The upcoming film season is a promising one for superhero movies, especially for DC Comics, which usually plays eager second fiddle to that soul sucking movie machine we call Marvel. Harsh, I know, but “soul sucking movie machine” is the nicest way I can describe Marvel at the moment. My not-so-subtle disgust aside, DC has been earning lots of buzz lately for its Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad films, both which could hold the elusive key to elevate DC from second-rate superhero status.
Personally, I’m sick of every and all superhero movies (except the X-Men series) and will take a pass on these two films. But I’m not here to gripe over the actual movies. I’m here to talk about their tiny bite-sized representations and how “Serious Superhero Syndrome” (SSS as us medical folks call it) has gone overboard.
Let’s go back to the mystical year of 2008, a time when David Archuleta’s future held a bright career, McCain and Obama battled for the presidency, and a film called Iron Man hoped to erase the stench of Spiderman 3 and Fantastic Four: The Rise of Silver Surfer from Marvel’s reputation. The movie earned a 94 % approval rating with reviews highlighting its “giddy escapist appeal” and “kinder, gentler and decidedly more fun [style].” The trailer certainly represents that.
Comedic with a tinge of conflict, this trailer embodies the light-hearted aspect of comics that have virtually disappeared from the recent Marvel offerings. Let’s see a trailer for Iron Man 3, released in 2013, five years after the first movie.
Dramatic voice-overs, urgent orchestral pieces, exploding buildings, a worried Gwyneth Paltrow, a tormented Robert Downey Jr. The tone is completely changed in the second trailer. Certainly, the trailers are mere reflections of the movie content, and certainly the third movie is darker than the first movie. But why is this? What happened between 2008 and 2013 that decided superhero films should be represented by the somber, melodramatic trailers reserved for oh-so-serious Oscar bait?
I liken it to the Harry Potter Opening Credits Effect.
And I get it, man. The books get dark towards the end. But are they so dark that the entire screen must be covered with monstrous black clouds and ghostly screeches? Perhaps it’s a bit overkill for Warner Bros. And it’s the same for Marvel. I’ve been nonchalant about dark Captain America, dark Thor, dark Avengers, dark Avengers: Age of Ultron, etc, etc. Sure, there are light trailers like Guardians of the Galaxy, but you must admit that you have a problem when the trailer for Ant-Man, a movie that is about a man whose only power is TO BECOME ANT-SIZED, looks like this:
I’ve gotten off track talking about Marvel, when I really wrote this post to discuss the trailers for Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad, the latter of which I found so unintentionally ridiculous that I questioned its validity.
First of all, let me just say that the concept of Batman fighting Superman is hilarious. I know it’s canon in one version of the comics, but it’s just silly. How is Batman supposed to beat Superman? Superman can pick up a water tower, has laser vision, and he can fly. Batman has a utility belt and a bat-mobile. There’s really no contest. Then you add Ben Affleck to the list and Jesse Eisenberg with Jourdan Dunn’s hair-cut, and it becomes farce. But the problem is, these trailers and the movies themselves are so stuffy and high on their self-importance that they won’t admit it. Somehow, superhero movies have transcended campy comic books and are now awarded the same reverence we give to films about war heroes and MLK biopics.
These trailers are so similar that they have created their own clichés. Phrases such as “You’ll start a war”, “We need the truth”, “that’s how it starts” give a vague cache to the films. Inevitably, ultimatums like “wipe out the entire human race” and “fate depends on it” are included. The background music is always made of apocalyptic opera overlaid with an entire orchestra furiously strumming to underscore just.how.serious.this.film.is. Shots fade in and out, focusing for a glimpse on the saddened hero, a burning car, slow-motion running. How many times can we see the same clips, hear variations of the same music and reiterations of the same dialogue and still believe these are unique movies?
And every once in a while, you get a gem like the Suicide Squad trailer, which pulls no punches.
This movie is about villains combining into an elite task squad to save the world. It’s very similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, and thus it sounds like a vehicle for laughs, right? WRONG. There are no laughs to be found here. DC is serious about this movie. Deadly serious. So serious that the Bee Gee’s classic “I Started A Joke” becomes a tortuous, eerie wail that sounds like it was sung by Evanescence. Dramatic fades to black should be used sparingly, right? WRONG. How else will DC prove how serious this movie is? Even cutting steak is serious in this trailer. And yet, the audience is psyched about this movie. Even though, at least judging from the trailer, it will be the same, self-satisfying flick that it always is. There will be explosions and torture and fight scenes and monologues. There will be a set-up for a sequel. We will all say “wow, Will Smith has really nailed it” and “Jared Leto really gives Heath a run for his money, huh?”
Maybe just maybe, could we go back to the days of Iron Man? Hell, the X-Men prequels are still keeping it fresh. They aren’t bogged down with Serious Superhero Syndrome. Alas, I’ve spoken too soon. X-Men: Apocalypse is coming, and it’s bringing dramatic fade to blacks with it.