Against the superhero regime

But maybe that zeal hides an uneasy conscience, a buried knowledge that while “genre” cinema can be as great as any other form — I’m counting down the days to the new Dune adaptation — its complete commercial takeover has been obviously bad for popular culture and pop art.

The superhero regime has wasted far too much talent on stories that are fundamentally unworthy of the actors and directors making them. It has empowered and interacted with corporate consolidation, including the devouring power of a Disney empire that is now literally disappearing classic movies from the theater circuit into its corporate vault. And it has habituated adult audiences to stories that belong — with, yes, exceptions — to the state of arrested development in which far more of Western culture than just Hollywood is trapped.

I say “arrested development” because a common critique of these movies is that they are childish or “infantilizing,” to quote Bilge Ebiri’s fine Vulture essay on the Scorsese contretemps. But that seems not quite apt: Children and their stories are much stranger and more interesting than the superhero industry, which sells a mix of grandiosity, moral certainty and performance anxiety (in the endless origin stories, especially) that belongs essentially to early adolescence.