The rise and fall of the superhero movie


Cinemas in the 2010s were dominated by the superhero movie. There had been attempts to take comic book narratives from the page to the screen in the past, but it took the release of Iron Man in 2008 to truly jumpstart the golden age of the genre.

Since then, Marvel has built off of the success of the Iron Man films to create an expansive cinematic universe. There was a novelty in seeing dozens of films that fit into an overlapping narrative. The first five years of the superhero era were filled with awe and wonder. We had never seen visual effects like that; we fell in love with the heroes.

Marvel Studios came to fruition (under the ownership of Disney, albeit) to produce superhero stories. Looking back, many of the first Marvel films were fairly bland, but at the time, they were unique. Iron Man made way for Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor. The first full Avengers movie was released in 2012, which was a hit with both fans of the genre and casual viewers alike.  It was something on a scale that we hadn’t seen before and the profits were similarly large, grossing $1.519 billion.

As Marvel became better at refining their films, a formula began to develop. Origin stories had a distinct feeling and plot structure, Avengers movies were the same. At the very same time, Marvel’s chief competition wanted to get in on the action. DC’s attempts at the superhero genre were fairly limited to Batman and Superman films, but with Marvel blazing the trail, they saw the opportunity to create their own cinematic universe.

DC had a few good attempts at the genre. Wonder Woman was considered by many to be a large step in the right direction, as a female led, action movie, but there were even more missteps. Batman vs. Superman was considered a flop by many and while Suicide Squad may have won an Oscar, it is considered by many to be a catastrophic failure.

As we entered the height of the genre, there seemed to be a new superhero film to see every other month, whether it came from Marvel or DC. This over—saturation of superheroes lead to boredom. It was no longer special. The most ravenous of fans were still around, lining up to see the second Avengers film (myself included), but many of them left the theatre disappointed (I certainly did).

The DC Extended Universe was very much riding in the wake of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they rushed to release stand alone superhero films before bringing them together in what I can only describe as “a rush-job” for Justice League.

There were bright spots in the hero fatigue. Every now and then a special writer, director, or actor would be brought into the fold and create something new and innovative. Taika Waititi was given the reigns for Thor: Ragnarok, he created a bright, vibrant, energetic landscape and injected some sorely needed humour into the franchise. It was a new look for the character who very few would have called their favourite avenger previously. The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was well received: James Gunn dug through the vaults to find characters that only the most die hard comic book fans would be aware of and placed them on the big screen to much success and praise. Attempts to recreate the energy of the first in the second film fell fairly flat, however.

Although Waititi was able to reinvent Thor in his solo films, there was still the matter of the Avengers films. In Ragnarok, Thor cast aside his hammer, lost his eye and learned to tell a joke. But with Waititi not present on the list of writers for Infinity War (2018), the third Avengers movie, Thor’s character development was almost entirely forgotten.

Therein lies the problem. The dominance of superhero movies has lead to the formation of studios, and sometimes there are miscommunications. Intentions get lost amongst the grand scope of what is happening. Captain Marvel was a return to the original style of the marvel superhero film, and although it mostly stuck to the formula laid out by previous films, it was a breath of fresh air. Brie Larson became the first female lead in a Marvel film, she was tough, funny, and immensely capable, yet, I find myself worrying. Will her characterization be erased in the next Avengers film in the same way that Waititi’s rendition of Thor was?

Only time will tell, but one thing is certain, the 2010s were the decade of the superhero movie.


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