Superhero movies on the ropes
"From The Flash to Secret Invasion, the Superhero Genre Is Having an Existential Crisis" – Escapist Magazine
The article by Darren Moony is a sober assessment of the dilemma of flopping superhero movies of late, and contains a point-by-point analysis covering the last years of releases, doing so by comparison of earnings (with a nod to the effects of the pandemic). Then Moony says "there has recently been a sharp shift in the thematic logic underpinning these movies and television shows, reflecting the existential challenges facing the genre."
This is perhaps most obvious in the way that these movies return time and again to the idea of the multiverse, which is often just populated with familiar intellectual property in a way that allows studios to tickle fandom’s nostalgia receptors while asserting ownership of their brands. However, there is often a recurring subtext to these stories that plays on the “Pottersville” nightmare of It’s a Wonderful Life, asking the audience to imagine a world without these costumed vigilantes.
What Moony talks about are the stories themselves indirectly describing things about the genre of superheroes, the corporations that own them, the film companies making the TV Shows and films. The over arching stories themselves (especially attached to concepts of Quantum string theory, i.e., the "multiverse") are grappling with "what if" scenarios that, though Moony doesn't expand to see it, the other question on the corporate level: what if superhero movies don't exist? What happens to the companies that have depended upon them to pay the bills and to keep theaters interested in keeping the lights on and selling the popcorn? What if superhero movies go away?
These projects are no longer just superhero stories; they are ideological statements about the state of the genre.
Moony doesn't bother to delve into the other meaning of "ideological statements," the political kind that produces the craziest kind of film marketing: when a director or actor in a film comes out on social media to attack fans who complain about drastic changes to characters or even quality problems, as they see it, in a released film. If anything pictures an industry in disarray it is one that goes to war with its audience in public.
Superhero films cycle in popularity, and they cycle in terms of quality and ideas, too, these two things (apparently) more or less in tandem with each other. In the past, when the seedbed of the whole industry, which are comic books, produces new ideas and creative choices that draws readership, then the movie and TV versions have something to pick from (or loot from, depending on your level of cynicism) to rejuvenate the genre.
At this stage, the multiverse idea is apparently played out, and the time-travel aspects are simply too familiar. The "do-over" is just one idea among many ideas and its been used too much, in fact its threatening to become the genre itself.
Vaguely related: Superhero Comics and the Freedom of Art
More or less related: "Superhero fatigue" is back
Original Page June 23, 2023