Enough with the armies of superpowered minions already.
The new trailer for this November’s Justice League went beyond last year’s Comic-Con teaser footage, by teasing the threat facing DC’s second super-team. But, in doing so, it raised a question: Can superhero team movies drop the faceless drone trope already?
The Justice League trailer didn’t reveal the Big Bad of the movie, choosing instead to focus on the team (and their compatriots; both Amazons and Atlanteans are glimpsed in action) as they deal with hordes of Parademons, both in the air and … well, everywhere else, it seemed.
On the one hand, it’s a smart move that allows for a later reveal of whoever the Big Bad will turn out to be — Darkseid seems obvious from comic book canon, but he might not reveal himself so quickly in the big screen; there’s still the chance that Superman might have broken bad, before then — but there was something familiar about watching the superheroes dispatch a number of generic minions over and over again.
Perhaps because that’s what happened in 2012’s Avengers, with the Chitauri. Or 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, with the Ultrons. Or last year’s Suicide Squad, with the nameless eye-creatures controlled by the Enchantress.
Indeed, of the four superhero team movies to date, only one — 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy — has avoided the route of offering up cannon fodder to fully illustrate how bad the odds are against our heroes. (Unofficial team movies, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice or Captain America: Civil War, oddly enough, don’t fall into the same formula.)
There’s certainly logic to amassing an army against a super-team, especially on the big screen: It stops your protagonists from looking like bullies (who really wants to watch a five-against-one fight?) while giving each of them something to do simultaneously; it is, after all, harder to temporarily “hide” that characters are present in a scene (or a physical space) onscreen compared with a comic book. That setting your heroes loose against an army also allows for multiple action sequences in the good guys let to look kick-ass and productive without ending the movie too early is just an added bonus.
(It also makes the movies feel structured like video games, which might be an accidental by-product of the structure, with the heroes leveling up against bad guys before meeting the big boss in the final round.)
The problem with the formula is, basically, that it is a formula and one that already is beginning to feel overused. At this point, it almost feels expected that the Justice League, or any other super-team, should spend time facing off against glorified henchmen while the true villain does their job behind the scenes.
That lack of surprise doesn’t just run the risk of boring the audience, it also threatens to make the heroes look dumb if they can’t jump to the inevitable end of the plot as easily as the audience. “Does it have to take them this long to deal with a bunch of nameless aliens/cyborgs/monsters?” can turn into “Does this movie have to be so long?” and, then, “Do I have to see this movie?” before too long.
Of course, there’s every possibility the parademon focus in the Justice League trailer is a feint and the finished movie will barely feature them — think of the way in which Batman v. Superman‘s trailers were, in large part, misdirection that foreshadowed Holly Hunter’s minimal role and kept Doomsday’s importance to a minimum; or, for that matter, Suicide Squad‘s similarly misdirecting promo, which hid the identity of the villains of the piece.
It’s to be hoped that’s the case, because otherwise, one of the biggest takeaways from the first trailer is just how closely it parallels The Avengers — and that’s probably not a comparison DC or Warners would be too excited about at this point.