Today’s mainstream cinema is dominated by the Super: Superheroes, super-budgets, super-egos, and superfluous remakes, re-imaginings and or re-boots.
When Superman was first released in 1978, people were willing to believe that a man could really fly. In 1989, cinemagoers the world over were willing to accept Michael Keaton as the first serious cinematic representation of Gotham City’s poor little orphaned Billionaire industrialist, Bruce Wayne/Batman.
In 2016 audiences were expected to flock to multiplexes all over the globe to experience Batman V Superman and believe that two supposedly good guys would have the need to battle each other in a rain soaked Gotham/Metropolis, in order to instigate the Justice League. This screams out as a response by Warner Brothers to the envious Box office returns of rival Disney’s Marvel Studios output of the last ten years.
People love Superhero films. One of the reasons being that they offer us a chance to live vicariously through these semi-human or meta humans, as Batman V Superman would have us term them. These meta-humans have powers that mere mortals could only dream of. Iron Man has a Cyborg suit which he manufactured himself. The Hulk has immense strength. Spiderman has the abilities of a Spider and can shoot webs from his wrist. Batman is super rich and ploughs his wealth into amazing vehicles and gadgets to aid him on his vigilante quests. Superman, is perhaps the most powerful of any DC or Marvel comic figures. He is after all, an alien with God-like powers, who can fly, shoot laser beams from his eyes and is impervious to everything, except Kryptonite.
The appeal of these characters is clear. They all possess powers and abilities that we mortals can only fantasize about. The world that we live in now, is a topsy turvy place, riddled with extremism, violence and hatred. It is far more palatable to have a fantastical version of our reality, starring immaculately chiselled actors of varying ability, playing swashbuckling fantasy superheroes than our impotent political representatives who predominantly inspire apathy. I am all for a bit of escapism and have been a fan of the Superhero sub-genre since the Bill Bixby series of The Incredible Hulk, with the incredibly sad, yet apt, piano solo at the end credits.
Up until the first Iron Man film, there seemed to be a reasonably consistent output of one or two superhero films a year that satisfied the public appetite and which justified their presence in the multiplexes. Now, we have at least four to five bloated $200 million behemoths landing in picture-houses every three to four months and sometimes even more frequently.
Television is also dominated by Superhero shows: Marvels Agents Of Shield, The Flash, Supergirl, Daredevil and Jessica Jones. All of them are well made and polished products, but I find them derivative and increasingly bland. We have seen all these characters in various guises before. They are essentially cyphers of each other.
Marvel and DC are quite aware of the back catalogue of characters at their disposal. Just because they can make an Aquaman film, does not mean that they should. They will argue that they are just responding to the public demand and right now, that demand is huge. Many Superhero pictures gross upward of a billion dollars. The almost universally snotty reviews for Batman V Superman have not diminished its box office drawing power. On an insane budget of $250 million, it has recouped an impressive $800 million so far. Some studio heads have deemed that disappointing. It should end up with around a billion after it takes its cinematic bow. By comparison, the entertainingly humorous Deadpool, cost a mere $58 million and has so far returned nearly $780 million to 20th Century Fox’s coffers. It is obvious why such franchises are key to maintaining a successful formula at the box-office.
What a pity they play it safe with threadbare characters and dominate these pictures with excessive CGI that amounts to a tsunami of fakery that leaves viewers increasingly jaded, despite the so-called entertainment value. It is the cinematic equivalent of McDonalds: fast food cinema.
How refreshing it would be to make a film or series about real life heroes, centred around real people, like teachers, Doctors, aid workers, etc., who fight the daily injustices of life, simply to maintain what they have. That type of cinema has a limited audience. Real life is too boring and depressing for mainstream cinema. Young people, from 5 to 25, want Superhero popcorn movies, to entertain and fire their imaginations. I am all for that, but when they have remade Spiderman for the third time in just over ten years and there has been five different incarnations of Batman in the last twenty or so years, varying wildly in quality, how do you keep audiences interested when the same product has been re-processed and repackaged again and again?
This is the point where I begin to lose interest. The sheer glut of Superhero films that audiences have been subjected to in the last five years is becoming overwhelming. They will perhaps realise too late that the key to the success of these characters on screen is not to bombard us with formulaic dross, numerous times a year. Less, is so much more and that is doubly so regarding Superhero franchise pictures. One wonders what the studios will come up with next. Perhaps they could proffer the idea of Mrs. Browns Boys V. Supergran: Dawn of Incontinence!