It's hard to think that a mere ten years ago superhero films were a rarity. Not only that, but in terms of quality, superhero films of the early 2000s were about as hit-and-miss as any cinematic sub-genre has ever been. Sure, audiences were treated to some spectacular experiences like Spider-Man 2, but there was always a Catwoman ready to pounce if given the chance.

With the influx of the superhero genre thanks to their immense box-office domination, the rise in quality on the surface from the questionable early 2000s era of the genre seems to be high all around; but is this due to actual innovation in the movies released or more of a "even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day" deal? Well, looking at the obvious trend in superhero films of the past few years, it's starting to become more and more apparent that, unfortunately, it's the latter.

It pains me to say it, but superhero films have a major creativity problem. Look, since the release of the original X-Men (and I guess even Blade - though I didn't even know that was a superhero film until much, much later) I have adored comic book films. Even the terrible ones. To this day, I'm probably the only person on the internet who enjoys Spider-Man 3. But even as crappy as Spider-Man 3 was, the fact that the final product ended up so silly and so misguided simply wouldn't happen today - and that's a shame.

Sure, to this day everyone mocks emo Peter Parker and his out of place jazz routine, but would something so crazy and strange be allowed in say, The Avengers? Probably not. Superhero films in the current "golden age" all stink of by the numbers plotting, consequence free narratives, and in your face franchise building. There's no way that the massive board of creative talent that approves every single thing in these movies would let Tony Stark creepily dance down the street; but in a way this kind of boardroom-approved fun sucks out any authorship or personality from the film itself.

When Guardians of the Galaxy was released last year, it was perceived as a breath of fresh air - hell, many critics were saying that it would have a Star Wars level of influence on every superhero film coming out in the future. They aren't entirely wrong, but the idea that Guardians of the Galaxy is going to influence all future comic book movies maybe, just maybe, isn't the great thing everyone is hyping it up to be. When it came down to it, Guardians had a lot of new ideas in regards to characters and design, but these affectations barely hid the fact that at its core the film was still structured around the same tired generic superhero plot.

While James Gunn's film had a lot to like, it was hardly the rejuvenation the genre needed, because it still followed the same fundamental narrative every other Marvel movie follows. There's a McGuffin, and a rag-tag band of unlikely heroes come together to stop a villain who has muddy motives and who also wants said McGuffin because... they're evil? They say a superhero is only as good as their villain - but how many memorable villains have we seen put to screen in the past few years? Who even was the villain of Guardians of the Galaxy? What was special about his character, and what separated him from any of the generic bad guys the Guardians fought, except from a bit of face-paint? You could have swapped out the villains from Guardians and Thor: The Dark World and nobody would have noticed. They're all interchangeable - and that's the problem.

Fortunately for Marvel, they've been able to fend off fatigue for now due to the sheer gravitas of the characters and the world they've built. But there's only so many times they can reuse the same structure. At the end of the day, audiences only have the patience to sit through the same sequence of events a few times, and while new characters and actors provide nice distractions from the creeping sameness of each film, they only serve to postpone the effects of these problems rather than solve them for good.

To make matters even worse, current superhero films (and this goes double for Marvel films) suffer from a significant lack of consequences. Each movie just can't do much to advance the plot significantly when the repercussions have to be felt across five other franchises. At the end of Iron Man 3 Tony Stark blew up his armour - but don't worry they'll be back in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor: The Dark World killed off Loki - but then didn't really. This lack of significant progression is why the best movie in Marvel's phase 2 was Captain America: The Winter Solider, because it was the only film that had substantial consequences for its characters.

It might seem harsh that I'm focusing so much of this on Marvel, and it might seem like I'm bashing them but honestly, I'm not. In fact, I'm only focusing on Marvel because their films have the potential to be the most innovative superhero movies around, but it's so frustrating to see just how awfully close they are to falling back on their laurels. But Marvel is still producing the best superhero films at the moment, and every one they make has something to like. The company hasn't made a truly terrible film - but the problem is that lot of them fall into merely "good" territory when they could have been so much more.

When it comes to the competition, we're opening up an entirely different can of worms. For instance, DC's slate of upcoming superheroes is less than promising, to say the least. Man of Steel is a grim and unflattering foundation to build a franchise on, but they are soldiering ahead with The Justice League anyway. And while yes, Man of Steel wasn't the worst attempt at a Superman film, it was definitely lacking any kind of cohesive core; in fact the whole film seemed to be put together by so many people that it lost any unifying vision Zack Snyder may have had for it. Which is a shame, because Zack Snyder can make really good movies.

It's the same fate that befell last year's The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a film that was suffering an extreme identity crisis and one that juggled so many different tones, plots, and characters that it crumbled under its own weight and effectively killed the franchise. Again, the poisonous corporate meddling that killed this film was a shame because while Marc Webb's vision to focus on the romance and human side of Peter Parker maybe would have pissed off a few fans for "Twilighting Spider-Man", at least it would have felt cohesive as a movie, and a far cry from the bloated and muddled mess that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 became.

What I'm trying to say is relatively simple: let superhero films be their own things. The Dark Knight was a crime thriller that happened to star Batman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy espionage film that happened to star Captain America, and both films were all the better for it because they took an idea and ran with it, free from the shackles of franchises and corporate interference. Neither of these films stick to a producer-approved "model", and they only tick the boxes they want to tick. You can't please everyone, and superhero films need to stop trying to.

But overall this isn't a post damning each and every superhero film; hell, I still see virtually every one, and you should too if you enjoy them. It's more of a cautionary tale. If superhero films keep flying full speed in the trajectory they're taking, and with these problems having the potential to only double due to the increase in superhero films per-year from next year onwards, then it's inevitable that sticking to the same model will lead to a genre burnout. Soon we'll have seen three cinematic versions of Spider-Man within ten years; how long do you think audiences are going to stick around when this happens to every other hero in the roster?