Live action superheroes are everywhere. They populate the big screen and the small screen. It seems as if every channel and streaming service is broadcasting a superhero series and/or movie. Superhero movies have proven to be a highly successful genre at the box office. The overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise has a great deal to do with this trend. However, properties based on characters from DC Comics have seen success on the big screen and more recently on television. Wonder Woman (2017), Aquaman (2018), the Arrowverse on The CW television network and the recently released Zach Synder’s Justice League (2021) are all recent examples of highly successful DC Comics based properties. Going beyond Marvel and DC finds other properties based on independent comics as well as original properties created for the screen. At this point in time, like it or not, superheroes are coming fast and furious.
It is fair to say that the MCU has set the standard for the current run of superhero based properties. After the epic conclusion of the movie Avengers: Endgame (2019) it seemed as if the live action superhero age had peaked. Endgame did not spell the end, just the conclusion of that phase of the MCU. Marvel was preparing the next phase of movies in their franchise. I must admit that it seemed that anything coming next would be a bit of a letdown.
Prior to the release of Endgame I felt that I was beginning to experience the first hints of superhero fatigue. The genre did not seem as fresh or exciting as it once was. There were just too many movies and television shows being released. It felt impossible to keep pace. I found that I was slowly losing interest in some of the superhero television shows that I had been watching. I was not interested in to watching many of the new genre based television shows and movies being released on a steady basis. Television shows like The Flash were introducing new heroes and villains on a near weekly basis. It was getting to the point where the characters were becoming disposable. Some of the storylines were becoming forgettable, superficial and lacking in substance. Shows that were once must see television were falling fast on my list of priorities.
All trends have their expiration dates. Superheroes have been hot and trendy for some time now. But, as with all trends they eventually peak and the masses move onto to the next hot thing. It seemed that perhaps I had reached my own limit with live action superheroes. I felt as though I was experiencing superhero fatigue. However, I recently discovered that this was not the case.
Over the last year COVID-19 has put the world on hold. Everything as we know it has changed. But the delay in movie and television releases due to COVID may well be a blessing in disguise. After the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame a part of me felt that if the MCU had concluded at that time I would have been quite satisfied. All of the prior MCU movies and related television shows had been strategically leading up to the majestic climax of Endgame. As we learned, that movie was not the end of the franchise. Endgame was pointing the way for the beginning of something new. They were prepping the next phase of movies and television shows and then COVID, acting like a Marvel supervillain, stopped the world. Much of Hollywood was put on hold. I can only speak for myself, but this has turned out to be a good thing. The steady flow of more and more superheroes has slowed down. The downtime has given me a chance to take a breath and get some distance from the emotionally charged conclusion of Endgame. The successful transition to the next phase of the MCU no longer seems like a task akin to climbing Mount Everest.
The recently released MCU television shows, WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, have proven that I am not experiencing superhero fatigue. What I am experiencing is a low tolerance for subpar superhero programing. Most of the live action superhero movies and shows are aimed at adult audiences. Yet some of the writing seems aimed at teenage fanboys. When it comes to a great deal of the MCU this has not been the case. The recent MCU television shows demonstrate many of the strengths of the big budget MCU movies. The shows contain compelling characters, heartfelt drama and some of the best action sequences on the screen. The secret to the MCU has been the focus, first and foremost, on the characters and their stories. Human drama and what makes each character do what they do is at the heart of much of the MCU. WandaVision deals with the emotional anguish Wanda Maximov/The Scarlet Witch feels over the loss of Vision at the hands of Thanos. Elizabeth Olsen was given an amazing opportunity to display her acting abilities, and she delivered. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier deals with various emotional issues and dramatic plot points. Sam Wilson/Falcon is dealing with the retirement of Captain America and how best to honor him. He is also struggling with his path as a hero as he juggles his duties to the country as well as to his family. Bucky Barnes has been set free from the brainwashing that turned him into the ruthless assassin the Winter Soldier. However, he remembers every murderous mission that he was forced to undertake as the Winter Soldier. The memories of the dead haunt him constantly. Like Steve Rogers, he too is a man out of time. Bucky’s burdens and struggles are complex as he has to deal with the extreme guilt of his past while trying to live in the present in peace.
My point is not to extol the MCU as the be-all and end-all of live action superheroes. When done properly any and all superheroes on the screen are just as compelling in action as they are in stillness. The human and superhuman drama in the recent MCU television shows is just as compelling and captivating as the adrenaline filled action sequences. Superhero fatigue? Not quite. When everything falls into place and the right people are involved I am just as captivated as I was when the superhero craze first started. Respect for the source material and a sincere commitment by those involved combine to produce high quality television shows and movies. The sense of awe and wonder that I felt reading comic books as a youth is still present when watching superhero movies and television at their best. With all of the recent live action superhero activity it would seem as if there is a mutant, meta-human, cyborg, alien, sorcerer, super powered being, etc. on every street corner. It could be easy to get lost in the weeds and eventually come away jaded and fatigued. Discernment becomes the key. I am not desiring more superheroes, but more quality superheroes. Quality over quantity should be the goal. High quality products will keep me engaged in one of my favorite genres for years to come.