Superhero Fatigue: The fine line between innovation and saturation

Superhero films are all the rage with audiences, but how long can this golden age last?

Superheroes have flooded our screens, be it in record-setting, box-office blockbusters like The Avengers or beloved Netflix original series, such as Daredevil and Jessica Jones.

But why did comic book characters become so omnipresent? There has been a paradigm shift in the entertainment industry, and this trend seems here to stay, as Doctor Strange’s success has hinted at.  Despite their continuous popularity, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and tired of the sheer amount of superhero-related content being produced on a regular basis. How did Hollywood become so obsessed with caped crusaders?

According to Lance Ulanoff, editor-at-large and chief correspondent at Mashable, an entertainment company, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) was the first film to catapult the superhero genre into mainstream entertainment. Despite being incredibly popular upon its release, the film has aged poorly, as the visuals and storyline that were so revolutionary at the time now feel cliché and outdated.

However, in 2008, The Dark Knight and Iron Man gave the superhero genre the momentum it needed to become the next big thing in Hollywood. Both movies impressed fans and critics alikeHeath Ledger was even awarded a postmortem Academy Award for his portrayal of the Joker.

The incredible success of both films gave their production companies, DC and Marvel, the indication that a cinematic universe featuring their iconic characters would be well-received by audiences. Fast forward a few years and several films later, and the drawback of these expanding universes is that they are becoming increasingly hard to keep up with. What with the series offered on Netflix and the constant introduction of new heroes, it is no longer feasible to see only one superhero movie a year and still be in the loop when it comes to the superhero genre.

With the growth of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, the concern is that the extensive story connecting cities, countries and worlds in these universes will collapse under its own weight. With each addition to the franchises, the studios will have to jump through more and more hoops and push the boundaries of creativity in order to keep audiences interested.

According to Business Insider, Marvel and DC are projected to release 24 superhero films within the next five years. It might prove impossible to sustain a high-quality output within such extreme production conditions. It will be interesting to see how the studios reinvigorate the genre while sticking to the source content, and whether fans will cling to the franchise or gradually flock to the next big thing. Just like westerns, musicals and film noir, all of these genres had their golden ages followed by a slow decline—so, too, will the superhero genre.


Marvel’s superhero ranks grow once more

Doctor Strange brings another superpower to the Marvel cinematic universe: Magic

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) includes people gifted with incredible genius, raw power, cunning intelligence and the strength of gods. Now, it’s adding magic to the mix.

Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams, Doctor Strange is an interesting and worthy addition to the Marvel franchise. It has the same core formula (reluctant hero, powerful item, final showdown) that Marvel has perfected, yet it also brings something new to the genre.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon whose intellect is surpassed only by his ego. His world collapses after his hands are shattered in a terrible car accident, in which his vehicle goes careening off the road one rainy night. Broken both inside and out, Strange goes to great lengths to repair his hands—the tools that allow him to perform his life-saving miracles. When Western medicine fails him, a desperate Strange travels to Nepal to dabble in the mystic arts as a last resort. There, he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

In a psychedelic montage that must have been inspired by some drug-induced trip, Strange gets a glimpse of this new world of mysticism: rushing lights, hands growing on fingers, mirror dimensions and endless universes. From there, Doctor Strange begins his tutelage in the arts of mysticism, where he learns to manipulate time, matter and space.

The cinematography of the film is incredible, featuring beautifully composed shots and incredible montages of a city folding and bending in on itself. The depictions of magic and spells are interesting and creative.

Aficionados of the superhero genre will find a breath of fresh air with this atypical Marvel film. We might not have needed another superhero origin story, but we got one anyway and it is an interesting direction to take the MCU in.

Unlike other Marvel movies, Doctor Strange doesn’t rely as much on explosions and grand finale battles. Rather, the fights occur in different dimensions where gravity is subjective and, in order to vanquish your opponent, you must bend space and time at your will. Think Inception meets The Avengers.

What’s interesting about Strange’s character is that he went searching for this power. Unlike Spider-Man, who was bitten, or Bruce Banner, who accidentally radiated himself, Strange goes out of his way to learn the mystic arts—but not under the guise of being a hero. His intentions, like his character, are self-centered. He wishes to heal his hands and become the surgeon he’s always been. Having worked on the cutting edge of science and medicine, he transitions to the harder-to-grasp mystical arts, something none of his PhDs will help him understand.

Doctor Strange is yet another piece of the Marvel puzzle, and it will be interesting to see how they all fit together.

⅘ stars.

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