Allergy season means I get (more) easily distracted, so I find myself perusing Cracked.com a lot more lately. I kind of hate Cracked, but sometimes it gives me something interesting to complain about, so what can you do? Anyway, amid all the same-y lists like “8 Stupid Things The Man Has Tricked You Sheeple Into Believing” and “6 Incredible Facts You Already Read on Wikipedia,” I came across “5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst.”
The whole thing is painfully tl;dr, but the gist of it is comparing the evolution of the superhero genre to the rise and fall of New Hollywood. Essentially: Hollywood takes a chance on a new idea, the new idea is an unexpected success, Hollywood tries to make the new idea into something easily repeatable and consistently profitable, until they ruin it. It took 13 years for New Hollywood to get from Bonnie and Clyde to Heaven’s Gate, and it’s been 13 years since the first X-Men movie, ergo Guardians of the Galaxy is going to suck.
There’s a lot of problems with this reasoning, so let’s start with the big one: the guy who wrote the article has no idea what qualifies as a “superhero movie.” In tracking the development of his putative bubble, the writer refers to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and the forthcoming Disney version of the Star Wars franchise. Now, the reasoning here is to compare the film geek directors from New Hollywood with the SF/F dork directors who actually like the source material they’re adapting today. And I suppose there’s a point there–Hollywood listening to the Joss Whedons of the world is sort of a new thing, and perhaps it will fizzle out as the Cracked article suggests. But that issue is separate from the fortunes of superhero movies, the topic identified in the article’s title.
It’s also telling that the piece defines the superhero genre as launching in 2000, because X-Men was he first attempt at a superhero film since Batman & Robin apparently smote the earth with a terrible curse or something. Look, I hate Batman & Robin as much as anybody, but that only “killed” superhero movies about three years before X-Men “saved” it, so let’s not pretend that was some interminable drought for the genre. To be honest, the superhero genre has been chugging along as far back as the 1978’s Superman–the only major change that X-Men represents is that Marvel finally got in the game with its A-material. Take Marvel off the table and the volume of superhero movies for the last thirteen years doesn’t look substantially different from the 1990s.
So let’s rephrase the question to the one the article only pretends to address: Is the Marvel superhero movie bubble about to burst? I don’t see why. Cracked seems to think the current run of “for nerds by nerds” movies will give way to safer, blander blockbusters. But even if you accept this as inevitable (or think its already happened), said blockbusters would still be superhero movies. The next Star Wars isn’t going to be as groundbreaking or beloved as the first one, but Star Wars movies are still a thing which is still happening–you may think the newer ones suck more, but you can’t argue that they’re going away.
I suppose the implied question is more like “Will Marvel movies continue to be consistently good?” But that’s a fallacy anyway since there have been quite a few shitty Marvel movies already, and that didn’t stop Avengers from clicking. People act like one Marvel movie can only succeed if Marvel as a whole remains bulletproof. But that aura of invincibility depends on you only counting their tentpole franchises (X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Avengers that aren’t Iron Man), and even that subset had a stinker or two. Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t have to be a home run because the people who gave us Elektra and Ghost Rider weren’t exactly batting a thousand to begin with.