Saturation Point, Phase I: What Age of Ultron Indicates about Superhero Movies

This is Phase I of a series I’m writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will continue into Phase II, featuring five installments. It will ultimately end in Phase III with the climactic, two-part Infinity Article.

Avengers: Age of Ultron was a great time.  If you’re a comic book fan. I suppose it might have been an all right time for anyone else.

Age of Ultron 6
It’s the MCU equivalent of a Michaeleangelo Fresco

It boasted good performances of iconic characters, well-orchestrated action sequences, and helped set up subsequent movies in the series (which are, basically, the essential goals of each entry into the franchise). But to an outsider (and it is the true mark of a franchise’s success that they have outsiders) this film must have felt overloaded with obscure references and plotlines.

In short, Age of Ultron must have felt bloated to non-fans. However, this “bloated” film still took in almost 1.4 billion (!) dollars, despite receiving slightly less favorable reviews than its predecessor. Incorporating so many characters and stories that people who love comics know exceptionally well, but might seem confusing to outside viewers. And this doesn’t seem to be slowing down, with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War introducing and/or bringing back just about every non-Thor-related character in the MCU (Falcon, Vision, War Machine, General Ross, Ant-man, and Agent 13 among the more obscure). If this wasn’t enough of a sign of superhero movies getting too big for their britches, we’ve got DC rushing out their Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice casting every other character in the Justice League – Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, even Cyborg – and a film with so many characters can be its own worst enemy; is Superman supposed to be the main character of the Man of Steel sequel? Is there supposed to be a (single) main character?

In addition to this, DC has the problematic situation of two different universes, including two versions of the Flash and the Suicide Squad. This is just another headache for viewers who don’t pay as much attention to the genre.

Age of Ultron 3
“Squad Goals.”
Age of Ultron 4
“Also Squad Goals.”

With all this market saturation, every superhero movie is starting to feel like a Superbowl-sized event, it’s hard to remember a time where you could be pleasantly surprised by a film like Spider-man 2, but now viewers need to wonder how a movie like Ant-man will tie into the rest of the Marvel Universe, or expect Age of Ultron to be a Homer-sized epic. These movies have all become so connected that eventually they will get in the way of themselves. A fictional universe should be a collection of stories with some connection, yet not all glued together into one overloaded story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is on its way to becoming one, 40(-or-so)-hour movie split into 22 parts. (Yes, by 2019 the MCU will consist of 22 films and 7 television/Netflix shows.)

Age of Ultron shows the more flamboyant end of a possible superhero saturation point – each new superhero movie is a bloated production, one that will try to incorporate more characters and easter eggs and fan-favorite plotlines in a cumbersome multiverse. Each movie will be trying to top the last, aiming to please (core) fans, and flood their movies with every single character they can think of. This will continue to succeed, until it doesn’t. Eventually, it will all become too much. There will be too many superhero films, leading casual fans to jump ship and take no interest in superheroes. At some point down the line, viewers will get tired of seeing caped heroes take on super-powered baddies and abandon it for something else. (Except Batman, Batman will never fade from popularity.)

How much of Age of Ultron‘s $1.4 billion came from core fans? How much came from people who were not entirely familiar with the characters? These mainstream fans are like the swing states in an election; winning them over will determine the outcome. Appealing to them requires a moderate amount of superheroes, and inevitably flooding the market will possibly (rather, it will probably) take away a mainstream fan’s interest. Superhero films are on a bubble, and at some point the bubble will burst. Here, we are beginning to have too much of a good thing.

Let’s just hope we get to watch the Avengers fight Thanos before the trend ends.

Age of Ultron 5
All aboard the hype train

Additional Reading:

“Superhero Genre in Peril” by Cinemasins Jeremy

Saturation Point in Superhero Cinema, Phase II

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7 thoughts on “Saturation Point, Phase I: What Age of Ultron Indicates about Superhero Movies

  1. I completely agree with this post, which is why the new Fantastic Four movie is actually amazing. As you said in your post Marvel and DC are overloading us with new and obscure characters that can be lost on the casual viewer. Fantastic Four meanwhile keeps to tradition, showing us the same characters we all know and love, played by actors we all adore. Not only did Fantastic Four nab House of Cards and Chronicles stars Kate Mara and Michael B. Jordan but they somehow convinced the Mr.Whiplash himself, Miles Teller, as Mr.Fantastic. He is, in my opinion the only actor IN THE WORLD with the acting range and charisma to portray such a intellectually deep character. Fantastic Four has had such a good cast that even MCU had to STEAL Chris Evens away to play their lead man Captain America. What a bunch of pussies. Furthermore, where MCU and DCCU pack their movies with “action”, Fantastic Four cuts all that crap out. Beginning. End. Done. That’s how movies should be. No need for any fancy special effects here. I’m looking at you Man of Shit. Finally, we cannot talk about super hero movies without talking about villains. MCU struggles with creating memorable villains because they are too generic. Fantastic Four, meanwhile, somehow took one of the best villains of all time and made him even better. Fantastic Four could have made the same mistakes as MCU but instead they avoided the boring trope of “super genius scientist wizard king who travels through time and fights Satan” and instead gives us something entirely new: a guy who looks metallic and blow people up with his mind. HIS MIND. Name me one movie that has that. That’s right you can’t. The new Fantastic Four triumphs where MCU and DCCU fail. Clearly the reason the Fantastic Four franchise is not with MCU anymore is because Marvel is unworthy of the title. Fant4stic has cemented itself as the greatest superhero movie since The Amazing Spiderman 2.

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  2. Wow, i think i found the only guy who thought Fantastic Four was any good [i grew up reading the comics and after all the negative publicity decided just to avoid it altogether – would be interested on your take] – Great blog piece though and pretty much spot on – don’t know that it’s a problem they can sort out unless someone makes a very bold move or unless they really give it a huge break and calm down after Ultron… think it will just keep going on until it implodes like you suggested and by then maybe something else will be the next big thing in movies… til then enjoy the show [i thought Avengers I was better by quite a long way particularly storywise i think but am hoping they will sort it out for America and Ultron]

    Keep on
    love brett fish

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