Ten years ago X-Men Apocalypse would be one of the best superhero movies. It has a cast of faithful characters, excellent performances and and effects which will blow audiences away. Unfortunately, now that there are at least five to six superhero movies a year, even the big-hitters like Fox’s X-Men franchise are struggling to be different and original.
When you boil it down to it’s key parts, Apocalypse is nothing we haven’t seen before. It is a basic story of good vs evil with a very one-dimensional, generic villain (although one played very well by Oscar Isaac). It isn’t just Fox and X-Men which will start to struggle though and as more superhero movies are being produced, studios will find it difficult to make their franchise and individual products different enough.
This year seem to be the beginning of the backlash against the “normal” superhero movie and has delivered with mixed results. Deadpool gave audiences an R-rated superhero but in a pretty generic origin story. Marvel and DC pitted their superheroes against each other rather than a common enemy, although DC blinked first and introduced a villain to bring the heroes together in the finale. Their secret weapon could be the anti-heroes though and Suicide Squad could be the adrenaline shot the DC Cinematic Universe needs by being about heroic villains rather than a standard superhero team.
This fight against the norm is continuing in the newer products too. This year will see the release of Doctor Strange, starring Benedict Cumberbatch. What audiences aren’t clambering for is another origin story but Marvel are counting on the magic and spiritual focused character to be different enough to sell it. Unfortunately, then then fall back to sequel territory and it makes you wonder what a third Thor movie can offer that audiences haven’t seen before (even if it stars Hulk too!)
DC could also struggle. They have announced a new Batman movie but will a change of director be enough? Wonder Woman also gets her first major big screen outing but it is essentially another superhero origin movie. It falls flat when the selling point seems to be that it is a female hero (which is unfortunately a rarity in Hollywood).
Not that Marvel are not guilty of this too. They will have their own headlining female hero in both The Wasp (joining Ant-Man for yet another superhero sequel) and also Captain Marvel. Marvel will also bring something different to an origin movie with the first black headlining superhero, Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman was impressive as Black Panther in Civil War but will the colour of his skin and the setting of the movie be different enough to establish yet another origin movie. Add to this the fact that Marvel are also delivering another Spiderman movie (number 6 for those keeping count).
If origin stories are an obstacle for the creative originality of superhero movies, then the sequels are also offering their own problems. Marvel and DC managed to deliver something different with Civil War and Dawn of Justice respectively but what can they do next time? A Justice League movie was an exciting concept ten years ago but this year we saw Batman and Superman on-screen and Marvel’s Avengers have already beaten them to the punch – twice!
Not that Marvel can rest on their laurels. Age of Ultron was a good movie but at it’s core was almost exactly the same as the first movie. A Third (and fourth, it is a two-parter) Avengers movie needs more than just a different team to make it something unique. X-Men has already shown that spectacle and a seemingly unbeatable villain isn’t enough.
This isn’t an impossible challenge and one movie has shown what can be done if studios are willing to think outside the box. Guardians of the Galaxy was like nothing we had seen on the superhero front before. It was colouful, brash, as close to R-rated as it could be without actually tipping the edge and best of all, it was different! It gave us a world where a anything seemed possible and alongside Suicide Squad, the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel is becoming the superhero movie that people are most looking forward to.
Within the “normal” superhero movies there are signs of hope too. Civil War showed ambition and that a studio can utilise their sandbox of superhero characters well. Marvel doing a deal with Sony over the rights for Spiderman also showed some forethought and could open the door for something exciting in the future – especially if a certain group of mutants is becoming stale too.
Overall, lack of creativity seems to be the biggest threat to the superhero golden age which Hollywood is experiencing. In a market so saturated with superhero films, studios seem to be struggling to offer something new and different, while gender and race may not be enough. More outlandish heroes, R-rated risks and studio collaboration could be the way to save the superhero movie though.