Super Serious Superhero Cinema

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With the recent influx of superhero themed movies into the mainstream media, I thought it would be pertinent to reflect on the very obvious balance issues between comedy and drama within the genre.

Renowned cinema epics like The Godfather and Titanic are examples of movies that drew audiences in with suspense and/or emotional investment, holding onto their hearts for years afterwards. While audiences that perhaps find these heavier themed movies a bit too grim for their tastes can turn to films that focus less on emotionally strenuous story lines, and instead, play on more comedic elements – Forrest Gump anyone? – I think that the majority strike a chord somewhere in the middle.

What you may not immediately realise is just how much the two depend on one another to make a movie balance out, and work well as an overall experience.
Now, at the risk of continuing to sound a bit too much like a Highschooler’s English essay, ‘let’s explore just how thoroughly recent superhero movies have butchered both these angles.’

The most serious offender would have to be DC. With a Superman that doesn’t smile, and an equally sombre Batman who has seemingly decided guns are fair punishment for even common criminals, who can blame the vitriolic? Oh yes, a bullet is totally a serviceable punishment for the crime of working for Lex Luthor. I guess Batman woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
Now, while it’s all well and good to continue beating the proverbial dead horse that has been DC’s recent cinematic universe line up – one could simply sight Man Of Steel or Batman V Superman and hear the groans – there is a much longer line up of films that have attempted to prove that three hours of no jokes, no momentary relief, and no smiles is a great crowd pleaser.

As I said, it is very easy to bully these movies. Are they the best paced? Certainly not. Heavy handed? Like you wouldn’t believe. Are they messy? Ridiculously so. All of this an audience could maybe forgive if there was just a drop of good humour about men in tights flying around and saving the day. (Superman Four had its faults, but at least we’ll always have the fond memories of a rotating planet somehow affecting time. Like… really? That makes no sense at all – but I digress.)

These movies are filmed in such a serious light that it can turn off an audience. DC has failed to capture the same intensity as other cinematic successes that banked on emotional investment and intrigue. The big difference? In its quest for the perfect superhero blockbuster, DC has forgotten the reason people love them so much – for the human beneath the mask. That instantly disqualifies them from the first category.

Does this mean they’re bad? Well not necessarily – a lot of elements go into making a bad movie and an awful lot more into a good one. It just seems that the formula DC is currently playing with needs a bit of tweaking. These movies undoubtedly have beautiful cinematography, and the imagery perfectly captures the massive scale that they are aiming for. Plus, I am not one to dispute the wonderful Nolan Dark Knight films we were graced with – but thinking back on it, weren’t they also suffering from at least a few of these grim tonal problems?

When I think of epic multi installment franchises, I turn to movies like Harry Potter, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. When you think of these titles you probably envision dragons, space battles, light sabers and their slightly less glowy cousins, swords. As you should! These movies have had a lasting impact on their audiences – they are practically iconic in their style. Behind all of the armies and dark lords that immediately spring to mind, however, there are moments.

Soft, funny, sad and ridiculous moments.

These are those scenes that after some thought will come to mind and bring a smile to your lips as you inevitably spill the words, “Hey, do you remember that moment when…?” You might not think of it right away, but weren’t there a lot of funny scenes in Harry Potter? Wasn’t Star Wars actively humorous in a lot of its scenes? And between throwing rings into volcanoes and demanding to know where those damn birds were, didn’t the characters in Lord of the Rings genuinely laugh once in awhile?

These are the moments that the DC universe sorely misses – the little pieces of respite and humanity.

So, I hear you ask, when are you going to mention the other one. You know, the other one. The big M.
First of all, calm down, they’re not obesity in a happy meal. But yes, it would be silly to talk all this trash without touching on Marvel’s own cinematic universe – DC’s forever frenemy.

Needless to say, they too suffer heavily from the same problems afflicting DC productions from time to time. But you’re not interested in Fantastic Four or the old Tobey Maguire Spider Man movies. No, you’re thinking about the big boys – the Avengers and X-men of the modern Marvel Universe.

The audience love them! The critics love them! Captain Hydr—ahem – America, has a 90% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. These movies have all but single handedly saved the superhero genre. They’re practically perfect!

Well, not quite.

You see Marvel approaches movies at a very different angle – admittedly one that is better received by an audience. There’s humour, clever writing and some wonderfully choreographed action sequences. So where is the fault? The formula seems to be all but perfect, and while following the mentality of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ is all well and good, it’s important to keep in mind that all things should be taken in moderation.

The Marvel movies have become so repetitive that friends of mine who were avid fans now grimace at new releases that, by all accounts, should have been causes for excitement. I was perplexed. Nothing had noticeably changed, the characters were still well developed, they still had witty rejoinders and the action was just as crisp and sharp as ever.

That was when I realised that was exactly the problem. It was very similar. These movies – that come out faster than you can seem to name them – all feel very much like the same movie adorning a new title character or villain for the evening.

It was as though the new movie was simply an expansion pack to the original. Which is – in my mind – not the purpose of a sequel. A sequel is supposed to expand and develop on a base premise, to breathe new life into an old idea.

Now that we’re through with all of that, we ought to come to some sort of conclusion shouldn’t we? Shall we resolve that Marvel has DC thoroughly trumped in this respect? Well, on the big screen it would seem so, but let’s hold out some hope for Justice League and the recently released Suicide Squad.

We could declare Marvel the savior of all superhero movies with their Deadpools and Civil Wars – but let’s not forget the Daredevils and Spider Man 3’s of their lineup.

Ultimately, there is good and bad to be found in all these movies. You might hate Batman V Superman’s excessive dream sequences, but you also might just love the every living out of Batfleck. You may adore Thor’s luscious locks but grow anxious of the ever-closer feel of memes in their movies. Either way – just enjoy your super serious superhero cinema.

But perhaps DC could take some of their own advice after all, why so serious?