Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Amazing Superhero Movie Debate 3: Into Darkness


Another good CriticWire survey about a hot topic, another couple of posts in response, a bunch of tweets, and another mopping up by yours truly.

This week, in the wake of Amazing Spidey 2, Sam Adams asked the survey question, "Are there too many superhero movies?"

I was surprised by the response. I expected a good amount of poo-pooing the plebs, but instead 54% of the 26 critics surveyed said No!

 To be sure, there were loud voices on the Yes side who argued a point of view we're all familiar with: "big business" in the form of the studios is spraying cinematic diarrhea all over the walls of good taste. For example, Neil Young wrote that "so long as short-term-fixated corporate cinema targets male under-25s at the expense of all other sections of the population, their bombastic preponderance is assured and guaranteed. Excelsior!"

 While the Yes side had the clear numerical victory, there were zero respondents who wanted to defend Marvel and Co. as strongly as Young denounces them above. The closest was perhaps Richard Brody of the New Yorker, who wrote that "much of the complaining about the number of superhero movies involves critics donning their own superhero mantle and presuming to defend the supine masses (while praising those mediocre naturalistic and political dramas)."

Most Yeses shared two qualifiers. The first: while there aren't too many superhero movies, there is far too much superhero press. Because of the ravenous comic fanbase, every casting announcement and still photo release is reposted by a zillion outlets. Douglas, Rocchi, Snider, and others all made this point to different degrees.

The second is pretty intuitive: quantity is more important than quality. The Wrap's Alonso Duralde cautioned against snarking at the super, but admitted that "Directors of these movies should consider spending five fewer minutes on destroying Manhattan yet again and use that time to provide some character insight and/or intelligent dialogue." 

And Michael Pattison gets the dubious distinction of being probably the first person ever to use the word "smegma" in a CriticWire survey.

Fresh from the last survey-inspired critical dust-up, Matt Zoller Seitz took to his blog to give his perspective in the fairly-titled "Things crashing into other things"

It's a witty and forceful piece whose arguments waver between energetic (spot on criticism of where CGI isn't yet) and exhausted (the "ad-hamburger fallacy").

I'll share his central argument here: 

As long as viewers ask little of superhero films, there's no impetus for studios to encourage an auteurist vision. That's how they like it. Real artistry terrifies them. It's too volatile and uncertain. They'd rather have a mediocre sure thing than encourage filmmakers to try something truly new. Personal expression on this scale is high-stakes gambling with someone else's fortune. That's why, thirty-six years after "Superman, the Movie," we still haven't seen a range of big budget superhero films as tonally different as post-"Night of the Living Dead" zombie pictures, or Hollywood westerns released after Vietnam, when the genre was allegedly dead. What do George Romero's ghoul films, "Dead/Alive," the "Rec" series, "Shaun of the Dead," "Zombieland" and the "Days" movies have in common besides a basic situation? Almost nothing. What do "Little Big Man," "The Wild Bunch," "Blazing Saddles," "Silverado," "Unforgiven" and "Open Range" have in common besides horses and ten-gallon hats? Almost nothing. What do modern superhero movies have in common? Entirely too much. Once in a great while you get an outlier like "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." There's a reason why anybody seeking to counter gripes of superhero film sameness brings up "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass": because most superhero movies are not "Hellboy" or "Watchmen" or "Kick-Ass." They're "Thing Crashing Into Other Thing 3."

In short? "This genre is where imagination goes to drown itself."

Devin Faraci, writer at Badassdigest and author of a great piece parodying sentiments like Seitz's, chirped in on social media.


Seitz was also tweeting during this window.

The links are there for anyone who wants to catch up on the conversation but can't sift through volumes of tweets to get there. This will be helpful the more time goes by, as it's not easy to search past Twitter.

I gotta say I lean towards Team Faraci here. My reasoning is best expressed by survey respondent Ali Arikan, who wrote: "When you skew the sample size, everything starts to look like a trend."

More thoughts on this soon.

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