Hollywood’s Most Formulaic Director Criticizes the Marvel “Formula”

Matej Divizna / Getty Images
Source: Matej Divizna / Getty Images

Tim Burton has made a career off of a distinct style and formula that’s seen him make millions as one of the most well-known names in the industry. From Beetlejuice to Edward Scissorhands, his body of work contains within it some truly great films. But lately, it feels safe to say his last few efforts have felt phoned in. Efforts like his reboots of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory each show a director who’s become so enamored with his own style he’s forgotten how to do anything but white makeup, vaguely creepy characters, and putting Johnny Depp in a wacky costume.

Promoting his latest movie Big Eyes in an interview with Yahoo! Movies, Burton’s thoughts turned to the massively successful Marvel universe, offering some curious criticism.

Marvel, they have their thing and there’s a certain formula to it all which seems to still be working. But how many times can you say “you’re wearing a funny costume” with the tights and stuff? That’s been going on for 20 years now.

There’s a big heaping pile of irony to unravel here, so we’ll start small. First off, it’s worth noting that Burton’s last shot at a superhero movie came in 1989 when he directed Michael Keaton in Batman. That since spawned a franchise of both terrible and amazing movies starring the Dark Knight, so much of the “it’s been going on for 20 years” sentiment may be echoing the fact that Burton got that itch out of his system over two decades ago.

But the fact remains, someone whose formula has become so profoundly distinct in recent years should look inward before criticizing a franchise for sticking to a formula of its own. For years now, Burton’s been following a pretty strict process of rebooting a creepy children’s story to be even creepier, hiring on Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman, and calling it a day. And all this isn’t even considering that Burton’s beef with Marvel is the overuse of the “you’re wearing a funny costume” motif, a method for which he’s become the poster child in recent years. The following CollegeHumor parody might exaggerate Burton’s creative process, but a good parody depends on a certain level of truth.

Marvel could be found guilty of a lot of things. Its slate of films coming up borders on excess, it may very well be profiling heroes that have no business being adapted to film, and the studio has become the leading force in the extended film universe that DC is trying (and for the most part failing) to emulate. But in terms of “formula,” their only crime there is following a comic storytelling structure as old as the medium itself. You could even say they’ve improved upon it with films like the first Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain America: The Winter Solider, giving us compelling and complex human stories that rarely feel tired or predictable.

In many ways, Burton’s career has seen him come out with some iconic movies. But that style and formula has become so profoundly woven into his filmmaking that he’s become creatively stuck, making it all the more baffling why he feels qualified to go after the sameness of Marvel’s offerings. That being so, he goes on to (correctly) note that when it comes to superhero movies, “someday people will get sick of it.” The only problem is that people are already sick of Tim Burton movies.

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