Grilli: Superhero franchises have become lazy and oversaturated


It first occurred to me that the film industry was changing (dying?) when I emerged, bleary-eyed, from the second installation of the Captain America film franchise subtitled “Winter Soldier.” I had been a comic book fan since I first reached a delirious state of euphoria after watching my first episode of the animated Batman series that aired in my youth. I just couldn’t hold back my pleasure from sludge monsters, debonair heroes and brooding detectives.

It was only after I entered the sobering moonlight just after seeing Captain America that it dawned on me: it was terrible. Why? How could that be? The answer is threefold: laziness, oversaturation and infantilization.

I must first offer my contrition, at the risk of seeming like a censorious old curmudgeon, as I understand many people are quite fond these movies (especially with the release of “Doctor Strange” which, I admit, I have not yet seen).

There are many, I imagine, who find each new Marvel movie a pupil-dilating thrill ride. However, of late, I have not been able to share in this excitement. The laziness of the cookie-cutter filmmaking style employed by much of this film industry leaves me completely numb to the notion of ever seeing another one. This is especially true if you, like me, live near a movie theater with reclining seats which leave one nearly supine. In this position, it is easy for my eyelids to flutter as the dry plot and raucous explosions thunder in the 360-degree wall of sound that surrounds me.

Only a few short years ago, we were thrilled by Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but we are now left in a vacuum of insipid plot, cynical one-liners and a kind of forced depth usually saved for a Nicholas Sparks movie adaptation. I can’t put my finger on when it happened, but at some point in the last few years, the superhero universe lost its soul. Each new film has begun to feel like a very long trailer for the next, bigger movie with twice the explosions and twice the planet-altering destruction.

With the release of all the Captain America films, all the Iron Man films, the Avengers films and finally a marriage between the Captain America and Iron Man franchises in “Civil War,” neither Robert Downey Jr. nor Chris Evans have had much of any time to act in other movies. This franchise mentality can be grating on the viewer. Each fan of the series must pay the princely sums now demanded at movie theaters once every six months just to stay above water in keeping up with their favorite heroes.

This market is unbelievably saturated. Marvel pushed the volume up to 11 with saturation and DC is in hot pursuit to catch up. Not only is there the entire Avengers universe (which is made up of Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Iron Man, each with their own franchises) but also Marvel further builds with supplementary installations like “Ant-Man” and “Doctor Strange.”

Adding to that, it seems Netflix has made some sort of Faustian bargain with Marvel, as they are now holders and proprietors of “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.” This lineup is soon to be bolstered in 2017 by three new Marvel-Netflix tag-team efforts in “Iron Fist,” “The Defenders” and “The Punisher.” By any objective measure, this must surely be a wearisome watching experience for any viewer.

DC is beginning to catch up with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad” both coming out this past year as well as their TV shows that are beginning to rival Marvel’s saturation with “Arrow, “The Flash,” “Gotham” and “Supergirl.”

All of these could perhaps be forgiven of the superhero industry. However, the taste most sour in my mouth is the back-and-forth between the film makers and the viewers. When I go to see one of these movies – and my love of movies rarely allows me to skip one—I am struck by the age of the people in theater. It seems those who extol these films and cherish them most dearly are people my age. There is something I find distasteful about making nostalgia a fetish, in which these movies reuse the same beloved childhood characters over and over. But then again, the viewers buy into it by infantilizing themselves, dressing up at the age of 25 for the midnight release of “The Avengers 8: The Return of That Really, Really Bad Guy” because they did it when they were 12. I think it may be time for everybody to turn the volume back down from a 10 to a six.

With each new movie and each new TV show, a once beloved art form is being enervated.

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