With the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) now having over 20 films, with more films coming in the future, superhero comic book adaptations have indeed taken Hollywood by storm.
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Using loosely serialised storytelling and logistically impressive crossover elements, the MCU has bent the very medium of cinema to its whim, liberally borrowing from the conventions of TV. With at least 14 more MCU films planned, as well as countless TV series to stream on Disney+, this is a road with no end in sight.
But is the big screen the best medium that we can use to give life to the superheroes that we once saw on comic books? For some, there is a better medium that could be used, and that medium is video games.
The suitability of video games as the ultimate platform for superhero adaptation has been obvious for decades; as far back as the late 1970s and 1980s, savvy developers were churning out crude 2D games featuring Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.
Unlike superhero movies which offer you the opportunity to view the narrative through the lens of a spectator, superhero video games offer you the opportunity to don the superhero’s suit. In other words, you get to be the hero, and you watch the story unfold through the eyes of the superhero himself. Such is the case of the recently released Iron Man VR and other games like it.
Superheroes have always been rooted in wish fulfilment and fantasies of power. Video games are perhaps the fullest realisation of this, giving players the agency to use unnatural abilities as they see fit…
Perhaps the watershed moment for superhero games came in 2009, with the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Set within the boundaries of the fictional Gotham prison, Asylum was engrossing, unfiltered Batman. Whether you were beating swarms of enemies to a pulp, gliding around environments with batlike stealth, or deploying one of several mechanical gadgets, it all felt right – more authentically nailing the tone of (some of) the comics than any film has ever managed. The Independent called it and the first of its sequels, 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, “two of the best action games ever made”. Superhero films may often struggle for validation in the world of cinema, but in games, they have shown they can spar with the best of ’em.
Compare this, for instance, to The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s Michael Mann-inspired DC Comics adaptation, released in 2008. The Dark Knight’s reputation has stood the test of time, more or less – Heath Ledger’s tic-heavy posthumous-Oscar-winning performance is still held up as the gold standard of onscreen supervillainy, and the film proved monumental in legitimising superhero fare in the eyes of the cinema-going public. But it was also overstuffed, and criticisms often focus on the difficulty of balancing two distinct supervillains – Ledger’s Joker and Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face – both competing for screen-time and attention.
More about this over at the Independent.
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(Image Credit: TheXomil/ Pixabay)