A Solution to Superhero Fatigue

Kevin Joffre

Since “Batman Begins” (2005) and “Iron Man” (2008), the movie industry has been thoroughly
saturated with superhero movies. Sure, there were superheroes on the big screen before that.
Marvel had pumped out a couple of X-Men movies, and DC had a long history with Superman and
Batman films. But none of those earlier movies came close to what “Batman Begins” and “Iron Man”
did: they made comic books characters cool. Before these films, superheroes were reserved for kids
under 10 and nerds (back when that term was an insult). Now, every third person on the street is
wearing a superhero logo and “Tony Stark” and “Bruce Wayne” are household names. And with both
“Avengers 2” and “Batman vs. Superman” set for 2015, you can expect the trend to continue.

For those who grew up reading comic books, this is the most exciting thing in the world (and that
is not an exaggeration). Others, though, are experiencing “superhero fatigue.” They found the first
few films funny, thrilling, or visually impressive, but the subsequent sequels, prequels, tie-ins, and
reboots are less fun (and harder to keep track of). They’re sick of “superhero movies” and would
rather see a little more variety at the cinema.

I think the solution to this lies in the definition of a “superhero movie.” After all, “superhero” isn’t
really a kind of movie genre. When we say “superhero movie,” we really just mean “a movie with a
superhero in it.” The term refers to the character in the movie, not the kind of movie itself. It’d be
like saying, “I’m sick of dumb, irresponsible teenagers who go camping” instead of “I’m sick of
horror movies.” Sure, there are dumb teenagers in horror flicks. But there are also dumb teenagers
in romance films, comedies, and anything that airs on Disney Channel. It’s the genre that you take
issue with, not the characters.

When people say they’re sick of “superhero movies,” they really mean that they’re sick of
superheroes appearing in the Action/Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. So that’s my solution— put superheroes
in other genres.

Want a comedy? Pick Deadpool as your anti-hero protagonist, and a funny, smart, irreverent film
pretty much writes itself. Crime/political drama? Make a decent Daredevil film and you’ll get tense
courtroom scenes and dingy, half-lit streets. Horror? Pretty much any supervillain would work. You
could even pull off a romance film. (Don’t be overly skeptical with that one. The number of times a
superhero appears shirtless is comparable to even the most tedious Nicholas Sparks film. And it
would do the world some good to give the female lead more than 15 minutes of screen time.)

Now, granted, some of these would be more successful than others. But even if filmmakers used
other genres as a template, a superhero film would become more nuanced. Many characters already
come with stories influenced by other genres. And many comic books already deal with the
complex and realistic issues emphasized in other movie genres. After all, what is the X-Men but a
drama of the relationship between minorities and the majority? And what is Spider-Man but a
comedic coming-of-age story?

No doubt, these elements appear in superhero movies. But most of the time, they seem to be there
out of a sense of obligation to the mythology of the comics. The reason successful superhero
movies were successful is because they organically integrated these themes. “The Dark Knight”
captivated the audience’s attention in its psychological examination of sadism. “The Avengers”
became the third-highest grossing film because of its shrewd portrayal of Class A Egos colliding.
After audiences leave the theatre, it’s these aspects that we remember, not the big fight at the end.
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