Superhero franchises have been all the rage in the last few years and production companies have made some serious profits out of it. Avengers: Endgame, the epic finale of MCU’s Infinity Saga, which had released earlier this year earned more than $2 billion worldwide.
But here’s the kicker. As much as these production companies try to experiment, they are stuck in the rut of formula movies. Take a few steps back and look at it from a broader perspective and one realises that most of them very similar storylines.
Of course, there are a few exceptions like the Joker, Ragnarok and Winter Soldier. But that’s a terrible ratio for a genre that has been in demand for well over a decade.
Which is where superhero shows come in.
The biggest advantage shows have over films is the amount to screentime they get to tell their stories convincingly.
While a film might get 3 hours max, a show can manage up to 8-10 hours of good storytelling.
This not only lets the makers tell their stories in extreme detail but also allows us to stay with the characters for longer periods of time.
Think about it. We have known RDJ’s Tony Stark since 2008. But somehow we know more about Daredevil’s personal life than Stark’s. Hell, we know more about Foggy Nelson’s life than we do about Tony Stark.
This makes the audience care more about a character, be it a good guy or a bad guy. Which is why we care so deeply about a Wilson Fisk or a Killgrave, even though we are meant to absolutely hate them.
I mean, sure, we know Thanos warned his planet about its population and shit and nobody took him seriously.
But maybe that was because Thanos was dressed in a bright florescent t-shirt, had braids and smelled like weed and Uncle Chips at the time.
Can you dispute that? No, you can’t. Because you don’t know.
TV shows provide a more immersive experience that allows you to understand a character and what motivates them.
It also allows storytellers to explore ideological differences between characters; even characters on the same side of the line with similar moralities.
Case in point, Daredevil spends an episode with just Matt Murdoch and Frank Castle discussing the idea of killing criminals to stop crime. Jessica Jones and Killgrave spend another such episode, where the latter tries being a good guy for once.
The Boys even managed to make you empathise with The Deep after establishing him as a certified creep. And that’s character development for you.
Besides, since movies are made for a worldwide audience, which primarily includes children, they refrain touching upon ‘controversial’ topics.
And with Disney at the helm of the MCU, good luck with getting anything controversial for the next decade at least.
Screw that, when was the last time, you actually saw an openly LGBTQ character in the MCU, not counting Joe Russo’s little cameo in Endgame?
MCU gave out hints about Valkyrie’s sexual orientation but never even acknowledged it, even in a movie like Ragnarok.
TV shows, however, do not suffer from any such irrationalities. Jessica Jones has Jeri Hogarth, a complicated character in itself, played by The Matrix’s Carrie Anne Moss.
Although Hogarth’s sexuality is an essential part of her character, it doesn’t get reduced to a caricature, primarily because it becomes a routine, a seamless part of her existence without affecting her decisions.
Funnily enough, despite its many faults, CW has been the industry leader on this subject. Shows like Arrow, Flash and Supergirl have had LGBTQ characters as leads since their inception.
Moreover, films took ages to introduce a story on a female lead. And while Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel were good origin movies, shows such as Agent Carter and Jessica Jones had already made their mark and opened the doors for such stories.
BTW, Black Panther is not the first black superhero with a primarily black cast, Luke Cage is.
What has also made superheroes look good over a long period of time are their villains.
In professional wrestling, there are two types of characters- the face and the heel. Heels are the bad guys and their job is to make the face look better. Their job is to be so bad that the audience cheers for the face, irrespective of what he’s doing.
Similarly, a good villain is what makes a great hero. Take the Joker as an example. He has made Batman look good for decades. Lex Luthor has been doing it for Superman.
Look at the MCU and the DCEU and find one good villain who you could say brought out some serious character development for the good guys.
You can’t. Loki and maybe Thanos to some extent, would be the only exceptions to this fact.
But TV shows have given us Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk (Daredevil), David Tenant’s Kilgrave (Jessica Jones), Manu Bennett’s Slade Wilson (Arrow), Mahershala Ali’s Cottonmouth (Luke Cage), and Antony Starr’s Homelander (The Boys) among others.
These characters are easily the best superhero villains of the last decade or so. Fans love them and hate them. They inspire hope, sympathy, and fear in our hearts at the same time. And that’s what good villains are capable of.
Like I’ve mentioned before, even though Marvel and DC are trying to diversify their modes of storytelling, all they have managed to do is change the tones, as most blockbusters follow the same pattern.
Shows, however, keep us guessing. Because they are not afraid to do so. Most of their audience is online and is vastly diversified. So they find viewers who like that particular mode of storytelling latching on to it, allowing them to try something new.
Shows like Legion and The Boys would find it very difficult to become hits if they were released in theatres because nobody likes to pay a 1000 bucks to watch an experimental film. But sitting at the comfort of your home and binging is a different tale all together.
Online streaming is the future of content. It is mostly free of censorship and is cheaper to access allowing creators to be experimentative and take more risks. And so far, it has worked extremely well.