Mad Max: Fury Road and the Decline of the Superhero Film
Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet? Have you also, by any chance, seen Avengers: Age of Ultron? These two films are both still in theaters, and it's hard not to compare them. A lot of Internet chatter is doing just this, and it's impossible not to have an opinion on which of these films is better.
For me there's not a lot of soul searching involved: Mad Max: Fury Road is an excellent movie - perhaps one of the best action films to come along in decades. Fury Road offers us a world on the brink of collapse, in which characters do whatever they can to survive. Fury Road portrays our own weaknesses and strengths, reflected through a story that plays upon universal themes.
Avengers 2, by contrast, offers only another installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, wherein paper-thin characters take part in contests that feel entirely contrived, without any real consequences for anyone. Sure, Quicksilver dies at the end (or does he?), but what we're left with is a rehash of movies we've seen before, set in a universe without any real surprises.
Those more intimately aware of director George Miller's career might have heard of his failed attempt to bring the Justice League to the big screen: "Justice League: Mortal." With Mad Max: Fury Road fresh in my mind, I can only regret that this film never happened. It might have been a revolutionary undertaking. Or it might have been a colossal failure. But whatever it might have been, it would have been more interesting than whatever Marvel is offering up these days.
Don't get me wrong. I loved Iron Man. I loved The Incredible Hulk. I loved Captain America: The First Avenger. I was as excited as anyone when The Avengers hit theaters, and I was decidedly pleased with the results. Joss Whedon deserved the praise he got for that film, even if it was a bit too talky for its own good.
But really, what can the superhero genre offer us now? Is there some great superhero movie waiting in the wings? If so, I have trouble imagining that such a movie would come from Marvel Studios, stuck as they are with the formula they've created. It may be that Fox makes another X-men movie as good as X-men: Days of Future Past. It may be that the Fantastic Four reboot is as inventive as I hope it will be. And then there is the DC Cinematic Universe, "gritty and steeped in realism," which might offer a welcome alternative to what has come before. I really don't know, but given Marvel's plans, I have difficulty imagining that either Ant-Man or Captain America: Civil War are going to up the stakes in any meaningful way.
What we might be witnessing here - in the absence of any great innovation by Marvel, Fox, Sony, or Warner Bros. - is the decline of the superhero film in general. This decline isn't something I'm actively wishing for (no one wants to see a great Flash film more than me), but it may be that "superhero fatigue" will begin to make itself felt on a larger scale.
It seems very likely that Ant-Man, arriving in theaters two months from now, will prove a disappointment for Marvel. The trailers for the upcoming Fantastic Four also aren't getting the best reviews, and enthusiasm for this film would seem to be at a low point. I'd be happy if both are good movies, but I'd be lying if I said my appreciation for superhero films hasn't been diminished by Avengers: Age of Ultron. I'm getting a bit tired of guys wearing capes and battling over the fate of the world. I'd rather see a film that featured characters who are more vulnerable, and also more flawed.
I'm looking forward to X-men: Apocalypse and Captain America: Civil War. I'm also looking forward to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But every time I read about these upcoming films, I remember that last half of Fury Road, and I begin wondering what other, non-superheroic films are on the horizon. Someone at Marvel, Sony, Fox, or Warner Bros. will need to start taking more risks with their material if they want this fad to continue. They'll also need to begin ignoring those who treat comic books as if they're the King James Bible. OK, yeah, the source material is important, but it's not the word of God.
Otherwise, if all we're left with is filmed comic books, many of us will begin looking for alternatives to super-powered (white) guys and predictable three-act structures. If all we're left with is repeats of what has worked for Marvel Studios before, this craze for superhero films might just come to a screeching halt.