For at least a decade, we’ve lived through a pretty unprecedented boom in superhero films. Disney releases three Marvel Cinematic Universe films a year, Warner Brothers is trying desperately to make the limping DC universe hold together, Fox has the X-Men, and that’s not counting failed experiments like Fantastic Four or Sony’s Spider-Man universe, which, as far as I understand, they’re attempting to still do, but without Spider-Man. Superheroes aren’t suddenly popular out of nowhere or anything, but the sheer glut of superhero movies being produced now makes the progenitors of the superhero boom – like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy or Sam Raimi’s Spiderman – look modest by comparison.
It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the superhero boom. I would support a ten-year ban on producing superhero films if such a thing were possible. But that isn’t out of snobbiness, or even out of a dislike of superhero films. I think Spiderman 2 is a masterpiece. I saw The Dark Knight Rises in the cinema twice and think anyone who criticises its many plotholes is a pedantic killjoy. I think Logan had one of the best screenplays of last year. But the superhero boom is a feature of a much bigger problem: a trend in blockbuster filmmaking, and popular cinema in general, away from the thoughtful, interesting and weird and towards bland, hollow pleasures. It started with superheroes, and now it’s creeping all over the place, from Star Wars to the Universal monsters.
Superhero films tend to get a disproportionate amount of praise because they’ve spent a decade wearing us down, calibrating our expectations to just the right frequencies. I hate the word “overrated,” but I don’t think there’s a better word to explain the phenomenon of every Marvel release apparently being one of the best films ever made, if Rotten Tomatoes scores are anything to go by (and they aren’t). I really liked Wonder Woman, even if it had third act problems, but when people started talking about it as one of the best films of the year and it being “snubbed” by the Oscars, I felt like I was going insane. So I’ve never felt the need to speak up for a superhero film, really.
But then there’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.