much like how Batman has become a symbol for justice, superhero movies have come to represent the best of the modern blockbusters.
I’m a big fan of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. It’s basically television type storytelling on a big screen setting (Imagine every Avengers movie as a season finale). The main reason why I love it so much it because every movie feels different. In Phase 1 there were some missteps here and there but even then you can differentiate The Incredible Hulk from Iron Man 2. Marvel may have superheroes on their mind but they’re thinking outside the box in terms of how to approach them. The Avengers was Seven Samurai with superheroes. Iron Man 3 was a Shane Black movie through and through. Thor: The Dark World was a Hobbit-like adventure fantasy. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy-thriller. Now we have Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that appears to harken back to the space operas of old. This recent crop of movies just goes to show that this brand isn’t going to play it safe when it comes to playing within a single genre. The superhero genre is a gateway to explore multiple genres within one giant universe, and it doesn’t stop with Marvel.
Over at FOX, the X-Men franchise took a new direction with Days of Future Past where the future mutants were being hunted by giant robots. In an attempt to rewrite history, several of the surviving X-Men band together to send Wolverine’s subconscious back to the 70s. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it has an overwhelming similarity to the plot of Terminator. That’s not a negative. It’s just another example of this specific genre experimenting with other genres.
When people say “There’s too many superhero movies” I wonder what their intention is. Is it their reluctance to see superhero movies as something bigger? Do they just focus on box office numbers? Because there’s no doubt that superhero movies own the box office, but to saturate an entire market? I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is a list of movies that were released in 2013. Let’s take a look back to see just how the superhero genre saturated the market. Out of 252 movies released in 2012, can you guess how involved superhero escapades?
Six. The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers take the cake, but we were also treated to the sorely unappreciated Dredd. All these movies were released within 3 months of each other! Do you have any idea what type of superhero high I was on? They found me on a bench in New York with an Avengers tattoo on my chest! Not to mention the subtle brilliance that was Chronicle earlier that same year. Sure we got The Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance but 4 out of 6 ain’t bad.
So are there too many superhero movies? Nah, but seeing as how there were 63 horror movies the same year that the aforementioned superhero movies were released, it looks like we’re drowning in an epidemic of mediocre horror movies. Why don’t we focus on that problem for a while?