Jodie Foster’s recent criticism of superhero movies reignited an interesting debate about the Hollywood blockbusters being pumped out at present. She indicated that this particular genre was somewhat detrimental to the industry, with studios focused more on universe-building than making pieces of thought-provoking art. Some see her words as scathing but as Guardians of the Galaxy director, James Gunn, pointed out, we can actually have the best of both worlds.
He agreed with her that superhero movie scripts need to be better, and can’t just cater to universe-building, but that doesn’t mean these kinds of movies are incapable of being thought-provoking. In his online response, he reiterated that superhero movies, amid the plethora of franchising and and heavy promotional campaigns, can be deep and meaningful too. In other words, they can have powerful, emotive narratives and look damn good as well. So when it comes to Foster’s argument, well, these films aren’t ruining cinema; they’re actually enhancing it, and here’s why:
They’re Pushing The Visual Envelope
Superhero movies are a big reason why studios have to keep moving forward and improving their storytelling techniques. In 2004, Spider-Man 2 won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, but that standard wasn’t really maintained. Instead, non-comic based movies like 2009’s Avatar and 2010’s Tron: Legacy were the films elevating the game. However, superhero movies eventually began raising the bar once again, really kicking back into gear with Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. That year, it lost the Best Visuals Oscar to Interstellar, but its worth noting is that Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past were nominated as well.
Since then, movies like Ant-Man and Thor: Ragnarok have wowed us visually, leaving fans eager for the next wave of superhero movies. There’s the cosmic drama of Avengers: Infinity War, the exploration of the microverse and possibly the multiverse in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Aquaman, which has been touted as an underwater take on Star Wars, all to come. Every one of these movies is poised to remind the industry that even if Oscars aren’t being won, this genre still keeps raising the bar, especially for burgeoning franchises like Star Wars and Ready Player One.
The Stories Are Substance, Not Just Style
Superhero films are just as much about substance as they are about style. We saw this over the years with several taking home Oscars, not just for their look (Batman, Suicide Squad) but for their story and performances. The Incredibles and Big Hero Six won Best Animated Feature Oscars, and we can’t forget Heath Ledger winning Best Supporting Actor for 2008’s The Dark Knight, which painted a very cerebral statement on humanity through the people of Gotham. Come 2017, a couple more superhero narratives emerged to show the strength of the genre.
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, believed by many to be Oscar-worthy, broke several records at the box office, which unsurprisingly led to Warner Bros. pushing forward with its awards campaign. Critics deemed it one of the most feminist films ever to hit with mainstream audiences, as the movie offered messages relevant to present-day society and women’s rights. Then there was James Mangold’s Logan, which transcended the genre as a neo-Western in a post-apocalyptic world. It wasn’t a typical X-Men tale, but one about a reluctant, pained hero who retired and wanted to wither away. In other words, we saw how deep and versatile comic book movies could be, while still honoring the source material.
They’re Growing The Entertainment Industry
Due to the undeniable popularity of superhero movies, there’s been an increased search for new platforms, especially as studios, networks and innovative content producers want to shift the movie experience to home. This expansion has led to streaming sites such as Netflix, Hulu and Freeform going after superhero properties, as seen via the likes of The Defenders and Runaways. However, it’s only a matter of time before this craving evolves from series to films, which we may well witness when Disney’s streaming service comes online.
With everyone wanting superhero content, more stories will be bought in order to make more movies. It’s not just about Marvel or DC properties, though, as independent publishers like Image Comics and BOOM! Studios (as per 2 Guns) also benefit from this. Basically, if more superhero-driven stories are desired by Hollywood, then that demand translates to more jobs to create these stories in the first place. This is a steady and important stream of growth for both the film and comic industries.
Then there’s the offline experience to consider — theme parks, musicals, merchandising, etc. — which will all continue to rise in numbers and provide jobs as long as the superhero genre keeps succeeding. What’s most important, however, is to ensure that with the quantity of movies out there, all these industries growing and so many business objectives being met, we still get high-quality movies that are works of art.
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