Lately I’ve been listening to a few new (to me) podcasts on movies. One of the best is Linoleum Knife, which features two guys I’m really enjoying, Dave and Alonso. I’m a couple of weeks behind, but this morning I was listening to their July 19 podcast in which they discussed, among other films, Ant-Man. I was eager to hear what they had to say, since I just saw Ant-Man a few days ago.
I respect these guys and agree with a lot of what they said about Ant-Man in particular and superhero movies in general, but I also want to respectfully disagree on a few points (although I think I agree with them much more than I disagree).
For the past few years, superhero movies have been everywhere. Are they out of control? Dave and Alonso seem to think so and I believe I agree with them. Now before my comic book friends start throwing things at me (Remember, I write and podcast about comics, too…), let’s look at some numbers. According to box office statistics for 2014, six of the 20 top-grossing films at American theaters were superhero and/or comic book-based movies. I think it’s safe to predict that the number for 2015 will be even higher. (Nine other films in the top 20 money-makers were sequels, remakes or other franchise films not of the superhero variety, but that’s another discussion for another time.) Just take a look at the projected Marvel movie timeline. These films aren’t going away anytime soon.
Are these films any good? Well, yeah, some of them are. Some of them aren’t. Most people haven’t seen the new Fantastic Four movie yet, but all indications point to a real stinker. By and large, these are entertaining, action/adventure films, mostly well-produced, designed to make a lot of money. I think they succeed on all those levels. I also think that Lays Potato Chips are well-produced, well-marketed, and taste great; I just don’t need to eat too many of them. And six out of every ten stores don’t need to be potato-chip stores, either, but that’s what we’re getting.
I read a lot: fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels… I like Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, J.R.R. Tolkien, Jeffrey Ford, Kelly Link, Rex Stout and Flannery O’Connor. I like superhero titles, newspaper comic strips from the 1940s, and everything from Will Eisner to Matt Kindt to Ed Brubaker to the indy-est of indy creators. I watch a lot of movies. Give me Citizen Kane and Indiana Jones, give me David Lynch and Howard Hawks, give me Roger Corman and Paul Thomas Anderson.
I like variety and I expect to be given lots of choices. I don’t get many choices at the movie theaters. Yeah, that variety is out there, but it’s usually not at your local multiplex. You’ve gotta stream it, subscribe to it, buy it or find the vanishing independent theater (or festival), but those films are out there.
The current state of movies (like most everything else in this world) is the current state of movies because that’s how most people want it. Until people’s tastes change, the movies are not going to change. I can still get my variety, I just have to work harder to get it.
Yet (and this is a big “yet”) part of me celebrates the superhero movie explosion. I can’t remember a time as a kid when I didn’t read comics. My friends and I read them, traded them, talked about them, and obsessed over them. We longed for superhero movies when I grew up in the 1970s, even bad ones! Those movies were few and far between. We had Batman in 1966, Superman in 1978 and not an awful lot in between. Mostly we had to settle for TV shows like Shazam! (1974-77) and Wonder Woman (1975-79), which were fine, but we wanted more.
Now we have more and I’ll admit it; it’s exciting. Comic book lovers finally have something to celebrate. We’ve been denied for so many years, but now our voices have been heard. Unfortunately, some of our voices are heard too often and too loudly, mostly at the movie theater. As Dave and Alonso mentioned on their podcast, just try and see a superhero movie without fans screaming with glee at every little Marvel Universe reference onscreen. (When I saw Ant-Man, one guy in the theater was explaining the entire history of Marvel Comics to his unenlightened friend.) Fans are talking, taking pictures, texting, even recording videos while in the theaters. Sure, these types of shenanigans happen during other films as well, but it seems to escalate during the superhero movies. As Dave and Alonso also mentioned on their show, superhero movies have become like a tidal wave. You can’t fight a tidal wave; you just can’t. All you can do is let it wash over you, hope you survive it, and get back in the water.
Much of this negativity translates into scathing reviews from critics, some of them major critics. That’s fine; everyone has their opinion, but judge a film for what it is. Don’t expect Guardians of the Galaxy to be Citizen Kane and don’t try to find an examination of Kierkegaard’s theory of the excluded middle in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (Actually, on second thought, you might just find it there…)
All this to say that while I like the abundance of superhero movies, I also don’t like it. It’s a blessing and a curse and for right now, it seems you can’t have one without the other. But like any other aspect of the arts, I can always make choices. At least for now…
Your thoughts? Please share.