I liked the Aquaman movie more than Captain Marvel.
No, I don’t have an allegiance to either side of this unnecessary divide in franchises. Also, Captain Marvel was an unequivocally better movie with a very empowering message for women and girls everywhere, especially the imagery of Carol standing up from being knocked down at the film’s climax. It made me tear up a little.
So… why Aquaman?
I liked Aquaman because it took me somewhere I’d never been before, and showed me things I’d never seen. A lot of the choices, like making Arthur some kind of weird Indiana Jones for a third of the movie and abandoning a better villain and plot in Black Manta for a much worse villain and plot for the sake of upping the stakes were clunky and somewhat strange. But this roughness actually endeared the movie to me far more than the clean and polished story of Captain Marvel.
Not seen it? Watch Aquaman now on Amazon.
It Ain’t Broke, but It’s Boring
Maybe I’m biased because I love bad movies. But there’s a certain amount of charm to a movie that isn’t afraid to do something stupid like put dinosaurs at the center of the earth reachable by swimming through a giant whirlpool. Or unleash a giant Lovecraftian horror upon a battlefield of armored seahorses and crab men.
Captain Marvel wasn’t bad, it delivered on everything that we have come to expect in a Marvel movie from the last decade plus of watching them.
This is precisely my problem. It was everything I expected. I have seen almost all of the MCU (with the exception of Thor 2 and Ironman 3… but I hear I’m not missing anything with those…) and I can say that I know what I’ll get when I watch one. There’s a hero, there’s a villian, there’s a plot item (vibranium, a super AI, a legendary weapon, a rogue agent), and there’s a resolution that will involve explosions, CGI, and Joss Whedon style snarky humor. Sometimes, those plots aren’t resolved in a single movie (Avengers: Infinity War / Endgame), and sometimes the plot device are the characters themselves (Captain America: Civil War), but with few exceptions, these are the ingredients chosen to make the Marvel formula.
More than Marvel Alone
This isn’t a “Marvel” problem or simply a matter of superhero fatigue or even Disney fatigue… alone, anyway. It stems from something far more sinister on the horizon (more on that later).
I’m not here to bag on Marvel movies specifically, DC is becoming guilty of the opposite. When I see a DC movie, I know there’s going to be gloom, dark, seriousness, poor attempts at Joss Whedon style snarky humor, and poorly contrived B plots. I think they also lack any sort of organization or real sense of stakes.
The producers of DC movies are trying to mimic the success of Marvel. But they’re doing it with the wrong tools. However, in the moments where the films have spectacle and deliver setpieces I’ve never seen before, they shine brightly and create impactful experiences, but I digress.
The thing is, since 1995 with the release of Batman Forever, we’ve had at least one new superhero movie every year, and as the timeline moves forward, the number of these movies increases from two or three per year to six or seven per year in 2018. This is not the lion’s share of all movies being produced. Not by a longshot. But these few titles make up the vast majority of marketing dollars being spent across all media.
So much, in fact, that it’s becoming a problem for the filmmakers themselves. I see this as a feedback loop. As movies increase their marketing, they must either increase their profitability, or cut their costs.
For most genres, the answer will be to slash spending. This creates a poor product that, while it can more easily make back its budget, won’t perform overwhelmingly at the box office, making it less likely that producers/directors will take a chance in having their names attached to it in the future.
Cash, the Real Superpower
Superheroes are highly marketable. You can slap an image of Hulk, Batman, or Rocket Raccoon on the side of something and it will instantly sell better because of it, especially to kids.
My fiance picked up a bundle of Captain Marvel bananas yesterday (I shit you not). And while I’m all for people picking up more potassium in their diet and honoring the rise of feminine power. It serves as a primary example of how ridiculous marketing has become in order to boost the impact of superhero movies. You’ll never see a Green Book lunchbox, or A Star is Born action figures/dolls.
There will never be a box of Us bandaids, or hoodies bearing the crisp image of Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth from Isn’t it Romantic. For these genres, they must rely on more traditional marketing techniques. But when they are being released alongside a blockbuster superhero movie, the end result will always be a diminished return.
More Hay Covering the Needles
Audiences are lucky to find a worthy movie in most other genres that aren’t either established franchises or direct adaptations.
Horror suffers the least, but it’s not immune. Original adult comedies that aren’t directed by Adam Sandler, or helmed by the creators of The Hangover are rare. And, while it’s unfair to compare dramas and Oscarbait films like Five Feet Apart to the spectacle of superhero franchises, they are also diminished in comparison to the super behemoths.
So, what does this mean for the average moviegoer? Well, people who go to the movies to escape for a while, and who love big explosions and ample ass-kicking will continue to go see these films. The cycle will continue as normal. But this means that the larger landscape for movies is going to change drastically.
The Future of Cinema is All Capes
More theaters will house superhero films. More screens and showtimes are going to be dedicated to their viewing. Less and less screen time will belong to smaller films of other genres. Pretty soon smaller productions won’t have the money to make it to larger movie chains. That will result in most other films being housed in artisan or independent theaters. That is, until even they won’t pick up those films because they don’t make money. Then what? Streaming only?
The future I’ve laid out is a movie dystopia where only the largest, most spectacle-filled films survive in the wasteland of the current nerd culture consumerism. It’s a grim prospect for people who crave variety in their film diet and remember a time when most movies had a commercial spot or two on TV even if they weren’t related to Batman or Thor. Even bleaker than this is the prospect of theaters becoming obsolete altogether.
What happens when audiences reach the level of fatigue I’m currently feeling with the superhero trend? Do those movies just disappear? Does everything go back to “normal?”
Streaming services are taking over. And with thirteen of the twenty highest grossing movies of the last decade being made by a single company, theaters are going to have a hard time quickly filling the void if those films suddenly depart. And the company in question has become so powerful and far-reaching that they have absolutely dominated almost every aspect of our media.
I’m sure you already know the company I’m talking about, because it’s on the lips every good-hearted soul, every babe aged 4 and up, every corporate shill, and every media outlet in the world, especially after their recent mergers which have sparked some controversy.
It’s hard to hate Disney. If I came out and made that statement to any random room in any convention center for anything I’d be chased out by every lightsaber-wielding, Starlord mask-wearing, Elsa-cosplaying person there. The riot would spread to the entire building, and soon I’d be running down the street from a frothing mob of enraged socialites, soccer moms, and sugar-laden children.
If I survived long enough, it would eventually encompass the city. The National Guard would be called out to suppress the riot… only to join in when they heard what it was all about. Nothing could stop it. My death would be assured. It would only be a question of when.
All in the Disney Family
I mean, I don’t blame them. I’ve grown up with Disney. My mother grew up with Disney. Hell, my grandmother grew up with Disney. It’s in our culture so deep that to remove it would be akin to social suicide.
The Disney brand is worth so much right now that if it were to disappear overnight the GDP of the United States would fall by 0.27% of its current 19.39 trillion dollars. To put that number in perspective, let’s use a unit of measurement every red-blooded American citizen can understand. Big Macs. You could buy 16,778,711,484 Big Macs with that money, or 14,295,942,720 if you’re using the Whopper metric scale.
That’s enough to give every person living in the United States food for a month. Just think about that.
Too Big to Fail
Okay, that probably doesn’t actually help, but I did a lot of math for that one, so please pretend it did.The fact of the matter is that Disney’s economic impact is nearly immeasurable. This, combined with the fact that Disney now owns either directly or indirectly nearly 40 percent of all movie and television industries in the United States, makes them untouchable in aspects of production and marketing.
Since these statistics are also pretty hard to imagine, here’s an article with the statistics and a helpful infographic. Disney owns, in addition to all of their pre-existing fairy tale trademarks and characters, all of the major Marvel superheroes, Star Wars, Hulu, ABC, Fox properties including Family Guy, The Simpsons, The Orville, and the Alien franchise to name a few.
Does this mean Ripley is a Disney princess now?
Of all of this, I think I might be okay with that if it means putting horrible, disgusting xenomorph merch next to Tangled frying pans. When I start seeing the tiny plastic chestburster scenes appear in the Disney store next to the cast of Moana, I might change my mind.
Is the Mouse a Fat Cat?
So, with such a gigantic stock to pull from at any given time, and with a hand in most of the services Americans use for entertainment today, is it a monopoly? Not technically.
The three laws that make up America’s anti-trust regulations are pretty explicit in what is and isn’t considered under its jurisdiction. If you want to sift through it yourself, you can read it on the Department of Justice’s official site. There’s a decent summary on the main page, but to look into the actual laws you’ll need to dig a little deeper. Spoilers: there’s not really a case here in my opinion, but I’m not a lawyer.
The acquisition of hundreds of intellectual properties and beloved franchises doesn’t make Disney an inherently evil corporate conglomerate, but when they do shit like this to movie theaters, it sure starts to paint them in a darker shade of grey. This sort of bullying is why I am certain that we’re going to have fewer well-produced films from other studios and see fewer films not about superheroes in the future.
Kind of want that Disney edition of Monopoly? Buy now on Amazon.
A Money Pump Built to Last
Disney has plans to continue releasing films well into 2020 and beyond. The Marvel machine doesn’t stop with Avengers: Endgame. It keeps rolling through the cosmos and picking up stories where it sees them. It flings them into nearby theaters and forcing them to submit to the rule of their corporate Empire. Which is pretty ironic if you think about it. They advertise the rebellion far more than the empire.
Why don’t I just not watch superhero movies and shut up about it?
The genre has become a focal point of the social conversation. The fear of missing out is real, and I would rather sit through another superhero movie than be left out of future conversations. Or tell people around me to stop talking about the movie. I don’t want to be a buzzkill.
How Can Anyone Fight Disney
So what do we do about the state of affairs? How do we, the lowly peasants who share this worldly stage with Emperor Disney change the way their business is run?
Some would say “talk to them with your wallet.” Boycott their films, refuse to buy their merchandise, and encourage others to do the same. The sentiment is there, and it’s a solid plan in theory. In practice, the numbers just won’t add up. For every one person who decides not to go see Avengers: Endgame on the principle of sticking it to the mouse, there will be five people who just want to enjoy themselves. They may not necessarily agree with Disney’s business practices.
And you know what? That’s fine. Let people enjoy their film. The weapons we need to use are words. We need to spread awareness that pushing a corporate agenda to turn a profit is not worth the irreparable damage it may cause to society in the future. And when I talk about damage, I’m talking about wanton consumerism.
We don’t live in the digital age anymore. We live in the age of plastic. It’s an age where nerd culture has been deified, and the gods of the religion are Funko Pops, overpriced Lego sets, and polyurethane cosplay props from Hot Topic.
None of these gods are intrinsically “evil,” but the mindset of over-enthusiastic fandom itself can be toxic.
Use your words. Talk to your friends. Have meaningful conversations about why you like the things you like. Push brands to the side and really analyze what you’re consuming.
Being mindful of this is the first step to more responsible consumerism. Having these conversations with Disney directly through e-mail, video commentary, or some other form of media can go a long way to making a big mark. One that stands a chance of being seen from the top of Cinderella’s Castle.
Want to give in and embrace your Disney/Marvel overlords? Shop Amazon’s Marvel store. Or fight the power and let us know your favorite superhero fatigue cure in the comments below.