Days like these feel too good to be true. Since the 1951 film titled Superman and the Mole Men—a movie usually credited as the first legitimate superhero movie—there have been countless numbers of superhero movies up until today. In what seems to be the Golden Age of Superhero Films, there will be even more to come.
With the superheroes moving beyond movies and into TV shows, they continue to invade pop culture and reach out to the mainstream audience. More superhero films/shows will continue to come out, not just from Marvel and DC, but even other studios would get into the trend.
Some argue that the superhero genre would be another Western movie fad—a mere exploitation of the audience’s interests only to die out. There’d be so much of them that we’d grow overall tired of watching the same thing with relatively same characters in a relatively same setting. With its ever-growing influence and box office hits, one has to ask: will there be too many superheroes?
In this essay, I’d like to pitch some reasons and ideas as to how to prevent a superhero fatigue.
What comes to your mind when somebody says “oh, that’s a superhero movie”? Most likely you think about Avengers; Christopher Reeve’s Superman; a villain who’ll take over the world/galaxy/universe. The villain traps the hero, telling the hero their whole plan only for the hero to escape. In their next encounter, the hero thwarts the villain’s plans and saves the world—and also saves the *girl* if she so exists.
What you need to understand is that the best thing about the superhero genre is that it isn’t exclusively a genre. It has the most potential among other genres to be anything. Sure, great films in general are always a mix of genres, but superheroes are only superheroes because they’re people with superpowers; wears costumes; and fights crime. A superhero film can be set in the 1950s, World War II, or even in the future, and it still counts. There’s no one formula to get it right. It could be an action-packed horror like Blade; a dark crime thriller like The Dark Night; a teenage drama like Spider-Man; or a movie that pays homage to the 60s-70s spies and superhero era like Incredibles. It could be in any setting, in any mood, in any genre.
This prevents the genre to die off. When the only limit is acknowledging the characters live in a world with superheroes, the only problem (and a big problem that is) is how creative you can get. So what’s next?
This goes for any adaptation, but superhero films have to embrace the spirit of its comic origins—it’s zany, gritty, fun, serious, ridiculous, and overall a blast to experience. It’s grounded in reality, set to be over-the-top, or made just right in between. It doesn’t have to copy everything from its source material: they just need to be authentic to the spirit and soul of what the characters and their world should be.
A great and most recent example of this is the Captain America trilogy. While the films were drastically different from their comic versions, each respectively remained to be a nostalgia-packed war piece, a modern-day spy thriller, and the last a drama-action thriller. The whole Captain America trilogy focused on Captain America’s beliefs and morals being shaken and challenged. First it was by a clear and present enemy, then a hidden threat, and ultimately his own friends, finally resulting to him dropping the shield that represented Steve Roger’s alter ego. While this changed the placement of his beliefs, it didn’t change what he stood for. Each film remained to have its own story while serving an overall larger story. Another example is the Dark Knight trilogy, but we’ll leave that for now.
My favorite superhero films—and even any film—have always been the ones that focused on the characters, and not just the spectacles and stunts they get involved in. You can’t just put a costume on somebody and expect it to be a big hit.
You can only save the world so many times in the same way. And thanks to Deadpool and Logan, these movies have paved the way for more intimate, small-budget superhero films, which encourages more filmmakers/studios to do the same. On the other hand, the same could also be said of GOTG & GOTG Vol. 2—two big-budget films which focuses more on the heroes and less on the super antics.
While plots that involve large-scale threats don’t have to go away, there is certainly more room now to get more creative with how the supers could be approached. A film could have less emphasis on the super and more emphasis on the human.
And what about a villain’s movie? They say a hero is only as good as their villain, and giving villains the spotlight in a superhero film would be certainly welcomed. A film through a supervillain’s perspective has been tried with Suicide Squad and will be done with Thanos in Avengers 3, so why not more? When can we get a Doctor Doom movie?
Superhero movies won’t be over–not for a long time anyway. So let me give you a list of comic books that I’d love to see on the movie screen or on TV:
TOM KING AND GABRIEL HERNANDEZ WALTA’S THE VISION:
There’s a lot of potential with the Vision. With his important role in the MCU, it’s not a far stretch to imagine him getting his own movie. If ever he does though, what better storyline to adapt than this run by Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez? The comic imagines Vision with a family, trying his best to be as normal as he can.
WARREN ELLIS AND DECLAN SHALVEY’S MOON KNIGHT:
Moon Knight is a complicated character. On the surface, he could easily be described as a “psychotic Batman” but Moon Knight has much more potential than that, and this comic run proved it. Moon Knight had a minimalist, episodic feel to it: saying a lot without giving away too much. The comic book run’s use of negative space was an overall delight to read. With each issue going from street-level crime to trippy mushroom dreams and fighting punk rock ghosts. While I would easily accept 20 minute bite-sized-1 hour versions of this comic run, I would also love to see a movie-length version as well.
GRANT MORRISON AND RICHARD CASE’S DOOM PATROL:
Think Fantastic Four meets Twin Peaks. That’s actually an understatement, but Morrison and Case’s run has been considered the quintessential Doom Patrol comic book. If you’re fine with getting your mind turned and twisted, this one’s for you. If you want something much more recent, try out Gerard Way and Nick Derrington’s Doom Patrol. Heck, check out DC’s whole Young Animal line.
SOULE AND PULIDO’S SHE-HULK & LETH AND WILLIAM’S PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT:
Both comics are excellent runs of slice-of-life pieces that focus on the humans and less on the superheroics. The only thing that relates She-Hulk to Hulk is being his cousin and also being green, but she’s different in every other way. Lawyer by day, crime-fighter by night, She-Hulk is one of the wittiest characters to come out of the Marvel universe. While the attorney hasn’t been introduced to the MCU, I’m crossing my fingers for a smashing debut.
Patsy Walker has been introduced to the MCU through Jessica Jones, but she hasn’t worn her costume yet. With her history as a Hollywood actress and fame all around her, Hellcat has a tough time stopping the past from bothering her and letting her be who she wants now. With Defenders coming soon, we could most likely see her debut soon.
…Or we could see something made from scratch. If you don’t want the weight of fans’ expectations or don’t want to be limited to a character’s values or powers, you can just make your own original superhero movie. You may not have the same following as any established character, but at least you have no rules as to how you want your story to be told. In short, you’ll just have to hope people will like it, like every other film that isn’t an adaptation.
Are there too many superhero movies? Not yet, and we might feel it when we keep seeing the same thing. But studios and filmmakers are learning to change–they know that their audience can get easily tired of the same thing over and over again. With every new superhero movie, the term and what it represents gets looser and looser every time. Superhero movies are forever–and even if they die out, I believe they’ll come back from the dead, like every hero ever.