Thought the history of film, its trends have often developed with the changing global dynamic. World War II brought forth neo-realism, the cold war gave us spy films; But like all trends or rather fads, they come and go. Some of these last longer than others. The introduction of new film technologies has not only changed the way films are made, but also proved to reshape genres. Computer Generated Images or CGI has help film makers create things that they would not have been able to make with practical effects. It started out with subtle uses of CGI that fascinated viewers, then evolved into frequent use. Eventually, films became inundated with artificial images. This directly correlated to the rise of fantasy, adventure and science fiction genres.
Today, most of the major films out of Hollywood are most likely from one of those genres. Along with the obsession with fantasy and sci-fi, is a mind blistering, excessive amount of CGI. In contemporary Hollywood films, CGI typically acts as a crutch to prop up the film under the guise of poor narrative choices. Take super hero films as an example, they typically all follow the same framework: the good guys vs the bad guys, the good guys struggle along the way but ultimately end up beating the bad guy. There may also be the typical Hollywood twist involved, which further cheapens the triviality of the film. Put all this together and you get the typical Marvel or Disney film. Think for a second what one of those films would look like if you took away the CGI. Think about if the film used practical effects instead. Would that change anything? Probably not enough to save the writing. The premise of these films has always been entertainment and spectacle. With the CGI gone, at the very least there’s no spectacle and all you’re left with is banal writing.
The question remains, does CGI make these films? It most certainly isn’t the writing and its arguable that without the CGI there may be significantly less interest in these films from its core audience. Aside from the use of CGI, the major factor in regards to the popularity of these films is undoubtedly the fan base. This fan base, which is essentially a cult, consumes anything to do with Marvel. They have a tendency to vigorously defend these films from criticism and often would never be able to admit if they thought the film was bad. This underscores a major problem with these films, not having to do with the actual content but the toxic culture built around it. If the fan base becomes disappointed with the films they rant and rave sometimes even starting petitions (see Game Of Thrones). Imagine sitting down to start writing a film, typically you start with your central idea and proceed to build characters, their traits and backgrounds. Now image that when you sat down to write your film you had to consult a focus group first to see if the audience would like it. This is what happens with films build around fan servicing which also happens to be widespread in Hollywood. All that said in the golden age of Hollywood this was similarly used. Though, this was usually in regards to making characters more relatable to the audience rather than appealing to make sure plot lines developed the way the viewer would like.
For the past decade, superhero, fantasy and sci-fi films have dominated Hollywood. The institution of Hollywood sees this trend as an opportunity and capitalizes on it. This money making opportunity typically revolves around nostalgia. This means that when major studios find something that audiences like they keep making it over and over again until people are tired of it. This is clearly evident with Hollywoods overbearing obsession with remakes and repetitive narrative structures. This is a dominate factor of virtually any super hero film. These film series’ go on for years and years with sequel after sequel, seemingly to no end. With this comes; repetitive plot devices and tired character cliches, showing how these films are all built around the same framework. The studios do this for two reasons: they understand that people like it, and they realize that making something that people like and are familiar with will continue to make them money. It's no secret that many people don’t like change, even though film have changed so much over the years but, those changes are typically generational. Many people over the age of 60 may not like super hero films due to the stark contrasts the films they are used to. Other times people who don’t insulate themselves may find themselves enjoying films as they progress. Nevertheless studios capitalize on the viewers obsessions with repeated content. Here in lies the problem, this repetition offered no unique perspective in the film. Yes, the superhero film typically follows the guideline of good guy wins, bad guy loses but the repetitive nature of these films goes further than that. There are small details in these films that are also present in all superhero films. The hero always has a love interest, typically someone who needs saving and almost always a women in distress. This has been a staple in Hollywood, no matter the year. That just proves the point, that Hollywood refuses to write something new, they just keep the same narrative points that they have been using for decades and re-wrap it for a new generation.
Super hero films and all fantasy films for that matter, tend to have mystical elements in them. A magical object like a stone, that possesses incredible power. Most super hero films have something like this in them and it only serves as a cheap narrative tactic that comes across as lazy because of its repetitive use. There’s also small things like incessantly vexing comedic breaks in dialogue. Often when these films have serious or dramatic moments they are broken by childish humour, most likely because the writers can’t follow through on the sequence so they bail and throw in a shitty joke. It’s also likely that because these films are designed for children that they want to keep it light even though it removes any possibility of the film being taken seriously.
As unremarkable as these films are they are still incredibly popular, but why? As I noted earlier there are factors such as the repetitive nature of the films; when an audience finds something they like they tend to want to see more of it. This leads to studios repeating the same basic formula over and over, until they realize no one likes it any more and they adapt with current trends. Beyond the repetitive nature, there is something about these films that keeps its audience locked in: Brand Loyalty. A term mind you, that is not traditionally associated with film, but in this case these films have built a brand. The audience recognizes it from the characters, being that the films are usually adapted from other sources such as comic books. This “Brand Loyalty” is directly tied to the repetitive nature of these films. The audience understands and knows the comic book, therefore the characters, which draws them to the film, studios then proceed to keep making sequels, spin offs and remakes. This means that when someone sees a character name like “Iron Man”, they recognize and probably want to see whatever the film is. This creates”Brand Loyalty” through a prior knowledge of the content with a steady implementation of repetition, all while not changing much from film to film.
This brings up another repetitive issue I’ve had with super hero films: the good guy vs the bad guy. It's a tired metric, but people have not seemed to move on from it yet. One could point out the simplicity of the idea, highlighting the fact that many audience may not want to think very much while watching these films. This provokes studios to keep the films simple, hence the repetition. Ideologically speaking, films have always separated characters through a set of morals. When most people look at one of these films they would be able to tell who the “bad guy” is. As an obvious example; a character who is a murderer, obviously most people would look at that character and assess that what they are doing is morally wrong, but it may all be relative to their role. If the character is the antagonist, they would most likely be perceived as the bad guy, whereas if they are the protagonist they could be seen at the good guy. This is all weighed against their actions. Similar to how the character Dexter works, he kills people but he only kills “bad people”.
With super hero films, it’s far more bland and traditional. It's already predetermined how the audience should feel about certain characters, in regardless to their morals. The superhero’s are the good guys, so you're supposed to root for them. The problem is these films rarely tackle the deep roots of a characters ideology, these films are always just “they are the heroes trust them” without getting into specifically why. With this I often think back to the Avengers: infinity war, the Avengers are trying to stop Thanos from killing half of all living creatures. Thanos gives his reasoning, making the point of overpopulation, but the avengers argument is just one of morality which is just not a strong enough argument. This is not the say that morally Thanos character was in the right but the supposed good guys could not, in a sound way back up their position in my opinion. Regardless of the Avengers, these films are always build around the simple idea of always trusting the super hero without leaving room to disagree, all while boasting an unjust moral superiority over everyone else. Ironically, to me the super heroes are representative of global elites who say: “trust us we know what’s best for you”. The persona of these characters come off as extremely elitist.
This doesn’t mean that some of these characters aren’t the “good guys” but the concept is very closed off; there isn’t much room for interpretation. So what’s the point of the film, there’s no deeper meaning; as the viewer you’re just meant to sit back and watch things play out. This, to me presents a situation of no value, there is simply no purpose to these films because they have the same types of character, same story flow and same ending. But as I already stated much of this audience probably does not want to think too much.
So what does it come down to? Well, simply put, entertainment, assuming you find these films entertaining. The box office numbers say many people do. I suppose the only question remains is, how long this will last? Every trend in film throughout its short history has come to an end, given peoples shortened action spans today, I doubt superhero films would last much longer.