Will lack of originality and creativity destroy the superhero movie?

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.

An R-rated superhero made a generic origin story different

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!)

Is a female-led origin story different enough?

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).

The first black superhero with their own movie might not be unique enough

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.

Guardians of the Galaxy showed an appetite for the unique

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.

Could this film save the DC Cinematic Universe?
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17 comments

  1. Well, i was going this marathon of old movies, you can see there were tons of movie about “Rome”, countless “Westerns” and “Musicals”, and while they were cooled down, they were never completely gone, i think the same will be with the hero movies. I think “science fiction” will rise in creativity now, and “Ex-Machina” was the first of the new wave.

    About black hero movies, please remember that we had SPAWN, Steel and Meteor Man

    • I unfortunately do remember SPAWN, Steel and Meteor Man. Meteor Man aside, the first two are very good characters but done poorly, particularly Steel which could have been something special if it had not been for the casting of Shaq!

  2. I used to enjoy the change and escapism in the first wave of the modern superhero films, but the sheer number of them being churned out at the moment is killing off the genre. Unfortunately the mix of big stars, big budgets and big characters (and big returns) mean we’ll be putting up with these as ‘tentpole’ films for the next 10 years or so. 😦

    • I’m stuck in a cycle though because I will still watch them. I’m the problem. I’ve been such a superhero movie fan for so long that I will go and watch any new superhero movie that is released in the hope that it offers something else. Every fourth or fifth film does manage to offer something new which keeps that interest renewed as well.

      • Me too, i´ve been a comic book fan since 1985, when i first read the brazilian edition of the “X-men Phoenix Saga”. So yes, we´ve been getting a lot of hero movies lately, and that has been exhausting lately, but we had decades of having nothing, so we can´t really complain.

        We´ve head countless cop movies, sadly we had Tarantino movies, which i hate, ´cause it stimulated “violence porn” movies, and so on.

        Well, i hope new filmmakers get creative, since they´ve run out of 80´s and 90´s to dig nostalgia from. I think we´re all ready for new stories

  3. The more movies I see this year, the higher my expectations for Suicide Squad rise. I mean, I loved Deaddy and Civil War, but for every good experience this year there’s just ok (Apocalypse) and meh (B v S). Doctor Strange is a character I haven’t really followed before so I’m not sure about that one just yet.

    It could also be because there are so many coming out this year that I’m getting overloaded with the effects and atempts at stories, IDK.

    • Overloaded with effects definitely. It is becoming something we have become numbed by the amount of huge explosions and landmark leveling moments in movies that they don’t even really register. That definitely felt the case with Apocalypse.

  4. I totally agree, I was so in love with all these superhero movies and then they just kept coming and coming, it was overwhelming for me (and they’ve planned everything out for like the next 5 years!) I do think a small backlash is beginning to form, and given how many superhero movies are slated to be filmed, I’m slightly afraid for what might happen if a complete rejection of the genre were to occur (by that I mean if, say we had four or five duds in a row), that could be really really bad for Hollywood.

    • You also have to wonder what will fill the superhero void. Superhero movies have dominated for so long you wonder what other “genre” could actually fill the gap that could emerge in the market.

  5. Hollywood went overboard with the superhero movies because the CG factor didn’t limit their stories anymore. However, they didn’t pace out their release plans and pepper them with different storylines. They all seem the same now and I go see one once in a while for passing time rather than racing to see the latest release as a superhero/comic book fan.

  6. Maybe. But I still think that as long as they are making genuinely good movies, it will be fine. The really good comic films are good films in their own right, with interesting themes and great character development. Many of the X-Men films have this, as does the early Raimi Spidey films and the best of the Avengers series.

    The backlash I don’t think is a fatigue thing, its more that the movies this year just haven’t been solid movies in their own right. Civil War had a lot of character issues, Batman v Superman was a mess of story and tone, and Apocalypse was much emptier than the other X-Men films in terms of character and themes.

    • I disagree about Civil War, I think that was a great film and offered something different. Even Batman V Superman was trying to approach superhero team-up from a different angle. That is why X-Men was such a let-down compared because it felt so generic in places and didn’t really do anything we hadn’t seen before.

  7. It’s an interesting question and I think we really are starting to see Superhero fatigue now for real with Civil War not being as big at the BO as Age of Ultron or Avengers 1, BvS also fell quite a bit short of expectations but yeah I think we just need different types of stories for superhero movies, give us a Kick ass, give us a mystery drama, give us a war film with superpowers, just mix it up.

    I think we (audiences) are so used to the superhero team or origin story – rise and fall of the hero who finds themselves to fight the bad guy and save the world that it doesn’t really excite us anymore as good as those stories can still be, variety never hurt!

  8. I think that filmmakers have started to pay attention to the concept of superhero fatigue and the need for variation in upcoming superhero films. And while Marvel have a been a bit up and down with their films, since 2014 Marvel have been smart about changing things up with their genres and stories especially with Winter Soldier, Guardians, Ant-Man and to a degree Civil War too. Suicide Squad also looks like it’ll be something special and I don’t really care about the focus on the “bad guys” but more so the concept of the team and them coming together with a slightly darker/comical tone overall. I have hope for Doctor Strange and the magic angle, but that’s only if they commit to the crazier side of the comics.

    And beyond Marvel and DC, there’s many other comic book properties to adapt that’d make for good films whether they’ve been done before or not. I think after next year it will potentially become excessive with the amoun that both Marvel and DC will be releasing. As long the filmmakers are self-aware and smart about the way they introduce these characters then it’ll be fine. But if the film’s suck then the genre will fall quickly. I would love to see a remake of The Shadow, that film was quite a different film with an interesting concept but not the best execution and I feel like it’d do so well in this current climate of superhero films.

    • You are right. It seems to be something a lot of studios are beginning to consider. There are also plenty of “superhero” movies which could take the genre into a different direction – The Shadow being a great example, especially with it’s unique setting. Properties like Spawn deserve another go as well, seeing as audiences may be more susceptible to a concept as crazy as that today.

      • Great point about Spawn, that would definitely be very unique and awesome to see in the superhero genre in present times if they can get it adapted properly.

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