Photo courtesy of Marvel Comics
By DIEGO CAGARA
Hulk may easily smash into buildings as if they are a pile of Jenga blocks, Captain America can deflect futile bullets with his invincible shield and Superman can just about do anything except in the presence of Kryptonite. But all these superheroes may have to face their biggest, most imminent threat, yet: superhero film fatigue.
It is fairly difficult to deny the fact that we, as audiences, are increasingly bombarded with superhero films nowadays, particularly ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born in 2008 with “Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey, Jr. Since then, the MCU has churned out a multitude of films and even TV shows, all interconnected, so that more seemingly unconventional heroes like Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange are cinematically represented. The MCU also is not planning on slowing down because after receiving much praise from critics and its established fanbase, it announced its upcoming line-up, with films scheduled for release through around 2020.
Furthermore, Marvel’s success has inspired DC Comics to develop its very own DC Extended Universe, albeit with mixed reviews but nevertheless has released numerous films which makes the superhero film industry feel somewhat more hectic. Whether people thinks this industry has become too saturated or not is subjective.
While one may seem concerned only with today’s superhero flicks, one should not forget about the industry’s background.
The 1978 film, “Superman,” which starred the late Christopher Reeve arguably was the first superhero film to capture the public’s interest, earning a hair over $300 million at the box office and several Academy Award nominations. Its critical and commercial success inspired more superhero film franchises to blossom in later decades. DC Comics perhaps ruled the late 1970s through 1990s with Superman and Batman films, until 2000 when Marvel stepped in with its highly successful “X-Men” and “Spider-Man” series.
Typically, the audience would watch the hero’s origin story, be dazzled by intense action sequences and watch the hero defeat his or her enemy—like a set introduction, body and conclusion. This is not the case with today’s shared superhero universes because since the films are all connected and contributes to an overarching plot, audiences certainly could feel the pressure to keep watching just to “catch up.” This pressure is a sure sign of superhero film fatigue.
On the other hand, the MCU and DC shared universes each do feel fresh in its own right because they each introduce characters that either never have appeared on the big screen before or have not done so in a very long time. These include Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Black Panther. Pulling characters and storylines from the seemingly never-ending pantheon of comic books, there is no shortage of cinematic storytelling in sight.
While there is concern about fatigue, the public generally still adores superhero films, as a result of comical filmed reactions to films’ trailers on YouTube, spreading positive word of mouth and hyping up a film’s release over social media. But would all this animated enthusiasm last through the upcoming decades? Will there be a time where watching such films feels like a chore?
Spider-Man certainly is somewhat trying to confront those questions this year with its second reboot—called “Spider-Man: Homecoming” which swings into theaters on July 7—and while its trailers promise exhilarating action scenes and amusing high school drama, it also has to confront a number of obstacles.
The first is the giant elephant in the room: appeasing diehard Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield fans who are still figuring out whether they should give this reboot a shot whereas their respective prior film series were cancelled way too soon. Reboots contribute to the overall fatigue because it not only populates the industry with even more superhero films, it can cause certain viewers to drop off because they prefer the original version. The second is critics who may wonder whether Spider-Man can not only succeed in a standalone film within the MCU but also whether lead actor Tom Holland can pull it off.
The superhero film industry also can suffer from two factors: its own actors and quality.
Actors eventually age and thus presents the problem of recasting the character or dropping him or her altogether. With a shared universe where continuity is at its core, the issue with age is very real, especially since so many films are announced to hit theaters through 2020 for now. For example, would Henry Cavill want to give up the skin-tight suit and eventually pursue other options? What will happen when Chris Hemsworth becomes too old to play Thor? Losing established actors can cause the audience, particularly fans of said actors, to lose touch with the films.
Quality is also a major factor because since superhero films nowadays are often connected and sequels, each film depends on its predecessor success-wise which only fuels up more pressure on a film studio’s part to deliver. A contemporary example is 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” which was perceived as a box office disappointment and garnered negative press and public attention. This caused doubts regarding whether the DC Extended Universe can thrive.
Superheroes have also made it to the smaller screen nowadays with Netflix’s “Defenders” featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist and The CW’s own shared universe with Supergirl, the Flash and Green Arrow. While they all primarily have been successful too, it also ironically makes the superhero film industry feel even more crowded.
Nine DC films and 24 MCU films will have been released by 2020—translation: that’s a lot of hours and money audiences need to invest in. While it is refreshing and entertaining to see a great volume of book characters be granted a cinematic debut, it certainly is a scary thought for the superhero film industry when people’s mindsets start shifting from “so many” to “too much.”