We’ve just about hit the halfway mark for 2016, and already Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War and X-Men: Apocalypse have taken cineplexes by storm. August will see the much-hyped Suicide Squad premiere (at which point Jared Leto will presumably quit tormenting his former costars) and November brings Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton in the mystical Doctor Strange. Audiences can then look forward to new films featuring Wolverine, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, Thor, and the Justice League in 2017, along with a soon-to-be-announced Marvel film from Fox. “A lot” is a relative term —and “too much” is a highly subjective distinction. But with every new cycle of deafening promotion, “there sure are a lot of superhero movies, and it’s getting to be too much” inches closer to objective, uncontroversial truth.
Audiences can only handle so many capes and tights before the bubble threatens to burst. Box-office receipts alone assert that audiences are far from the point of disdain for superhero flicks — see X-Men: Apocalypse‘s $80 million opening weekend — but those embedded on the front lines of showbiz buzz have begun to show early signs of superfatigue. Here are 10 telltale signs that your tolerance for the cinema du spandex might be wearing thin.
Wrangling of New Talent Inspires Disappointment Instead of Hope
When the superhero-industrial complex snatches up an exciting indie filmmaker or a critically lauded thespian for an upcoming project, it inspires one of two reactions. A person’s stance on the news that, say, New Zealand’s own Taika Waititi will direct the third installment of the Thor franchise functions like a glass-half-full test: Those not completely disenchanted with the genre rejoice that a singular talent will take the franchise’s reins. Those fed up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, will wonder whether the What We Do in the Shadows director couldn’t find something more interesting to do. For every filmgoer thinking, “Great, fresh blood to elevate a flagging system,” there are now several who see the move as little more than corporate machinery forcing another individualist into the studio rank-and-file march.
You’ve Had to Ask Yourself: “Wait, Which One Is This Again?”
The picture-to-picture continuity has been a major selling point for Marvel and will soon be replicated by DC’s Justice League franchise, but this practice is currently racing toward its point of diminishing returns. Easter eggs referring to past films can reward diehard fans; when a new installment bewilders viewers unacquainted with the past six films, however, that poses a serious problem. Just as neophytes can have a difficult time finding a good jumping-on point when joining the world of comic books, the intricate mythology of superhero pictures now threaten to alienate less intense devotees. With the next Avengers picture slated to unite dozens upon dozens of characters, anybody unwilling or unable to study the associated films like scripture risk getting left behind.
Sticking With a Franchise Out of Obligation Rather Than Interest
That fear of getting left behind, too – another telltale sign of superfatigue. Because Marvel and DC’s franchises rely so heavily on intertextuality, they give viewers the silent impression that opting out of the latest release constitutes missing a key chapter of a grander story rather than, say, simply not seeing a movie. This leaves the viewer ill-prepared for the inevitable follow-up, and fosters a sense of duty-bound requirement to taking in the latest tale of derring-do. Even if you don’t want to see the latest Captain America, you better, or else you’ll be up the creek by the time Avengers season rolls around once again.
You Dread the Inevitable Daily Breaking Superhero News
Squeeze into your slippers and robe, pour yourself a coffee, log onto Twitter — and attempt to muster up enthusiasm for the latest headline regarding a new superhero-movie director, writer, star, set photo, theme music snippet, trailer, teaser, teaser-for-the-teaser etc., etc., ad nauseam. We can no longer go 24 hours without another purportedly groundbreaking exclusive on the latest cinematic caped crusade, and the excess of barely clickworthy news has a numbing effect in the long term. Nobody has the energy to feel jazzed about a new tidbit every day; even though ice cream is a pure and absolute good, eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner will only make a person sick.
Nostalgia for the Days When Every Superhero Movie Wasn’t a World-Straddling Event
Scale counts for a lot in show business. Bombard audiences with too many self-proclaimed blockbusters in a row, they’ll get pitted out and start searching for some humbler-minded fare to cleanse their palate. The fact every new superhero vehicle insists on being the biggest, loudest, and most profitable to date provokes thoughts of what it all amounts to. Rolling Stone contributor Sam Adams recently wrote a piece expressing his exhaustion at the overblown fate-of-the-world stakes now commonplace in superhero cinema, and this same principle applies to the promotion thereof. To paraphrase a supervillain: When every movie is a can’t-miss one-of-a-kind event, nothing is.
Your Retinas Have Been Seared by So Much Whiteness
Marvel and DC have recently taken baby steps to add diversity to their stable of colorfully-clad crimefighters, with a Black Panther project finally in the works and Wonder Woman close at hand. But in terms of pure numbers, however, the world of superheroism is about as male and white as a Three Stooges fan convention set in a blizzard. (Thank you, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, for breaking up the sheer tope-ness of it all.) The ceaseless cries for wider representation have been heard at long last, but enlisting Gal Gadot and director Ryan Coogler has advanced the field a single pace in a long journey. The themes of empowerment and independence endemic to superhero stories would resonate more strongly with marginalized groups than anyone else — and if you’re getting impatient with the notion that studios have plenty of catching up to do when it comes to recognizing that, it’s time to seek mass entertainment elsewhere.
You Long for a Little More Genre Variation
Though it had plenty of detractors, this past February’s Deadpool hit audiences like a bucket of cold water due to how flagrantly different it was in comparison to the usual men-in-capes homogeneity. The coarser language, graphic sexuality and irreverently self-aware humor zagged where the bland malaise of overproduced CGI and lukewarm one-liners repeatedly zigged. At the most basic structural level, the glut of these superhero films are interchangeable, placing forgettable villains in stock plotlines against generic heroes. Introducing untested spins on genre has enlivened some of Marvel and DC’s TV properties – Marvel has found success by steeping Daredevil and Jessica Jones in film noir, and DC’s collaborations with the CW have spun gold from teen soap opera hay. So change up your pace, studios, or risk losing your audience.
Superhero Movies Rival Sports and the Weather as Played-out Conversation Topics
In theory, on a long enough timeline, everything worth saying about superhero movies will have been said. When our culture of anticipation demands new material from amateur and pro pundits every week, the dialogue has nowhere to go but full collapse. (And don’t even get us started on the pre-release social-media blitz once embargoes are lifted.) By the time a given superhero project actually becomes available to the public, we’ve been bombarded with so many previews that the film itself tends to confirm the audience’s pre-conceived notions — check in, yep, just as suspected, moving on.
Craving Something Resembling a Unique Visual Style
Regardless of whether Marvel or DC happens to be your cup of tea, their films are united in their total lack of an identifiable visual aesthetic. The latter’s anointed golden boy Zack Snyder cloaked Man of Steel and Batman v Superman in a thick blanket of murky night, a visual sensibility incoherent beyond its aggressive grimness. Marvel hasn’t done much better, with none of its properties setting themselves apart via any inventive formal trickery. The vast majority of superhero movies have operated under a rudimentary point-and-shoot technique that refrains from challenging itself or the audience. Any common knock against these films as “factory-made” stems not from their origins in a large, efficient corporation, but the automatonlike rigidity with which they’re assembled. There’s room for creativity. You’d like to literally see something new.
You’ve Lost the Ability to Differentiate Between Movies and TV
Franchising has sustained the superhero-movie boom like lifeblood, ensuring that every billion-dollar success can smoothly and efficiently spawn several more in its mold. So the analogy comparing new films to pilot episodes ,with all the attendant pressures of serialization has been made and re-made dozens of times over, feels incredibly apt; a film’s primary raison d’etre is now clearing a path for its inevitable sequel. You know that businesslike streamlining of entertainment into high-volume content to be digested and moved on from as quickly as possible? You finally realize that it sucks the heart, soul, and fun right out of the film. And you know it’s time to change the metaphorical channel.