Are Superhero Films Just a Phase? | Fanboys Anonymous

Are Superhero Films Just a Phase?

Posted by Unknown Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Logo for Marvel's Marvel Studios.

Hollywood trends are inherently volatile, and all too often subject to seemingly spontaneous change. This should be particularly obvious to us, the weary survivors of the recent onslaught of vampire works. With the blood- and sanity-sucking genre safely locked back in its casket, superhero films seem to be the logical choice for the latest fad gripping the industry. This then begs the question: Are these films, too, doomed to lose audience interest? With the core of Marvel’s Phase Two coming up in the next few months, beginning with Thor: The Dark World out tomorrow night and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April, I believe now is the time to test the strength and longevity of the genre. Unfortunately, DC hasn’t made enough long-term feature film plans to consider them much of an asset in the coming years, so I’ll focus primarily on Marvel’s slate. What’s my opinion across the board? Devout DC fan or Marvel maniac, if you love comics, you should be cheering these films on every step of the way.


The relationship between superheroes and the cinema goes back quite some ways. I believe the current crop of films, however, differ from their spandex- and occasionally Bat Nipple-clad predecessors in two distinct ways: variety and scope. There have been plenty of Batman and Superman films, and I'm certain there will be plenty more. (Heck, they're even putting them together.) Those two heroes are particularly ingrained in our pop culture mythos, however, because they have been so publicized already. What’s special about Marvel’s current slate is the attempt to build franchises on less-tested heroes like Thor and Captain America. This is even truer for the likes of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, who will both be headlining films in this phase. The resurgence of these characters on the big screen, and subsequently the comics, highlights not only the difference in this generation of film, but the first reason we should be pulling for them: the intrigue they are creating.

Close up of Ant-Man in action from the upcoming film Ant-Man
Marvel's The Avengers managed quite the feat for Marvel. Aside from making an enormous amount of money, it cemented their characters—even the more obscure ones—in the public sphere. Go back just three years and tell me how many people were calling Hawkeye their favorite character. Perhaps no character proves this more than Iron Man himself. Although a large part of this can, and certainly should, be contributed to Robert Downey, Jr’s performance, the fact remains that this character went from fairly popular in the comics to a massive franchise leader.

A look at the various members of the Guardians of the GalaxyThe simple fact is that comic sales are on the decline. While I have speculated that this can be attributed to the nature and behavior of comic stores, it can also be attributed to a lack of customer awareness. It's amazing how shocked people are to learn that new comics are still being shipped weekly. This new crop of films is taking comics and putting them at the forefront of the entertainment industry in a way the print medium needs. It’s also being done in a respectable way. While you can debate the merits of taking the likes of Agent Coulson and sticking him in comics to make them more “Cinematic Universe-friendly,” it's much harder to protest the adaptation of acclaimed materials like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel’s played many things right in this sense. They’ve selected a much-enjoyed book and adapted it to reach a wider audience.

So superhero movies aren’t all that new, but new superhero films have been doing well. What’s next?


After the enormous success of Iron Man, it was clear there would be subsequent films. We are now half a decade out, however, and RDJ is off the Marvel slate for at least the next two years. We’re also getting into sequel territory for two less successful films about two less popular characters. I believe Marvel’s next two films will truly test these depictions of Thor and Cap, as well as the longevity of the superhero genre as a whole. The long-term success of the superhero genre may rely on these films being able to launch franchises of their own instead of serving, like the infamous Iron Man 2 did, as platforms to get us to the next Avengers movie. Fortunately, these films are uniquely poised to promote growth.

Art for a fight in Marvel Studios' Captain America: Winter SoldierThere’s no doubt that superhero films have become the toast of the town. However, between new launches and reboots, it feels like every six months I’m watching a likable character discover they have some sort of power and learn to use it. Let’s face it; origin films have become more tiresome than origin issues. Fortunately, Thor and Cap are each on their second installment, but their third adventure. They’ve now settled into who they are and can move on to exploring their individual worlds.

Movies are often broken down into three acts, with the second often being the best, as it's where the adventures and ensuing character development occur. It’s one reason The Dark Knight was so great. At that point, Batman was Batman and could get his Batman on without having to worry about helping the audience keep up. In a similar vain, Cap and Thor are now fully established heroes in their own right and ready to build franchises based on their adventures. Fortunately, these films also have the advantage of heightened production values that’s made obvious in their respective trailers. These films are many things, but a Green Lantern-class film certainly isn’t one.


Iron Man 3 continued Marvel Studios’ enormous success in the box office and became the second of its films to rank among the top five highest grossing films of all time. Although some of this could be attributed to it being the film to follow up Marvel’s The Avengers, I also believe it did well simply due to the world RDJ and Marvel created. If that’s the case, I think that if the new Thor and Cap movies establish a strong world, superhero movies will persevere for at least another five years more. The universe Marvel is creating is something unlike anything that’s been attempted in film. They will soon be beyond the six films managed by Star Wars, and they're using their massive character library to plan even more, all the while employing comic writers and respected directors to tell their truly epic tales. I believe this means the films have the mettle to survive the shifting, yet invaluable, interest of the public and will continue carrying our genre to new heights.

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