When it comes to the film industry, it would be foolish to deny the proliferation and success of comic book-based properties. It is not necessarily surprising that iconic characters like Superman, Batman and Spider-Man broke onto the scene so spectacularly, but few would have predicted the expeditious rise to prominence that has befallen the likes of Iron Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Imagine if 10 years ago someone told you that director Zack Snyder’s “Justice League” would make less money at the box office than unknown filmmaker and director James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” You probably would have insisted that person was high on sedatives.
But with this explosion of popularity in comic book adaptations, there are some that have proclaimed this trend has over saturated the industry with completely identical and unimaginative films. The superhero movie genre has become a prime target for snobbish writers and movie buffs to pontificate over and, as a result, has yielded one of the greatest oversimplifications in entertainment analysis that currently exists.
Back in 2015, Steven Spielberg — quite possibly the greatest filmmaker of all-time — predicted that “there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western.” Spielberg’s remark provides perhaps the best summation for the issue at hand; he suggests that every superhero movie has the same themes or even simply share the same visual aesthetic.
Sure, on a surface level there are obvious facts of these characters having uncommon or super-human abilities that provide an innate similarity, but that’s the case for all movies,
Should we group “John Wick,” which follows a character with the skills to kill literally hundreds of people without taking even one fatal hit, into the genre as well? Or is it because they are based off of comic books? In that case, why not just place the “Harry Potter” films into a book-movies genre.
If you were to walk out of seeing, say, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” followed by a viewing of “Logan,” would you really want to begin your critique by assorting them into the superhero movie genre? The former tells the story of, essentially, an adolescent teenage boy trying to prove himself and impress the cute girl he likes, while the latter is a poignant commentary on growing old, believing in the potential of the next generation, and even a touch of immigration.
Those don’t sound like films that deserve to be compared at the same level or category just because they feature characters with extraordinary abilities. Doing so is nonsensical and completely counterproductive. It would be like categorizing “Back to the Future” and “Edge of Tomorrow” as simply being time-travel movies.
There are too many diverse stories and characters from the comic book sphere. Just because they lend themselves to being blockbuster affairs does not make them any less viable as artistic products.
The X-Men serve as an allegory to discrimination and the fear of what we do not understand, while Doctor Strange emphasizes how little we truly understand about the universe and the connections we all share. “Thor: Ragnarok” has a disturbing underbelly of exposition hidden by its comedic approach and resplendent visuals, while “Black Panther” is a dramatic, character-driven story with highly political points of reverse-colonialism and isolationism.
The superhero movie label feels like something crafted to hold against anything based on comic book characters and in effect has become an almost derogatory term that insists moviegoers should not take them seriously. Those people are wrong, and instead we should celebrate that just because something has fantasy elements does not make it incapable of providing beautiful and intricate messages that some classic, award-winning films have been praised for.