Friday, January 14, 2011

Film Rant

 Death of the Superhero...Film?

      With the opening of The Green Hornet upon us, the time has come to address the future of the veritable superhero film.  By definition, a superhero film carries the ilk consistent in an action, fantasy, or science fiction based movie, while predominantly focusing on a superheroes superhuman abilities—in a heroic effort to thwart a grave danger and protect the greater good.  
      The superhero genre has long been dominated by Saturday serials and comic books; a trademark of DC and Marvel Comics.  But the birth of superheroes in the feature film arena began with Richard Donner's seminal hit, Superman from 1978.  A smattering of other successful entries into the comic book genre soon followed, including sequels to Superman.  Ultimately, the classical take on comic book-based superhero flicks peaked with Tim Burton's Batman in 1989. 
      Consequently, major studios mastermind a new model for the genre by providing darker, modernized action-based entries, such as Blade in 1998.  From a contemporary standpoint, the period of the 2000's ushered in a burgeoning and wildly profitable market that allowed the superhero franchise to thrive—though an endpoint or transitional period is imminently approaching. 
      In the last ten years, the linkage between the American public and many of the best superhero films of all-time has reached an untenable and feverish pitch, as an unsustainable list of critical and commercial hits have exploded into the mainstream moviegoer's mind:  Bryan Singer's X-Men, Sam Raimi's Spider Man, Hulk, Watchmen, Spider Man II-III, Brad Bird's The Incredibles, Superman Returns, the continuation of the Blade series, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Iron Man I-II.  I may have failed to mention some other noteworthy superhero films of the post-2000 era (and feel free to interject), but I am sure you can grasp the overall gist.  In the voice of Conan O'Brien, "in the year 2000," a turning point has arrived, as American moviegoers have been inundated with an over-saturation of superhero films.  When will it end?  Such a lofty goal may be unattainable, but I will carve out some answers. 

      With such a varied and impressive resume of films emblazoned in the American movie-going conscience, how much longer will big studios, such as Warner Brothers and Fox, continue to reap massive profits from the mainstream film-going public—for spewing out banal and vapid incarnations of super-heroic ideas?  The release of The Green Hornet may give us an early indication.  Currently, The Green Hornet is enjoying a robust (insert sarcasm) 44% rating on Rottentomatoes.  But it is also well on its way towards a strong $30-$40 million dollar opening weekend run.  So, will 2011 foretell the doom of the superhero film? Matthew Vaughn, the director of X-Men: First Class, certainly thinks so, as he predicts gloom for the superhero movie  And here's the kicker...I agree with him.
      In order to gain further insight into my thought process, I will spotlight Vaughn's scathing rebuke of the superhero genre.  For those unfamiliar with his work, Matthew Vaughn is a promising director with such films as Layer Cake and Kick-Ass under his belt, as well as producing credits for Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Vaughn writes, "It's [superhero genre] been mined to death and in some cases the quality control is not what it's supposed to be.  People are just going to get bored of it."  Vaughn is firing off some incendiary remarks to those who staunchly stand by the sanctity of the superhero genre.  More importantly, he is articulating a commonly held, though often under-espoused belief, which I will piggyback.  Vaughn goes onto to say,

"I've always wanted to do a big-budget superhero film and I think we've kind of crossed the Rubicon with superhero films. I think [the opportunity to do one], it's only going to be there two or three more times. Then the genre is going to be dead for a while because the audience has just been pummeled too much."

      Vaughn's contention above is as compelling as it is damning for passionate superhero movie going fans, who will undoubtedly interpret this piercing critique as inflammatory fodder  Today, movies exalting trite characterizations, unprovoked violence, and overt unoriginality are becoming the minority for the ardent moviegoer.  What nurses the movie industry's ascension into the future, and dispenses the creative celerity unique to our film appetite, is the fact that the filmmaking industry—the lion's share of writers, directors, and producers—must reach for the highest point to which the creative spirit can soar.  Ultimately, Hollywood cannot sustain itself if it continually reverts back to the well, churning out confounding, incoherent, and threadbare superhero films. 
     The last time I checked, America is a Democratic Republic governed by a Constitution.  Therefore, when it comes to the sacred medium of film, we shall strive to produce films that are representative of a uniquely creative, unfettered spirit.  In the twenty-first century, Americans have both their eye and pulse on the communications landscape—for instance, social networking.  Thus, we are the authoritarian overseer of the visual offerings available to us.  If a person deems a film unsatisfactory, then that person can instantly broadcast their dismay to a growing audience over the Internet.  If growing numbers heed the call of said person, then Hollywood will be forced to take notice of the mass cyberspace—which one hopes will lead to an eventual decline in the middling and jarringly bad superhero films viewable on big screens across America. 
      The American movie is one of our countries greatest economic assets.  Free competition provides a marketplace for originality to foster.  Therefore, the entire arsenal of filmmaking—from directors, writers, actors and producers—necessitates an opportunity to provide compelling cinema.  The many movies based on characters in superhero comics are increasingly terrible though: Fantastic Four, Wolverine, Daredevil, Catwoman, and Ghost Rider, etc.  The method of appraisal, in terms of discerning what constitutes a good comic book film vs. a not so good comic book film is often blurred.  This problem leads to an unwieldy disconnect; comic book fans tend to apologize for the genre, as if the merits of the latest big budget superhero flick are exclusively tied to a defense of the comic book's honor (as opposed to the superhero film adaptation).  This blatant confusion leads to bickering debate. 
      The inexplicably poor quality of superhero films that 2011 provides will likely lead to its ultimate demise.   Although, I expect Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and Aronofsky's The Wolverine to be exceptional works of art; this observation has more to do with the extreme competence of these aforementioned filmmakers than any genre specific development—and is thus, an exception to the rule.  A new crop of potentially lackluster offerings that spell doom and gloom for the genre include: Captain America! Thor! and Green Lantern!.  With such a dearth of any new riveting cinematic feats to boast, a self-fulfilling prophecy awaits the major studios.  The enormous successes of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are owed to the success of their mega successful forerunners, such as Spider-Man (as well as the supremely talented direction of Christopher Nolan).  The problem that is inherent in today's superhero landscape is there is no Spider-Man—to catapult, imitate, or ride the coattails of.   The audience's patience with the genre is morbidly dwindling and will grow to an intolerable state.  As long as Fox and Warner Bros continue to put forth fewer objectively good superhero movies, so too will the audience put forth robust box office numbers.  
      This doom and gloom scenario will persist until the superhero film performs a critical self-examination and undergoes a face-lift of sorts (as it has throughout its past). Until this happens, Americans will routinely be subjected to an albatross of putrid superhero renditions. We can only hope for a scenario that will produce more meaningfully imaginative, compelling works of comic book magic—the kind of cinematic magic that Aronofsky and Nolan are capable of conjuring.  Unfortunately, I do not envision the big studios relenting from their short-attention span hysteria and keeping the genre faithfully intact.  For every Nolan and Aronofsky quality rendering, there's a Joel Schumacher Batman & Robin style incarnation, which will surely disappoint, and drastically fall short of satiating our immense superhero film appetite.  

*As always, you can judge for yourself and take a look at a mildly positive review of The Green Hornet, from the iconic Rolling Stone film critic, Peter Travers:  Travers Film Review, The Green Hornet.

*Additionally, below is an informative YouTube video showcasing many superhero films.


  1. I agree. Superhero movies are most likely soon to meet their demise. Or rather be set on the back burner in a sense. This is why I had made my remarks about my Most Anticipated Movies being a bit of a disappointment for some. I know there's a lot of hype about such movies as Thor and Green Hornet and such this year, but I just have no interest in them at all. Largely because of the over-saturation you mention.

    I think the coming years definitely will see a decline in the genre as far as anticipation and critical success (even box office success) goes.

    I think a big telling sign of this is studios' recent attempts to be rebooting every franchise. They know they're going stale. So they're trying desperately to revive that. I think however, they'll find reboots just aren't going to cut it and not every franchise is going to be as lucky as Batman was when Nolan took control. Once said studios realize this, they'll abandon the genre in a sense.

    I think the whole route you see Marvel going these days is a sign as to the faith studios are losing in the genre. They're seemingly trying to make one last big push.

    Though I will admit it is a creative push. What with the Thor and Captain America movies and then working to tie them all in to The Avengers movie. Though, I don't think they have the creativity in the movies themselves to actually pull it off.

  2. I am glad you agree. It has long befuddled me how Hollywood continues to disseminate uninspired trash. The studio system for all its dazzling style and glamor is quite transparent. In a strictly corporate America business sense, studios only care about the bottom line. So if you interpret the production/distribution mechanisms of Hollywood under these constraints, it becomes easier (though not unabashedly the case) to accept its numerous flaws.

    Hollywood should be evaluated on two, negligibly distinct counts: 1). It should be understood as a monetized, business enterprise that is trying to generate vast sums of wealth and 2). It should be understood as a medium for artistic craftsmanship—this quality of the studio system interests me more, as I care more about creative processes than purely business ones. Though I love many a film, I still must wade through an abundance of garbage. But this is the beauty of the film industry. The more trash I subject myself to, the greater the feeling of elation when I discover a brilliant film.

    I completely agree with your point about the studio system desperately trying to produce a new blockbuster by reverting to 'reboots.' But as you shrewdly articulate, you cannot mimic a genius like Nolan; therefore, you cannot recreate the magic of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight merely by funding a reboot. A simple analogy will verify this observation. The success of a restaurant's menu is not correlative, so much to the style of food; on the contrary, the success is owed to the talents of the chef.

    As you smartly argue, I do not purport to say that Thor and Captain America or (many fans will likely shake their heads at this one) The Avengers will lead to a miraculous (and that is what is needed for the genre to thrive again) turnaround. I expect more of the same, which is to say, more bland, formulaic, unoriginal, non-captivating film entities to fill the quotas.

    I am not predicting a grim fate for the superhero genre for eternity. That would be equivalent to academic treason. Instead, I am merely arguing that there will be a creative drop-off or stagnate period of growth for the genre. This will last until some super talented director and some smart producers team up and devise a way to re-capture the mysticism and magic of the genre's past. I do not pretend to know all the answers on how this transformation will occur; although, as I stated in my piece, it will certainly require a scathing self-examination.

    As always, thanks for the insightful comment JL!

  3. I would say that the chunk of superhero movies scheduled for release next summer could signal the end because it will be too much in one short burst. And will bring into doubt whether those proposed for the following year will be made.

  4. I'm with Jaccsy, this year will bring us nothing but super movies, and what's ironic is that, even though I like super heroes, I've never really loved any of the super hero movies made so far (the only one I found decent was WATCHMEN). I think that super heroes will move to TV in the future but I'm not sure how successful they will be over there.

  5. PS I love your playlist, Matty, especially Nelly and Enrique, and Edward Maya (who is from Romania) also has a new single DESSERT LOVE or something like that.

  6. @Jaccstev

    I agree. Viewers tastes for the generic superhero formula are going to ware thin. This will translate into lower than expected box office receipts, which in turn will convince studios to NOT green light any basic (reboot, sequel, adaptation, etc.), superhero film.


    I am glad you approve of the new name (I also did not like using my initials lol). Historically, I love superhero movies, especially as a kid. The problem though is the more abundant and stale they are, the less interesting and watchable they become. I hope that the superhero franchise regains its magic in the future because I am a sap for good heroic, superhuman style storytelling.

    I am glad you like the playlist. I am thinking about amending it somewhat. I want to add some techno/trance beats and some other songs. I'll check out Dessert Love, thanks for the recommendation.

  7. Your thoughts on this are so interesting, and I agree with much of it. Hornet and Thor I can't say I am that bothered about. I do look forward to Dark Knight Rises and the Superman reboot (if they finally look at the comics).
    The Spider-Man reboot really got me, as I feel there was no point in one this early on, and think that will be the major let down.

    Brillaint read this post, enjoyed it.

  8. @ Christian

    Thanks for the kind words. I am a big fan of the site you help run, TheMovies411.

    I am also confident that Dark Knight Rises will be a stellar entry into the genre. In Noland I Trust. The Superman Reboot can be hit or miss since reboots can go an inordinate number of ways—and not all good. I do have confidence in Zack Snyder though. Hopefully, he can muster the brilliance of 300 and transfer it to Superman. We shall see. My fingers are crossed.

    Your exactly right. The Spider Man 4 (reboot) is puzzling. The fact that Sam Raimi also dropped out is disconcerting and does not bode well for the franchise. I do not know how Marc Webb (I did like 500 Days of Summer) will tackle the action heavy story. I am dubious.

    Thanks again!

  9. Its great to find someone I totally agree with, look forward to reading more of your work Matt.

  10. I am very, very late to this party, but I thought I'd chime in anyway. I think that all the superhero flicks need to go in a new direction if they want to save the genre. Right now, all the films are very male-centric and stereotypical. Once they oust the conventions of damsels in distress, brooding alpha males, and violence for violence sake, we'll see a more interesting class of film. Also, women need to be brought into the fold more, not just as the heroes themselves, but as the directors, writers and producers. Hollywood has mined the male mind for all it's worth and they've hit a dead end. It's time for fresh material from the female side of things. I realize I'm standing a soapbox and shouting into the wind, but there you have it.

  11. You can never be late to my party. They're like Charlie Sheen benders with Mike Tyson serving as the wingman. The drunken revelry and hedonism never ends. But I digress.

    I'm so glad to read your well-articulated, and very compelling thoughts on the matter. Superhero films are prime examples of Hollywood's long-standing dilemma: creativity vs. corporation. Hollywood's money-making, comic book (or more broadly, source material) pandering, short attention span handling of pre-existing properties is continually disappointing. 2011's massive surge of comic book film projects indicates that Hollywood is in desperate need of a creative transformation (or alteration of sorts).

    Subverting the male-dominated control of superhero films could be an interesting start. Perhaps, an influential and extremely talented figure like Joss Whedon could spearhead the charge for more substantive women superhero roles; which in turn, could lead to a dramatic overhaul of male dominated hierarchies. Instead of men dictating which movies always get made, more women could assist in the creative and financial processes; as directors, writers and producers. I'm all for positive change. And your thoughts are well-taken.

  12. I'm so glad your parties keep going. You know I thought about your piece here as I went in to see X-Men First Class this weekend and it struck me that part of this film's brilliance lies in the fact that the script was written in part by a woman, Jane Goldman. She co-wrote Kick Ass, Stardust and The Debt with Matthew Vaughn.

    Joss Whedon works closely with some brilliant female writers and producers like Jane Espenson and Marti Noxon. I am dying to see what he does with The Avengers.

  13. Really? I feel like a rock star now. I didn't know that a woman penned much of the script. I Googled Goldman and she seems to be a regular writing partner of Vaughn's. And she's quite talented. I loved Kick Ass. It's a good move in the right direction, though it's too early too tell what kind of impact she'll have down the road.

    Joss Whedon is the man. And when it comes to giving women their proper due in Hollywood, he is the Woman's Man. I also cannot wait for The Avengers. We film geeks have a lot to look forward too.