17th Oct2017

Culture Dump #13: Is humour the Superhero genres saving grace?

by Simon Bland

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With Thor: Ragnarok, Marvel has once again flipped the tempo of their long-running superhero saga by recruiting someone not known for world-saving action epics. It’s yet-another smart move from the studio giant, especially if all those glowing early reactions are anything to go by. Asgard’s family drama may have reached Jeremy Kyle-like proportions but through the lens of Kiwi filmmaker Taika Waititi and his kitchen-sink adlib comedic style, the whole thing feels fresher than ever. It’s a small tweak to the formula and undeniably a bit of a gamble but looking back at the ups and downs of the superhero movie perhaps it’s a sign of something far more important. Could comedy be the secret ingredient behind the longevity of the entire genre?

It’s far from an unbelievable thought. Laughs certainly have had their place within the world of capes and tights, providing a much-needed escape from the more-often-than-not dark and gritty route these films can take. When used properly, comedy has even helped the superhero genre transcend to new heights and break new ground. Just look at Tim Miller’s surprise smash Deadpool – a movie once deemed too much of a risk to realise that went on to prove what we all already knew – that audiences want a hero that can drop F-bombs just as easily as they drop maniacal baddies bent on global destruction.

Miller’s ‘Merc with a Mouth’ movie may have officially set the bar but switching things up with the help of a few belly laughs – and the filmmakers that specialise in them – has clearly been the key to Marvel’s continued success. It helped them hit the ground running with Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr as they kept things loose with billionaire Tony Stark, it made us care about a ragtag group of largely unknown heroes in James Gunn’s addictive Guardians of the Galaxy and it let their rendition of Spidey come out swinging with a web-load of laughs.

Compare this track record to the rocky output of studio rival DC and the importance of humour becomes all the more apparent. Sure, in the right hands a little deft and dark storytelling can make for an unforgettable superhero experience (The Dark Knight, we’re looking at you) but there’s only so many pensive looks, slow-motion action shots and movies helmed by the same Zack Snyder-shaped director an audience can take. Comic book movies seem to work far better when they prioritise laughter over layers, both onscreen and off. Forget God-like Kryptonians, rogue mutants or magical hammers, the real hero here of this genre is humour.

Are Infinity Stones more important than humour to superheroes? Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

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