Private Viewing: Is it time to stop superheroes taking over the Hollywood universe?

Batman and The Joker in action drama The Dark Knight - a superhero movie which looked at the fight a

Batman and The Joker in action drama The Dark Knight - a superhero movie which looked at the fight against organised crime. - Credit: Stephen Vaughan

Superheroes are the new film stars but arts editor Andrew Clarke wonders whether it’s all gone too far?

Spiderman is one of Marvel's best-known superheroes and will be part of a new multi-title superhero

Spiderman is one of Marvel's best-known superheroes and will be part of a new multi-title superhero universe which will be dominating our cinemas.

Before I get buried under an avalanche of outraged texts and emails I like a good superhero movie as much as the next person. Christopher Nolan’s and Tim Burton’s respective takes on the Batman legend were particularly good as was Sam Raimi’s big screen adventures with Toby Maguire’s Spiderman while Bryan Singer’s allegorical take on Marvel’s X-Men franchise was genuinely thought-provoking as it tackled the subject of discrimination.

But, as the lure of spandex-clad superheroes grows, Hollywood is in danger of eating itself as it threatens to not only re-make and re-boot a bewildering array of superhero movies but wants to create multiple universes populated with a vast array of inter-connected film franchises which, if they all come to fruition, threaten to take over 90% of the nation’s cinema screens.

I want variety in my film choice but Hollywood is so anxious to jump aboard the latest cash-generating gravy-train that they are in danger of making cinema a fantasy-world rather than a place where we can explore our own quirks and personality traits.

While it would be wrong to tar all films with the same brush, the creation of inter-linked comic book universes means that it will be harder for Bryan Singer to make the original X-Men films now or for Christopher Nolan to explore the compromise-ridden world of fighting organised crime. Their superhero films stand out because they have one foot in the real world. The costumed super-villians are window-dressing but, once you start creating inter-connected superhero worlds, the narrative becomes more concerned with continuity and fan-boy references than it does about the real world. As a result, its ability to be used a metaphor becomes seriously compromised and the film is diminished as a result.


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The adventures become little more than a vehicle for spectacular special effects and some superficial, but nicely quotable, lines of dialogue. On the surface these may provide a good night out but there’s nothing substantial holding them together and their re-watch value is virtually nil.

Superhero movies have become cinematic candy floss. They provide a sugar-rush but in terms of narrative there’s no substance to them at all.

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Hollywood, inspired by the multi-title comic worlds created by Marvel and DC comics, want to create so-called superhero universes. Marvel has begun this process with The Avengers franchise and have produced two films now and a raft of spin-offs featuring Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy and two newly rebooted movies featuring Spiderman and the X-Men. If that wasn’t enough sequels to all these spin-offs are in various stages of production along with new titles such as The InHumans, Ant-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and someone called Deadpool. There are also suggestions that characters in TV franchises such as Daredevil and Marvel’s Agents of Shield may also feature in big screen outings along with characters like Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow who doesn’t have a film franchise of their own.

If this seems like overkill, then multiple that by two when DC launch their own universe movies with re-boots of Batman and Superman and the launch of their own multi-hero movie Justice League which will then be followed with solo movies for Green Lantern, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, The Flash and something called Suicide Squad.

If, like me, you are fearing for the future of your local multiplex then you should worry some more because, this week, it was announced that Warner Brothers and toy giants Hasbro want to create a multiple film universe for the Transformers films. They are looking to release a myriad of spin-off films which will re-construct themselves out of their parent pictures.

If you add to that Disney’s live-action remakes of classic animated features Cinderella was released this week and the forthcoming re-working of Mulan then you can’t help feeling that cinema will soon not be a place for those wanting a movie featuring real-people in real-life situations.

There has to be more to our film culture than superheroes interacting with each other in a self-referencing universe. We need balance and a wide range of films to suit all tastes. At this rate we won’t have enough screens to accommodate all these larger than life robots and super-beings let alone films for audiences requiring something a bit more down-to-earth.

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