Friday, April 27, 2012
The Most Seminal Superhero Films of All-Time
Superman: The Movie is a seminal superhero film, because it was the first ever superhero film to treat the source material with the respect that it deserved, and managed to appeal not just to children, but to adults as well. What director Richard Donner and actor Christopher Reeve did with this film, was they treated the character of Superman as an emotionally conflicted man who happened to be from outer space. They didn't make jokes at the character's expense like Adam West did, but if they made jokes it was simply because the characters were funny (i.e. all of the great banter between Lois and Clark or the arguing between Lex and Otis). As well, they made it dramatic. They weren't doing little wink-winks to the camera when the nukes were launched in the climax of the film, they took it seriously. They presented it as drama. When Lois Lane dies at the end of the film and Superman cries over her lifeless body, that is something you would have never seen George Reeves or Adam West ever do. With this greater attention to drama and human emotion, Superman: The Movie is the first seminal superhero film, because it bridged the gap between kids' entertainment and adult entertainment, however it was still viewed as just that, entertainment.
Moving on to 1989 and the second of the seminal superhero films, Tim Burton's Batman. Batman was a seminal superhero film, because if Superman: The Movie proved there were adults willing to take superheroes seriously on the big screen, then Batman reaped all of the benefits. In so many ways, Batman was not a movie made for children, it was dark and very adult from the very first frames of the film showing prostitutes and gangsters walking the streets of Gotham. The film was taken serious from the very beginning, a large part thanks to the appearance of critically successful actor Jack Nicholson as the Joker. However, even though the film picked up the ball where Superman left it, Batman did not go beyond being pure entertainment, that still took many more years.
The fourth most seminal superhero film would have to be another Batman flick, Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, released in 2005. In so many ways, Batman Begins is not only one of the most seminal superhero movies of all-time, it also just happens to be one of the more seminal blockbusters of the past decade as well. What Batman Begins did was it was the first real superhero film that I can remember to ever get serious consideration from many pundits to be up for an Academy Award. Batman Begins was a gripping drama first, and an action epic second. In some ways, Batman Begins was one of the first superhero films to cross over from being pure entertainment to being critically successful to the point that it wound up on many critics' best films of the year lists. That is a rare feat, that many superhero movies before had not achieved. While some other superhero flicks, like X-2 and Spider-Man 2 were equally loved by critics and were great at the drama first, action second mantra, where Batman Begins earns a spot and not those other films, is that it also revolutionized the way so many blockbusters were made after the fact. Batman Begins was a big budget action film that utilized a non-linear narrative, that was as focused on flashbacks as it was on the present day story. Before Batman Begins, blockbusters had the occasional flashback, but none before it had ever really been 1/3 flashback. The focus on disrupting the traditional flow of the three-act structure separated Batman Begins from not just any other superhero film, but it also separated it from other blockbusters, as well, making people take notice to what Christopher Nolan was doing, and now there's a glut of non-linear blockbusters every year.