Without question, superheroes have dominated the cinematic landscape for at least a decade. One could consider it an oversaturation, Hell, even I had to turn down offers to appear in Avengers: Endgame, but the running joke is now that everyone and their mother has joined a superhero franchise at this point. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it has done wonders for people like Tom Holland, and the new Batman with Robert Pattinson at the helm can relaunch his mainstream career (The Lighthouse will still be his best, though).
But out of nowhere, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse drops in cinemas, and is instantly a hit. The visuals, the soundtrack, the story, everything just worked so damn well.It leant into the absurdity of comic books while still giving a heartfelt narrative. Shameik Moore made Miles Morales my favourite webslinger (though Nicholas Cage as Spider-Man Noir is a close second).
So then the question came to mind - should superhero movies and series move to a more animated medium than live action?
I am going to be discussing cases for both. If you as a reader disagree with my thoughts on the matter, please feel free to let me know! This is just my opinion of course!
The Case for Live Action
Live action superhero movies have culturally dominated the media worldwide, and it’s fair to see why; a lot of them are damn good. The genre has created some fantastic characters that we love to watch. From Chris Evans’ Captain America, to Idris Elba’s Bloodsport.
The distinct strength of having physical actors in these roles is that you can make a human connection, and that is still obviously possible in animation, however, there are more layers above the person behind the role in that case. You have a voice actor, then the art, then the screen. With live action, there is only the screen, and we all know it’s very easy to immerse yourself in movies and series.
The scene in Avengers Endgame where Tony Stark finished the battle with the immortalised line “I am Iron Man” wouldn’t have been the same if it was animated. You felt the weight of Robert Downey Jr’s voice, the snap of the fingers, and how much presence it had. If that was an animation, the resonance wouldn’t have landed the same because of the layers between viewer and actor.
The facial expressions that can be delivered add another layer of personality to characters, and it can give you an insight into the actor’s portrayal too. Of course, some actors are just born for their roles. You won’t hear an argument from me about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or, my personal pick, Antony Starr as Homelander.
Antony looks like he was a prefab actor for villainy. His character is the equivalent of Superman in The Boys, and he is just so lovable as a bad guy. He already looks manufactured, the whole “action figure” aesthetic (not a thing but I’m calling it that) works to his advantage because it’s another layer to how fake he is. His teeth brought their own twinkle.
This can’t be achieved in the same way in animation, as there isn’t a physical presence on the screen. The characters can be made to look that way, sure, but it doesn’t land in the same way.
The Case for Animation
Let’s get this fact out of the way: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie. Okay? Okay.
In all seriousness, the biggest advantage of animation is the ability to have outlandish visuals that can be put into the movie that simply cannot be replicated in live action movies. This does depend on the art style of course, but it does give animators leeway as to whether they want to lean into the comic visual style or not. Spider-Verse does this brilliantly from the intro and consistently keeps it throughout. The movie being universally loved proves that this can work, be entertaining, and still have a great and heartfelt story.
But it’s not just the comic visuals that apply here; animation allows for more gruesome ones.
Justice League Dark: Apokalips War doesn’t shy away from showing beloved characters get massacred in very brutal fashions. You simply cannot do this in live action outside of the horror genre. If you say cartoons are for kids, you’re an actual idiot.
Superhero series also work well in animation. Batman: The Animated Series is unquestionably awesome, and is actually the birthplace of Harley Quinn. Teen Titans, X-Men: Evolution, Spider-Man, Spawn, My Hero Academia, the list is effectively endless of times where superheroes have been animated in a series and been well received.
Voice actors are generally more versatile as well. Nolan North is a huge name in the gaming scene, being a consistent voice of Deadpool. Mark Hamill’s Joker is often cited up there among the very best, but even with famous names like that, they can often play multiple characters within the same production. You may lose out on the “star quality” that some names bring in, but look at the draw that Matthew Mercer brings in with Critical Role.
Both mediums deserve their place in the spotlight. Both have their absolute masterpieces (The Dark Knight and Spider-Verse) and their criminal disasters (Spawn and Hulk: Where Monsters Dwell) however, this will ultimately come down to personal taste.
I want to see more movies like Spider-Verse come to the big screen (I’m stoked we’re getting a sequel), but I would honestly prefer it if the craze died down a bit. We’ve had these movies dominate our cultural landscape for so long, a breather wouldn’t go amiss. Still, as long as it is making money, the House of Mouse won’t stop flogging that horse. My vote goes to animation here.
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