With so many superhero movies being released in the past several years and in the upcoming years, we undoubtedly live in the golden age of superhero movies. But the immense success that these movies brought may in fact be their own downfall, and this golden age can’t last forever.
The first reason for this is simple: market saturation. With DC now making the Justice League films, and with all of their tie-in films, as well as the abundance of Marvel films, we may soon hit, or possibly have already hit, peak superhero. With so many superhero films out and coming out, moviegoers may soon decide that they have had enough; they may soon lose interest in superhero films, especially if future films prove as disappointing as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman v Superman proved that these films aren’t infallible, that they can be poorly constructed and that they can fail as a movie. Moviegoers may soon get bored with the whole superhero thing, and now that a bad film has been put out they maybe less willing to risk their money on a genre film that has already been done to death. It’s worth bearing in mind that westerns were once a popular genre and are only now coming back into vogue.
The other reason that may cause the golden age of superhero movies to soon end is the fact that Marvel, by far and away the better superhero movie maker, has been so successful. By making good films Marvel has been able to make more films. And this champion of superhero movies, Marvel-Disney, has an overall narrative for its cinematic universe that is heading into an area that is bigger, broader, and harder to relate.
With the recent release of the trailer for the upcoming Marvel-Disney Doctor Strange film, which starts Benedict Cumberbatch, Marvel introduces magic into its cinematic universe. This means that things are going to get weird.
Now, comics are inherently weird. Comics have had their characters going to alternate dimensions, literally going to hell, coming back from the dead, having clones, having alternate worlds and the like. But so far the Marvel cinematic universe, or MCU, has been able to remain surprisingly and relatively grounded.
While there have already been invaders from another dimension in the first Avengers movie, because the action happened on Earth it remained somehow grounded and the suspension of belief that every science fiction film requires wasn’t too high. The characters remained relatable and the plot remained understandable, meaning that the film wasn’t too far fetched so that audiences didn’t lose interest and remained invested in the film. The Avengers seem to remain grounded by staying on Earth. Even in the Thor movies all of the action happens on this planet. This is to retain a human aspect. And it’s why the emotional burden of the Avengers series rests on the humans Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. For proof of this go watch the forthcoming Captain America: Civil War, which is a showdown between the two.
But at the same time the stakes of the films need to keep getting higher, things need to keep getting more dramatic and more needs to be at stake. But as these stories get larger and larger, the ability to keep the characters believable and the plots conceivable becomes more and more challenging. This is a problem when the Avengers have already saved the planet twice.
The Avengers, even the God of Thunder, Thor, and the indestructible green monster Hulk make more sense when they are on Earth. Yet the upcoming Avengers films have the titular characters fighting against Thanos the Mad Titan, an extremely powerful entity who was literally in love with death and who is hunting the Infinity Stones, a collection of stones that, when assembled, provide nearly unlimited power. This does not sound like an Earth-bound character, meaning that the Avengers may soon have to leave Earth, their source of ‘believability.’ The problem is how to get Earth-bound heroes into space, into a wider cinematic universe where mad titans want to date the embodiment of death and where magical rocks grant god-like powers. And with elements like mad titans and magic, this may prove to be a plot too far.
Without reliable characters and believable—or at least acceptable—plots, the films may go too far. This is to say that, with only one more X-Men film scheduled, with DC putting out subpar superhero films and with Marvel sending their heroes into space or at least into stories that no one can believe, the golden age of superhero films may be ending.