The Superhero Files

---"The sabretooth Cat and the angry badger: X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

---"Green Lantern has all of the writerly interest of running one's hand through wet shallow mud in a ditch. It's like trying to get worked up about dryer lint. I did not hate Green Lantern as much as its trailer led me to think I would. In its blandness that kept reminding me of an advertisement for the Cub Scouts or a particularly toothless Superman remake, the movie doesn't merit hatred. It merits indifference that leaves me wondering about the the fundamental emptiness of the local Cineplex, the pointlessness of summer tent pole productions full of multicolored men flying around, signifying nothing." --"Studies in the Inane: 12 notes comparing a purple bottle cap with Green Lantern"

---"A poignant moment: two robots look soulfully at each other before one flies away." --"A Lot of Sturm und Drang signifying money: Iron Man 2"

---"For critics, the problem with Hollywood's superhero movies (and, perhaps, with its blockbusters in general) is that they are just fine. They are average. But they are average on purpose. They are the product of Hollywood's exquisitely designed factory of average-ness, which has evolved as the industry has transitioned from a monopoly to a competitive industry that can no longer afford to consistently value art over commerce." --Derek Thompson

---The Dark Knight Trilogy: A Retrospective

---"the cowboys of old did not labor under the same burdens as their masked and caped descendants. Those poor, misunderstood crusaders must turn big profits on a global scale and satisfy an audience hungry for the thrill of novelty and the comforts of the familiar. Is it just me, or is the strain starting to show?" --from A. O. Scott's 2008 "How Many Superheroes Does It Take to Tire a Genre?"

---an excerpt of Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

---"Reading The Amazing Spider-Man comic books as a kid, I didn’t just take in the hero’s latest amazing feat; I wrestled seriously with his celebrated tagline—'With great power comes great responsibility.' Chris Claremont’s The Uncanny X‑Men wasn’t just about an ultracool band of rebels. That series sought to grapple with the role of minorities in society—both the inner power and the outward persecution that come with that status. And so it is (I hope) with Black Panther. The questions are what motivate the action. The questions, ultimately, are more necessary than the answers." --Ta-Nehisi Coates

---Batman v Superman Supercut

---"Tim Burton related Batman to things that were happening then—the fetish underground, the transgressive elements, the Gothic elements which were coming out of music as well. There was a real heavy punk element to the whole thing and Batman very quickly adapts to that; he was a black leather figure in a cave."

---"In Snyder's methodology, the death of a character has a name: The 'All Is Lost' moment. When a movie needs to convey a sense of 'total defeat' for its protagonist and its audience, Snyder prescribes administering 'the whiff of death.' He writes, 'Stick in something, anything that involves a death . . . [because it] will resonate and make that 'All Is Lost' moment all the more poignant." --Alexander Huls

---"The original 1941 Captain America comic was mostly concerned with persuading isolationist Americans into fighting Nazis. If one examines the ideological complexities of, say, the helicopter Ride of the Valkyrie scene in Apocalypse Now, one can uncover multiple attitudes towards the war that range from the gung-ho excitement of battle, to a recognition of war's absurdities and horrors, to a depiction of how the innocent suffer, to an acknowledgement of the deceptive tactics of the enemy, and so on. Given today's military-industrial complex with its budgetary bloat, its on-going ventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, and its long history of 'collateral damage,' we should be aware of what lies behind what Captain America sells."

---"Batman Vs. Superman is where you go when you admit to yourself that you've exhausted all possibilities," says Goyer, who wrote the screenplays for Blade and its two sequels. "It's like Frankenstein meets Wolfman or Freddy Vs. Jason. It's somewhat of an admission that this franchise is on its last gasp." --James Greenberg

---"One of the main reasons I did Kick-Ass was I was just like, you know, the comic movies, the superhero films I’ve been watching, the superheroes are old! You know, Batman is from the ‘30s, and Superman ‘30s, and Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, they are from the ‘60s, watched them in the ‘80s. And I just thought, 'Gosh. Where is our modern-day superhero film? Where is our sort of post-modern look at all the movies that we all love?' I just felt too many of these films were regurgitating the same idea, so they are just not relevant to modern life in any shape or form. So I wanted to make a movie that I think kids are going to relate to."  --Matthew Vaughn

---"The problem isn't that the movies are product—most movies are product, and always have been—but that they can't be bothered to pretend they're not product. That's the difference between popular art and forgettable mass-produced entertainment: the mass-produced entertainment flaunts its product-ness, then expects us to praise even minor evidence of idiosyncrasy as proof that we are not, in fact, collectively spending billions on product. The marketplace rewards each new superhero movie with a reflexive paroxysm of spending, guaranteeing each $200 million tentpole a boffo US opening that follows a boffo international opening (the new release pattern flips the old one). It's an entertainment factory in which the audience is both consumer and product. Its purpose is not just to please consumers but to condition and create them." --Matt Zoller Seitz

---"I was inclined to dislike Man of Steel in advance. With all of its product placements (Sears, Ihop, Nikon), its 100+ promotional tie-ins, its air of corporate cooptation of our collective summer attention span, Superman's earnest, square pedigree, the silly red robe, the red booties, and the thought of film executives at Warner Brothers perspiring over their 225 million dollar investment in a crowded blockbuster season, Man of Steel makes for an obvious target of ridicule.

But, then again, I like many of the actors involved."

---"As part of his Dark Elf skullduggery, Malekith stabs Algrim with a dagger and then sticks a red Aether lava rock in the wound. This procedure causes Algrim to writhe and turn into molten lava with super powers. Wearing a rhino/Minotaur/bull mask on his head for dramatic effect, Algrim then frees the enemy warriors from their dungeon in the depths of Asgard, thus wreaking havoc on King Odin (a perpetually bemused Anthony Hopkins with a gold eye patch) and his warrior God kingdom. It's always something." --"Define worse": 7 notes on Thor: The Dark World and its villainous elves

---"How many of this year's blockbuster wannabes will devolve to two swollen muscle-bound color-coded figures duking it out WWF-style amidst a great incoherent splash of CGI lighting as great cities crash, burn, and die in the distance?"

---"Iron Man 3 makes most sense if one thinks of it not as a movie, but as the skillful marketing of a brand. Robert Downey Jr. lends his expertise as an actor to provide a mildly subversive human face to this product line, and in many ways his performance in the movie (as well as his equally important Comic-Con appearances, worldwide promotional tours, etc.) resembles that of a politician satisfying the demands of his constituents, or a film executive making a presentation to his stockholders."

---Captain America: The Winter Soldier main-on-end titles

---"Many of you liked The Avengers: Age of Ultron, didn't you? How many of you thought it was better than Casablanca or Citizen Kane? [the students didn't want to generalize that way]. Okay, let's start with Citizen Kane."

[8 out of 10 students liked it better than Citizen Kane]

---"The purpose of a movie in the New Abnormal is to establish a sequel and then a franchise. To get there, studios are looking for pre-awareness — which means starting with a superhero or comic hero or an established IP. That’s an intellectual property like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, what we used to call a book. Something people have already heard of and will be excited about just because the movie exists. Movies based on an original idea, starting from scratch, are incredibly hard to market. You have to open them in America first and buy a lot of television time. Internationally, it’s completely impossible. An original idea — a drama, or a romantic comedy — can’t be sequelized. It’s a one-off. Now, a great script that’s execution-dependent can still get made by what I call the 'Mount Olympians,' by the five or so directors on the A list. Or they can get made as 'tadpoles.' But they are not commissioned any more. And that’s one of the saddest differences between the Old Abnormal and the New." --Lynda Obst

---"the changing bodies of Superman, Batman, and other superheroes of the DC and Marvel universes illuminate the ways the ideal male physique has evolved in American pop culture over the decades." --Maria Teresa Hart

--The Evolution of BatmanSuperman and Spiderman in Cinema

---"Penetrate a secret bunker, handily discover a secret organization, dodge the fireball of a rocket attack from multiple jets, learn that a major figure that we thought was good is secretly bad and mean, evade machine gun fire, fake a death, resurrect an unconscionable amount of characters from the previous film (otherwise you'd have to invent new ones), vaguely flirt with Black Widow (who takes an interest out of contractual obligations), make a jokey reference to Iron Man, hook the shield to the back of one's jacket, determine once again to save the free world from familiar enemies, make laconic remarks with humorous flying sidekick, jump off of buildings and cargo jets, and fight the masked enemy that has some secret connection to your backstory." --"Nostalgia in the Smithsonian Exhibit: Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

---Dark Knight links

---"I think that it is a different climate today. I do not think Oliver Stone gets JFK made today. Unless they can make JFK fly. If they can’t make Malcolm X fly, with tights and a cape, it’s not happening. It is a whole different ball game. There was a mind-set back then where studios were satisfied to get a mild hit and were happy about it; it helped them build their catalogues. But people want films to make a billion dollars now, and they will spend $300 million to make that billion. They are just playing for high stakes, and if it is not for high stakes, they figure it is not worth their while." --Spike Lee

---Art of the Title considers Deadpool

---"In his review of X-Men, Roger Ebert begins with an evocation of the mythological gods of Ancient Greece, and ends with a plea to die hard comic book fans, whom he wishes would 'linger in the lobby after each screening to answer questions.' Sixteen years later, viewed from a cinematic present overrun by the cape and cowl, Ebert’s words read as both prescient and portentous. The rise of the superhero blockbuster, beginning in earnest with the release of Spider-Man, in 2002, is comparably bifold, driven by two dissimilar but potent cultural forces: a civilization’s ancient, collective need for a self-defining myth, and the thoroughly modern drive to commodify that desire. Superheroes have become the contemporary American equivalent of Greek gods, mythic characters who embody the populace’s loftiest hopes, its deepest insecurities and flaws. Between 2016 and 2020, an estimated 63 comic book adaptations will receive a major theatrical release, with scores more scheduled to take the form of TV shows, videogames, and every saleable medium in-between. The public’s appetite for these properties appears blind and bottomless, its stomach willing to rupture long before it’s sated. If American culture is indeed in a state of decline, these are the stories built to survive its demise." --Carmen Petaccio


DeadSpiderEye said…
Some entertaining views, I'm wondering quite how Derek forms that impression of a bygone creative idyll though. Understanding super-heroes is tough business I suppose, there must be a few wtf moments for those not inculcated into the conventions. That prospect puts me in mind of the audition scene in Mystery Men, which had me on the floor laughing. I suppose the first mistake is thinking of the super-hero scene exclusively as a genre, it is a genre but it's also a template, an idiom for dramatic and thematic expression. Someone told me or I read it somewhere, that most classical Japanese drama came through the Bunraku tradition. I've no idea how true that is but as an idea, it's quite a useful analogue to apply in this instance.

Super-heroes rose to prominence within the comic medium as means to circumvent, or acquiesce if you like, to censorship. Before 1954 comic artists and writers were tackling topics more grounded in reality, drugs, prostitution, political extremism. The instance exploited so salaciously by that charlatan Fredric Wertham, the woman apparently being stabbed in the eye with a needle, is a reasonable example. Prior to that, super-heros were in steady decline from there heyday in the 30's and 40's, during which time, they represented an ideal in the face of corruption and the reality of war.

So what's the commonality between those two periods, the first, when super-heroes represented a retreat from reality and the second, when reality became off limits for the medium? The real world of course. Why should that be relevant today? Read the papers, watch the news, what's missing tells you as much as what they let you see.

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