There’s More To Genre Evolution Than Just Combining Different Genres

It seems obvious when you say it out loud, yet a lot of people keep mistaking the same mistake.

I’m always skeptical whenever someone says that a movie or show or whatever is “evolving” a certain genre, especially in regards to the superhero one – and consequently a lot of other genres that are “technically” superhero like sentai, magical girl, and shonen action. As someone who comes from a family that’s obsessed with the current superhero boom and has seen so much of the stuff since elementary school, it’s honestly a wonder that I haven’t burnt out on it like many of the anime fans in the circles I frequent. Most producers are aware that the genre as a whole has gotten pretty stale somewhere in-between the first Iron Man and the first Avengers movie, which is why they’re always trying to come up some new selling point to spice things up. Marvel tries to liven things up by combining standard superhero plots with different genres. DC tries to liven things up by being subversive. I’m not really sure what you call what Fox does. It’s kind of half-in-half between Marvel’s and DC’s goals, but at the same time not really resembling them.

I can see how someone would think this would be evolution in theory. There was a time when I went through that phase too, and it’s certainly not a bad way to create something new and interesting. The Matrix pretty much combines the Cronenberg horror genre with John Woo-style action and I maintain that it’s still a good movie even with all of pop culture ruining it and all that. The problems start arising when the marriage the creators force between the superhero formula and the method they’re choosing to “complete” it are mundane and completely mismatched to the point it takes away from the economy of what any of the genres have been capable of in the past. It’s the Kingdom Hearts issue I’ve gone on before regarding how once you get past the idea of Mickey and Sephiroth living in the same world, you start to realize that the whole “light, dark, heart, blablabla” is annoying and terrible substance to build plot around, and while I can’t say for sure if that series is worse than either Ant-Man or Suicide Squad in regards to its goals considering the (mostly) fun gameplay in the former, the point is that ideas are temporary while results can last a long time.

And don’t get me wrong, I understand that combining two different genres beyond the superficial and such can be really hard given how they seem to serve two totally different audiences in abstract. If it was that easy to accomplish, The Dark Knight wouldn’t have the legacy it does, and I’d have a lot more anime in my favorites list than I do now. But the fact that it has been done before means that most works looking to evolve the medium of storytelling should strive for it. And honestly, there’s so little originality these days that most works do try to stand out with the whole genre-meshing thing anyways, whether consciously or unconsciously. Obviously, it’s more in your favor to do it unconsciously since that means you’re not prioritizing trends over the actual story you want to tell, but it’s not an iron-clad rule. Nolan obviously had Michael Mann in mind when crafting The Dark Knight, and there are quite a few good popular products that do the same as well because you have to remember to be “fun” for your target audience.

But back to the whole superhero thing and how’s it trying to stay alive by putting the heroes we know into unexpected genre shifts. The last time I ever saw that done well, let alone evolved superhero storytelling, was Concrete Revolutio and how it managed to combine many different anime genres by taking place in a world where all sorts of superheroes exist and just flat-out stating that being an anime trope is considered a superpower (which it is). It utilized cliches and the numerous anime it borrowed from in order to attack Japan’s sordid history through a lot of well-developed philosophies. Movies like Logan obviously don’t have those ambitions nor did I ever really care about whether that film could evolve the superhero genre or not, but it would have been nice if it had some goal besides the idea of Wolverine badass-ness combined with road trip. There is some stuff regarding the death of mutants and how these children are the last hope for it in a Children of Men-sort of way, but it’s always in the background and only really shows up when Logan talks about how those X-Men comics are a lie. It made the classic mistake of putting too much emphasis on the shallow aspects of both genres it attempted to combine without using the combination to allow them to actually evolve comic-book storytelling further like people claimed it too.

And like I said in that review, even as a standard action film like Marvel’s first R-rated movie was, Logan is very underwhelming. The first Blade had a final action scene that was just a really bad mix of fast-forwarding and looping, but you know what made up for it? The rest of the action scenes in the movie, and they weren’t exactly the best of what the 80s and 90s were able to accomplish as is. Most of the action in Logan has the camera swing around like a maniac or be too close to the characters to see what’s actually going on, cutting away so that we don’t actually see the kid sink her own claws into guys’ heads, and we can’t hold onto one shot for even a second multiple times. The only way this would look good is if you’ve been watching nothing but video game adaptations for the past few years and never heard of John Wick in your life. And as for the weight behind those actions, it’s not awful, but please tell me what’s so unique about Logan’s situation that you couldn’t say for any grizzled badass ever? Being the Wolverine isn’t enough for me, I’m afraid. I liked X-Men growing up and all, but not to the point where I’d base my opinion of an adaptation based on what I’ve seen previously.

Having said that, Concrete Revolutio really did set a high bar that I can’t just easily ignore, and you’ve got stuff like the Marvel Netflix project back when that was good and the Wachowskis’ Sense 8 (which is sort of superhero-y) existing on the live-action front in recent times, so Logan’s ambitions for greatness were going to be harshly judged by me before I even saw the trailers. I like to be surprised and all, but I honestly don’t know how the superhero genre can evolve any further than it already has. That new FX show, Legion, is trying so hard and it’s shot so well, but instead of making something new with is premise, it’s just being an extended version of Inception or existenz or Paprika or The Cell or “do you see where I’m going with this?” It does it decently, but there’s a limit to how far good execution can take you if much shorter versions that are also similar in execution quality exist, let alone revolve around characters who mainly seem to exist for plot purposes.

Maybe you guys can give me some ideas. But in the meantime, let’s end this post by talking about genre-meshing/busting in general, superhero or not. I understand the difficulties involved with using it. Not even the products that do it successfully can keep it up all the way. That new Riverdale show that combines Archie with Twin Peaks is a surprisingly good and intense psychological thriller with strong characterization that subverts high school cliches in interesting ways, but it has its moments – mostly when it focuses on Archie himself – that it’s just plain high school cliche. Granted it’s not uninspired high school cliche, but it’s still something that’s fundamentally flawed, like most of Orange when it stopped being good. There’s all sorts of factors to consider when you aim for something to challenge the audience, whether it be visual, acted, or written, and that’s not even considering whether people will watch your show in the first place. Way more people watching Legion and Taboo over Riverdale after all, and for understandable reasons that I won’t get into to boot.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to having a point and hopefully finding that point interesting. Combining genres is definitely a viable road to do that, but you have to make sure the destination is mapped, you don’t experience too many delays getting there, and remember to fuel up on gas once in a while. You do that and at least you have a good grounding point to enjoy the sites you see along the way.

Minor Quips

  • God there are a lot of comic book movies coming out this year, aren’t there?
  • Why exactly am I watching the Sword Art Online movie over the new King Kong next weekend?

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