Character Fatigue

I was recently reading through the comments on a post I found on Facebook about The Marvels and its "disappointing" box office performance. The question asked in the original post was why did Charlie's Angels, which was also a 3 woman led movie, do so much better than The Marvels.

I would love to say that the comments were full of insightful and carefully constructed ideas but it was mostly trolls dragging one another, which is par for the course on Facebook. There definitely seemed to be two main camps in the comments. One camp was that Disney had made The Marvels "too woke" and thereby alienated or offended their core audience. The other camp was more about the movie's "poor writing", "poor story", "poor directing", and "bad characters played by bad actors". And naturally there were tons of people replying to each comment calling the original commenters "misogynistic" or "racist" with one even stating that the Charlie's Angels movie 2000 (Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu) was a movie promoting white supremacy.

It was all entertaining to read to see the various arguments and opinions expressed only to be trolled one after another. It did little to advance the conversation though. I'm not sure if the original post was genuine in its attempt to start a serious dialogue or it was intended to bring out the trolls for comment hilarity.

But at the end, I got me wondering what my response to such a question would be in a serious conversation. The answer was one I had expressed before in casual conversation with friends but when I put my author hat on it kind of shocked and scared me.

My answer to the recent faltering and increasing trends regarding Marvel movies and shows has always been this: character fatigue.

It isn't so much that people have grown weary of a single character but the superhero character type in general. The MCU kicked off the modern superhero movie bonanza in 2008. That means that we, as a society of movie goers and TV watchers, have been inundated with superheros movies and shows non-stop for 15 years straight.

Multiple Captain America movies, 5 Thor movies, 3 Iron Man movies, multiple Avengers/Ensemble movies, Spider-Man movies, Deadpool movies, The Eternals, Captain Marvel, The Marvels, 2 seasons of Loki, the What If series, Falcon and Winter Soldier series, Ms. Marvel series, She-hulk series, the list goes on. And these are just from the MCU. We also have the DCEU (Black Adam, Shazam, Justice League, Blue Beetle, the Flash, etc.). I think when I counted it up there were over 40 superhero movies in the last 15 years and numerous shows that contained multiple episodes per season.

More and more superhero content is getting pumped out and thrust in front of us at an ever increasing rate. Back in the day, the 80s and 90s, we might get a superhero movie every few years with the random Batman or Superman movie. But back then we were more likely to see a new James Bond movie hit theaters than a big budget superhero film whereas these days if there are less than 4 released in a year it is considered a "slow" release schedule for superhero movies.

How much of a single genre can the viewing community tolerate before they just grow weary of it? It seems the answer is 14 years (although the DCEU seemed to fatigue out at just 1 year).

And I can say that there has been a noticeable decline in quality over the past 15 years. Part of this is due to the increased release schedules because 15 years ago we might only get 2 big superhero movies in a calendar year which allowed more time for script writing, production, post-production, etc., whereas now a new movie has to release every quarter (if not more) and that means more content is being produced at a faster rate which usually coincides with a reduced level of quality.

Products that are produced slower, with a more loving hand and watchful eye, tend to be of higher quality while things just slapped together quickly tend to be more available and cheaper but also cheaper in quality. The same can be said of movies. But quality isn't the only reason for the continued declines at the box office. Fewer people are turning up to watch. Fewer people are returning for multiple viewings. Iron Man and The Avengers had people lining up to watch them over and over again at theaters. The Marvels barely had people show up to watch it once.

But the failures of The Marvels is more than just bad writing. I think it stems from fatigue of the genre but also a lack of interest in the characters. Everyone, people who don't even read comics or know superheroes, know who Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, and Superman are. People are familiar with those characters and have a greater vested interest in them. On the flip side, Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, and Photon are relatively unknown superheroes. Chalk it up to sexist origins giving male characters the spotlight while female heroines struggled to exist or whatever you like but it is an inescapable truth that the popular figures that released early saw a significant difference in viewership than the lesser known ones released recently.

Does this mean that character familiarity is to blame versus fatigue? Not in my mind and I'll explain.

Had the MCU launched with these lesser known characters then I would suspect that the MCU would have faulted sooner and then it would make sense to blame it on unknown characters. People not going to watch a new cinematic universe from Marvel or DC being launched with unknown or unpopular characters makes little sense. Fortunately, that is not what the MCU chose to do but instead launched with Hulk, Iron Man, Capt. America, and Thor, all characters that were widely known and liked. But as time wore on, those character arcs ran their span and came to a conclusion. This meant that other characters had to shoulder the weight of the MCU moving forward but by that time people's interest in the genre were waning. There was less interest in learning about new characters or becoming invested in new characters after having spent years being inundated by movies and shows.

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