Hello, Internet. I can call you Internet, right? We’re pretty close friends by now. I’ve told you about my One Direction obsession, you’ve shown me unspeakable horrors across text, video, and still image format. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the past decade of my life. I think this allows us a little bit of honesty between each other, right? You can (and do!) feel free to tell me anonymously when you think I look ugly in a picture, but in return, I must ask this honesty of you: can we please, collectively, all together, admit that superhero movies are kind of done?
Okay, hold on, put down your army of angry fifteen year old boys in various superhero emblem t-shirts. Let’s talk about this like adults and nobody has to get Axe’d.
In my teenage years, I had a brief fling with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I enjoyed the Iron Man movies, I loved the near-romantic comedy aura of Thor, and I was really quite obsessed with the Avengers films (yes, including Age of Ultron. I liked Age of Ultron. If that opinion doesn’t sit well with you, let me save you some time and remind you where the back button is on your browser). I was still by all definitions a casual fan – you couldn’t pay me to read a comic book, and I only really paid attention to the movies with the characters I liked in them. To this day I’ve never seen a Captain America movie. He’s fine as the moral center in an Avengers film but I don’t want to see two hours of Chris Evans’ concerned eyebrows. And that was fine! It was totally possible for me to be a fan of those movies without knowing everything. There were context clues. It was easy enough. I fell out with the MCU shortly after Age of Ultron came out, but kept a close eye on my favourites.
Then this weekend, my roommate asked if I wanted to watch Infinity War. I had never gotten around to seeing it in theatres, and because the internet I had already had much of the plot spoiled for me, but I had always enjoyed Avengers movies and my best friend Thor was in it, so I decided it would be fun to sit down and give it a go.
So, I’ll start by saying I don’t think it’s a good movie. It was rushed, nearly all the emotion and genuine moments within it felt unearned, the characters felt a bit lifeless, and all in all the film seemed to lack the heart that so many of its predecessors were famous for. Almost every character death lacked any tension with the knowledge that they almost certainly will be resurrected (some have sequels already on the books). But that’s not really a problem with superhero movies – that’s a problem with that specific superhero movie. The problem with superhero movies is that they’re becoming indecipherable.
I’ve seen most of the MCU films, and there were mulitple times during Infinity War that I had to learn over and ask my roommate if something was happening that I was supposed to recognize or not, or if something was related to a film I hadn’t seen. And it’s not just Infinity War – just today I watched Deadpool 2 with a friend, and there were multiple references in that film that I had to briefly explain the significance of – and this was in a film that had no literal connection to any other superhero movies. We all love a reference, but it feels to me that superhero movies are starting to almost become recursive. It’s becoming so dense a territory that if you weren’t into them already, it’s almost impossible to get into it now.
Just the MCU alone (including the tv series The Defenders) would take someone seven days, eight hours, and three minutes straight to watch all the way through – and if someone has to do an entire week’s worth of preparation for a movie, I think that movie has lost a little bit of it’s fun factor. It starts to feel more like homework.
Now, there’s a large chance this could all be just my experience with superhero movies lately. By all accounts, the world at large seems to be enjoying this increasingly meta and self-referential movie universe. If you’ve been watching them as they come out, it’s probably a much easier job than trying to get all caught up at once. And, obviously, there’s some really good superhero movies out there. I saw Thor: Ragnarok four times in theatres, remember? Black Panther twice! It’s not that they’re all individually bad movies!
It’s just that there’s too many of them. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to watch any of them without watching all of the others. What happened to movies being able to stand on their own? What happened to unique, original movie concepts? Why does everything have to tie together? Why did they have cut Thor’s hair?
They have Marvel movies scheduled for release up until 2022. That’s enough time for me to go back and get a second undergraduate degree and STILL catch the latest superhero movie in the MCU after my graduation ceremony. Do we need that? Do we even want that?
Superhero movies are a huge part of our current pop culture, but they’re so exclusionary to people who aren’t willing to invest large chunks of their lives into them. They’re so inter-woven and inter-connected that it becomes impossible and impractical to begin to separate them from each other, even in cases where they certainly should – the tonal difference between the end of Thor: Ragnarok (largely a comedic movie, light in tone, bright and colourful cinematography) and the immediately following start of Infinity War (harsh, dark, fairly lifeless in comparison) make these movies feel like they’re from separate universes, but we all have to suspend our belief and understand them as one woven together story.
The story is getting boring, and we keep having to ask to be retold chapters to understand where we’re going next. I think it might be time to close the book.
And then watch Thor again.