The rot has set in for superhero movies
To paraphrase Zoolander, superheroes are so hot right now. This year Black Panther became the 10th-highest grossing movie of all time, topping $US1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) at the box office.Meanwhile, Avengers: Infinity War achieved the second-biggest opening day ever in Australia with $8.7 million.
Today superheroes are everywhere: on your TV, on your children’s lunch boxes, on T-shirts, up in the skies with the birds and the planes.
Marvel and DC are locked into a superhero arms race that will see the spandex set on our screens past 2020.
Yet look behind the numbers and you’ll see a different story – a story of thematic exhaustion, of jaded critics, of rusted-on fans just going through the motions.
The signs of the rot can be seen in Avengers: Infinity War, which despite boasting the biggest box-office opening of all time has been savaged by the critics. The Sydney Morning Herald correctly claimed it had “the emotional depth of a puddle”.
Even James Cameron, the man behind testosterone fests The Terminator and Aliens, has come out against the wave of superhero sagas.
“It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell besides hypergonadal males without families doing death-defying things for two hours and wrecking cities in the process,” he said.
You can file him along with other superhero haters such as Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg, Jodie Foster, Tim “Batman” Burton and even John “Die Hard” McTiernan.Things were much simpler – and much more fraught – back in 2008, when the new Marvel Studios bet the house on Iron Man.
"I think there was a lot of anxiety based on spending this much money on Marvel Studios' first movie," director Jon Favreau told me at the time.
That bet paid off: so much so that the studios can’t look past the dollar signs to see that “hypergonadal” masculinity has become outdated.
Meanwhile, in the rest of society, even the legendary soft drink spruiker Solo Man has changed: the mustachioed action man of yore has now become a handyman and a doting dad.
Not that superheroes were ever realistic role models. Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar once told me that he and his mates had trained to become superheroes, but decided against it: "In our heads, we would have kicked everyone's arse, but in reality we would have probably been killed on the first night.”
Yet if Hollywood has run out of ideas, the opposite is true of TV. Some of the most exciting new drama is female-driven. Just look at Picnic At Hanging Rock, Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale. More proof you don’t need fistfights to drive quality drama.Perhaps it’s time to finally hang up the capes.
Charles Purcell is a freelance writer.