Thirty years ago I was high on superheroes and wanted nothing more than a life filled with caped crusaders and men of steel. I'd just seen Superman III at the cinema and I thought to myself: "Why can't they make more films like this? No, why can't all films be like this?"
I was a fool, and not just because I was eight or that Superman III is a super dud (Superman AND Richard Pryor in the same? What could possibly go wrong?).
No, I was a fool because superheroes have ruined the movies, and I now want them all to die, die, die.
Superman: a Kryptonite stake through his heart. Iron Man: crushed into a cube and sold as scrap. Batman: choking to death on the words "dark and gritty".
That's how I envision the future, because the future of movies is spandex. And lots of it.
A quick glance at Hollywood's plans for the next seven years and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the whole movie industry had been taken over by a comics-obsessed teenage boy.
This year has already seen an Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel (really Superman 6, but who's counting?). Joining them over the next few months will be Wolverine 2, Kick-Ass 2 and Thor 2, and if that's not enough fanboy fare, there'll be the giant alien-fighting robots of Pacific Rim, a new Lone Ranger and everybody's favourite hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.
Next year's superhero-flavoured blockbusters include Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Amazing Spider-man 2, Man of Steel 2, Transformers 4, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Guardians of the Galaxy, plus the final chapter of the Hobbit trilogy.
Packing into the multiplexes in 2015 will be The Avengers 2 (featuring Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Hawkeye) an unknown Marvel superhero film, a rebooted Fantastic Four and a possible Superman-Batman-Wonder Woman team-up, plus Star Wars: Episode VII and a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean.
Marvel has said it plans to crank out two superhero films a year, Warner Bros, which owns the rival DC Comics universe from which Superman and Batman come, plans to do the same. Sony, which owns the rights to Spider-man, just announced the dates for The Amazing Spider-man 3 and 4 (2016 and 2018). And Disney, which also owns Marvel, says it wants a new Star Wars film every year.
Sick of superheroes yet?
The reason Hollywood is addicted to these do-gooders is simple: superhero films are big business. This year's biggest film by a mile has been Iron Man 3, taking $US1.2 billion at the box office. Last year's top movie was The Avengers, a film that boasted not one but five bonafide superheroes and took $US1.5 billion at the box office.
Batman movies have made $US3.7 billion at the box office, Spider-man movies $US3.2 billion. Take away the huge production and marketing costs of these effect-laden films, and there's still a sizeable chunk of change left.
The superhero franchise is the one franchise to rule them all, which sucks if you don't like superhero films.
Or are a woman. (Sorry, ladies: Hollywood gave you Leo and The Great Gatsby this year. That's your lot, because women in superhero films - or fantasy fests like Star Trek or Lord of the Rings - are simply accessories.)
Yes, it's true the superhero films of late are an improvement on the likes of Superman III, and yes, I'd choose The Avengers or The Dark Knight over Batman and Robin any day of the week.
But I don't want to see The Avengers or The Dark Knight every time I visit the movies. I want variety.
Superhero plots are all starting to blur. They all involve some psychopathic villain (played by a classy Brit actor) who wants to blow up the world in ludicrous ways that would make the average Bond thug laugh (although saying that, 007 films are now starting to look like Batman without the Batsuit). And the only person standing that can save the world is a lone hero with extraordinary powers. He may have to rely on some guts and brain power to get the job done but really it's the supersuit, magic hammer, super serum or super strength that stops the villain levelling city after city. Superheroes solve problems the way most frustrated teenage boys would like to solve their problems: by magic.
Because Christopher Nolan's "dark and gritty" approach to Batman was a runaway success, the prevalent thinking is all superhero films should be dark and gritty. Iron Man 3 was marketed as darker and grittier than the two Iron Man films that preceded it. The rebooted Spider-man was supposed to dark the web-slinger in a dark and gritty direction, and the new Superman is all about the darkness and the grit. No one should be looking to revisit the campiness of Batman and Robin, but that doesn't mean that a film should live or die on how "dark and gritty" it is.
(As an aside, Superman should never, ever deal with real-world problems. A man with his powers could sort out Syria, feed the world and solve global warming in seconds. Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the first Superman film, put it best: "If Superman has a political view, Superman can make that political view a reality, by himself, and that's why you shouldn't touch it. The minute you give him a social cause: say, Superman wants to help the homeless. Well, I sit in the audience and I say, 'Superman, well you lazy son of a gun you can build homes for all the homeless in one day.' So, don't let the audience say, 'Jesus, why doesn't he just go do this himself?'")
Steven Spielberg recently warned that the movie industry was in danger of imploding. "Three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that's going to change the paradigm." Which, you may say, is a bit rich coming from the man who produced all three Transformer stinkers, but even he struggled to get his last film released because of a lack of interest from studios and movie chains. Lincoln, he said, came "this close" to being an HBO movie.
Steven Soderbergh, whose last film, Behind the Candelabra, was released by HBO because of lack of studio interest, has similarly complained that Hollywood's addiction to hugely expensive "tentpole" films is sucking the life out of other kinds of movies.
Hollywood has been here before. Towards the end of the Sixties, it was clear movie-goers craved something more than the stodgy star-driven spectacles the studios were cranking out. The system that greenlighted such duds as Hello Dolly and Doctor Dolittle was a bust. People wanted stories that reflected the times, that pushed them into uncomfortable corners and made them think. Films like The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider were a breath of fresh of air and brought new talent to the fore. In the years that followed movie-goers were treated to The Godfather, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Conversation, All the President's Men, Dog Day Afternoon and The Exorcist.
However, we shouldn't be too hopeful. George Lucas, who like Spielberg and Soderbergh, thinks the current system is broken, once said that the money made from Star Wars-type films would allow studios to bankroll riskier, more grown-up fare. He thought that blockbusters and arthouse movies would be able to co-exist in multiplexes. Hah. When Man of Steel makes it to New Zealand next week, every available screen will be taken up with that "S". Which, to me, doesn't stand for "Superman" or, as the trailers would have us believe, "Hope". No, when I look at the swirl, I think of all the muscle-bound freaks that will assault my eyes from now until the end of time, and I want to be sick.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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