Anthony Stokes with a response to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and directors who might be jealous of comic book movies…
We’re in the age of cinema that focuses on comic book movies and as such everybody is talking about them, even big powerhouse directors. Some, like Kenneth Branagh and Paul Thomas Anderson, speak positively of them. And why shouldn’t they, as for the most part they’ve been pretty well made movies that tell interesting stories with characters that people can love and grow attached to. Then there are the directors who seem to like to dismiss them out of hand.
At the Spirit Awards, Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy said “Independent film, the foundation and everybody here today, I think are holdouts against a tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry. We have survived and we have thrived and I think that’s true spirit.” This made me scratch my head, because it’s a ridiculous statement to say the least. What the hell does one have to do with the other? Superhero movies are big multimillion dollar movies. What do these have to do with movies that are produced outside the studio system? His wife Rene Russo played Thor’s mother in both Thor films. So why the unnecessary knock against them?
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s comments were even, worse especially given the context. I watched his movie Birdman without expectations and thought it was a cool little film that didn’t take itself too seriously, until the last minute which utterly pissed me off. It seemed like he was focused on making a good movie rather than making a real stand against superhero movies. All the characters dismissing the protagonist were critics and were pretty much the villains of the piece. Surely the notion that doing a superhero movie makes you less of an artist is asinine, right?
Here are some of Inarritu’s comments:
“I think there’s nothing wrong with being fixated on superheroes when you are 7 years old, but I think there’s a disease in not growing up.”
“I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing.”
His cowriter Alexander Dinelaris Jr went on to say:
“Those movies are so black and white. Whatever side of it you are on, Gaza is grey. Abortion is grey, and so is the death penalty. You can have a side and think that side is right, but the problem is when, whatever side you take, you’re either right or wrong. These movies tend to be myopic in their view of, this is right, this is wrong, the hero does this and the bad guys…it all comes down the manufacturing line and you know what is going to happen.”
Then Inarritu added:
“Ultimately, it’s about nothing. It’s a package, and you open the box, and there’s another box, and another, and it doesn’t lead you to the truth.”
I’ll be honest these comments infuriate me. Let’s walk through them. Inarritu suggest that enjoying comic book movies past the age of seven means you need to grow up. He then proceeds to call them simple and say they go good with popcorn. Yup, that’s the entirety of the reason I love Guardians of the Galaxy. Because it goes well with some popcorn. And how dare comic book movies aspire to greatness, whilst still being comic book movies? His Birdman co-writer claims they’re black and white and then goes and compares the moral complexity of a family film to say topics like abortion and the death penalty. Then Inarritu wraps it up by saying ” it’s nothing”. The thing you watch and enjoy is nothing. It’s fluff and you’re kind of gullible.
Now if Inarritu had mentioned some specific superhero movies I might not have a problem with these statements. Something like Green Lantern checks off every single thing they’re talking about. But you can pretty much disprove everything they say with one example, The Dark Knight, which won half as many Oscars as Birdman did. I could use Captain America: The Winter Soldier here too, but since Birdman features a Batman actor, we’ll go with The Dark Knight.
First of all, a seven year old will not understand the nuance and subtleties of The Dark Knight, nor be able to follow the story. Secondly, the entirety of The Dark Knight is about moral ambiguity. All the main characters are forced into situations by The Joker that make them question they’re morals. And even the character of Harvey Dent gets corrupted by evil. The hero becomes the bad guy. You can make this argument for lots of superhero movies. The Spider-Man trilogy, X-Men, Iron Man, etc. It feels as if these guys watched one bad superhero movie and don’t understand why people enjoy them so much.
The irony here is that without superhero movies there’d be no Birdman. Sure, there could be another metaphor, but the reason the movie was so popular was because it was topical. Furthermore, some actors do comic book movies so they can go off and get independent films financed. There are actors who star in comic book movies for a few months and then go off and make more intimate projects using their clout. There’s no Chef, a better movie than Birdman about the same subject minus the pretentiousness in my opinion, without Iron Man. No Snowpiercer without Captain America. If anything superhero movies are the biggest help to independent movies available right now, and it’s hilarious that Inarritu doesn’t see that.
I’ll be honest here, I think some directors are jealous because they’re making socially conscious movies and then a movie like The Avengers comes out and gets love from critics and audiences alike. Nightcrawler is destined to be that movie that’s super underrated and not enough people talk about, and Birdman will have a few years yet before people start saying “it was okay, but it wasn’t really that good”. But fortunately we can have these movies, and superhero movies. It doesn’t have to be either heavy drama or fun blockbuster, we can both respect and enjoy both for what they are.
Anthony Stokes is a blogger and independent filmmaker.