As Netflix prepares to launch its first superhero team-up, Marvel’s The Defenders, featuring the stars of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, now seems like the perfect time to zoom in on the appeal of superhero team-ups.
These alliances between superheroes are nothing new. In the five years since Joss Whedon assembled Marvel’s The Avengers, team-ups have burst across the big and small screens. Whedon’s first outing with Iron Man, Captain America and Thor grossed $1,518,812,988 at the global box office and its popularity spawned Marvel’s Phase Two, culminating in Avengers: Age of Ultron. DC have since announced plans for a Justice League movie which will bring together Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman and other staples from the studio this November. On television, The CW launched its first cross-over event featuring the likes of Arrow, The Flash, the Legends of Tomorrow and Supergirl teaming up against malevolent alien invaders earlier this year.
Firstly, the appeal of superhero collaborations stands in the fact that they give fans the opportunity to see their favourite heroes and heroines cross paths in often fun and memorable ways. The party scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron is a classic example, with each Avenger testing Thor’s hammer to see who is worthy. They are often accompanied by a great deal of anticipation due to their uniqueness, with new character dynamics breathing new life into existing storylines or even creating brand new ones that add to each characters’ mythos. There are also wonderful opportunities for studios to indulge in answering burning fan questions such as who’s faster: Oliver Queen’s arrows or The Flash?
Scale can be another factor contributing to the team-up appeal. The stakes are raised – entire teams must be assembled to fight the villain, rather than only having one superhero per movie/episode. Even on the small screen, this sense of a greater scale brings great appeal because a single team-up can take place across multiple episodes and series. This is something that makes The Defenders so unique. Whereas other team-ups have been brought about because the world (or galaxy) is in danger, The Defenders is deliberately smaller in scale, bringing together Marvel’s “street-level” heroes, and promising to maintain the intimate grittiness of the standalone series whilst raising the stakes as the team come up against Sigourney Weaver’s intimidating villain.
Most of all, superhero team-ups are appealing because they are special.
But with so many team-ups and many more still to come, it is getting a little too much?
Recently, declining comic-book sales were linked to event fatigue, so it is possible that someday audiences will tire of cinematic team-ups. Also, their popularity doesn’t guarantee critical acclaim, as the cold reception for both DC’s Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad goes to show. However, given that each event so far has striven to be unique, it seems audiences might enjoy them for a little longer, especially as 2018 marks the biggest superhero team-up in cinematic history. Avengers: Infinity War (with a sequel already in the pipeline) is set to bring together every main character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Whatever happens in the future, Marvel’s The Defenders is sure to be a huge success, ushering in a new era of small screen team-ups that may one day compete with The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.
All episodes of Marvel’s The Defenders will be available on Netflix 18th August 2017.