Superhero fatigue: Does Marvel still have the public’s attention with its 32nd film?

Some of Marvel Studios’ recent films have been more critical and less profitable at the box office than their predecessors. Is superhero fatigue starting to set in?


For the past 15 years Hollywood has been ruled by one thing.


ROBERT DOWNEY JR: (As Tony Stark) I am Iron Man.

CHRIS PRATT: (As Peter Quill) We are the guardians of the galaxy.

FOREST WHITAKER: (As Zuri) Prince T’Challa, the Black Panther.

CHRIS EVANS: (As Steve Rogers) Avengers, come together.

SUMMERS: Ever since 2008’s “Iron Man” launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero movies have been a dominant force in the industry. But is it starting to fade? Recent box office returns have pundits whispering about superhero fatigue. We wanted to ask an expert, so we called Glen Weldon, host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and resident comic book fan. He’s already seen the 32nd Marvel movie, “Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3.” It comes out today. Hi Glen.


SUMMERS: So you reviewed “Guardians Of The Galaxy 3” for the NPR website. And for those who haven’t read your review like me – you’re not so into it. For what?

WELDON: No, I mean, like, the reason “Guardians 3” didn’t strike me was in its approach to its subject matter. So here we’re going to have the character’s backstory of Rocket Raccoon, which, for those listeners who don’t know, is this CGI creature that’s voiced by Bradley Cooper doing a kind of Brooklyn dese-and-dose (ph) accent for no specific reason. We have clues that he has a tragic history and that he became what he was thanks to sinister animal experiments. So there is a reason here. You get into his thing. If you’re expecting a goofy space escape game like the previous two movies, you’re going to get out of this – you’re going to be sitting in a lobby, you know, there was a lot more vivisection in there movie than I expected.

And there is a plot reason to dramatize this. You have to give the character’s story. But the problem is how James Gunn, the writer/director, does it. He doesn’t believe that we, the public, even have basic empathy or humanity to know that people who are bad to animals are bad, and cruelty to animals is bad. So he just overloads this thing with all sorts of cutesy, tearful, super sentimental stuff. Yeah, that pissed me off a bit on the whole thing.

SUMMERS: I mean, I get the sense from our conversation that you felt that James Gunn, the director, was practically begging the viewer to care about what’s going on, which I think brings us to this discussion broader on where Marvel and the superhero movies are right now. I mean, we should just note that recent movies like the latest “Ant-Man”, “The Eternals”, “Thor 4”, they haven’t done as well as previous Marvel hits. What do you think these latest movies say about the current direction Marvel is heading in?

WELDON: Well, I mean, superhero movies are a genre, right? It’s like any other genre. Genres have cycles, right? So gangster movies had their heyday. Westerns had their heyday. Paranoid thrillers had their heyday in the 70s. It’s not the genre itself. It’s execution. And one thing you can say about Marvel is that they’ve varied the approach in the very different films. So if you want a full-scale space epic, you’ve got one. If you want street-level brawlers, if you want sitcom satire, if you want mystical gibberish, if you want what “Eternals” was, you got it, you know? It’s a way to fight it. And I think that’s a smart approach they’re taking.

SUMMERS: I mean, even James Gunn himself has talked about this idea of ​​superhero fatigue, although he says it’s more to do with how the stories were told, not necessarily the subgenre himself. But for you, do you feel tired? Are we – have we reached superhero peak?

WELDON: Well, what happens is that in the early phases of Marvel movies, they could expect an audience to understand that these movies build on each other. And they would expect you, the audience, to understand what was going on and to have in mind all those other movies that came before it. It is now over. We’re now so far into this fragmentation with things, with all these movies happening and all these streaming series happening on Disney+, that it’s no longer a reasonable expectation for them. So what I think is going to happen is that these movies are going to have more pressure to be self-contained, self-contained stories, not depending on an audience to have a very handy wiki that they can consult during that they’re watching the movie.

Look what happened to westerns. I think that’s a good example. Like, once people got tired of the Westerns formula, they started to deconstruct the genre. So he started to question this whole notion of white hats, black hats. And so you started to question this whole idea of ​​what the Wild West was. I think that’s what we owe is somebody really takes on this notion, this monolithic notion of the superhero and unpacks it.

SUMMERS: Glen Weldon is the host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks Glen.

WELD: Thank you.


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