Time for our annual prodding of hate mail. This year, we’re focusing on the growing trend of superhero movies, and the unfortunate fact that most (if not all) suck to varying degrees. Yes, even movies that we rather enjoyed (like The Avengers and the Nolan Batman films) contribute to the culture of suck that is currently playing out in cineplexes across the country. For every Batman Begins, there is a Man of Steel. For every Avengers, there is a Fantastic Four. For every Iron Man, there is a Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Kick-Ass 2, Blade: Trinity, and the list goes on.
Why are superhero movies, by and large, so terrible, and what can be done to get them to stop sucking? Here’s what we suggest.

1. Cut budgets.

Superhero movies are notoriously bloated on budgets. Our concern for this doesn’t have anything to do with economics because, obviously, they wouldn’t keep making these dreadful things if they weren’t turning a profit. No, the reason to slash budgets is strictly creative. It’s our opinion, in fact, that a comic book movie should be kept to a maximum of $100 million. For everything. That includes talent and marketing. When you scale back the cost of a movie, you force filmmakers to be more creative with how they tell their stories. If a superhero movie needs hundreds of millions of dollars to be any good, then it doesn’t have a story worth telling.

2. Stop making them about mass destruction.

Every single superhero movie these days follows the same pattern. Doesn’t matter if it’s Marvel, DC, or one of the independent properties that frequently gets a shot at the big screen. They always end in the same place: widespread calamity where our heroes and villains get really loud and cause millions of dollars worth of property damage (and lost lives) before good finally triumphs over evil. It’s in Avengers, Man of Steel, The Dark Knight Rises — you name it. The Fate of the World always hangs in the balance. This is a creatively bankrupt way of telling a story. Why do bad guys always have to be taking over the world to prove they’re bad? Stop it already. It’s so predictable — basically, the cinematic equivalent of what ruined comics. “Epic” crossover events that “changed everything” wherein life “will never be the same.” When you do this all the freakin’ time, it ceases to be “Epic,” it changes nothing, and every single movie is ALWAYS the same.

3. Limit set-pieces.

Man of Steel was basically the Die Another Day of superhero movies. About two-thirds of the film is interesting enough to hang with, in spite of a somewhat bloated Kryptonian detour and a pretty pitiful tornado scene. Then the final battle starts, and goes on for about 45 minutes. It seems like this is the point where Christopher Nolan hands over the keys to director Zack Snyder and says, “Do your worst.” As with most of Snyder’s films, he does. The final battle is packed with one obnoxious (and obvious) CGI set-piece after another, bludgeoning the audience into no longer giving a damn about the characters and instead making us check our watches every few minutes to see how much longer it’ll be before we can go home. Somehow Snyder manages to recreate the shaky-cam effect in spite of using no tangible actors or props. It’s a textbook example of a director getting carried away with himself and the film suffers immensely for it.

4. Turn to television.

Breaking Bad has almost ruined us on movies. The characterization and storytelling was so deep and rich in that series that it’s hard to watch a movie in theaters and not be disappointed. And that’s when movies actually try to tell a good story. Our favorite feature film from 2013 — Prisoners — is good, but when you stack it up to Walter White and Company, it’s pretty weak. Still, you can’t help but appreciate its presence when you lay eyes on movies like Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. Superhero movies don’t seem to put forth the slightest effort to be any good, and it’s not that they’re an inferior form of storytelling per se. Look at the wonderful things that are being done with Green Arrow on the CW. Look at The Dark Knight or The Crow (original only). It’s possible to tell a good story with the genre, but most studios are instead appealing to the lowest common denominator and throwing gobs of money into a project to make up for terrible scripts. Perhaps TV would serve as a better proving ground for these properties. Take some time to build characters and viewership through responsible storytelling, and grow a movie from there. And that brings us to:

5. Script first, shoot second.

If you spend more time getting to know the characters and less time filming in front of a green screen, you’ll end up with a better movie. Period. No exceptions. 100 percent true. To do that, however, you need good writing. We doubt the people who write these things are truly bad writers, but they’re turning out bad product for one reason or another, probably beyond their control. Instead of being allowed to get creative and take chances, they’re handcuffed by expectations and mythology. Fanboys will hate them if they stray too far from the character. Studios will hate them if they don’t churn out something safe. They’re forced by egomaniacal directors to leave room for ridiculous looking FX that add nothing to the story, simply because the studio okayed a $150m or $200m budget. The script becomes an afterthought instead of the centerpiece, and when you’re in the business of storytelling, that just doesn’t work.

6. Quit making them.

If Hollywood dropped the genre for a number of years, it might give them the opportunity to come back later with some fresh content. Instead of making the summer all about comic book characters, they could take suggestion No. 4 on this list and allow TV to be the proving ground. If you’re using the one-hour format and building a rich story and characters every week, it becomes much easier to do something useful with those properties down the road. The Tim Burton Batman films caused a similar glut of superhero shenanigans in the ‘90s. Then, for a while the genre went low-key before coming back strong with the original X-Men in 2000. Similarly, some time away from the big screen could do this genre a lot of good.
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Superhero Movies: How To Make Them Stop Sucking
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