Will Comic Book movies Die Off like Westerns?
We are entering the height of the Superhero film Genre. Some may call it the Age of Heroes. But people have been saying things like we have Superhero fatigue or they will eventually die off. Will they? Are superhero films or comic book films so easily dashed off just when it is starting to take flight? I don’t think so. But first let’s get some idea of what some of the biggest movie directors are saying about these ideas.
Steven Spielberg is one of today’s greatest film directors. If there was a Mount Rushmore for Movie Directors he would surely be on it. About two years ago Spielberg had commented on the growing Big-Budget films and their possible implosion. In an interview with the AP about his upcoming Movie Bridge of Spies, he was asked again about this. Spielberg replied: “I still feel that way. We were around when the Western died and there will be a time when the superhero movie goes the way of the Western. It doesn't mean there won't be another occasion where the Western comes back and the superhero movie someday returns. Of course, right now the superhero movie is alive and thriving. I'm only saying that these cycles have a finite time in popular culture. There will come a day when the mythological stories are supplanted by some other genre that possibly some young filmmaker is just thinking about discovering for all of us.”
Spielberg has a bit of a point. Genres of film do have an ebb and flow. Things go in and out of style all the time. Some last longer than others. I think superheroes and comic books are more adaptable than that though. And I will explain why later, but Zack Snyder was asked about Spielberg’s comments.
“Didn’t he say it was kind of like the Westerns? But there are still great Westerns. I think it’s whenever anything becomes a ‘genre,’ you have to sort of look at it and try to understand it.”
Snyder also went on to talk about how more Mythological Superman and Batman than mere Genre film. It’s a tricky premise because I think the Superhero film is malleable. You can bend it to whatever other Genre you like. When Snyder called Marvel’s Superhero “Flavor of the Month” I don’t think he was being mean, just matter of fact. The reason why Marvel works so well is because they tend to be more than just a superhero film. Like Ant-Man is a man in a costume with an Origin story, it is also a bit of a heist film and comedy. Fun accounts for a lot even when there isn’t much else to the film. That’s not a knock on Ant-Ma, as it has a lot of heart. It just tends to wrap itself up in overly goofy antics.
I think this will be the biggest challenge for the upcoming DC Entertainment Universe. How will they mix in the fun with its very serious tone? Not an impossible feat. One thing I notice about many Westerns is that they can be very serious and dry. The John Wayne film Big Jake showed me they can be funny. Not a comedy, but it had a lot of fun with itself.
One thing to remember about Westerns is that they themselves had sub-genres, ones that have been adapted into many other types of films, like a revenge story or an outlaw story. How many films can you think of that has one of these two elements or plots? Quite a few I’d imagine.
Another thing to consider about the comparison between the Super-Hero genre and the Western is that during its height in the 50s and 60s Western films outnumbered all other genres combined. And given that it also had a peak in the silent era in the 30s. This means it had about 30 years of pure dominance and this is also including many, many TV Shows. In my mind we are only in the first 5-10 year stretch of Superhero popularity. So, whenever you hear someone talk about Superhero fatigue or that they will go the way of the western, tell them that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the genre.
And even if the Superhero genre would start to die off, like I said before, they are malleable. Batman is a crime drama, Guardians of the Galaxy is a Space Opera. And while Superman can be considered the most Superhero of Superheroes, remember that he also has ties to Space. Heck, Man of Steel was an Alien Invasion film wrapped in a social commentary about what it is like to be “The Other” (meaning, immigrant, minority, gay, etc.). Superman is also an Investigative reporter so there is also a detective element to the character. This is why I think Snyder said you have to examine the Genre. What else can you cull from it to make it more meaningful? So many comic book stories take a hard look at various aspects of life and fit it into its own context. Take the X-men story God Loves, Man Kills: A story about a Reverend who hates Mutants and killed his own wife and child after his deformed mutant child was born. It is a story about Man’s inhumanity to Man. Comics and Superheroes have a deep well to pull great stories from. And I can’t wait to see them on the big screen.
As always, See you in the theater.
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