Earlier this year, one of my co-workers and good friends called me early in the morning. Still half-asleep, I answered the phone, but before I could get more than a couple words out, he started howling and shrieking in glee that tickets for Marvel Studios’ newest project, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, had just been put on sale — and it was crucial that I see it with him opening night.
The night of the movie, I drove out to Regal Edwards Grand Teton theater in Ammon and met up with my friend. As we found our seats and anticipated the beginning of the movie, he asked me things that most Marvel fans tend to speculate every time a new movie releases: “What do you think the post-credit scene will be this time?” “Do you think this will be better than the last movie?” “Which characters do you think we’ll see?” Indifferent to each of these questions, I shrugged them off as the movie began.
Nearly three hours of lackluster CGI, effortless humor and carbon copy plot points later, the screen read “Ant-Man Will Return” as it faded to black and moviegoers found the exit. My friend and I spoke briefly about the movie before we took off, but as I headed back to my Rexburg apartment, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of dissatisfaction.
It wasn’t until later that week that it hit me: Everything about this theater experience felt like a chore. Usually, when I go to the theater, I don’t mind taking a day off work, driving half an hour and spending a ludicrous amount on popcorn and soda. But this specific occasion seemed burdensome.
After pondering a bit more on my experience, the realization set in: It wasn’t that I was tired of movies — I was just tired of seeing the same thing in movies. The biggest takeaway I got from that night was that I was going to have to watch every upcoming Marvel movie and show just to understand the next one — and that was something that frustrated me.
I don’t want to watch a movie because I feel an obligation to it and its franchise. I want to watch a movie simply because I want to watch a movie. The sad fact of the matter is, though, that the current age of movies is overflowing with three boring types of cinema: superhero movies, reboots and sequels.
Marvel Studios isn’t the only culprit when it comes to watered-down superhero movies. DC Comics is also known for making some of the last decade’s most horrendous comic book movies. From 2016’s Suicide Squad to 2017’s Justice League, both Marvel and DC have resorted to cranking out the same story with the same low-quality effects several times.
Take the aforementioned DC projects, for example. Both tell the story of a team which struggles to work together as a looming threat grows more dangerous while the story continues. Some deus ex machina-like event comes to pass which forces the group to work together and they’re able to save the day at the last minute, which usually involves destroying the villain’s power source — typically an energy beam in the sky. Some tritagonistic character comes to an end at some point as well.
Other film directors have noticed this repetitive trend in superhero flicks as well. In an interview with The Hindu, Denis Villeneuve, director of recent sci-fi classics Dune and Arrival, spoke out against superhero movies.
“Perhaps the problem is that we are in front of too many Marvel movies that are nothing more than a ‘cut and paste’ of others,” Villeneuve said. “Perhaps these types of movies have turned us into zombies a bit.”
If I had a dollar for every time Disney remade one of its movies, I’d have enough money to make my own movie. While plenty of other studios have rebooted franchises, Disney has given The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King and countless other animated movies the live-action treatment.
When they redid Cinderella in 2015, I felt it was an understandable move — the original was released in the ’50s. Since then, however, the constant rehashing of the same story has gotten out of hand and the solution isn’t much of a solution at all, but rather a temporary fix — a proverbial band-aid on the concrete wall on the verge of cracking open — spin-offs.
The movies that haven’t yet received reboots have most likely seen some sort of spin-off. That can come in the form of a villain’s origin story in Cruella or the spotlight going to a previously introduced side character, like Dreamworks’ Puss In Boots. Similar to Marvel with superhero movies, Disney isn’t the only studio rebooting and spinning off already existing ideas — they just seem to be doing it an awful amount more than everyone else.
The problem isn’t reboots and spin-offs, though. This is something that Hollywood has seen for decades from the Ghostbusters franchise to the popular AMC series Breaking Bad that received a spin-off in Better Call Saul. The issue is that these reboots and spin-offs have been flooding the cinematic gates. It’s almost surprising to see a new movie that’s not a remake of something audiences have seen.
Much like the previously mentioned movie categories, sequels can have some strong elements. One of the most critically acclaimed films of all time, Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Dark Knight, is a sequel. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, which came from Lucasfilm, is a sequel to one of the most beloved trilogies and is considered one of the greatest sci-fi films ever.
Several franchises, such as The Fast and the Furious, Scream and Halloween, though, have beaten the dead horse to such an extent that they need to either drop the bat or get a new horse.
One of the most significant struggles that studios face with numerous sequels is a sense of purpose behind those movies. Going back to The Fast and the Furious movies, in a span of a little more than two decades, the franchise has managed to haphazardly dump out 11 movies, with more still on the way.
Throughout the series, fans have had a difficult time deciding the theme of these movies. Is it about street races? Car heists? Family? I’m certain that if I were to ask an individual what these movies were about, I’d be in for an intricate explanation of each movie, and perhaps be even more confused than before.
Again, sequels themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is too many sequels. Amblin Entertainment’s Back to the Future had two sequels, making it a trilogy of sorts. While it’s not as show-stopping of a trilogy as The Lord of the Rings or The Godfather, it’s been made enjoyable by those who first viewed it when it released in theaters just as much as others watching the DeLorean hit 88 miles per hour for the first time.
There are franchises that have satisfying endings because they don’t drag themselves out for too long — fans say goodbye to those characters but are happy to revisit them. Then there are the movies that only receive applause once the end credits for the final movie roll. Movies are meant to be enjoyed — not endured.
Not all movies are like this
I will stress once more that the consistent release of sequels, reboots and superhero flicks are watering down cinema to the point of boredom and monotony, but that doesn’t mean that every movie follows this formula, or has to for that matter.
Over the last few years, some classics have graced the silver screen and given what so many moviegoers crave — a raw, visceral, human experience. In March of this year, Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film from A24, swept the Oscars with seven wins out of 11 nominations — and rightfully so.
Playing into Hollywood’s current multiversal hype, Everything Everywhere All at Once goes beyond Marvel’s standards of multiple universes and provides a theme that people from different backgrounds and cultures can relate to: being kind to one another and walking others home. The exciting aspect of this movie is that there are so many others like it.
In a world of assembly line-like re-creations of the same plot and structure exists films that tell human stories that both hard-core cinephiles and moviegoing beginners can love. Movies can be vast and brilliant, but they need to be discovered. The next time you decide on a movie, pick one that’ll make you feel like a human rather than one full of saturated CGI and careless structure.