Let me first start by saying this- I have nothing against those who enjoy the lengthy offerings by those current titans of cinema, Marvel and DC. A devoted geek of a fair few fandoms, I understand the passion that can come with complex backgrounds, memorable characters and an extensive mythology, particularly if you have a love of the original texts.
As someone with limited experience of the comics that inspire them however, I’ve become tired of the wafer thin offerings that take up a formidable 165 minutes at the cinema, accompanied by advertising that screams and the lazy performances of Hollywood elite getting the money for their latest holiday home.
It sounds harsh, I know. I’m not a complete movie snob. Some of my favourite blockbusters have included the Mission Impossible movies- unpretentious as they are, they know they’re ridiculous and they’re a snappy, fun experience. Not only that, but no one can accuse Tom Cruise of ever phoning it in, no matter how odd the guy seems outside of his work.
I think I cracked at the second Avengers movie. The film finished after what felt like hours and five minutes later I couldn’t have told you the plot. It didn’t seem to matter. Complex or not, it followed the same pattern of fight scenes intermingled with a growing cast whose names had started to escape me. What powers they had didn’t even really matter as they all became lost in increasingly ridiculous set pieces which lacked any tension.
It’s not like the main guys were in any danger from a screen death either- Hollywood Reporter had already broken the news that Iron Man was signed on for four more years. Chris Evans looked good enough in spandex to survive at least three more movies. Jeremy Renner didn’t have much else to do really but apparently his character was fascinating enough to warrant an extended contract. Marvel had rolled out the titles of upcoming movies, spoilers in themselves, instantly ruining every kind of Game of Thrones-esque surprise (RIP Ned) that you could expect.
Without going to far into it, the issue of women also bothered me. Black Widow is still to get her own movie, despite hints in the Avengers films about an interesting background, and until Scarlet Witch came along (two women out of about ten, what luxury!), Widow had been largely on her own apart from the ones used as set-dressing for pretty kiss scenes. DC isn’t exempt either. Wonder Woman has taken an embarrassingly long time whilst the studios have lobbed money in Zach Snyder’s general direction for more critically-panned, male-centric adaptations.
We’re signed up for years more of this too. Justice League, Suicide Squad, two more Avengers films and god knows how many more films attributed to individual characters. Don’t forget though, you’ll probably still get a significant chunk of the overall cast turning up anyway- anything to persuade people there’s complex team dynamics and not just a bunch of overpaid actors paying for spousal support.
Knowing that every film is to finish with a big set piece of increasing size doesn’t fill me with excitement, but with resignation. I see the budget spent on those set pieces and I wish that money had been spent on original projects that offer a new perspective. In the age of endless sequels, something new has never been more precious.
The issue of ‘choosing the greater good’ has been explored now by these films too, many times over. It’s a superhero cliche and it’s been forever relevant. That doesn’t mean you should rely on it as a plot device though. The decade we live in throws up new issues every day, big, small and Trump-sized, so there’s no excuse for not being inventive.
One other real problem with these studios is just how manufactured they are. I once had a director from a European country complain to me that making an American movie was a hellish experience, every idea and vision of his film stampeded over by the producers wielding the cash. That wasn’t for a superhero film but from what I’ve managed to glean, Marvel and DC are among the worst. No wonder Edgar Wright bailed. A director using their own distinctive touch seems to be a struggle for these movies, ironically enough for adaptations of comics which exemplify creativity.
My superhero boycott is movie-only, however. I really loved Jessica Jones- not only did it have some imperfect, realistic female characters in a fair ratio but it didn’t rely on dramatic fight pieces. The episodic structure of the TV show meant a break from the traditional formula whilst the fight was against Jessica’s own traumatic memories, and the terrifying presence of a man who had violated her physically, emotionally and mentally. It was dark, it handled issues more prescient than the classic ‘greater good’ dilemma and it made me think more than any of the Marvel movies had managed. I can’t wait for the next series.
For movies however, I’m done. I refuse to contribute money so Robert Downey Jnr can fill his coffers by playing himself and I’m sick of seeing distinctive directors hired only to create something that reeks of a producer’s cut. My choice at the cinema may be more limited now but at least I’m guaranteed variety. I might even read the comics with all this extra time.
Just don’t make me watch more films with spandex.