And The Oscar Doesn’t Go To… A Defense Against Superhero Genre Fatigue…

Posted: 01/27/2018 in Uncategorized

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My wife recently suggested I do my years’ best/top movie choices review. I opted not to as quite simply anything I would praise or recommend would not have made any list of any critic anywhere with a few notable exceptions. Instead, for any interested, I would simply like to present a brief overview of why the superhero genre has thrived since 2000 and will continue to do so.

Jodi Foster recently took a shot at the genre, decrying that it was ruining the movie going experience with bombast. Stephen Spielberg who has called it a fad for years now, and yet whose imminent release “Ready Player One” comes dangerously close to the very art form he criticizes, like Foster, has had a scarcity of hits over the past few years. I am not disrespecting either individual as each has had an incredible body of work. I am fully aware of what is presently in the theaters and have viewed some of it. Here’s the thing though…not one Oscar film this year has a re-watch-ability factor. Some inspire, most do not. The current glut of cinema hearkens more to teachable moments by times bordering on preaching. We live in a world where justice does not always prevail, where good people falter and fail. I need only turn on my television or my computer to be reminded of what surrounds us all. This being said, I don’t want to suggest such potentially enlightening fare has no worth. It serves a purpose and to many, films such as “Get Out”, “I Tonya”, “Six Billboards…” and other Oscar candidates tell tales worth telling. These however are not necessarily items we all want to see.

From a financial standpoint, especially if the name starts with M and ends with L, the superhero genre is remarkably lucrative. Themes of good versus evil, conquering one’s own fears and personal demons, choosing to sacrifice oneself for the good of others when necessary, etc, etc. are prevalent in this genre. Yes, people may or may not wear colorful costumes and have incredible, unbelievable abilities that on occasion elevate them to the level of gods among us, but at heart these films present an ideal, a world in which good will trump evil, the good guys will inevitably win though sometimes not without casualty of great personal cost.

With Logan, an amalgam of the gritty and real, along with super heroics, we get an Oscar worthy film. It is bleak, haunting and beautiful. That neither Hugh Jackman nor Patrick Stewart got a nod for best and supporting actors roles respectively illustrates the mass disconnect that permeates the part of the entertainment industry that rewards “good” films and by times acts in an almost punitive manner toward successful films outside their standard boxes. Though only nominated for best adapted screen play, the likelihood of  Logan winning is remote. Maybe its enough to be nominated….as it is at least a step forward.

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With DC’s Wonder Woman, a huge effort was made to engage fans of both her character and the justifiably annoyed masses who have felt disappointment at the last few ventures by this organization. A huge push was equally made to nominate both the film’s star Gal Gadot as well as the film itself in numerous categories. The Academy’s response was a snub on all counts. There have been various views on this recent action, with Gadot having the good grace and class to thank fans for the support but not pushing the point. While the film was quite good and Gadot unquestionably had earned her spot at a male dominated table, the film at best was simply good. No wheel was reinvented, technically the visuals were puerile and the second act faltered.

With Logan, we have an alt neo western that even the hardest of critics could not trash. The performances were Oscar worthy, the talent informing the film creatively along with the knowledge that this would be Jackman’s swan song- after near two decades playing the title character- made this something superior. Harsh, violent…and I mean violent…even if you watch with the muted visuals of the black and white version…which I recommend – you knew when you were watching this film that you were glimpsing something more.

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This was no less so with Thor – Ragnarok, which despite its fantastic array of humor, at heart was an utter destruction and rebuilding of the God of Thunder. The hand that crafted this film was an able one. Taika Waititi has a slim film making profile but he certainly won’t after this venture. While T.R. was more bombast than Logan, it had artistry of unparalleled bounds. With this run, you had epic battles, engaging characters and a stronger sci-fi element than Marvel had utilized before with this franchise. You had the mythic element with dazzling visuals particularly with scenes involving Hela (Kate Blanchett) battling Valkyrie. You had a veiled political message about rewriting the past that is particularly relevant at this time. You had the categorical recreation of a classic character, changing him from an alien King and perceived god to a humbled, maimed refugee trying to find a new home for his people. As with the previous message, this too is no less relevant to our modern times.

What makes such movies successful is the absence of an obvious pulpit. Yes, the characters are idealized but at heart where it counts they are as human as we are. What makes the genre so appealing – and this is not about to change whether on the television medium or big screen  – is that in many cases they represent a reality of how we would like things to be while giving due acknowledgement that even an idealized  version of reality can be harsh. The Punisher, Marvel/Netlfix’s last volley could easily have been a pure message of vengeance but instead evolved into a discussion on survivor’s guilt, PTSD and other topics governing our world at present . Then of course, there are films like the previous year’s Deadpool, the fourth wall breaking, brilliant, disturbed and truly entertaining yet absurd piece of cinema that transcends even the superhero genre for its level of gonzo humor and violence.

My point, ultimately is that the genre is not fading. It is evolving and presenting the viewing public with something they desire, a grand escape and fulfilling sense of being entertained. If this is a fad or “ruining the movie going experience”, I welcome both aspects happily.

I guess in a roundabout way, I did give my fav pics for 2017….I should also include the criminally under-watched and very entertaining Justice League.  By my reckoning, the superhero genre as always, presented films that were simply outstanding and well worth your time. I think it is time for the industry and its long timers to catch up.  Quoting the general of the “house of ideas”- Nuff said:)

 

 

 

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