Are superhero films on a path of self-destruction? James Gunn seems to think so. The director of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the upcoming “The Suicide Squad” has some reservations about the future of the genre.
In a recent interview with “The Irish Times,” Gunn shared that he believed that superhero genre films were, “really dumb. And they’re mostly boring for me right now.” Any reader with a pulse will likely have cognitive dissonance at the sight of this quote, given that Gunn has now dedicated the latter half of his career to superhero films.
The trailers and promotional content for his latest film, “The Suicide Squad” take the concept of dumb fun to new heights. A shark-man fighting alongside a man who shoots polka dots from his arms to defeat a giant starfish? High cinema, James, bravo…Let’s hear him out.
He points out that superhero films are falling into the same cycle that western films and war films have followed before — into oblivion. He said, “I think you don’t have to be a genius to put two and two together…the only hope for the future of the comic book and superhero films is to change them up.”
Gunn says he was drawn to superhero films because of the advent of special effects in films like “Iron Man.” Now, he fears that novelty is wearing off, “if the movies don’t change, it’s gonna get really, really boring.” He concluded with, “I think it’s just about bringing in other elements.”
Gunn may be an odd man to criticize the genre, but he is making some reasonable points. Recent superhero films like “Bloodshot” and “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” do very little to break out of the ever-multiplying genre, and end up feeling stale, cliché and genuinely hard to watch at times. While Marvel films are considered some of the best in the genre, the sheer volume of them are making some viewers grow tired.
So how do superhero films avoid becoming outdated like westerns? Join me in wild speculation. For starters, superhero films need to stop with cliché feature-length origin stories. For most heroes, fans have already seen it, or are well aware of how they came to be. Batman’s parents have died in film more times than Owen Wilson has said “wow” onscreen.
Directors can’t rely on superheroes alone as a genre. The most successful films place superheroes in other, more niche genres. “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor: Ragnarok” thrived as space-adventure comedies, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was a successful spy-thriller, and “Deadpool” stands out as a hilarious satire.
More diversity in superhero films is an obvious fix that will enable them to have more resonance with different audiences and expand cultural depth. It seem Hollywood picked up on this after “Black Panther” was the first superhero film to be nominated for best picture and “Wonder Woman” was universally applauded.
One thing I think no one has dared to do in the superhero genre is to tone down or rearrange the format of the action. That may sound ridiculous, but superhero films have become incredibly predictable.
The hero meets the villain, they spar, both coming out fairly unscathed. After this, two to five escalating action scenes are mixed in with plot points. Finally a major action set piece closes out the film, and the villain is either destroyed or redeemed. If there is no concrete villain, then substitute a massive cosmic threat to be put at bay — an evil blue beam of light has shot out of the sky in these films more times than Batman’s parents have been killed onscreen.
Maybe bring the emotional conflict of the superhero to the forefront, and skip a couple of the played out action scenes. Maybe the drama would be more meaningful if audiences didn’t know it was ultimately in service to the inevitable action climax. Characters like Peter Parker, Tony Stark, and Bruce Wayne have issues that can’t always be solved by punching someone who is more flawed than them. It may not please all superhero fans, but it could add substance to a genre that is becoming increasingly formulaic.