Nov 03

Superhero Movies at a Crossroads?

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The latest Marvel movie and the third in its Norse chapter, Thor: Ragnarok, may herald a marked change in that franchise’s approach to superhero films.  The production of these films is as predictable as a car assembly line and their content as varied as the colours of a Model T but with Thor Three a new ingredient has emerged, that of humour.  In contrast I was recently at a cinema to see Blade Runner 2049 when the trailer for DC’s Justice League came on.  There was a palpable sense of ennui from the audience.  Perhaps they had already signalled their indifference to superhero fare by choosing to see Blade Runner but I sensed a shift that just might dent one of these studio giants.

Taking its cue from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Thor Three’s accent is firmly on the comedy.  Thor himself is self-deprecating and droll while supporting characters present plenty of less than super attributes.  Tessa Thompson plays a Valkyrie who, when not booting monsters all over the place, advocates heavy drinking.  The really surprising thing is that she does not experience an epiphany and hold forth against the demon drink when her character arc demands it.  And, considering that Marvel Studios is a subsidiary of Walt Disney, this is a turn-up.

Superheroes are a sexless bunch but, finally, in Thor Three we detect some lewd thoughts flickering between our beefy god of thunder and his fetching Valkyrie.  There is the faintest tickle of potential hanky-panky between these traditionally po-faced heroic archetypes.  At one point the goodies have to fly their spaceship into a black hole called the Devil’s Anus. Change is indeed afoot.

Meanwhile over at DC studios, the same old formula that brought you the excruciating Superman: Man of Steel and the tired Batman v Superman: Yawn of Justice, (sorry Dawn), is busy promoting its latest commodity.  Justice League brings together Batman, Wonder Woman and some other assorted gimps you’ve never heard of to fight someone called Steppenwolf.  It’s tiring even writing this stuff.  Judging from the trailer it’s all square jaws and CGI fisty-cuffs with little evidence of the refreshing wit found in Thor.

Will audiences tire of these cinematic facsimiles?  I sincerely hope they do.  This may sound mean-spirited but my objections to this cycle of inanity are not based merely upon personal taste.  The money poured into these productions is immense; Justice League had a budget of $250 million.  For all that, we will get some feeble musings on the nature of good and evil wrapped up in a 120 minute montage of FX enhanced martial arts.  It is truly depressing how much stock, young people especially, put into what are ultimately conservative, status quo perpetuating sagas that are brainless and backward.  Wonder Woman broke the mould with a female lead after decades of male protagonists.  Racial tokenism is rife while the presence of gay characters, despite appearing in the comics, have yet to materialise on screen.

While Thor Three did provide some cheer for the super-weary, the end of spandex-clad shenanigans is not nigh.  The Asian market continues to bolster these movies even when they perform poorly in the west.  William Goldwyn famously stated that in Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything.”  He was talking about the unknowable formula for making a hit film.  Today I fear that Hollywood executives know exactly what to do.  Until one of these films tanks at the box office the procession will persist and the cinematic landscape will be the bleaker for it.