avengers movies

Captain America: Peak Superhero?

Superhero Google Trends Graph

Superhero Google Trends Graph

I only enter a movie theater a few times a year, preferring to view everything a few months or years later on the HD screen at home on my own schedule. But I did get out to see Captain America: Civil War, which I highly recommend if you can stand the shaky-cam battle scenes with their low frame rate — visually disturbing to many. Deadpool, which I saw via Amazon streaming a week ago, also fired on all cylinders, with a foul and funny script and good characters.

As Marvel productions are capturing more and more of the total box office revenues, are we approaching “peak superhero?” The above graph shows how several franchises have peaked and then declined. I couldn’t fit vampires in, but they peaked earlier, then were followed by zombies, which are now in gradual decline as saturation has been reached, with over a dozen movies and series having thoroughly explored most of the possibilities.

Superhero stories could at first be simple, with cardboard characters, since the novelty of the superhero / supervillain conflict could carry the story for a less jaded audience. But now everyone has been exposed to many generations of Superman, Batman, and X-Men, and stories have to be more character-based. The action scenes can still be exciting, though we’ve already seen peak CGI and after spectacles like 2012 and San Andreas, which did well in overseas markets despite simple stories and shallow characters, there’s not a lot of hunger for more raw CGI destruction. Without humor, romance, and a good script, future big-budget CGI movies will do poorly in the US unless they are involving in some other way.

Tomorrowland was a major flop, for example, because its story and script were murky and unsatisfying. Few viewers came away from it wanting friends and children to see it despite some delightful set-pieces — it started out bemoaning the defeatism of our dystopia-loving age, then reinforced it with a murderous cardboard bad guy, chase scenes, and a “hopeful” ending of Apple-ad-style androids sent to Earth like missionaries to direct humanity toward the correct technocratic path. To hell with that, I thought… (See Tomorrowland: Tragic Misfire.)

The most recent Marvel superhero movies have been well-acted, well-written, and thoughtful, and they have made so much money that Hollywood copycats will be getting greenlights on more and more superhero productions. But between TV and movies, the genre has been mined out — or has it?

Deadpool was especially enjoyable because it had interesting characters and bucked typical blockbuster movie censorship conventions — and as Deadpool himself points out in voiceover, it’s a love story! Kick-ass women and less conventional men make for a fun mix.

The highest-grossing vampire movies, the Twilight series, were also romances and attracted major female audiences. I don’t know of a successful zombie romance and it’s easy to see how that would be tough — zombies make for unattractive love interests, since major parts may fall off at critical moments and lovemaking and brain-eating don’t mix, though we’ve seen good zombie comedies (e.g., Shaun of the Dead).

Major flops occur when old franchises are rebooted without respect to the iconic characters’ existing symbolism — for example Batman vs Superman, a stinker because not only was it implausible (how could Batman, a tech-assisted human, really fight Superman, powerful enough to move mountains and spin the earth backward to turn back time?), but it clashed with Superman’s deeper image as embodiment of the American Way.

Marvel has not made this mistake, and Captain America has been developed as a slightly-updated version of his original WWII comicbook persona. His American idealism, once cliched, is now refreshing, and his willingness to go against the grain of bureaucracy to fight for Good resonates in a population tired of increasing nanny-state rules and regulations.

Identifying with a superhero protagonist enables a fantasy of independence and power for individuals. Boys are stereotypically fascinated by stories of finding a way (technology, magic, a spider bite!) to become independent and powerful fighters, but the appeal is broadening to girls, women, and everyone else as more and more our life-choices are dictated by those who believe they know better than we do what is best for us. Putting ourselves in their place lets us fantasize that we can make a difference, while in our real lives we wait on hold to deal with health insurance companies and pay the IRS whatever it asks since it is too hard to figure out their computer-generated letters.

More reading on other topics:

FDA Wants More Lung Cancer
Jane Jacobs’ Monstrous Hybrids: Guardians vs Commerce
The Great Progressive Stagnation vs. Dynamism
Death by HR: How Affirmative Action is Crippling America
Death by HR: The End of Merit in Civil Service
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Public Employee Unions
Death by HR: History and Practice of Affirmative Action and the EEOC
Civil Service: Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive Dream
Bootleggers and Baptists
Corrupt Feedback Loops: Justice Dept. Extortion
Corrupt Feedback Loops, Goldman Sachs: More Justice Dept. Extortion
Death by HR: The Birth and Evolution of the HR Department
Death by HR: The Simple Model of Project Labor
Levellers and Redistributionists: The Feudal Underpinnings of Socialism
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
Trump World: Looking Backward
Minimum Wage: The Parable of the Ladder
Selective Outrage
Culture Wars: Co-Existence Through Limited Government
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
The Morality of Glamour

On Affirmative Action and Social Policy:

Affirmative Action: Chinese, Indian-Origin Citizens in Malaysia Oppressed
Affirmative Action: Caste Reservation in India
Diversity Hires: Pressure on High Tech<a
Title IX Totalitarianism is Gender-Neutral
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
The Social Decay of Black Neighborhoods (And Yours!)
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
“Income Inequality” Propaganda is Just Disguised Materialism

The greatest hits from SubstrateWars.com (Science Fiction topics):

Fear is the Mindkiller
Mirror Neurons and Irene Gallo
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Selective Outrage
Sons of Liberty vs. National Front
“Tomorrowland”: Tragic Misfire
The Death of “Wired”: Hugo Awards Edition
Hugos, Sad Puppies 3, and Direct Knowledge
Selective Outrage and Angry Tribes
Men of Honor vs Victim Culture
SFF, Hugos, Curating the Best
“Why Aren’t There More Women Futurists?”
Science Fiction Fandom and SJW warfare

More reading on the military:

US Military: From No Standing Armies to Permanent Global Power
US Military: The Desegregation Experience
The VA Scandals: Death by Bureaucracy