It won’t be news to most of you that the bozos currently in charge of erecting the highway signs for America’s pursuit of happiness are either morons or too plain greedy to care about how regularly they screw us over. But as a public service, we’ve still got to ask: How did everything go so horribly wrong? Not that long ago, we had such high hopes. Now only the most rabid partisan zealots out there are still insisting that everything’s going just great—and brother, do they make life hell for anyone who dares to be even the tiniest bit critical of the latest emperor’s new clothes.
Sure, we still dream of a savior who could make sense of it all. With any luck, she might even be female. But let’s face it: our old ideals about truth, justice and the American way have become so much kitty litter. They’ve been tainted beyond salvaging by people too in hock to shady foreign interests to give a rat’s butt about the corruption of values we used to think were eternal. As for us, even if it was in our power to fix things, we’re far too demoralized and sullen by now to believe there’s any real alternative to regularly emptying our pockets for our new masters’ benefit.
Politics? Who mentioned politics? Not us. We’re talking about superhero franchises—and more specifically, about DC’s Expanded Universe, that ongoing crime against the old-fashioned notion that pleasure ought to be enjoyable. Because we’re hopeless Pollyannas, we’re feeling mildly optimistic that Wonder Woman could vary the no-fun pattern when it opens next week. We’re down with female superheroes, and we’re even more down with a woman filmmaker—Patty Jenkins, who did Monster—directing a summer lollapalooza for a change. Between them, Jenkins and Diana Prince might add some steampunky kicks and feminist cool to what’s so far been the drabbest, most lumberingly self-important product launch in popcorn-movie history.
Just like the Democratic Party, the Marvelverse has problems of its own, constantly rebooting and recombining the same characters.
Unfortunately, the trailers for Justice League—which isn’t due until November—look a whole lot more typical of the DC approach: cluttered, overwrought, lugubrious and jokey but mirthless at once. But just like its Extended Universe predecessors—the dismally glum Superman reboot Man of Steel, the groggily endless Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the crtitical failure Suicide Squad—it’s sure to make beaucoup bucks, because we’re too zonked on brand-name entertainment to even tell the difference between genuine enthusiasm and knee-jerk reflexes anymore.
You bet we can feel the burning fanboy hate barreling down the pike at us as we speak. (And sure, we could be wrong about Justice League, of course we could. We’d bet our mom’s 401(k) we won’t be, though.) Remember how critics who panned Suicide Squad got accused of being in Marvel’s pay, and some crazies wanted Rotten Tomatoes shut down for being “anti-DC”? Even suggesting the movies are merely imperfect, as opposed to total and complete bummers, will get you in trouble. Only harping on their unquestionable greatness will do. As any movie reviewer who’s gotten abuse from DC loyalists could tell you, this crew’s similarities to Donald Trump’s MAGA-hatted, libtard-hating, IQ-allergic base can be more than a little eerie.
It’s true that most critics do prefer the Marvelverse, without needing to be bribed (we wish) to do so. By and large, Marvel’s movies are sprightlier and more humane, that’s all, not to mention more multiculti-tolerant. But just like the, ahem Democratic Party, the Marvelverse has problems of its own. Constantly rebooting, recycling and recombining the same formulas and characters doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for innovative fresh starts, which may sound familiar to anyone who’s fed up with Bill Clinton’s goddam family or unconvinced of Nancy Pelosi’s genius for thinking outside the box. Even the sort of liberal who daydreams about finding the next Barack Obama might as well be wondering who’ll play Spidey in the next Spider-Man reboot.
The most jarring new wrinkle in DC’s Extended Universe, on the other hand, is that its familiar heroes now feel more and more alien—that is, less innately American than they used to be. There’s a reason for that, too. The international market, not the domestic one, now sets the priorities for summer blockbusters and foreign audiences couldn’t care less about the folkloric side of our home-grown comic-book myths. They’re in it for the demolition derby.
If the Marvelverse’s concessions to internationalism are less noticeable, that’s because Marvel’s heroes were always more cosmopolitan in the first place. They didn’t come at us wrapped in the Stars and Stripes the way Superman traditionally did: not only the ultimate immigrant, thanks to Krypton, but the ultimate all-American Kansas boy, thanks to Ma and Pa Kent. In his current movie incarnation, though, he doesn’t feel especially patriotic or represent anything especially idealistic. It’s not totally unlike the way our current POTUS is infinitely more devoted to boosting the Trump Organization’s properties abroad than he is to democracy or the U.S. Constitution, now is it?
We know, we know. There’s nothing most of you hate like these funky mashups of politics and entertainment, but getting off on weird parallel worlds is something we learned how to do from DC and Marvel to begin with. Whether we like it or not, even when Americans hit the multiplex these days, we can’t avoid living in the Washington, D.C. Extended Universe.