August 28, 2017

Watch: Why Superhero Movies Should (and Will) Die

Other entries in the genre should take a hint from James Mangold's 'Logan' and bow out gracefully while they still can.

While some would argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn't get its start until 2008 with Iron Man, it is my humble opinion that Sam Raimi's Spiderman was the birth of the modern superhero franchise. That was all the way back in 2002. It may also be the best metaphor for the course of the superhero genre in general. Since then, Spidey has completed an entire trilogy, had two other films in a failed re-boot, and most recently was re-booted again purely with intention of taking a more prominent role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 These characters are too financially valuable to die. 

By now, we can all come to the agreement: superhero fatigue is real. And in his latest video essay, The Closer Look makes a pretty compelling case for why we've reached this point. It all comes down to the fact that, as of now, these characters are too financially valuable to die. But if they can't die and no real resolution is ever reached, then why should we care?

There is one superhero movie that stands out from the multitude of others released this year and it's purely because it does away entirely with the "building a franchise" convention. Logan brings the audience out of the world they've come to expect with comic book fantasy and instead focuses on a few of the more brutal realities of life.

The key to Logan's success starts with scale. Somewhere along the line, director James Mangold realized that the epicness of a film's action doesn't matter as much as the way its message is delivered. It has become customary for Marvel and DC to go huge and focus on large battles where flying robots are killed off easily by the hundreds. Meanwhile, no one in the audience could really bother thinking twice. Who are these guys fighting again? Why?

"The Avengers" Credit: Disney

That’s why Logan works so well. There is no world-ending threat or colossal tragedy on the horizon, just the end of The Wolverine and Professor X who we have come to know and love. To focus the camera on this one relationship is infinitely more powerful than to focus onto the swatting away of hundreds of stock villains and their goons.

Focusing on the small details of the story is what inspires empathy. For example, Tom Hanks losing his volleyball in Cast Away is an impossibly heart-wrenching moment. But without the relationship we witness building over the course of the film, it's just a crazy man with a volleyball.

Logan is the most intimate superhero film of all time, in part because it is brutally real. The frightening realities of life and death take center stage over some science fiction monstrosity that we, as audience members, will clearly never face in our lifetime. The film takes this idea a step further when it acknowledges the fact that comic books and superheroes are purely ridiculous. Logan’s views of the X-Men comics parallel our own, further immersing us into the world the film.

“If Marvel and DC do not eventually deliver a final ending, then they are depriving the audience not only of one of the fundamental parts of a good story but also the most beautiful and most emotionally touching parts as well.”

Mangold makes a point in the film of hinting that if superhero movies continue down the path they are currently on, with endless sequels, then they will go out with a whimper and not a bang. If they were to bow out at their peak, however, people will look back on them with nostalgia. If they keep going on and on and on with endless reboots and rehashes of the same character, then they are nothing more than a tired excuse for studios to make money—and people will take note.

The lack of finality is the number one problem the superhero genre faces today. As The Closer Look puts it, “If Marvel and DC do not eventually deliver a final ending, then they are depriving the audience not only of one of the fundamental parts of a good story but also the most beautiful and most emotionally touching parts as well.”

Eventually, these stories will not end because they have reached the natural conclusion of their narratives, but rather because they no longer make sense for studios to finance when audiences have lost interest. Logan finished off on a strong note in the main character's story and will bow out gracefully because of it.

But is he truly gone forever? Mangold certainly does everything in his power to make us think so, but who knows what the studios will do?      

Your Comment

18 Comments

Even the morons who used to like watching Transformers punch shit are sick of that trash. Eventually the morons who like watching superheroes punch shit are gonna get sick of the superhero fad too. For now Marvel is making a fortune cranking out these cheap blockbusters, so you can't really fault them from massively profiting off the fad.

August 28, 2017 at 11:24AM

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Jake
314

I'm tired of Marvel's movies consisting of multiple superheros. Civil War? You've got to be kidding me, this was Avengers 2.5 with a whiney-er Captain America. They did some great things with Spider-man Homecoming, but I agree, it's like "lets do this just to make money".

I wish that DC could get it together. I feel like they strive with their character development, and really start out with a similar vibe to Logan...but all of that seems to fly out the window as soon as they've established the smallest amount of connection to the audience. It's "lets blow shit up and fight". Wonder Woman (not my favorite movie) had some fantastic exposition, as did Man of Steel, Watchmen, V for Vendetta...Snyder has lost his way.

I would love if he could stop communicating with dialogue and fighting, and communicate with some more visuals like in Watchmen. And on a side note, I would love if he'd give the graders a shot of actually adding in a variation of color, rather than his typical 30% saturation, haha.

August 28, 2017 at 11:50AM, Edited August 28, 11:50AM

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Ben Schranz
Video Producer/Editor
12

I've been aboard this train of thought the last year or two myself. We're in a fatigue state as an audience and as filmmakers. And I`m with you on DC. In addition to having a greater affinity for their universe, part of that ties in to how drawn in I am to their characters and the worlds they operate in.

Original Spideys and first Iron Man are still the best Marvel has had to offer. Still need more time to consider Logan for that list, as many have already placed it in the upper ranks.

Oh and one last thing, I feel Marvel could take a page in grading from DC as they always seem to have a flatter image in their films. And this applies specifically to the Avengers. The palette just appears to be a consistently even keel through the entire picture. But then again as someone said, Marvel movies aren't for cinematography

August 28, 2017 at 12:10PM

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Daniel Custard
Editor>Director>Writer
110

>Marvel movies aren't for cinematography.

I couldn't agree with you more and those who have said it before. A great Marvel movie, is the movie where I forget it's a Marvel movie, and Guardians did exactly just that. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, was a masterpiece, cinematography and all. Not only the dialogue, grading, cgi, acting, editing, but what really got me into both films was the SOUND DESIGN. This is something that'd been overlooked by about the last 10 movies I've seen. Vol. 2 was also pretty good, but after Seeing Baby Driver (I know not a superhero movie, go with me though) any other movie I've seen this summer can't beat its editing or sound design. Gotta love Edgar Wright. I would love to see him direct something of a super hero movie.

DC: I enjoy the flatter picture too, I guess when I did watch Man of Steel, I felt like it wasn't a Superman movie, though in hindsight maybe that was a good thing.

August 28, 2017 at 2:46PM

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Ben Schranz
Video Producer/Editor
12

Hey,Jake, If you don't like the superhero fad, don't be a cynicial dick about it by calling people who likes it morons.

August 28, 2017 at 12:56PM, Edited August 28, 12:57PM

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Jwalker
222

I had a big ol' post written here but I can narrow it down to some bullet points

1. What evidence is there that superhero movies are worse today than yesterday?

2. What evidence is there that superhero movies are performing worse at the Box Office, even with market saturation?

3. The claim that they will die is like saying the "action" genre will die, or the "drama" genre will die. No it won't. Superhero Movies are not Westerns - they aren't niche. They are broad in terms of what they can encompass dramatically. The dramatic elements and tropes of Tombstone, Unforgiven, and The Good the Bad and the Ugly are fairly similar. The dramatic elements and tropes of The Dark Knight, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Logan are very diverse.

Of course there is room for improvement but to write off this entire genre simply because movie aficionados are tired of them is really what's causing more of them to be cranked out.

August 28, 2017 at 12:11PM, Edited August 28, 12:12PM

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Brennan, you are on target. It continues to amaze me those who think they are filmmakers and purist have no idea how the industry works. If you don't like blockbuster or marvel films that is fine, but don't kid yourself..millions and millions do and it's why there is a giant industry that feeds hundreds of thousands and spends billions thru the economy. Nothing is dying.

August 28, 2017 at 1:04PM

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I think it's more of a desire to return to blockbusters that spawned franchises rather than spin offs and remakes of battered and tired story lines we all know. It is time to move past the overlooked cheesiness of the super hero film formula.

August 28, 2017 at 2:58PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1600

Like I said on Ben's post below - I get the spirit of what your'e saying and agree with it.

However, it's that last sentence that I think is causing some of the issue - there's a tendancy toward bias against superhero movies because there is a view that there is some sort of "formula," but in reality that formula is the same "formula" all genres and all stories use.

Really what we're tired of is "impersonal" stories, which is why we cling to "Logan" or "The Dark Knight," but in so doing I think we're honing in to close on the strengths of those films as if they overshadow the strengths of something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Spiderman Homecoming, which would be like saying "2001: A Space Odyssey" is an exception to "Star Wars," or "Dead Poets Society" is an exception to "Breakfast Club." Of course they are but that doesn't discount the strengths of Star Wars or Breakfast Club - they're just different versions of the same story.

August 28, 2017 at 3:51PM, Edited August 28, 3:52PM

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My view of this analysis is that these movies are being made because they're popular, the solid box office numbers will almost always be a sure thing, and that they can be made.

But to me, it feels like these movies are being made with those purposes only, easy money and easy entertainment.

"But Ben, isn't that the whole point? Entertaining people and making money doing it? They're doing what they set out to do, and are pretty damn successful at doing it!"

Yes, I'd have to say you're 100% right, they are succeeding at what they're doing. Entertaining, making money, etc. But when it comes down to the 1's and 0's that are making up this digital film, I want to be able to feel the director and crews heart in it. I want something other than the everyday standard theme in superhero movies of "Good vs Evil". But, shit, like I've said about 100 times in this post "I, my, me", in the eyes of the general public, these movies are gold. Kill the bad guys, save the princess.

August 28, 2017 at 3:00PM

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Ben Schranz
Video Producer/Editor
12

I do hear what your'e saying Ben - and I agree. The Superhero vs. Monstrosity is a very worn trope, however, while there are core aspects to that in nearly all comic book movies, there is also that in nearly all sci-fi, horror, thriller, and action movie (to a degree).

The problem is, you'll almost never get a good story without a core of "good vs evil." As filmmakers it's our nature to want to turn something on its head, but it's even more at everyone's core to want to see good overcome evil one way or the other. Doesn't matter if that "evil" is as simple as our own limitations or as big as a cosmic squid threatening to destroy earth. Comic book movies succeed because, instead of rejecting this notion, they embrace it and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, they try and turn the wheel in somewhat unique directions, hence, "Logan." Logan still faces evil (almost in an "on the nose" sort of way with the clone bit) with his own good (acceptance of death/still seeing a purpose in himself even so).

So, what I'm saying is, while I agree a bit of "originality" is nice, I'd argue it's already there in a lot of these films but because people are so hung up on the "superhero" tag, they lose the forest for the trees

August 28, 2017 at 3:45PM

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When I think of Logan, it came more across of Man vs. Self, rather than Good vs. Evil. But that's just me.

And Yeah, I'm not so much into any of the genres you listed, which is probably why I have such a predisposition on the whole superhero genre.

But I really wasn't referencing that what I'm yearning for was more originality in superhero movies, though re-reading my post it definitely comes off that way. Simply put, what I want to see is directors, writers, cinematographers, & actors holding themselves to a set of higher standards. But now I'm starting to think my main problem with this genre is lack of character growth/development.

Okay, I'm going to be honest here, this entire time I'm thinking of Captain America, and not the first one from the 2011 film, but the one in every other Marvel movie that doesn't seem to expose a single flaw of the guy. I'm getting sick of repetition of "According to me, this is the right thing to do, and I'm Captain America, so of course I couldn't be wrong. And even if I am, I'm not." The narcissistic bastardization of a role with such leadership and influence, infuriates me.

But that was a tangent of my own beliefs, and I could easily be dead wrong, as well as disabling myself by watching these movies with eyes wide shut.

I would genuinely enjoy it if you, Brennan, or anyone else can respond with times that his flaws were shown (in the movies, not comics)...or can redirect me to some sort of rhetorical analysis that can help me see the light...and yes, I understand that I have gone completely off track, sorry about that. I hated the first Thor movie, until I watched it a second time through and saw the huge transformation he went through.

I'm excited to see Thor: Ragnarok, I think it will be the first Marvel movie with a direct Avenger (two if we include Hulk) that I might enjoy....okay one last tangent. Mark Ruffalo is a phenomenal Bruce Banner.

August 28, 2017 at 5:48PM

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Ben Schranz
Video Producer/Editor
12

I'm not gonna disagree with really anything you said in there :)

And, to be honest myself, Captain America (the first film at least) is one of my least favorite comic book films, and definitely in my bottom 5 Marvel Studios films - for the reasons you listed and others

September 1, 2017 at 5:21PM

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Sorry. That´s what you want to believe. But geeks have been buying comic book for ages... at 3.99 the comic per month.. You think they will stop seeing movies for $5 every 2 years? the comics sometimes are good most of the times sucks. This will be the same for the movies. And month by month by semester by year every hero has been in some kind of danger... sometimes they die. And they return. But BUT Comics are a cycle. For teenagers. And every 5 years, there are new teenagers. Same apply for movies. The new spidey movie is not made for you, or me, or all geeks that linger in geekdom. It´s for the new teens. (Zeldayanana or whatever her name is, is the best example) We need to grow up.

August 28, 2017 at 4:53PM

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Eduardo
Writer
6

It's probably because Disney sucks at writing scripts and so all they can do is rehash what was already successful and they have no intention of letting to creative people that let them past lead on to success in the future.

It's no laughing matter, when the largest multi media company in the world sucks at screen writing...

Otherwise Tron would've been good instead of a movie that completely caters to the 1% but ignores the blue collar people that made the original movie a cult classic.

August 29, 2017 at 7:08AM, Edited August 29, 7:08AM

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Kyle Dockum
Videographer and Editor
509

Since when did Disney suck at screenwriting?

August 30, 2017 at 9:14PM

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Jwalker
222

Maybe it's not a matter of superhero movie but blockbuster in general, this lack of intimacy, of touch.

September 22, 2017 at 9:43PM

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Abi Stricker
Student
459

I've seriously tried to give the super hero genre a second chance and watched some films like "The Dark Knight" and "Wonder Woman" that many people rave about, but I just can't get into them they seem rather formulaic because the audience knows for a fact that the hero will never die or be ultimately defeated -- doing so would end the franchise which is a cash cow for generating revenue so that Marvel and DC can sell ridiculous consumer products like Captain America waffle irons and cutting boards.

March 3, 2018 at 1:09PM

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