I want to express a personal belief of mine that’s been honed in my handful of years covering film: superhero movies are supposed to be fun. They can be smart, serious, and even thoughtful examinations of life and its modern concerns, but they should be, on some intrinsic level, fun. So really, it’s a sad thing to see the industry move away from that concept in favor of more “grown-up” stories to stave off the creeping sense of genre fatigue. That’s not to say the recent run of superhero movies has forgotten that ethos entirely. It’s just telling that movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool are seen as breaths of fresh air as compared to the self-serious and often self-hating stories found in Fantastic Four, Batman v Superman, and even Captain America: Civil War.
Superhero movies should be fun
It didn’t have to be this way. Fun is very much a choice. Just watch this deleted scene from X-Men: Apocalypse, the latest in a growing line of depressive superhero fare. That this scene was cut, and the rest of the film was kept speaks to the film’s backwards priorities.
Here, you have four teenage mutants strolling through a mall. It’s the mid-1980s, so you have funky fashion and actual arcades. Kids are smiling — even Nightcrawler, who evidently is the king of teens who don’t fit in. We’re made to feel nervous on his behalf because he looks so different, but here he’s accepted. “They don’t fear us,” he says. This moment feels special, even important. We’re seeing what these superheroes fight for: their day-to-day life.
X-Men stories can be light or serious, but never dead inside
Now consider the fact that the X-Men franchise, the longest-running series in the superhero genre, has a real problem when it comes to overall tone. That tone manifests in black jumpsuits, the constant loss of loved ones, and an dour outlook in the face of near-constant annihilation. Of X-Men: Apocalypse’s many problems (apart from its clichéd story and poor character development), it most of all felt dead inside. If you’re a moviegoer, why on Earth would you want to watch something like that?
But in this one scene, with “Safety Dance” playing in the background, things feel alive again. For the record, some of the best X-Men stories, like “God Loves, Man Kills,” do indeed deal with really heavy themes like prejudice and even genocide. But so much of what made the X-Men great was the smaller moments between characters we were made to care about. And those characters smiled and had fun every now and then! (I’m looking at you, Astonishing X-Men.) I’d so much rather watch an X-Men movie based around these kids trying to get by and maybe saving their city than yet another X-Men movie featuring a forgettable villain trying to destroy mankind. That movie might be the kind of fun I’m looking for.