Sunday, August 30, 2015

Superheroes never die...

This article originally appeared in  Beyond, my free newsletter for lovers of science and science fiction. Sign up here -

Even with the superlative highs of superhero movies like The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, someone on some forum or other eventually says, ‘Sure, these superhero movies are great, but as a phenomenon it won’t last.’

If we were stuck in the origin/reboot cycle of the bad old days of superhero movies (I’m looking at you, Spiderman), I’d say they were right. But things have changed a lot in the last couple of years.

Firstly, movies like Chronicle and even Birdman have shown just how flexible the genre is and how talented directors can use it to tell very different stories. Marvel in particular have consciously made superhero movies that play with tone and setting and feel, like Captain America: TWS as 70s political thriller and Ant Man as caper movie.

And secondly we’re seeing a joining together of different media streams that enable stories to be told and built on across multiple platforms. Story no longer needs to end. It evolves. It has peaks and quieter moments. It bifurcates and grows together again. Video games have been doing this for years with add-on mission packs that extend the narrative, but now story is going truly cross-platform.

Done right, this kind of storytelling has longevity built in. Look at Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead. Marvel demonstrated early mastery of this approach, shepherding a shared universe that allows stories to cross from movies to TV shows like Agents of Shield, comics and video games, and that’s just the beginning when you consider the next crop of Netflix/ Marvel collaborations and how Netflix in particular is approaching storytelling. By comparison DC, eager for a piece of the action, seem hobbled by studio partners that create barriers to this type of storytelling. So the Warner Brothers movies and the CW TV shows won’t be allowed to cross-fertilise.

Time will tell. Superheroes never really die. Maybe the same will be true for superhero movies.

You can read more about the new approach to longform story telling from Netflix here.

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