My break-up letter to superhero movies

Superhero movies, we need to talk.  Frankly, I just don’t know that I’m as ready for all this as I once thought. Things just feel like they are moving way too fast. 

Look, like everyone else on Twitter yesterday, I was watching as Marvel rolled out release date after release date through 2019.  Black Panther! Captain Marvel! Inhumans! Doctor Strange (with maybe Benedict Cumberbatch)! More Cap, Thor, Guardians and Avengers (in two installments)! The announcements were flashy and exciting. There seemed to be interesting decisions to push further into the ranks of lesser-known characters (serious kudos on Inhumans, Marvel) and deliver more on diversity.

So why am I feeling so hollow about the whole Phase Three? Or about all of this? The excitement seems short-lived.

Though an obvious choice, I was somewhat intrigued by the likelihood that Benedict Cumberbatch would be Doctor Strange. But even as Tumblr remained orgiastic over the not-yet-news of SherlocKhan as Sorcerer Supreme, I became numb, worried the spell your genre has cast on me is breaking.

Which is why I wanted to talk to you, superhero movies.

I wonder if you’re taking me for granted. As a lifelong nerd who has managed to carve a career out of said nerdery, I’m experiencing this creeping dread that I may be worn out on you.

This is an especially scary thought -- though appropriate for Halloween week – because shared cinematic universes based on comics have been this fanboy’s dream for years. You know that, superhero genre. 

Now you’re offering me, minimum, six more years of it, and I am not thrilled. Maybe we should take it down a notch?

Before you suggest it, we don’t need to see someone about this. It isn’t the super movie fatigue that Robert Downey Jr. touched on earlier this month (before it was then revealed he’d be back anyhow for a Civil War story in Captain America 3). Superhero Movie Fatigue (SHMF) is an entirely separate condition which everyone should consult their doctor about -- assuming that doctor is not Doom, Mindbender, Claw, Evil or No.

This also isn’t just commitment phobia. Or maybe it is. Maybe it’s not you, but me. But I think it’s you. Seriously, you’re starting to seem needy and just too much in my space -- and I worry that I might begin to resent you.

Wait, I take that back. That was cruel; I apologize. I’m simply reluctant to continue this based on some warning signals in our relationship. 

My commitment to you started out slow. Remember, back in 2008 with Iron Man? It was a really great movie date, and our fun continued with The Dark Knight and The Incredible Hulk. A little time passed; we saw a few more (Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger), and things were proceeding at a nice clip. 

This relationship hit a high note in 2012 with The Avengers. We were drunk and in love then. It was one of those experiences where everything felt right. Sure, there were eventually missteps, both big (Green Lantern) and small (Iron Man 2, Thor 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel). 

As relationships go, a few years in, there was experimentation between us (Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy), but those yielded some of the best highlights of this journey -- even if the risk, the raw danger of seeing the Joker make a pencil “disappear,” was missing.

Then, a couple weeks ago, you dropped that bombshell: 

I was supposed to make plans with you through 2020 for at least 10 Warner Brothers/DC Comics projects. We only knew about six Marvel Studio films at the time when DC announced -- in far less rock-star fashion -- a lineup including Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Justice League parts one and two ... I'll stop listing things because it seems petty, but this is in addition to 20th Century Fox’s expanding X-Men universe and Fantastic Four reboot, and Sony’s Spider-verse franchise. Not to mention, there is the ever-growing league of TV heroes fighting crime on smaller (streaming) screens.

I will be spending so much time with you, I may as well clear out space in my closet for capes and spandex (well, more space). 

Granted, the Marvel Cinematic Universe side of you has been courting me for six years, but DC is asking to move in with me before we’ve even spent a sequel together. And that’s after I wasn’t all that wooed by Man of Steel. You’re right, first dates can be really awkward, and I’m willing to give it another shot. 

No, no, I don’t hate Ben Affleck; I’ll wait and see what he can do.

Still, you don’t just throw a Cyborg movie out there with a 2020 release date and no warning.

Aquaman I can handle, but a six-year advance on a standalone movie for a character that has, at best, been an enjoyable supporting Justice League member? At least that’s six years with which to make Vic Stone a far more interesting figure.

You know who is interesting? Martian Manhunter. Just saying.

Plus, enough time has not passed to make me forget the last Green Lantern. And two Flashes, one for movies and another for television? You have to build a ‘verse before you can build a multiverse.

As for Marvel, The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron trailer definitely caught my attention. But instead of letting me soak that up for a bit, I already know who is sticking around long enough for Cap 3. And if Andy Serkis is indeed Ulysses Klaw and we’ll see Wakanda play a part in the movie -- why let that panther out of the bag so early?

Where is the romance? The flirtation? 

Part of the giddy joy with you during Iron Man (and Incredible Hulk, to some degree) was that the tissue connecting movies were surprises, not just teaser trailers for the next one. 

Now it’s like you don’t even want to bother earning a place on my calendar. Our time together feels less based on quality and more like a series of release dates. 

For that matter, where is the soul? You dress up better than you did in the ’90s, and the colorful characters are certainly colorful -- but increasingly the “character” is on the thin side.

And some of the things I’ve been telling you that are important to me, like stories that aren't from the Big Two, like a third Hellboy or even a Goon? Did you forget those late-night talks about self-contained stories not connected to an existing franchise -- and about smaller, intimate films that feel more personal? Well, it is as if you don’t even listen. 

Oh, I am not totally over you. I don’t know that I ever will be. But my tastes are changing, maybe even becoming more sophisticated.

I saw that Birdman everyone is buzzing about, and it taught me what you could be: Smart, self-aware, relevant, dark ... even artistic. And I know Big Hero 6 is younger, but I’ve got my eye on it. It isn’t demanding a lot of me other than to show up and be open for something new. 

We used to have that, before you became obsessed with crossovers. I know, I know -- I did used to love the crossovers, but there can be too much of a good thing. Routine is not necessarily bad, and I think you're trying in your own way, but things feel ... stale.

Maybe I'm just tired. Aren't you? Isn't the pressure to be a nonstop big event getting to you?

If we continue on this path, of announcing one movie tied to another and another, and there is no break, no room to breathe, might I begin to resent you and pull away? I think you’re still sincerely excited to deliver citywide explosions every time we meet (which is a lot, to be fair). But that’s the thing about explosions; things of substance do not normally fare well within them. Look at what you did to X-Men a few years back, and Fantastic Four, and Green Lantern. 

And Spider-Man -- after caring so long about him, I cannot imagine wanting to return for another installment with him, no matter how perfect the casting is again. I loved him, and I think you did too at first, but now he feels used up. Now the talk is about how long it will be before Sony leaves him and he's passed off like damaged goods. You hear what they say, right? I even wonder if the "Serpent Society" subtitle was an inside joke about "Sinister Six" -- like, "yeah, that's a great idea."

I know I probably sound nuts.  

I guess I’m saying it takes a long time to rebuild what is left in the wake of careless and wanton destruction.

This is not me telling you I hate you. Please don’t take that away from this. But sometimes I’d trade an explosion for some genuine sparks; a single flower goes a lot further than a whole bouquet. 

I think I just need time to think, or maybe see movies that aren’t your genre. Could I have some space where I don’t have to constantly hear about casting rumors or release dates? 

Aw hell, who am I kidding? I can’t let you go. Let’s just go for it; I’ll watch everything you have and keep this relationship going -- until there’s a serious commercial flop and we have a really ugly breakup.

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