Why The Superhero Might be the Villain

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Superhero movies are starting to scare me. I realized I’ve had this feeling for awhile now. It seems like there has been a takeover, like every big movie that comes out is either a superhero movie or attached to some mega franchise. So I l looked it up.

In 2015, nine of the top ten grossing movies were either sequels or adaptations. The one that wasn’t? Inside Out. So? What’s wrong with that? They are bringing in well over 3 billion dollars in ticket sales. That’s what scares me. There seems to be no reason not to make them. They’re fun, they transcend cultures, heck, I love them, and they guarantee a huge payday. But when does the money become bigger than the art?

It all began when Marvel cracked some mystical code. Laying the groundwork with Iron Man they developed a movie empire that sparked a chain of events even they didn’t foresee. Now we have studios pumping billions of dollars into these behemoths of films in attempts to duplicate Marvel’s success. In return, we are getting films that sparkle and shine but just don’t resonate. And with no end in sight, I think there is something to be said about the effects this has on the art of filmmaking as a whole. These giant franchise fueling movies are slowly eroding the artistic integrity of the film industry. The ludicrous financial success is telling studio heads to make more make more make more but blinding us to its danger.

Film is about storytelling. No matter what language or style, it is always about the story. Film is unique in its medium, lending itself to endless possibilities for expression. Editing, camera angles, lenses, color grading, sound mixing, the score; the list goes on. At its heart it is an art form. A form that has changed lives, changed countries, and sometimes changed the world. A filmmaker in complete control can move the masses with his work. And mastery means power. It means truth. And that is what drives film forward.

So why is this important? When we forget why we fell in love with movies in the first place we forget why they are important. Creativity becomes market-driven instead of story-driven. Movies entertain but don’t fulfill. The stories don’t stick with us, they’re empty.

Financers are afraid to take risks; maybe the audience isn’t smart enough to understand something edgy and new. So instead, we get the likes of Jurassic World and Batman v. Superman. Epics that promise us exactly what we think we want: overstimulation with little substance. We know what we are paying for. It’s safe, it’s easy, it’s entertaining. But maybe that’s not what we need.

I’m stuck between my love for these films and my fear that independent films may not see the light of day. Yes, they are going to get made, but in what arena? Isn’t art supposed to be shared? Don’t we go to museums to feel, to find meaning, to know we are not alone? I’m scared that one of the most accessible forms of media might become irrelevant one day, that the superhero is unintentionally killing the little guy.

The key is putting the right people in control and trusting their vision. Franchises can be franchises and their films can simultaneously be poignant. It’s been done, James Gunn with Guardians of the Galaxy and Alfonso Cuarón with The Prisoner of Azkaban; masters molding mainstream content into beautifully unique pieces of art. But where the success stories are few the failures are far more present. Studio Heads’ financial initiatives spur the need to interfere and we end up with disasters like the Fantastic Four reboot or Edgar Wright being removed from Ant Man due to “creative differences.” However, with the likes of Ryan Coogler and Rian Johnson helming Black Panther and Episode VIII respectively, I’m hopeful. The arc of history is long and maybe this shaky ground is just part of the process. Godspeed, Hollywood, Godspeed.

Tommy Lower
Trying to reconcile his love for rom-coms with his allergy to cliches. Still has nightmares about Firefly being cancelled.
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