The rickety Amazing Spider-Man 2 has critics debating just how many superhero movies America can handle. This was the subject of Samuel Adams’s weekly survey at CriticWire, which led RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz to write a forceful essay declaring: “This genre is where imagination goes to drown itself.”
He levels many popular arguments against superhero movies, ranging from valid critique of some action cinematography to easy comparisons with junk food. But the fact that there are real criticisms to be made of the movies the genre has produced doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the genre, or that we should expect it to peter out soon.
The truth is, there aren’t nearly enough superhero movies available. By historical standards, we’re so deprived of superhero movies that there’s probably a shadow war being fought between paranormal forces of good and evil over the matter.
Here’s what I mean. Seitz smartly compares superhero flicks to other genre fare, like Hollywood westerns and zombie movies. Here’s his argument:
Thirty-six years after "Superman, the Movie," we still haven't seen a range of big budget superhero films as tonally different as post-"Night of the Living Dead" zombie pictures, or Hollywood westerns released after Vietnam, when the genre was allegedly dead. What do George Romero's ghoul films, "Dead/Alive," the "Rec" series, "Shaun of the Dead," "Zombieland" and the "Days" movies have in common besides a basic situation? Almost nothing. What do "Little Big Man," "The Wild Bunch," "Blazing Saddles," "Silverado," "Unforgiven" and "Open Range" have in common besides horses and ten-gallon hats? Almost nothing. What do modern superhero movies have in common? Entirely too much. Once in a great while you get an outlier like "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." There's a reason why anybody seeking to counter gripes of superhero film sameness brings up "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass": because most superhero movies are not "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." They're "Thing Crashing Into Other Thing 3."
In other words, other box-office-dominating, pulpy, male-oriented movie trends of the past produced better, more inventive, and more diverse ranges of works than the superhero boom has. Hence, the superhero boom is, creatively and perhaps soon commercially, a bust.