Moviegoers to superheroes: Take a nap already. With the back-to-back creative and financial disappointments of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Shazam: Fury of the Gods, fears of "superhero fatigue" are washing through Hollywood in a big way. Heck, even James Gunn — who just wrapped up his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy for Marvel Studios before jetting off to run its Distinguished Competition at Warner Bros. — has admitted it's a very real cause for concern.
"I think there is such a thing as superhero fatigue," Gunn recently told Rolling Stone. "If you don't have a story at the base of it, just watching things bash each other, no matter how clever those bashing moments are, no matter how clever the designs and the VFX are, it just gets fatiguing, and I think that's very, very real."
Thankfully, there's at least one big-screen superhero who isn't feeling fatigued by the genre. "I don't have anything against superhero movies," Superman (almost) aka Ghost Rider aka Big Daddy aka Superman (for real) aka Spider-Man Noir aka Nicolas Cage tells Yahoo Entertainment during an interview about his new horror comedy, Renfield. But the actor also admits that he's mostly put that world of costumed avengers and dastardly villains behind him.
Watch our interview with Nicolas Cage and the Renfield crew below:
"I mean, did I have my tray of lemon cookies and my bottle of NyQuil and lose my mind reading Stan Lee's Marvel Comics at 12? Of course I did," Cage adds, once again revealing his gift for combining wildly different flavor profiles. (The actor previously professed his love for KFC and champagne to us during a chat about his offbeat 2021 foodie drama, Pig.) "But I'm not doing that anymore, I'm not really that up on [the new movies] ... It's not really what I'm consuming so to speak. It's fine is what I guess I'm trying to say."
For the record, Renfield does mix some comic book elements into its potpourri of influences, which also include Universal monster movies, Italian giallo gorefests and Victorian-era Gothic horror. Cage plays Bram Stoker's O.G. pop culture vampire, Count Dracula, while Nicholas Hoult portrays his eternally put-upon right-hand man, R.M. Renfield. Damned to a life of servitude to his blood-sucking master, the (mostly) human Renfield gets the benefit of a vampire's super-strength and healing factor thanks to a steady diet of bugs, which he pops into his mouth whenever he wants to power up before a big brawl.
Hoult comes with his own comic book movie origin story: The English actor played Henry McCoy aka Beast in four X-Men films released between 2011 and 2019. Asked if Renfield is the kind of gonzo superhero movie we need right now as opposed to yet another adaption of an existing comic book, he suggests that what audiences are actually hungry for is something new.
"Renfield is different is the thing," Hoult explains. "I think that's what we keep coming back to talking to people. They're classic, iconic characters from Bram Stoker's novel, but at the same time, there's this new twist on the story and their relationship and dynamic. I think that's fun if you can explore something new, and that's what we're trying to do."
Don't tell Hoult's onscreen nemesis, Ben Schwartz, that superhero movies are over. "I love comic book movies," enthuses the Sonic the Hedgehog star, who plays a mob enforcer that gets his own taste of bug-enabled vampire abilities when Renfield's commitment to Dracula wavers. "I desperately want to play Plastic Man or do something in the DC Universe, especially with James [Gunn] in charge. I love the way that he tackles ensemble movies like Guardians of the Galaxy and The Suicide Squad — I don't think there's anybody that does it better.
"[With Renfield] I like the idea that we're splashing some superhero genre with the horror genre," Schwartz continues. "We're our own little thingy here, and I want to see how people react, because we're taking a risk — but it could pay off huge."
Forget about retired cinematic superheroes for a moment — what does an actual comic book creator make of the "superhero fatigue" debate? Enter Renfield producer Robert Kirkman, the mastermind behind The Walking Dead, Battle Pope and Invincible. Not surprisingly, he's not sold on the idea that moviegoers are done with capes and cowls. "I think superheroes have kind of cemented themselves as a film genre," Kirkman says. "Some are gonna do better than others. Audiences love spectacle and superheroes are always gonna provide them spectacle."
At the same time, Kirkman agrees that Renfield's overt "superhero vibe" points to a way the genre could revitalize itself. "We definitely go to some areas that audiences are not going to expect, and really that's the key: giving the cinema-going audience something that's unusual and new and exciting. Maybe the superhero movies are getting a little bit same-y, but I don't think the genre in and of itself is necessarily wearing out its welcome."
"Comic books have been around since the '30s and they've gone through lots of different periods," adds Renfield director, Chris McKay, who made his feature debut with The Lego Batman Movie starring Gotham City's resident Dark Knight. "Those characters have obviously stayed with us for so long, and writers and filmmakers are gonna find new ways for us to get excited."
And in case Renfield doesn't cure superhero fatigue, Kirkman has another shot at shaking audiences awake when the animated version of Invincible returns to Prime Video later this year. The first season joined the Eric Kripke's smartly irreverent (and hilariously ultraviolent) superhero satire, The Boys, as one of the streaming service's biggest hits and the sophomore year promises to continue exploding comic book cliches. "Superheroes are gonna be just fine as soon as Invincible Season 2 comes out," Kirkman jokes. In other words, you will believe a genre can fly... again.
Renfield opens Friday, April 14 in theaters.