Man of Steel flew into cinemas this summer and disappointed audiences with its endless fight scenes and pompous dialogue. But it’s not all Superman’s fault – the main problem is that Man of Steel is permeated by a strong feeling that we’ve seen it all before. Because we have.
Superhero films were once the quiet domain of comic book geeks, but now they’re the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters. A bloke in a cape guarantees box office success, with Avengers Assemble (as nobody calls it) becoming the third-highest grossing movie of all time. And the quality has been generally high, due to the involvement of interesting and skilled people both in front of and behind the camera.
Due to the success of the superhero formula, Hollywood executives have replicated it again and again, seeing every latex costume emblazoned with a dollar sign on the chest. As a result, there are currently a billion superhero sequels in production. (Citation needed.)
The problem is that these movies are quickly growing tiresome. They all follow the same plot (man puts on cape, saves the world and gets the girl – as The King Blues sang), they all look the same and they all have the same ending; Man of Steel suffered from having a climax we’d already seen in both Avengers Assemble and The Dark Knight Rises.
As each franchise produces sequel after sequel, the stakes have to keep getting higher – but with the Earth repeatedly being saved from destruction, where do we go from here? And why should we continue to care? Look at Die Hard, universally considered one of the greatest action films ever made. Bruce Willis doesn’t save the human race, or dismantle a nuclear bomb. He just rescues a bunch of employees from a tower block, the lazy man. But crucially, we care more about the outcome of Die Hard than any of these superhero armageddons.
So while these movies will continue to be churned out and audiences will continue to support them, though perhaps with ever-waning enthusiasm, it feels like the novelty has well and truly worn off. As one watches Man of Steel or Iron Man 3, one can’t help but feel exhausted by the feeling of deja-vu. Perhaps superhero films are to follow the same trajectory as Iron Man at the end of Avengers Assemble – a triumphant flight into orbit, before crashing back down to Earth.