The number of superhero productions can overwhelm Superman himself.

Rafał Donica

15 December 2022

Devoid of any brakes, the pace of spinning images about cogs, and the multitude of powers of such, such and such, combined with divine bulletproofness is beginning to tire me a little. The plethora of characters that are no longer memorable or distinguishable, and the variety of their colorful gits, shimmers in my eyes, spicing up the vertigo effect. What’s too much is too much; after all, there isn’t a week… a day… an hour(!) sometimes, without news about some new superhero movie or series, not even to mention phases 38, 39, 40…. and plans for 2025-2063 from universes whose names I don’t think I need to cite here.

superheroes batman flash thor hawkeye venom spider-man green lantern superman iron-man catwoman x-men logan wolverine

And yet I do. It’s all about DCEU & MCU, of course. So these two moguls, these Goliaths among the amusement parks, which a tiny David Scorsese is unsuccessfully fighting against along with his film peers patting him on the back, have literally flooded us with a superhero wave that has covered me personally, although I measure one meter ninety without a hat, up to my nose, and it will soon begin to subside. I don’t even want to think how deep is much shorter poor creator of Goodfellas.

Enough of TV shows, please

I’ve seen all of the MCU films and equally all of the DCEU, even that black and white version of Justice League in the 4:3 aspect ratio. In order not to lose the threads and possible cause-and-effect connections between cinema and television, I watched, as GOD commanded, a pretty cool first MCU series titled WandaVision, and in some longer time a relatively likable Hawkeye, in the meantime ditching e.g. What If…? But I had already let go of Falcon and The Winter Soldier (both of them) sometime during the third episode, because I was hardly drawn into the plot, and I didn’t care about the characters. In addition, there was a little cheating there, because the series did not feature the Captain America I came to know and like in the cinema films, but someone else with that name, I report to the prosecutor’s office. I let go She-Hulk halfway through the first(!) episode, I was so taken by it and visually enthralled. For that, Loki with the reliable Tom Hiddleston turned out to be the cherry on top of all this moderately tasty Marvel serial cake not too sweet such, and the only title that exceeded the 8/10 barrier on IMDb, which for series rated there anyway is not some spectacular success. None of the MCU and DCEU offerings, by the way, made it to the TOP 250 list of the best series of all time. For that, two anti-superhero series did; we are talking about The Boys and Invincible, about which there will be a bigger discussion a bit below.

disney= disney wandavision

Now there will be a considerable digression and a moment’s respite from the supps. I used to watch even weak items out of the so-called chronicling duty of a self-proclaimed film critic, and would finish even the worst film once I got into it (screenings of Troll 2 or Son of the Mask hurt to this day). The breakthrough came probably during the screening of the 3rd episode of The Walkin Dead dragging like oil at the pace of a fly in tar, when I interrupted for the first time something I had started. Nowadays, I’m very meticulous in choosing the titles I get behind, especially when it involves time-consuming series, after all, and I only start those whose broadcast has ended and has passed without a major drop in quality. I sympathize with viewers of Game of Thrones (which I abandoned after the second season) when they got a dead fish in the face watching that otherwise notoriously shrouded eighth season. And so I’ve recently decided that in lieu of the MCU’s tape-slamming shuffles, I’d rather catch up on highly ranked titles on IMDb, such as Full Metal Alchemist, Cowboy Bebop and Avatar: The Legend of Anga, among others, or the outright brilliant Mr. Inbetween, and the simply sensational and under-publicized miniseries The Long Night. But when there’s a particularly high-profile superhero series, I naturally eagerly and curiously reach for it. And what series has been quite loud and just as good? What title gave me hope for a better tomorrow and made me start noticing the green of the grass and the lights at the intersections? Well, released by the MCU’s rival stable, the black horse among superhero series, stepping rhythmically in the lead, brutal and full of black humor Peace-fuckin-maker!

A series that saves superhero cinema?

Hardly anything anymore, probably only the remnants of enthusiasm (everything up to the first Avengers and a few movies after, I snorted like delectable spaghetti) and the tradition of having watched all the MCU and DCEU movies so far, still keeps me watching moving pictures about fancy-dressed heroes. These, however, from movie to movie and series to series, are beginning to look less and less like superheroes who can be taken as such seriously, and more and more like a group of cosplayers on the cheap, dressed up fancily for the usual laughs. At the end of the 20th century, to the rescue of westerns about noble horsemen of nowhere, good, righteous and righteous to the hilt, came the antiwestern with such titles as Dances with Wolves, Unforgiven, The Last Outlaw, or The Open Range, already created in the new millennium, with that Saul-like actor from Better Call Saul.


And just like the anti-Western, which rebuilt interest in the nomen omen western, the templated to the point of boredom, self-referential superhero cinema is saved – at least in my eyes – only by titles anymore…. devoid of strictly superhero shtick, but mostly of unbearable bloat, pathos and seriousness (I can’t digest Infinity War, Endgame and Eternals), gloomy and dark, and those with some idea of themselves (the new Batman). I love titles that deconstruct and turn upside down the superhero mythos (The Boys, Invincible, Hancock, Watchmen – movie and TV series), or those with caper humor (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, or Suicide Squad reboot). I mentioned a few parentheses earlier that I didn’t get into much of the last two Avengers installments, which the whole fandom has been raving about. For my taste, far too many characters were lumped together, making virtually none resonate as they did in their own films. Even between the Guardians of the Galaxy crew, there wasn’t the chemistry and humor as in the two installments of their own films. To me, Infinity War and Endgame are a mish-mash of a similar caliber to Spielberg’s Player One, into which 90% of the pop-culture representatives of movies and computer games were packed, making so much happen there that in effect nothing. Thanos you will say, how dare I not bow before the greatest evil of the galaxy…. Who to bow before here, the guy whose cunning plan included randomly knocking out an existing life, with the option that he too has a 50% chance of the main prize? Or did I miss something and he was somehow written out of this lottery, in which any luck will help, any ash can win?

butcher the boys homelander

It’s good to see that in the genre we’re interested in there are still being made, although they’re in a decided minority, titles that are brave, different, politically incorrect, flawing convention to the left, with mega brutality, cursing and corpses strewn thickly. As another Thor from under Waititi’s hand turned out to be an embarrassingly unfunny flop, in the MCU and DCEU I guess I’m only waiting for the third part of Guardians of the Galaxy, the second season of Peacemaker and the sequel to that successful The Suicide Squad. All three from under the hand of James Gunn, who, after Waititi’s strong stumble, remains for me the only directorial hope for both comic book card dealers. But what I’m most looking forward to is the fourth season of The Boys, which in every way eats all the aforementioned series for breakfast, sips the aforementioned films, and gleefully beats calling all the competition except for the cosseting Peacemaker, of course, weak cunts. And to Homelander it is Thanos who can at most carry sandwiches, with which I have just endangered half of humanity.

Everything everywhere at once?

Let’s get back to the point of this article, which is the oversaturation of the film market and my humble self with superhero cinema. I understand that the MCU and DCEU are currently having their prime time since 2008, and only a fool would desist from making more movies or series. As long as the bucks keep coming in and the box-office curve keeps climbing or at least maintains an even level, the hen that lays the golden eggs will continue to be squeezed like an anti-stress ball. The fans, too, after all. For me, however, the next phase of the MCU doesn’t turn me on at all anymore, because I can’t convince myself of the lack of fundamental characters, like Iron Man and THIS Captain America, and at the same time of the supes new ones, like The Eternals with a plot as contrived as Jacykow’s (Polish funny stylist) outfit, or Shang-Chi, whose fate interested me on average. Maybe I am like Roger Martough from Lethal Weapon, I’m simply too old for the pace and quantity imposed by the comic giants, with a concomitant decline in quality. For me, it’s already simply too much, too often, too fast, and most importantly, too boring and not dramatic enough, because it’s templated and predictable (Black Widow catches those four objections). In addition, I get the impression that nowadays almost every superhero, no matter what power he has, also automatically has super strength and super resistance to blows. They can all be zapped with super-powered blows, thrown over walls, fall from great heights and still not acquire even a bruise, and the plot doesn’t somehow specifically try to explain why each of them is hard to beat.

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Be warned, a boomer content; there used to be one Man of Steel, nowadays everyone is tough as oak at least. It used to be that superheroes secretly changed their clothes in the elevator, or had to hide their outfits under a pot; the recent Marvel Phase 3 movies showed that modern-day costumes are put on with the push of a button, and superhero clothing fashioned from nanoparticles seems to pop out of your ass and put on itself from head to toe. Because nowadays everything has to be fast and perfect, even the costumes of supes, who no longer want to wear a disguise under their clothes because they will get wrinkled. And when you think about it more deeply, indeed it was a bit impractical, such Spider-Man, after all, as Peter Parker wearing his super pants under his pants, in practice, even in the summer he walked around…. in underpants – so all in all, a point for modernity! It used to be that the driving force of superhero movies was the genesis of the title character, and then hiding his alter ego from the world with the help of glasses and a change of hairstyle (yes, I know you can’t roll this out forever), which built drama and contributed to many humorous scenes; today, I think only Batman and Spider-Man care about their privacy, boomers, most supes parade down the street with a bare face, not ashamed of who they are in their second incarnation.

In the days of my youth coinciding with the late 1980s and early 1990s, movies were not yet being made at the speed of a series from a Gatling machine gun mounted on the bow of an A-10 Thunderbolt, as is the case today. They used to work, too, but nowadays crossovers and reboots are chugging along on a massive scale; they reboot such a Fantastic Four at least once a week – good luck, up to four times the charm. To make a fuss even bigger, there have been many recastings (including twice replacing the actor in the role of the Hulk), and studios announce every now and then that this or that film does or does not officially count in the canon. And such, for example, Venom, a film about the comic book character Spider-Man, which belongs to the MCU, does not belong to the MCU (this Venom), because Sony owns the rights to it. Vast universes are being created (this was also tried with monster movies, but Cruise didn’t make it), where the adventures of all the characters take place within a single reality, and each supek can appear in a film supek another. The DCEU, which slept through its moment like Nokia did during the smartphone revolution, in a hurry and stumbling every now and then, is still trying to catch up with the MCU in this regard. And finally, the multiverse, where alternate universes and different versions of events are intertwined, where time and place of action can be juggled at will. Good at this was Doctor Strange, thanks to which meeting actors who played the same character within completely different film series was no longer a problem. The only thing missing, I think, is all the characters from both stables…. in a single film, some kind of hypermultiverse, but such a crowd of individuals wouldn’t even accommodate an IMAX screen, the colors for their leotards would run out of RAL, and fans’ heads would explode from over-indulgence, like that guy from Cronenberg’s Scanners.

venom bane deadpool

And yes, it was all this merging of worlds, interweaving of events and meeting of supes quite cool, surprising and innovative, but in the first phases of Marvel, that is, a good decade ago. Nowadays, as an overused standard, it is becoming – zieeew – ogre and predictable. The reunion of three Spider-Man role-players from three completely separate series on the set of a single film/universe is perhaps the crème de la crème of this type of treatment baring its teeth to fans in this regard. I don’t long for more encounters of this type (although a rumored Batman reunion is on the way) yet I would love to see a similar multiverse dedicated to the Hulk, where we could admire Eric Bana, Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo sharing the screen, wrecking some city as three incarnations of the green fury. Sadly, the character was not only made softer from film to film, in addition, he was made a Hulk-intellectual (HULK THINK!), and ultimately landed in a mediocre TV production. That’s not the kind of Hulk I was making anything about! Back to the spiders; it was known even before the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home that the film would feature Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, so it may come as a surprise that Charlie Cox playing Daredevil, when he flashed briefly in one scene with Peter Parker, and the audience in the cinema hall, whom the actor watched from behind the curtains did not shit a mint because of this fact, was reportedly very sad, disappointed, devastated / delete unnecessary, needed to add. Well, I wonder why the audience didn’t go into shock and wail in disbelief, after all, they should all be screaming and waving their arms like Henson’s Muppets, and panicking like the black and white audience at the first showing of the Lumiere brothers’ The Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat Station in 1896, ah how time flies.

hulk she-hulk banner tatiana maslany

Even the announcement of a joint appearance of Wolverine and Deadpool somehow didn’t particularly electrify me, because what’s a sensation today (okay, Wolverine is supposedly dead), when such cinematic encounters have long been the order of the day, and are not an invention of either the MCU or the DCEU, but of the Universal from its golden era, which had Frankenstein and the Wolf Man crossing gloves as early as 1943. What’s more, such The Last Action Hero already packed Humphrey Bogart, the T-1000 and death from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal 30 years ago, so let’s not let today’s uni and multiverses skim so much. Today, instead, the creators have gone a step further from Superman himself, who back in 1978 saved Lois Lane by undoing Earth, time and logic, because in the new millennium we have Doctor Strange burying time and space all over the place; now everything can be changed, undone, fixed at will, and since everything can be undone (undone?), where’s the room for drama? And why did Hugh Jackman bid a classy farewell to audiences with his last performance as Wolverine in Logan, when he’s back again, as Sean Connery once used to say, never say never again?

Superheroes as role models to... not to be imitated

In the cinema of the 1980s and early 1990s, there were a lot of films and heroes without the prefix super, although they deserved one, because they motivated us young people to get off our asses in front of the TV and VCR or record player, and do at least a few push-ups. Yes, superhero movies also existed back then, a whole two of them: Donner’s Superman and Burton’s Batman, but they were more of a shiny curiosity on the cinematic map than the global phenomenon-craze that was unleashed with the release of Iron Man in 2008. In the new millennium, motivational films are harder to come by than a word of truth from the mouth of a country’s prime minister, but in the 20th century and especially at the end of it, you couldn’t take a step to avoid stumbling upon one. Everyone wanted to be like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Michael Dudikoff, J.C.V. Damme, Steven Seagal (the now-Russian), Chuck Norris with a half-turn, and have the vigor of Arnold, Dolph or New Year’s Eve with the One. We joked about the Karate Kids, Karate Tigers, No retreat No surrender, Bloodsport, Kickboxer, The Best of the Best, and of course the Rocky series. Each of these films carried an important message, a lesson, a moral and a message that one should work hard to get to something, overcome one’s own weaknesses (and opponent’s bones), become a (super)hero and defeat the final boss and fight one’s own demons. Each of these films meticulously showed the theme of training, shedding tears and sweat, sweetened in the finale by a well-deserved win and a kiss from the beloved/loved one. It was thanks to these films that we wanted to get in better shape, have more strength, improve our physique, become a better version of ourselves, polish our nobility, defend the weak, avenge a broken brother, or simply acquire skills in martial arts or boxing to give a smack in the snout to a schoolyard tormentor. Today, this motivational cinema just isn’t there, except maybe for a remake of the Karate Kid or Creed, which is anyway a coupon cut from the posthumous Rocky with roots stuck in the 20th century.

jean claude van damme dolph lundgren sylvester stallone arnols schwarzenegger expendables

It was none other than the iconic Neo in 1999’s closing twentieth century Matrix, who showed that a frail and pale hacker who spends his days in front of a computer can become an indestructible, flying superhero without moving his proverbial ass from in front of the computer. Not through discipline, self-denial (not to be confused with constipation), or hard work in the gym, but by quickly and easily swallowing a blue pill from a shenanigans type. Also, the subsequent skills acquired by Neo required neither years of training nor hard workouts, just a few seconds of gritting one’s teeth while loading kung-fu training software or helicopter piloting directly into the brain via a cable. It was the first such significant sign of the new times, the 21st century! And such are the vast majority of modern superheroes that the entire World outside of Martin Scorsese jokes about. Few of the supes so promoted as idols of modern youth have earned their superpowers because they were either born with them (Thor and almost all the X-Men), or found a ring (Green Lantern), or got a high from their parents (Batman, Iron Man), or something pecked him (Spider-Man), irradiated him (Hulk), or something bad scientists implanted in him (Wolverine). What kind of role models are they? Let the case of the kid who let himself get bitten by a spider thinking he would acquire superpowers, and ended up in pain, swelling and hallucinations from malnutrition, serve as an answer.

x-men patrick stewart hugh jackman angel hale barry

Virtually none of the heroes so glorified globally today, pushed the proverbial shit off the threshold to become a hero. They didn’t do exactly anything, it just happened to them (not to say it was due), without hardship, sacrifice or effort, just getting up in the morning, having a muscular body, good eyesight, spiderwebbing left and right and sticking to the walls. It’s already Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker who did more, though maybe he only thought he did, to become the Joker, than a whole bunch of heroes with powers acquired to become superheroes (the motive for this hypocrisy, by the way, points the finger at the aforementioned series The Boys). It’s not a well-known fact that mostly it’s the black characters who are much more interesting than the positive ones, but that’s a topic for a completely different article, which I don’t plan to write.

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The only ones in this whole amusement park, who as a matter of fact have worked hard to gain superhero status, remain those without superhuman powers, such as Black Widow or Hawkeye, who is a good shot with a bow and has the guts to risk his life in side-by-side combat with supers, who are in little danger. Or the aforementioned Batman and Iron-Man, because even though helmeted, they are flesh-and-blood people without any super-resistance or ability to regenerate wounds, instead with human weaknesses, who had to move their heads in a healthy way to chip away at all those gadgets and acquire combat skills. But I would award first place to … to the unassuming Kick-Ass, a teenager who, without any superpowers or financial backing, risking death and injury, actually became a superhero because he had the courage and self-denial to defend the weak. And we need such superheroes most today, not only on the silver screen.

Rafał Donica

Rafał Donica

Since watching "Blade Runner", he has been passionate about cinema, loves "Akira", "Drive", "Escape from New York", "North by Northwest", the underrated "The Hateful Eight" and "Terrifier 2". Author of the book "Frankenstein 100 years in cinema". Founder and editor-in-chief (in the years 1999 - 2012) of the Polish film portal FILM.ORG.PL. Since 2016, a professional reportage photographer.

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