The alien invasion picture has been a staple of the movie business since the space race of the 1950s opened people’s minds to imagine what may be out there in vastness beyond our solar system. These films can often be filled with a sense of awe and spectacle, along with the contemplation of our place in the universe. Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind is probably still the high water mark for spaceship awe, with its slack-jawed vision of alien grandeur (The Devil’s Tower finale still holds up beautifully.), most recently imitated by Stranger Things. But sometimes an alien invasion movie can be simply ludicrous. With their B-movie origins, the alien invasion picture is more often than not pretty ridiculous. In the '50s, the threat of an invasion was played up Cold War generated hysteria, like in the classics The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But lately, as this summer’s recent Independence Day sequel demonstrated, they can also be largely stupid and void of any real subtext.
Forget everything you think you know.
So speaks the Ancient One to Mister...forgive me, Dr. Strange. It's also a good reminder for the audience, as well, though judging by my theatre, everyone was ready for a new kind of trip. Marvel's doing something hard, something almost more difficult than tossing RDJ into a powered suit and seeing what shakes out. They have to build it again, but in a world where we already have so many pieces and a comfortable sense of what's happening. The success and shine of Winter Soldier and Civil War have spoiled us with solidly continuing storylines that have built upon everything that came before, with Ant Man and Doctor Strange opening up new worlds (the Quantum Realm and, well, the entirety of the multiverse, respectively) that are harder to ground in reality. The only current franchise that has attempted that has been Thor, and it's not an uncommon belief that those films tend to be the weakest of the offerings we've have over the last decade. This is the ground that Marvel has to win to bring Infinity Wars to the screen, and, honestly, Phase 3 looks to be shaping up pretty well.
The current cycle of sword-and-sandal films has been riding the wave of the success of Gladiator since 2000, and its end has been projected many times. In the introduction to his edited anthology Of Muscles and Men: Essays on the Sword & Sandal Film, scholar Michael G. Cornelius projected that these films, hereafter referred to as neo-peplum films, were already seeing a periodic decline in 2010/2011. After Gods of Egypt (2016) had performed poorly at the box office, Pamela McClintock of The Hollywood Reporter noted that other recent neo-peplum films such as The Legend of Hercules (2014) and Pompeii (2014) had also performed under expectations, thus also mimicking Cornelius’ thoughts that the cycle was in a rut.