The 2019 Avengers Endgame signalled the end of an era for the Marvel movies, Or did it? Between Iron man’s first outing in 2008 Marvel’s first official film and Robert Downey Jr’s last one in Endgame, eleven years has passed by. If you include Marvel’s first success with Blade in 1998, it’s 20 years. There were cartoons and even live action movies for both DC and Marvel before notably Christopher Reeves Superman (1978), but it was the release and success of Blade that gave Marvel the push to start making their own films as they only made $25,000 from the vampire blockbuster despite it making millions. Instead of selling the rights like they had done with other superheroes, they produced Iron Man which, it could be argued, gave way to the sale of Marvel to Disney in 2009.
Comic fans may argue that this is the best thing that ever could of happened to Marvel; Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg disagree. Often labelled artless, one dimensional kids films, superhero films seldom do well at awards ceremonies and film festivals where European indie and art house films still reign supreme. Furthermore in the world of culture studies, some suggest that comic based films are spreading American hegemony and justifying the existence of a unipolar world: another version of the all American war film. Others claim they are a repetition of content from our childhood; a ghost haunting us from the past as companies stop innovating and only want to create films to make a profit. A hauntological reinvention of the past during what many call the slow cancellation of the future. Our culture is stuck on loop for the benefit of a vampiristic capitalism that even feeds on us during our free time. The culture industry has turned film into an industry that requires the producers to make a profit above all else. This was being said back in the 50’s by Adorno and still has some truth today, but at the same time when artisan films are made, they cannot compare to the budgets of blockbusters for distribution and advertising.
Spanish critic Pedro Vallin disagrees. In his book I Shit on Godard he argues it is the European films that are conservative and reactionary and that the Hollywood films are progressive and left wing. He traces back the archetype of the super hero back to the cowboy who has always been on the side of the oppressed and the poor. He points out that the European, often French tasting, films are obsessed with personal relationships; the problems of the middle classes and are often set in 200 square meter flats in a European capital in the 19th century with scenes at the country abode. No working class family can afford a 100 meter square flat in a European capital let alone 200 meters and a small house in the pueblo. Thus he concludes that we should tar all Hollywood films with the same Trumpian brush and instead should be more weary of the subtitled films painting themselves as revolutionary.
The 60s and 70s are often touted as a period of radical film making and the post-Star Wars 80’s as being overly simplistic and naïve, somewhat and escape from the coming of neoliberalism. We Are The Mutants is another book that challenges this narrative and take a look at various 80s films to show us they weren’t reactionary. The contradictions and comparisons between unlikely films is interesting and makes one hell of a to-watch list. From how madness is portrayed differently between the heroic but unpredictable Sgt Riggs in Lethal Weapon and the bunny boiler Alex in Fatal Attraction; but it also covers the period around Vietnam such as the links between The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and how it relates to energy scarcity. However, this shows it’s not only the reframing, comparisons and shake downs of films that criticism is useful for but also the revaluation of history itself. Film are how we relate to the past, how our kids learn the subjective feelings that were held during the period and the mood of the moment. They are no substitute for an Eric Hobsbawm book or a Jane Austen novel but they have a place.
Will superhero films be the Westerns of the future? and how will streaming platforms effect production, narration and reception of future stories. Netflix crushed the once cool Black Mirror, but gave us the nihilistic banger The End of the F***ing World, yet we are still being made to suffer through more prequel, sequels and remakes. It may well deliver progressive Hollywood and European films to the masses, or it could be seen as another version of a propaganda machine for royalty. What ever it is, future critics will look back on a time before streaming platforms and wonder why we had so many channels on cable.
Anyone else nostalgic for Blockbuster?