The new trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past came out the other day, and I was surprised by how apathetic I felt towards it. And the best explanation I can come up with is Marvel’s success with mixing genres.
Let’s rewind a little further. I first noticed this apathy creeping in with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2012. Don’t get me wrong, it was okay. I liked Andrew Garfield in the role, and seeing the Lizard was sort of cool, even if he did look like ass compared to the 90’s cartoon version.
Same happened with the release of The Wolverine last year. I liked it a little more than The Amazing Spider-Man because it was more character focused, but when it got to the third act sequence of Wolverine fighting a giant robot Samurai thing, I was bored.
Given my feelings on all this, there is only one reasonable conclusion I can draw. For me, it is not enough that they make a standard superhero film any more.
Consider Marvel. Aside from the Iron Man films, which are fairly standard hero stories, albeit very well written with a lot of good characterisation thrown in, really take a look at their output.
The Incredible Hulk took the framework of a superhero and mixed it with tropes and elements of monster movies. It just happened that we were rooting for the monster to win, even as he destroyed a hefty chunk of Brooklyn. Because really, what’s a monster movie without a few city blocks being levelled? This wasn’t the standard story of someone heroically saving the day, it was about one man’s struggle against his own nature, literally the monster living inside him. And though it’s probably the most criticised of Marvel’s output to date, I hold a special place for it. Though with Hulk being one of my favourite comic characters, I’m likely at least a little biased.
When Kenneth Branagh took on Thor, he brought with him years of classic theatre experience and gave the whole thing overtones of a Shakespearian tragedy. Thor might be a fairly standard hero, but Tom Hiddleston was revelatory as the Machiavellian Loki, to the point where he managed to steal the show in three films so far. A change in director saw the follow up Thor: The Dark World taking a different direction, as Alan Taylor brought the franchise more in line with big fantasy tropes, presumably from his time directing episodes of Game of Thrones.
And finally, Captain America. Perhaps the most generically superheroic of the current Marvel line up, and yet his films are the most diverse in terms of genre. The First Avenger is at times a straight up war movie. Everything from the aesthetic to the structure and everything in between (including an amazing propaganda musical number) lends itself more to a war film than a superhero story. And though I’ve not seen The Winter Soldier at the time of writing this post, it looks to be more of a spy thriller, even going so far as to cast Robert Redford as a shady looking S.H.I.E.L.D agent.
Update: I’ve since seen The Winter Soldier and it is indeed a 70’s style spy thriller. And an awesome one at that. I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling some of the surprises, but it’s truly great.
Though we’ve only seen one trailer so far, Guardians of the Galaxy looks to continue this trend too, bringing in space opera and even elements of comedy to the proceedings.
And what of the future? There are so many more genres to explore. I’ve been hankering for a Planet Hulk movie for years now, and mixing the superhero genre with a Gladiator style epic sounds like a match up waiting to happen. And what of horror? Granted, a lot harder to pull off, but two of the Blade films managed it well enough. Though the less said about Blade Trinity, the better.
The point at the end of it all is that Marvel’s films are still working for me because they’re taking risks and throwing different genres into the mix to keep it interesting. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past would likely have blown my mind back in 2005. But it’s just not enough to make films for 2005 me any more. I want something more. And for now, Marvel seems to be the only studio delivering that.