Caution: Men at Work

Marvel Comics and its major, longtime competitor DC Comics shared over 80% of the American comic-book market as of 2008, with numerous adaptations to film embedded within each of its characters through the years.


The concept of a superhero is one that never fails to amaze us mere mortals. Their powers, persona and painstakingly crafted lives have evolved to become our pet escapist fantasies. Who hasn’t thought of themselves as the Batman or any other such all-powerful yet noble crusader?  Commercial cinema has always been about giving the audience what it wants. And the audience always has wanted  their heroes to be give human form and life via superhero films. So much so, that massive amounts of money is being spent on these movies. Much more than most other genre movies, too. This article aims to gloss over some aspects of a genre that seems set to be the crown jewel for major film studios for quite some time to come.


Superhero Films through the Ages


They may seem to have grabbed your attention fairly recently but they’ve been around for pretty much, forever. Unless you’re a 100 years old. The comic boom of the 1930’s and 40’s resulted in TV adaptations dating as far back as 1941 with The Adventures of Captain Marvel being the first live-action take on the derring do of Captain Marvel. It was followed by shows on the Batman, Superman and other such heroes. However, the 50’s and 60’s weren’t exactly wonderful times for the comic industry and this resulted in most shows being unceremoniously booted off. Superman and Batman just about survived and a collection of episodes of Adventures Of Superman holds the distinction of being the first theatrical superhero release.


The first made to big screen movie was Batman circa 1966, starring the massively underrated Adam West playing the caped crusader in a suit that was more gray than black. There were other sporadic attempts to exploit a nascent market that didn’t exactly go down well. Until Superman happened in 1978.  Richard Donner’s film captured the imagination of most  cinema goers  and showed major executives that superhero films weren’t just for kids who had grown up on comic books. Thus started the massive cash influx into the genre that has ceased intermittently but yet has never been more  benevolent  than now. The 90’s were heady days with everyone’s favourite superheroes finding their way to screens. There was Robocop, Batman, Superman and even the Power Rangers had a film made on them, in the form of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (be advised, I do not recommend it). Even offbeat super-characters such as the Punisher and Supergirl were given movies. Apart from the big names though, most of these films were not huge successes.


On June 10, 2013, it was announced that director Zack Snyder and screenwriter David S. Goyer would both be returning for a Man of Steel sequel which is being fast tracked by Warner Bros.


The first decade of the 21st century bought talented directors such as Sam Raimi and Chris Nolan to the fore who revived the stagnating and feeble attempts at superhero films prevailing around the time. Their success resulted in a wave that has found new champions in Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder who’ve helmed movies such as The Avengers, Man of Steel and the hugely underrated Watchmen. And with Avengers 2 and a Man Of Steel sequel that features Batman vs. Superman, things can only get more exciting.


Where is the figurative creative ceiling?


History has shown how creatively poor material in the any genre has failed to hold the audience’s attention for too long. The creative ceiling of superhero movies is however tougher to ascertain than most other genres. What will they evlove into?  The wisecracking macho men of the 80’s have evolved to thoughtful figures suffering the repercussions of their actions. A case in point being Will Smith’s fantastic act as Hancock, a superhero struck by alcoholism and more aptly, ennui.


The Iron Man series of the 2000s, which has spawned sequels of its own, have clocked up on over a billion dollars at the box-office thus far.


So how high up is the ceiling?  Fairly high, I daresay. Reason?  The enormous number of characters available to experiment with is mind-boggling. And it is due to this that saturation is a long way off. Vampire movies are all about vampire. So are alien movies. But do they offer the depth and myriad characters that the superhero world has? From Daredevil to  Spider-man,  Iron-man  to the Hulk, there are superheroes of every disposition imaginable. So, creative ceiling? A mere speck in the distance provided we keep seeing adaptations that do not belittle our intelligence.


The fact that studios are far more willing to plonk down good budgets for such movies allows them to recruit the talent too. Earlier superhero films were not regarded as mainstream blockbuster cinema. Instead they featured actors that were not exactly A-listers and directors that had graduated from making TV shows for kids and music videos. Now, directors such as Chris Nolan and actors like Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star in the movies. This is undoubtedly a huge positive for the industry.


The Road in the coming decade


So, what lies ahead? A fair few superhero movies are in the pipeline with Marvel and DC comics having discovered that movies are far more profitable than just mere comics and coffee mugs. Another X-Men movie, a Captain America movie, Fantastic four reboot, Avengers 2, Man of Steel 2 and the much touted Justice League movie too. This decade might just prove to be the golden age of the genre. Everyone’s  favorite  characters will pretty much make it to a screen near them.


While that sounds three parts fun and one part dread, the dangers of these films bombing at the box office are very real. Larger than life villains and superheroes living through human interest stories can get repetitive quite easily. In fact, I did yawn a fair bit during Man Of Steel. The CGI destruction and the same old  ‘saving  the Earth’ storyline was as boring as it was predictable. This is the trap other such films must avoid.


Expect multistarrer superhero movies to become a trend. And the lines between good and evil to occasionally blur, leading to conflicts that shall destroy entire cities in their wake. Great villains and fancy reboots shall capture our imagination yet again, across the next decade. And with both Marvel and DC in the game, the only way to win is by putting out more quality than ever before. Exciting times lie ahead.


Barring a string of spectacular failures, this shall be the decade of Superheroes. Too much superheroes, you think? They did save us from this becoming the Vampires(courtesy Twilight) era.


A particular hybrid that hasn’t been extrapolated to film yet – or are we giving them an idea too many already?




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