I still remember sitting in my local movie theater as an eight-year-old kid, eagerly awaiting the big-screen debut of my favorite comic book hero. As he swung from web-to-web, Toby Maguire’s “Spider-Man” was unknowingly sparking a revival in the comic-book genre. The film was something different from the Batman and Superman movies of the past. It felt less cartoonish, more focused on establishing the superhero in the average world.
Then, in the summer of 2008, I remember seeing “The Dark Knight” in theaters eight different times in two weeks (my all-time record). By taking a completely original approach to the genre, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, particularly the acclaimed sequel, brought a darker, more psychologically complex comic-book movie to the big screen. “Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final chapter of the trilogy, continued the morally murky psycho-horror themes that haunted the first two films.
Flash-forward to 2016, where due to a change of film rights, there will now be a new spidey rebooting the iconic story, this time with a different title and younger, edgier Peter Parker. “Captain America: Civil War” will be the third re-installment of Spider-Man audiences have experienced in less than fifteen years, and the webbed-avenger will be getting another standalone film in 2017.
As for the Batman trilogy, Nolan was intent on making each movie an artistic entity that could stand on its own, proving that the genre could be more than an overload of CGI and corny dialogue. The director fulfilled his vision but didn’t push the boulder over the cliff. In a few short weeks, Batman will be rebooted alongside a recently recycled Superman, before the caped crusader goes solo in a new standalone film, and later a Justice League film that has a high possibility of spewing out a litter of sequels.
These are just two examples of a trend happening in Hollywood that is equal parts disturbing and disheartening. Studios rebooting films is not a crime by any means, but the piggishness of repeatedly and hastily retooling characters makes it difficult to find any other incentive for their uninspired productivity besides greed. The problem is that so long as lopping off chunks of artistic integrity keeps money coming in by the bucket-load, the film industry will keep putting its self-respect on the chopping block.
Incriminatingly, it is moviegoers that continue buying the tickets that encourage these films’ production. Since the 2002 release of “Spider Man,” blockbuster superhero films have consistently been some of the highest-grossing films every year. With their loaded ensembles of movie-star heroes consistently saving the day from the forces of evil, superhero movies have quickly become the darlings of mainstream cinema. The sweet pap of heavy action, easy-to-follow storylines and simple character-arcs create a relaxing, non-threatening movie experience. In this new creative wasteland, there’s no such thing as a failure. If one particular comic-book film fails to translate, the powers that be simply wait a few years to let the concept cool down, repackage the story and then present a younger, more “with-it” plot a few years down the line.
Look at “Fantastic Four” (2005). It had star power and easily recognizable characters, and although there would be a 2007 “Silver Surfer” sequel, both films were considered flops. Still, despite the films’ torpid reception, a reboot with a completely new cast was released ten years later. (Ironically, it also flopped.)
Iron Man is another prime example. When Robert Downey Jr. finally puts down the mechanical suit for good, do you think the studio will preserve his character, never again revisiting the concept à la Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale? Don’t count on it. After Downey Jr.’s final performance as Iron Man, studio execs will likely wait a few years and then go ahead and reboot the whole concept, casting a different actor to portray a younger version of Tony Stark.
The worst part about this cinematic blight? I enjoy most of the films.
But when I consider the future of Hollywood, I can’t help but imagine that studios are going to continue down this path, buying and producing less original content, because they will be too invested in serializing the latest superhero blockbuster.
So, who’s to blame for all this? Is it the audience’s fault because we pay for the movie ticket? Is it the directors, writers and actors’ fault for signing the contracts and writing the scripts? Or is it the studio execs’ fault for investing so much into the superhero genre that now, despite their over-saturation and thematic redundancy, the films have to be made in order to recoup the time and money? The truth is that we are all to blame.
I grew up reading these comics. I was an excited youngster who anxiously awaited the newest superhero releases. I, like most, was blind to the problem at first. As the years proceeded, and sequels and reboots began to dominate studios releases, my awareness and concern for the issue increased. But I never thought the problem would mushroom into what it has.
Now, all we can do is sit back and watch as over-produced, over-acted and over-budgeted comic-book films dominate the industry. Hopefully, it’ll all be over soon.