Here's a good blog write up on the death of the superhero movie by Ali Arikan over at Cerebral Mastication, a great film blog. Check it out. As someone who knows little to nothing about comic books, I enjoyed it thoroughly. My two cents about the death of the genre after the jump...
I agree about the "seriousness" of comic book movies these days kind of tarnishing the genre. Of course, I was a fan of the The Dark Knight, but not for the same reasons that the emo thirteen year-olds were. I would over hear conversations in the lobby about what a profound movie it was, and how "sweet" the movie was, because "it was totally like a metaphor for terrorism". I don't know, maybe I'm just getting old, but the majority of the films fans (teenagers) wanted to claim the film held up metaphors and social commentary for the audience to ponder, which the film clearly couldn't support.
However, the film is great for taking the superhero movie out of the superhero realm and moving it to an noirish setting. I am not much of a comic book guy, so when movies are really comic booky (ie required inside knowledge to know what the hell is going on), I just don't get it, but hey as long as it's aesthetically pleasing and well made (like Dick Tracy) then I'm down. But what I can't stand is the kind of superhero film that wants me to know how serious and brooding its hero is (ahem, Superman Returns), those movies just plain suck. Superman Returns may have been one of the most boring suckfests I have ever sat through, and was more of an insult to Christians (we get it, Superman is like Jesus) than Bill Maher's Religulous.
The not-so-serious tone is what I actually kind of liked about Spider-Man 3, even though the film was flawed, and way to long, the emo Peter Parker was hilarious; especially the 'strut' scene. It was an example of a film not taking itself too seriously and having a little fun, which hey, isn't that what comic books are all about? I still haven't seen Iron Man I understand that the film kind of does the same thing with being a great comic book movie; just simple fun. I mean yes, some of them try to tackle bigger ideas and themes, but like Ali talks about with X-Men do we have to actually make the film about those ideas? Can a superhero film really stand up to the same themes as a more serious, contemplative drama? I don't know, but it's what kind of turned me off of X-Men 3. The second film was a wonderfully executed action film, but the third film tried way too hard to cram way too much into less than two hours.
And maybe that's the problem these days: length. Every superhero film tries to either cram too much of a story in (seriously, there are about six different two-hour films that could be made about the X-Men members; that's excluding Wolverine) to too short of a running time (like the aforementioned X-Men films) or they try to prove their mettle by overstaying their welcome and making their films the length of a Terrence Malick or Paul Thomas Anderson picture. Maybe these directors think that if their film is as long as these serious dramas, then maybe audiences will take them seriously. Serious or not, audiences are still going to pay money to see Spidey, Superman, Batman, and Wolverine; no need to make us sit through epic lengths for us to get our fix.
Anyway, that's a lot of rambling from me. Great write up by Ali, though. The superhero film does seem to be on the decline in quality. I attribute this to an over satiated audience, who, no matter what kind of superhero film is released, they'll gladly plop down the 10 bucks to go see it. As long as there is a demand for it, there will be more good, sometimes flawed, but always overly long superhero movies like Spider-Man 3 and The Dark Knight. I just don't know which I prefer, the comic book films that are cheesy and clearly drawing upon a more classic aesthetic, ala The Phantom, Dick Tracy, The Shadow, etc., or the more 'serious' darker films like Batman Begins/The Dark Knight, Spawn, Hellboy, etc.
Both styles of comic book film clearly draw upon postmodern elements; the first group draws upon the nostalgia that Frederic Jameson so eloquently talks about in his book Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, but wait....I'm doing what those that praise The Dark Knight are doing....I'm attaching something this deep to a film like The Phantom? Seriously? Well, you can't deny that films like it use that nostalgia to create a a more clear cut comic book world, whereas the darker films like the second group I listed above like to place their characters in seedy cities with noirish art direction surrounding them; this placement allows the audience the opportunity to ponder these more serious metaphors because the characters exist in tangible and recognizable cities like Chicago and New York. By taking the characters out of this fantasy world they are trying to pull something off that is impossible, because no matter how serious they want their comic book movie to be, it's still about a guy wearing a bat suit, or about mutants who control the weather.
Okay, wow. I wasn't planning on rambling on and on about this topic that much. Hopefully what I said makes a little bit of sense, but what do you all think? Is the superhero film dying? Head over to Ali's blog and read his piece and comment. Throw your comments in here too. I'd love to hear what you all think.