Superhero fatigue is a false diagnosis

Long live the blue sky beam
Photo courtesy of: DC Comics

By the end of 2018, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will have released its 20th film and 11th television series; DC Comics is trying to keep pace with its own arsonal of projects in pre-production. There are no brakes to be pumped, no reasons to slow down—superhero films consistently collect billion dollar checks, and as long as that’s true, they won’t be going away any time soon.

More importantly, neither will their fans.

“Superhero fatigue” is an oft-cited complaint of the casual audience member. When a movie studio announces a new slew of release dates, or when a legacy cast member like Chris Evans hints at possible retirement, someone in the comment section is sure to voice off about Hollywood’s supposed lack of originality. They take issue with sequels and mourn the days when Iron Man was a standalone entry. They think the end is near, and the finish line excites them.

But if all the superhero factions from the last two decades are combined—including Marvel Studios, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, The CW, and Netflix—the canon is over 75 titles deep. That’s more than a loosely connected network of franchises. That’s a genre.

So while people are well within their rights to not keep drinking the superhero Kool Aid, they don’t have to claim fatigue or some other systemic problem to get themselves out of the theater. Viewers can choose not to like The Fast and the Furious franchise without demanding a finale for the action genre, and people can find fault with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 without writing a eulogy for the MCU.

Like with any other genre, bad writing is an individualized problem that shouldn’t be ghosted onto all its cinematic siblings. Avengers: Age of Ultron failed to connect with audiences not because it was the 11th entry in a franchise, but because it failed its characters. The movie’s problems—which include a thoroughly uncompelling villain and writing that spent more time forecasting future installments than it did developing its own central narrative—are those that plagued Batman v Superman itself, only the second film in a series.

Inversely, films that treat their source material with an imaginative eye will make well-worn tropes feel new again. Wonder Woman was an independently crafted story that didn’t exist as a bridge to Justice League, and its intimate take on the superhero origin story inspired audiences like it was the first time they’ve seen the hero’s journey played out on screen.

Black Panther is debuting this weekend with more presale tickets sold than any previous Marvel film; when the first Avengers: Infinity War trailer debuted last year, 220 million viewers broke the record for most hits within 24 hours. These are stories that are promising something new to their viewers (by way of representation or scope), and so long as the genre can keep producing scripts that complicate familiar narratives, it has the potential to live a long, interesting life.

Taylor Kirby
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