Last week the ‘Spiderman: No Way Home’ teaser trailer was released breaking all records for the number of views, likes and discussions about it (not sure how they measure that last one!) Marvel has always had a devout fan base that grew with the movies they released, Iron Man (2008) made around $100 million in its opening weekend at the box office, The Incredible Hulk released the same year made less but from then on subsequent movies released by Marvel grew exponentially in number of tickets sold. The Avengers films especially causing the most hype (the first making $1,5 billion worldwide gross, and the latest Avengers: Endgame $357.1 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend alone making it the most successful Marvel Movie to date) probably because a movie featuring multiple characters of which appeal to different people draws the largest audience. I remember seeing Endgame the first time on the opening weekend booking tickets a week in advance (something I didn’t need to do for Marvels recent cinematic release Black Widow) and seeing people supporting characters like we were at a football game with T shirts and cheers (sometimes tears) – fans of the superhero and fantasy genre are invested in a way that is rare with more ‘realistic’ films.
Martin Scorsese infamously stated that superhero films, particularly Marvel, are ‘not cinema’ that they are ‘theme park movies’, meant to cause thrills but not stand for anything. I think perhaps this comment is rooted in the ongoing discussion or originality in film making. So many films made in the 21st century are low-risk remakes or adaptations of stories that are already loved with very few original stories made by the big budget production companies. After all, the movie business is a business and money is the aim of the game for producers. Take Disney, for example, for every original story like Inside Out or Soul a Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast remake is released. The superhero movie is part of this ‘unoriginal’ category, sourced from pre-existing comic books Marvel and DC know there are already fans of the stories out there waiting to see their beloved characters come alive. The other contention is with the stunt and CGI heaviness of the films. As with medieval heroic stories, there is always the battle and show of physical prowess – a moment that is built up to to show the power of good over an obvious, often non-negotiable evil.
So what is it about superhero and fantasy movies that stir such a hype? Perhaps it is that heroic quality that appeals to so many people. Especially in todays world which is becoming increasing more complex and grey with the rise of technology we find ourselves wanting more magic and clear-cut answers to our problems. For me, fantasy is a genre that takes reality and real world problems and exacerbates and symbolises them in a way that appeals to our imagination. Harry Potter and The Lord of The Rings, for example, use different creatures and ‘races’ to demonstrate the divides that we have created in society in a more literal and exaggerated manner. The magic in these, too, are rooted in an historical precedent astrology, prophesy & intuition are all aspects that we have believed in and have used to create the religion and science that we have today. The Superhero genre incorporates science fiction too, taking scientific hypotheses and visions and making them reality. If we cannot demonstrate our hopes, dreams and visions in storytelling, where else can we keep our imaginations and faith alive?
Why has the latest Spiderman film created so much hype? Spiderman is the superhero that every kid wants to be, being both young and going through all that growing up and being at school has to offer. There have been so many Spiderman remakes for a reason, we love an unlikely superhero and always want the underdog to succeed. But the pandemic probably has only increased our desire for good to reign over evil, and with the promise of a ‘multiverse’ audiences and fans can’t wait to see what has gone before come together. It sounds big and spectacular and exciting, the opposite of life in lockdowns. (Speculation over Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire making an appearance can’t help either!)
With Spider-Man: No way home out in December, Black Widow out over the summer and Shang Chi and the Ten Rings in cinemas now, Marvel are thriving in the cinema and on the small screen with Disney+. Some may dispute their place in the movie hall of fame but Marvel demonstrate what people want to see – old-fashioned heroism, a belief in something extra-human, escapism and hope.