By HENRY HSIA
From Venom to Ant-man and the Wasp, it seems that a new superhero movie is released every few months in an increasingly saturated environment. As big studios look to cash in on the superhero craze, the quality of many films have noticeably declined. I believe it’s time to ask ourselves: Is it time to change up the live-action formula?
While live-action superhero movies have become oversaturated, recent animated superhero flicks have just begun to show their potential. Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse and The Incredibles 2 represents a welcome departure from the oversaturated live action superhero genre. These films have received better critical reception then many of their live-action counterparts, and feature narratives that are often more compelling.
Ever since the release of Iron man in 2008, and the massive snowball of popularity Marvel received in its subsequent movies, other studios have been looking to cash in. After all, who would not want to reproduce the insane numbers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)? All three Avengers movies are among the top ten highest grossing movies of all time, and all Marvel movies consistently make hundreds of millions at the box office. But many other studios trying to ride this train of success fall short in the actual quality of their movies, as their only goal is the profit these movies generate. This is most prevalent in last year’s Justice League.
Justice League currently only has a 40% Tomatometer rating on the popular movie rating site, Rotten Tomatoes. The majority of critics believed that the movie was either extremely mediocre, or flat out insulting. “A pointless flail of expensive (yet, somehow, cheap-looking) CGI that no amount of tacked-on quips, or even Gadot’s luminescent star power, can rescue,” says Sara Stewart from the New York Post. Many believe Justice League’s mediocrity to be a result of poor character development, the lack of a plot, and a completely irrelevant main villain. Many other live-action superhero films follow similar lines of mediocrity, with the recent Venom being a prime example. It seems that the only studio who can get live-action superhero movies right is Marvel.
This brings me to two recent superhero features that have succeeded outside of Marvel’s empire: Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse and The Incredibles 2 (while Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse was produced in association with Marvel, it was still mainly produced by Sony). Both of these movies have significantly better critical reception than Justice League and Venom. Seeing both Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse and Justice League, I can attest to the dramatic difference between the two stories. Spider-Man featured a fully developed main character, going through ups and downs to develop who he is. At the beginning of the movie, when he first develops his spider powers, he hesitates at every turn and falls back on others too much. We also see how important every aspect of his life is to him, and how devastating it is when some of these aspects are taken away from him. This sense of loss changes him, and he realizes he must take a “leap of faith,” (as the movie calls it) and take on challenges head on instead of running away from them. By contrast, Justice League features little more than Superman beating the big bad villain by himself, with the Flash as comic relief.
Traditionally, animated superhero stories, such as the recent Incredibles 2 or the well received “Batman Beyond” television show (On IGN’s Top 100 Animated TV show as number 40), are seen as childish and don’t get much attention from mainstream media. Yet they prove time and time again to be just as mature and plot-driven as the best live-action films out there. I’m not saying that all live-action superhero flicks are bad, Ant-Man and the Wasp was a decent adventure, and Avengers: Infinity War defined the pop culture of 2018. Despite this, I believe it’s time we give animated superhero films their due diligence, and give them more respect as feature films. Otherwise, we might miss out on masterpieces like Spider-Man, into the Spider-verse.