“Pity the land without heroes!”
“No, pity the land that needs them.” —Bertolt Brecht, Galileo
As inconceivable as it seems, 2008’s Iron Man was, at the time, a mortgage-the-farm gamble for Marvel Comics, who was tired of watching film studios like Fox (The X-Men, The Fantastic Four) and Sony (Spider-Man) profit from films made out of their four-color pulp universe. By founding Marvel Studios, the long-existing comic-book company rolled the dice—and won, resulting in a long string of hit films including, most recently, Avengers: Age of Ultron. Between Iron Man and Avengers 2 came financial rewards almost beyond measure, including Disney buying Marvel lock, stock and armor for $4 billion in August 2009.
Some of the Marvel films have been good, and some of them have not. Much as any reasonable human can discern and evaluate the difference between a Joel Schumacher Batman film and a Christopher Nolan one, people of goodwill and good nature can equally state that, let’s say, Captain America’s solo films are better than those of Thor, and then name their precise reasons as to how they arrived at that conclusion.
This, then, is not a critique of the Marvel films, although it will discuss some of the intrinsic structural problems that plague all superhero films, and the Marvel movies specifically. Nor is it a discussion of whether or not “superhero fatigue” exists or not, although it will look at how, and where, money is spent on these films as they are bought and sold both domestically and internationally. The simple question which we have to ask—which we I think we’re obligated to ask—is: If these movies are the biggest thing in American pop culture, what does that say—openly, obliquely, or accidentally—about American culture itself?
Long before the idea of caped-and-cowled superheroes, human beings created, responded to, and re-mixed stories of beings more powerful than mere mortals: gods and shape-shifters, giants and witches, aliens and elves and ogres. Some of these stories are the foundation of fairy tales, some the foundation of religions. If anyone doubts the common ground between the storytelling shapes and tropes of religion and those of superhero movies, take, for instance, the confusion and uproar over the civilians hurt and left un-rescued in the final battle of Man of Steel, all of which boiled down to a modernized riff on an old question: Why does Superman let bad things happen to good people? And there’s another one-word example of how permeable the boundaries between religion and comic books are, and how narrow the margin between superhero and god: Thor.
I often look at the action-film landscape and sort entries into two categories, which I think of as “Pre-Enlightenment” and “Post-Enlightenment.” In the pre-Enlightenment model, the template is religion: We human beings look up to the sky for the special people and wait for them to save us. In the post-Enlightenment, the hero comes from ordinary humanity and steps up to do the job that must be done. Think The Avengers vs. Die Hard, or Man of Steel vs. Battleship.
The idea that the Marvel films are an appeal to people’s hard-wired desire for stories about people better, stronger and faster than they are isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At the same time, they don’t serve as a model for inspiring people to do more in the face of crisis than watch, worship and wait to be saved. It isn’t just boring dramatically; it’s perilously close to social conditioning.
Ideologically, the Marvel movies are a model of stasis and messaging. The big conflict in Marvel’s team-based films invariably boils down to a simple struggle: survival vs. annihilation, with annihilation always coming in the form of the alien, the extra-dimensional, the inhuman. Part of this is sheer strategy: There are no Chitauri warriors out in the pool of ticket-buyers who might be offended by the film’s representation of their people and refuse to buy tickets. But it’s also phony and hollow, like pro wrestling writ very, very large. And the representatives of authority—whether plutocrats like Tony Stark or the massive paramilitary organization of S.H.I.E.L.D.—are always proven right.
While many people would demur by arguing that Captain America 2 possesses what passes for deeper political meaning in the Marvel movies, allow Grantland‘s Alex Pappademas to puncture that puffery with a slim needle of fact: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier books Robert Redford as the heavy and makes a few halfhearted allusions to our own imperiled civil liberties, and everyone calls it a ‘’70s political thriller’ with a straight face, forgetting that actual ’70s political thrillers seldom excused government malfeasance by blaming it on defrosted Nazi agents.”
While Pappademas’s brusque swat speaks truth, it doesn’t go far enough. The point of Marvel’s cloak-and-dagger skullduggery with S.H.I.E.L.D. is a familiar line of argument and entertainment we’ve become perilously used to: the plot where an unscrupulous, power-hungry arm of the intelligence apparatus is thwarted in their plans…by a scrupulous, public-service-minded arm of the intelligence apparatus. Again, the status quo remains intact. Even Ultron’s put-down in Avengers 2—“You Avengers want to save the world, but you don’t want to change it”—gets neutered by the follow-through: Ultron’s idea of change is killing humanity, and so the status quo of mere survival is ringingly endorsed above annihilation—which is really not that much of a choice. I do not expect $100 million movies to constantly, deliberately, and explicitly speak to the real world; at the same time, I do not want $100 million movies that constantly, deliberately, and explicitly decide to have nothing to do with the real world whatsoever. You can make the argument, as many have, that the Marvel films, with their emphasis on urban destruction, are just the result of us coughing up some psychic equivalent of a hairball after 9/11—but if that were the case, shouldn’t the aftermath of destruction be more important than the destruction itself? Where is the catharsis in seeing the endless repetition of destroyed urban areas with no aim in sight beyond spectacle?
There was a minor bit of blockbuster-director in-fighting prior to the release of Avengers 2, as Joss Whedon made a sideswipe at a clip from the upcoming Jurassic World that showed some fairly stiff interactions between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard; Whedon noted aspects that he perceived as “’70s-era sexist” in the clip. Though Whedon has since recanted and apologized for it, his slam is illuminating—not for what it says about Jurassic World but, rather, for what it says about his own film. Of the 10 costumed combatants on the side of good in Avengers 2, only two are women; only one is not white (unless you count The Vision, who is beet-red). And the newest character in the bunch, War Machine, dates to 1979, and is least involved in the action; the next-newest, Wanda Maximoff, dates to 1964.
If you’re creating 2015 on-screen versions of characters created during the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter administrations, inevitably, you are going to carry along a disconcerting amount of baggage about race and gender. It’s worth noting that compared to the film version of the X-Men—mostly inspired by the ’80s and ’90s versions of that franchise—the Avengers look like the cast of Mad Men next to the X-Men’s Benetton-ad-with-superheroics tent of outsiders from all backgrounds.
Of course, it’s one thing to blame the long-lost writers—often drunk, on deadline and in many cases before the first Beatles LP—who created these characters for their retrograde notions of gender and race. What’s equally intriguing are the slights, slurs, and stupidities committed out of whole cloth in supposedly more-enlightened 2015. Jen Yamato of The Daily Beast summed up the new film’s approach to Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow: “The result is an overdue character exploration for Black Widow that still manages to reduce the baddest bitch in the MCU to a shell of a superheroine who’s sad she can never be a complete woman.” The “sterilization” Yamato alludes to is a totally head-scratching addition to her story on Whedon’s part, one that’s desperately out of place in a PG-13 film aimed at kids. This raises an unfortunate question we have yet to answer: With their murders, mutilations, and wholesale urban destruction, are the Marvel films aimed at kids who are desensitized to violence, or at adults who are desensitized to being treated like children?
Once, in another professional life, I was waiting to interview the cast of The Avengers, and since waiting is all you do on those days, I was walking around, chatting, and looking at the various ancillary spin-offs being promoted in their own side-rooms as I and other interviewers waited for our appointed time to go through the sausage factory’s process.
In one of the adjoining hotel rooms where various pre-interview holding areas were being maintained, there was a room full of all the Avengers toys you could want: action figures, Quinjets, Hulk Hands, etc. I took a look at the Captain America figures because I wanted to confirm a suspicion of mine, which I did by looking at the fine print: “Made in China.”
Most action blockbusters are, of course, made with an eye toward kids—not just films, but ancillary spin-offs and such. And in our current age, you don’t just have to sell merchandising to kids; you can also look to selling stuff for “kidults,” that curious consumer class we have that now not only loves popular culture but also wants to literally buy into it (Iron Man headphones, anyone?).
It is, at the same time, incredibly depressing to contemplate how toys celebrating Captain America—the defender of liberty, Jimmy Stewart with a shield—aren’t being made in a democracy, never mind actually in America. Instead, foreign labor without freedom works to build the bricks of our self-image as freedom’s protector. Imagine someone who worked in that Chinese toy factory—not able to vote, without environmental protections, without the ability to collectively organize—snapping Captain America together so he could be put on a container ship and sold off the racks at Target, and you begin to wonder what kind of political and pop-cultural land mines we’re burying for ourselves with the contradictions between fictional American heroics and real international capitalism.
Also fascinating is the outcry over the fact that Marvel is slow/reluctant/disinterested in making toys and merchandise for girls based on the Avengers and other Marvel properties. Actor Mark Ruffalo himself took to Twitter and implored the powers-that-be: “Marvel, we need more #BlackWidow merchandise for my daughters and nieces. Pretty please.” When equality and representation mean an equal amount of slave-labor toys imported in the name of maximum profit for boys and girls, it’s difficult to see that as a victory; when you have consumers complaining that a multi-billion-dollar corporation isn’t targeting them with the same laser-precise aim they devote to other customers, it’s safe to say that the desire to be sold things has been safely and finally democratized: an equality of avid consumerism, with being left out the only worry.
One of the most interesting things about the Marvel movies is how avidly loved they are—to the degree where disliking one of them is made to feel less like dissent and more like treason. Or, as Manohla Dargis said in her Avengers 2 pan in The New York Times, “The most relevant thing about a movie like this is that its quality is almost entirely irrelevant. It was created to crush the box office, entertainment media and audience resistance, and mission, you know, already accomplished. In an age of lock-step entertainment, pushback isn’t just immaterial; it is also suspect.”
Some film fans, tired of seeing “news” coverage of popular film reduced to either speculative theories about as-yet-unmade movies or the sanctioned release of images from as-yet-unmade movies (which, to the gratitude of SEO-savvy movie-site managers everywhere, also create speculation), have suggested that maybe we already have enough of these films and don’t need more. This desire is called “superhero fatigue,” and it’s being derided by those supporting the current comic-movie boom.
That support seems built on two faulty premises. The first is the suggestion that Hollywood has always had phases of mania and increased public interest. Second, there really aren’t that many comic-book films; advocates, like the example sarcastically provided by Devin Faraci at Birth.Movies.Death, look at cyclical storytelling enthusiasms and prior movie “gluts” to mock those who feel tired of having so many comic-book movies: “It’s enough to make you long for the days of 1957, when only about 61 notable Westerns were released in theaters…”
The flaws underpinning both those arguments are interconnected. Though comparing the budget of a 1957 Western in the last gasps of the studio system to that of a 2014 franchise comic-book film is theoretically impossible, it’s still easy to spot the differential: 1957 Westerns like 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T were made far more cheaply than Avengers 2‘s 2014 $250 million budget. (Adjusted for inflation, in fact, a 2014 $250 million production budget equals $29 million in 1957; Avengers 2‘s 1957 budget is actually closer to that of 1963’s notorious Cleopatra, which cost $31 million at the time.)
That kind of expenditure can’t help but have a distorting effect on the other films a studio chooses to make. Paraphrasing Dwight D. Eisenhower on the military-industrial complex, every superhero film shot is a rom-com unmade, an indie un-financed, a female-led or original action film hurled in the trash to make way for putting together the $100-million-plus needed to make and the additional $50-million-plus to market a movie whose biggest purpose is reconstituting four-color characters who date back, in many cases, as far as…well, Dwight D. Eisenhower. George Clinton, in an interview with Greg Tate (included in Tate’s collection of essays Flyboy in the Buttermilk), explained what it was like being on Sony when Sony had Michael Jackson: When you have one artist selling 30 million records for the record company, it’s a lot easier for the record company than it is to have 30 artists selling 1 million records. The question remaining is what happens to everyone who isn’t Michael Jackson, or doesn’t like Michael Jackson, or who has to get fired to maintain Michael Jackson’s contract. In case anyone doubts this last one—superhero films, after all, make money that profits the studio everywhere—please note that Warner Brothers last year announced a slate of 10 comic-book films in October 2014 …and then, in November 2014, announced over a thousand layoffs to save $200 million annually. Considering each of their superhero films will cost close to that figure, that should scare every studio as a canary-in-a-coal-mine proposition. I cannot say with any certainty how this trend will end, but at this point, I can’t help but think that the Marvel-DC movie competition might end the same way the Cold War did: Whoever goes less broke last “wins.”
Umberto Eco’s 1962 essay “The Myth of Superman” isn’t just illuminating as a demonstration of what one of the world’s finest minds was thinking about superheroics as a message and medium in that time; it’s also worth reading for how much he noted at the time is still true today. To Eco, comics were a model of serial storytelling as commodified for a mass audience: Create the illusion of change in individual stories, but maintain a state of storytelling stasis, ultimately, so new readers can join the next installment even as regular readers marvel at the story leaps and jumps in each issue while noticing that the big red reset button is always being hit.
This is also the model for the Marvel movies, although with the reality of real-world contracts and aging actors in the mix. As Whedon himself noted in an interview, the serial-stasis model of comic-book storytelling affects these films, often to their detriment: “It’s very unlikely your heroes are not going to make it through [to the end]. So what are the stakes? How do you raise them?”
The answer, at this point, is that you don’t raise the stakes, you just repeat them: Each film sees a crisis that ends in the status quo that will start the next movie, again and again. (As for people stating that the Marvel-comics universe is not static—Thor is now a woman! Falcon is now Cap! Iron Man is even more of a jerk!—well, let’s check in in a year or so and see if that’s still the case; smart money says that, given comics traditions, it will not be.) And The Walt Disney Company’s success with copyright and copyrighted characters—even successfully lobbying to expand and extend copyright claims in 1998—suggests that we can get ready for future “phases” of Marvel movies after this one ends. Or, more cynically, they’ll announce a new phase of movies as soon as this phase starts not doing well; the neatest trick Marvel ever pulled was getting people to care more about the next movie in its minute details than they care about the actual quality of the film in front of them, with too many movie “news” websites willing to haul their promotional water for them.
So when future eras look at our pop-cultural time through the Marvel movies, what will they see? They’ll see that our most modern tales of heroism were not that different from our millennia-old tales of worship. They’ll think our biggest concerns as a culture were not inequity, global warming, or corporatist fascism but Chitauri warriors, self-aware artificial intelligences, and other made-up CGI boogeymen. They’ll think we really liked white guys, or that we liked them a lot more than we did women or people of color. And they’ll think—actually, if they go out to a few landfills, they’ll know—that we loved to celebrate our heroes more by buying their cheap, plastic merchandise than we did, apparently, in actually considering if those heroes were supposed to mean anything besides slave labor and shareholder profit. And they’ll know we liked repetition and stasis about characters we liked more than we were willing, apparently, to try anything new. Back in 2008, Iron Man was a huge risk that went on to make money; after seven years of Marvel movies and who knows how many more yet to come distorting and distracting the way we make and see movies, there’s now a lot more than just money on the line.
42 thoughts on “The Marvel-Industrial Complex”
The central question posed about our current cultural headspace reminds me very much of the 80’s cinematic landscape, particularly in regards to (Soviet) boogeymen, gluts of merchandise, and idolizing white guys who represented our capitalistic status quo. Icons like Rambo, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Maverick, or even MartyMcFly are emblematic of all those factors to varying degrees. Not to mention of course Batman, the first and big comic book blockbusters, at the tail end of the decade.
Perhaps its truly no wonder then why 80s childhood iconography like Transformers, GI Joe, Battleship, or even that upcoming Pixels movie about 80’s video game characters have gained such prevalence in movies recently, since the current scene is reflective of that one.
I don’t think the since-the-’80s rise of paramilitary entertainment is coincidental; never mind the heating up of the Cold War and Reagan-era posturing, it’s also worth remembering that Reagan-era regulations broke down the wall between toy ads and programming, overturning a ban on cartoons based explicitly on toys.
I don’t think they spell the doom and gloom of our culture, either — butI do see a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere going to a lot of these things, and I’d like them to be better.
Thanks for reading,
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It’s just a movie. If these types of movies are cannibalizing your more mature types of cinematic fare, I suggest you become a film maker. For an obviously talented and educated person, your article comes off sounding whiny.
Great article. The fatigue I feel from these MCU movies is the fact they’re released so quickly. We don’t have time to miss these characters because the next installment is being promoted right away. I remember so many people stating Winter Soldier was going to be a dark chapter in the MCU with major repercussions, but that was neutered somewhat when film websites posted Chris Evans on set for Age of Ultron scheduled to release the following year. Not that I expected Captain America to die in The Winter Soldier, but I felt anything major was going to be short termed. As a kid growing up during the original Star Wars trilogy era, it felt like a punishment having to wait three years for the next installment, but that made seeing them more special. Avengers 2 just didn’t have that because I’ve been seeing these characters in one stand alone movie after the other since the last Avengers movie. I understand the Marvel powers have to maintain this schedule for a variety of reasons, but it has its drawbacks. This is technically Robert Downey Jr’s sixth appearance as Tony Stark (if you can’t Incredible Hulk) in 7 years and it feels like there aren’t any new dimensions to explore in that character by the time of Avengers 2. Downey himself feels like he’s going through the motions now.
I thought Avengers 2 was alright overall, but like all the other MCU movies, I don’t feel the need to see it again in the theater. By the time of Winter Soldier, I decided to take the hyping and early positive reviews from certain film sites and bloggers with a grain of salt.You were right about how a few of them come across as PR for Marvel offering stealth press releases as news coverage. I get that for a number of these writers they grew up as comic book fans and can’t get over that rad feeling of “OMG they’re finally bringing Character X to the big screen!” It bleeds into their “reporting” and I could understand it to some extent for the early years of the MCU, but after The Avengers (where I’ll admit bringing those various characters and worlds together was an impressive effort) that level of breathless giddiness is getting tiring for someone who just wants to read a news story. It wouldn’t be so bad if some of these writers didn’t project such a snarky and dismissive attitude towards non MCU properties. I remember watching a video on YouTube where some people from a number of film sites were talking about DC’s plans for an expanded universe. One of the panelists, a blogger blurted out “Some of these movies DC has planned will not be good!” He might be right, but I felt that came across as obnoxious and acting as a shill for “the other team.”
Thanks again for taking the time to write this,
“In the post-Enlightenment, the hero comes from ordinary humanity and steps up to do the job that must be done. Think The Avengers vs. Die Hard, or Man of Steel vs. Battleship.”
I mean, is Battleship the best example to use? Besides being generally terrible, it has the same “reducing the adversaries to an amorphous hive mind as to not to be political” maneuver, but still manages to glorify the millennial concept of the American military. (at the expense of intellectualism, notice had spazzy and cowardly the scientist is)
On that note, last year we finally had a movie break through the superhero and wizard ranks and top the American box office. It was “American Sniper”, a very polarizing film who’s critics accuse it of racism and glorifying a sociopath. Maybe we’re better off with films that make us face that part of our culture, if only to know what to act against. Maybe the politically secular action of the Marvel films retard our ability shift the cultural mores. But what the superhero craze says about us is that we crave, in the reptilian parts of our brains, something fantastic and didactic, and visceral, but don’t want to deal with the messiness from fighting Muslims or Communists. Much how online dating is the best way to put yourself out there in a society shifted by feminism*, there’s a sense we’re engaging in a less “real” way, but possibly also a less myopic one.
*Of course, dudes can still be completely gross and entitled through online dating, just like superhero films can still be politically problematic. But the potential for a safety net is much stronger.
Really interesting essay, and I’ll be chewing over it for a while. But there is one thing I’m not sure of, and I think it’s the idea of the Marvel heroes as the gods who come down and save us from above- that is, the idea of the almost anti-role model, where you are supposed to trust in a savior because ordinary people can offer and achieve nothing. I turned this one over in my head for a while, and thought about why it didn’t work. And I think it’s that usually, in that kind of story telling, the hero is quasi-divine, beyond reproach and emulation, and not at all human. Versions of Superman fall into that category. And so does a certain strain of mythologizing about the founding fathers- viewing certain members of them as divine Law Givers, whose works only succeeded because they were the angels of democracy, unparalleled geniuses, etc, etc.
The marvel heroes are mostly very flawed people with extraordinary gifts, some inborn, some accidental. It’s not the extraordinary gifts that make them the heroes, but the choices they make about them. And I don’t think those kind of stories operate at a remove. They may adopt mythic qualities, but they’re meant to be aspirational, not a soteriology. Captain America may be honorable and courageous, but those are both qualities available to ordinary people, and it’s not the super powers that make him so- that’s kind of the whole point of his character. Tony Stark, billionaire genius, but also neurotic, full of hubris, and frequently put in stories that strip him down to the bone- resiliency and redemption are pretty strong themes with him. Thor is the outlier, I grant you, but you could pretty much go down the line of marvel heroes and see the ways they are reflections of very human struggles, albeit in epic relief.
It’s an important difference in how the stories function, I think, and the only way to put the marvel movies so firmly in the pre-enlightenment category would require placing all stories with supernatural/paranormal characters in that same category. And I don’t think that works.
The other thing that’s been kicking around in my head had to do with the toy issue. This paragraph in particular:
“When equality and representation mean an equal amount of slave-labor toys imported in the name of maximum profit for boys and girls, it’s difficult to see that as a victory; when you have consumers complaining that a multi-billion-dollar corporation isn’t targeting them with the same laser-precise aim they devote to other customers, it’s safe to say that the desire to be sold things has been safely and finally democratized: an equality of avid consumerism, with being left out the only worry.”
It’s powerful, and it’s a good point, except that….the thing is, there’s already an equal amount of slave-labor toys imported in the name of maximum profit for boys and girls. The same factory churning out the Iron Mans for Disney to sell to little boys are churning out Frozen dolls for Disney to be sold to little girls. So if we just acknowledge that yeah, it’s slave-labor toys all around, being left out is actually a pretty big worry. When a certain part of culture is packaged as “for white boys only” at the same time it is considered mass, normalized culture, with which everyone must engage? It may only be one part of a much larger systematic problem, but it certainly is worth talking about, because it perpetuates the exact same kind of exploitative systems at the root of everything else.
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American films released in 2014: 210.
Of those movies, how many were “Non-Superhero” films: 205.
Relax, the Supes aren’t taking over theaters or sapping movie Studio resources. In fact, two of those flicks were produced by a company that only makes Superhero flicks.
And your various points regarding the MCU’s reluctance to change the status quo, the lack of diversity in the ranks, and the percieved mishandling of its lone female Superhero betrays an either misunderstanding of the text or outright refusal to engage it.
I was led to believe that this article was well thought out and reasoned. It was apparent almost from the get go (citing BATTLESHIP as a superior example was a BIG MISTAKE) that wasn’t the case.
I don’t believe they are sapping studio resources either. It’s just that i’d rather live in a world where the masses watched something better, rather than this kind of movies. Why should we accept this rushed money grab as the norm?
You must look at how many were made before by those same studios.
and then there’s looking at the cast moving into Civil War and yes I know James pointed out about how it’s all about the next film but I think it’s still important to the topic. There’s Scarlet Witch and Black Widow (two women), War Machine and Falcon (two black guys), Vision (A robot) and then Captain America (the only white guy on the team). Still it doesn’t matter who they are, it doesn’t matter that these guys are black or white or male or female but that they are interesting characters.
Do I think Marvel have made mistakes? Absolutely, I’d be an idiot to suggest they haven’t but at the same time I think they’ve done right by having a mix of something that appeals to hardcore marvel fans but is accessible to the average movie-goer. The cameos and easter eggs are just gravy for the fans of the comics. Basically I’d say it’s not that guys like James hate the MCU, I’m mature enough that I can handle someone not liking something I like what I can’t stand is that the way they talk it’s like it really bothers them that there are people who do like the MCU.
I really hope that isn’t the case. It’s as if they believe for them to get what they want, what we want has to go away and it’s made even more annoying when almost everyone who tries to argue the opposite is dismissed as a fanboy.
For me, super-heroes are all about how powerless the average person feels these days confronted with larger forces at play, such as corporatocracy, surveillance, etc combined with the consistent message of the media that “you are special and unique”.
Those two conflicting factors come together to produce the super-hero mentality, a kind of depressed ego, very antisocial and almost autistic in its expression. Unable to shape the world around him and completely cut off from political processes, the average person turns to these kinds of “total control over reality” fantasies to find release.
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Great article. It’s good to take a step back and look past the entertaining popcorn factors of these movies and ask ourselves these questions.
Sorry, but this article is incredibly condescending and reductive. I am not speaking as an enraged fanboy, but as someone who tries to live and act with empathy for other people. Somehow you managed to see these movies without becoming a mindless cog of the evil machine, and, impossible to imagine, others have also escaped this trap.
Almost everyone I know goes to and enjoys super hero movies, including myself, and they all, believe it or not, enjoy other forms of entertainment as well. They read books, they watch documentaries, they watch dramas, they read magazines, they read blogs and news sites. And, hold onto your hat, the majority of them are engaged in the world, they vote, they care about causes, they give to charity, they volunteer, etc.
But not every moment of a person’s time needs to be spent worrying about a better society. It’s okay sometimes to take a break and relax. If someone wants to spend two hours on the weekend watching The Avengers instead of The Act of Killing, I’d say that’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s not an either/or proposition. I’ve seen both! Crazy.
The subtext of this article is “I’m worried that all the people who aren’t as smart as I am will be negatively influenced by the only form of culture I’m assuming those dummies ever see.”
I’m here to say: Don’t worry so much. We’re fine.
You are speaking as an enraged fanboy.
Escapist pop culture can still reflect positive values that might have some remote resemblence to actual human life.
Die Hard is a great comparison point here, with an average person who’s forced to action and decides to make a difference, even when he’s clearly outmatched. Even aside from being much more relatable on a thematic level , it makes for a way more dramatically interesting story than if he was an invulnerable super-god.
The Lethal Weapon films emphasize family and are willing to make real-world political statements (Lethal Weapon 2 is anti-apartheid, 3 is about gun-control, 4 is human trafficking).
These are all “dumb” summer escapist blockbusters, but they are also willing to be about something other than setting up the next cross-promotional tie-in.
True although I’d say Age of Ultron let us down by taking a character like Ultron and ending with him copying the same scheme as Loki. Another disposable army of lackeys, another big doomsday weapon the Avengers have to stop. The fight against Ultron should have been more personal and more then that should have felt less about defeating Ultron and more about proving him wrong, that the Avengers are needed to save the world and are ok with it changing.
The problem is that you are contributing to these ills and he explained how.
How? Because we decided we wanted to enjoy a movie? This is the problem nerd culture has with guys like you, you always want to make it out to sound like we’re selfish jerks ruining the world just by getting our own way. I mean in the article James states that when one of these movies are made they take away from another type of movie being made but what were the chances of Disney making those types of films as well?
I can deal with a critique on Superhero movies, I agree in fact it’s gotten to the point where it’s like some guys in the industry believe there’s only one idea of how these movies should work but it doesn’t mean Superhero movies need to go away, just shake things up with the stories. He also states the quality of the films are not important but I’d say quality is extremely important and it means the difference between Winter Soldier and The Dark World.
I understand being annoyed because a movie you want to see isn’t being made but that’s not my fault for being a Marvel fan. Of course it doesn’t matter what I say to you, I’m just a fanboy right?
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Great article but this has happened before, the superhero genre will go trough a minor crash, then we will still see movies but nothing major, also Hollywood will always spend money on blockbusters, you are incredible naive if you think that without Super Heroes we would get more movie diversification, is either super heroes or transformers.
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The idea that it is possible to dominate populate culture these days is risible. There are as many different niche markets as their are characters in Avengers: Age of Ultron. So given that your initial premise is utter BS, the rest of the article becomes a non-starter. You really need to get out more buddy.
Look up in the sky:
So the marvel movies are dangerously close to socially conditioning people to wait for a chosen elite of authority figures to come and save them in times of crisis…. That’s a little hard to swallow. Each of the avengers, with the exception of Thor, I suppose (since he really is a magical chosen one who got his powers through birth right) created their heroic identities and elevated themselves through determination and creativity, often flying in the face of authority when they saw it as morally dubious.
The Retro Normative Paradigm:
If you’re going to make an Avengers movie you’re going to have to use the avengers, who are products of their time. In future installments they are attempting to pick a more diverse cast of people but it just wouldn’t have made sense to do the first one with a significant number of lesser known heroes or new creations because they wouldn’t have been the Avengers. Blaming Joss whedon for the racial and gender backgrounds of the characters is a bit of an odd decision since he didn’t create the characters and has a long history or preferring female protagonists and diverse casts. I’d say that your point was not true for all super hero movies, and that you are only focusing your attention on the Avengers because it is the only film for which your points seem valid.
Merch and morals:
You may well be on the money here, I don’t really mind the merchandise unless selling it brings the film’s integrity into questions. as far as I can tell, nothing has been shoehorned into captain America so that I will buy a toy of it. I’ve never noticed the films making a special point of peripheral equipment in the way that 80’s cartoons did.
Super hero Fatigue and Exhaustion Of Excess:
Oh please. All of the problems with super hero films are the same as action films in general. You could call it Sci-fi fatigue and site alien, predator and other 80’s alien flicks and the points would be just as apt and just as wrong. Action heavy plots produce visceral excitement but if the action is not justified it can be to the detrement of the plot. That’s true of every story genre ever and the point at which you think the action becomes over done is a matter of personal taste. Saying that the gut of super hero films is somehow more harmful than the glut of westerns because they cost more is just absurd and arbitrary. The culture was still just as preoccupied with the abundance of westerns and (while I like a ood western) there were scores of interchangeable hero’s journey narratives that have less originality than the worst of super hero films. (excluding green lantern.)
This is just a plain misstatement of facts. The continuity of the marvel movies is moving forwards and changes are happening all the time. Not even in the same way as the static dynamic of the comics. The films have only been going for a few years. If a status quoe has been established by the end of Avengers one, then it has only been the case for a year or two, tops. Since the events of captain America 2 and the T.V. show S.H.I.E.L.D has collapsed, and rather than being a government sanctioned group, under Nick Fury they are now a team unto themselves. When the Civil war gets underway the team will go through shifts and schisms which will last for multiple films, if not indefinitely. Isn’t it a bit early, after the one crossover to accuse a franchise of reverting to a default position after each installment, since one example does not make a pattern? Maybe after 3 Avengers films, if the team are still together and nothing new is happeneing you could accuse them of jogging on the spot but right now, they just formed for the first time.
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I’ve gotta call bullshit (Predictably–look at my avatar). Diversity is the key to prosperity everywhere from the animal kingdom to a stocks portfolio. What else has Disney released in the last couple years? A ZILLION MOVIES. Everything from nature documentaries to cartoons to oatmeal-bland family dramas. And that’s just under their main production umbrella. What about all the companies they run, as they run Marvel? Since they used to own Miramax, Pulp Fiction was a Disney release.
Our culture will not be ONLY comic book movies. Ever. Not even mostly. Superhero budgets are not directly opposite indie films and documentaries on a teeter-totter. That’s a concept that works for clickbait pseudo-intellectual thinkpieces on the internet, but it holds very little water in real life application. Just watch the damn movie or don’t and try not to Britta all over everything.
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Sorry, columnist, but you really have no ability to read symbolism. You are an elitist who considers it fair and safe game to denigrate pop culture, and you are not intelligent enough to analyze it properly.
“Every superhero film shot is a rom-com unmade”
You say that like it’s a bad thing.
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The few good points you attempted to make in this piece were compromised by the incredibly mean-spirited tone of the article. You state at the beginning that this wasn’t a critique of Marvel films, but a look at what the films say about our society as a whole. You fairly quickly veer off into a broad indictment of the films and their popularity, and just kinda forget about the initial (supposed) focus of the article. You finally try and tie it all back at the end with that pithy little summary, but even that is just a veiled complaint about the films. The idea was a good one, but you can’t allow personal bias to steer a discussion the way you did here. Better luck next time.
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