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Pop Stuff: Imaginary Friends

Are superhero sequels breeding a “forgettable mess of spandex and destruction”?

Soleil Nathwani Jul 04, 2016

With the exception of ‘Deadpool’, all of 2016’s superhero releases merged into a “merged into a forgettable mess of spandex and destruction”. Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

At 14, life took a turn. We moved from London back to Mumbai. My bohemian parents, unconcerned about us forgetting our heritage, hadn’t tried to make us learn the tabla. So as a lacrosse playing, rhubarb crumble-loving, non-Hindi-speaking teen, I was ill equipped to deal with the change. The kids I knew from childhood laughed at my accent, were appalled that I had never seen Amitabh on screen and found my cool high tops ridiculous. The friends that got me through it came from the page and the screen. Absorbed in Archie Andrews’ warmth, Elizabeth Bennet’s wit and a burning romance with Christopher Reeves’ Superman, I made it to college.

This summer in New York after a string of unsatisfying movie nights, the debt of gratitude I owed the writers who had endowed me with imaginary friends dawned on me. The big releases ”“ Captain America: Civil War, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and X-Men: Apocalypse merged into a
forgettable mess of spandex and destruction. None of these characters stayed with me the way Christian Bale’s Batman did. With the exception of Ryan Gosling’s sassy Deadpool, I might opt for the End of The World before risking an evening in the company of our superheroes du jour as they trek from prequel to sequel in a game of connect the dots.

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This demise extends beyond the comic book hero. Even though revisiting Zoolander, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent and countless others has produced a series of flops, if you have a pulse, you’ll get an encore it seems. So Hollywood will bring us Star Trek Beyond, Pitch Perfect 3, Bridget Jones’ Baby, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Bollywood will churn out Hera Pheri 3 and Rock On!! sequels. Even Mel Gibson, who had been left for dead after his anti-Semetic remarks, is seeing a resurrection in a Passion of the Christ sequel. It makes you wonder if Game of Thrones’ massive success is attributable to its most infuriating trait that “All Men Must Die”.

Every artfully conceived individual that breathes through the pages of a novel is in danger of being recycled. Trotted out in a movie, spun into a TV series and even lending their avatar to video gamers, their sheen wears off like a washed-out celebrity. Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit and Devdas are a few in a long list of characters that should have stayed on the page. Where there are exceptions it’s typically because the creator of the characters is involved in their retelling as with George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling or because a skilled storyteller lets old characters shine in a new world as Vishal Bhardwaj has masterfully done with Shakespeare’s anti-heroes.

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Reinventing great creations is neither a novel nor a terrible idea. Since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Sherlock Holmes in 1887, he has been played by over 75 actors, often brilliantly.And while I cannot wait for an alternate history of the Potterverse with Hermione Granger as the star, it strikes me that if we continue to chase the characters that have already been written as opposed to investing in those who imagine new ones, we run the risk of turning off the spigot. We need to ensure that James Bond isn’t the last great spy, if only so that we can rely on a universe of imaginary friends to get us through life’s curveballs.


Soleil Nathwani is a New York-based Culture Writer and Film Critic. A former Film Executive and Hedge Fund COO, Soleil hails from London and Mumbai. 


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