The superhero genre is here for good. Even for the greater good, one might argue.
The latest Superman movie, Man of Steel, is out in theatres. This 3D IMAX reboot has, in my opinion, the best possible parents. Christopher Nolan, creator of The Dark Knight, and Zack Snyder, who helmed the fanboy-faithful 300 and Watchmen. The movie, while undeniably spectacular, has had to contend with a few legitimate points of criticism — among them metal overdose, not enough spark between Kal El and Lois Lane. However, that isn’t too surprising. The purpose of this film is an antidote to the disappointing Superman Returns. So go watch Man of Steel, and get on my side.
A friend of mine, ok, Nandita Jayaraj, sent me an article from the Guardian – this article. She pulled me into the trap by telling me it was an interesting alternative opinion. And it was too, right up to the point where the author dips into criminal generalisation and ditches good taste so he can rant about a whole genre. There’s never a flamethrower around when you need one.
It isn’t too much of a challenge to tell one genre apart from another. Even simpler is to tell a good movie from a bad one. The author of the piece had trouble on both counts. For instance, Spiderman 3 is not a good movie. And Avengers, is. When you mix them up, you shouldn’t write about film.
There are only two genres that fully express the scope of technology in film — fantasy and, ironically, history. Even the latter is somewhat limited by existing records of events. Fantasy, on the other hand, gives the average movie-goer the spectacle he went to the theatre for in the first place.
This is a good thing, Joe — from here on, ‘Joe’ is all of you that don’t like superhero movies. A movie like Terence Malik’s transcendental Tree of Life wouldn’t be the same without the advances in technology that fantasy/superhero movies spurred. To dwell on the big picture a little more, ‘dissing the money-spinners and franchises is like putting down sports and entertainment news. Considering how connected each sphere of news is to the other, it would be pointless and terribly myopic to put one above the other.
We all have preferences. And the thing about preference is that there is no ‘because’ about it. You like something because you like something. You detest something because, well, just because. Pulling at random justification for dislike is a sneaky thing to do. It’s like saying something like “What about the children in Somalia?” when your friend not a moment ago spooned a square inch of cheesecake into his delighted gullet. Typically, you would’ve finished your slice by then.
If you’re looking for a movie that is brilliant in technique, infant-friendly decibel levels, with a storyline completely devoid of misogyny, steeped in realism, with subtle nuances that unravel layer after layer of human nature — oh, look at you. You’re asleep already.
I watched Man of Steel with my wife and some friends. It didn’t work as well as I hoped it would. The wife, who hates the genre and expresses it at every appropriate opportunity, thought there was “too much flying around.” I would’ve pointed out that it was a Superman movie and flying was sort of the main course, but she had a point. If you ask me why the movie didn’t work for me, I can tell you in terms of script, CGI, performances and if I had to get really sublime, about the feel of the movie and what I’d expected, in terms of the existing legend, as well as what Snyder and Nolan have delivered in the past. What I won’t do is to judge a movie based on its impact on social conscience.
What I definitely, absolutely, will not do, is to trash a genre based on a movie. Or compare movies of different genres.
There are movies that hold up a mirror to the audience, or effectively change the predilections of millions, in under three hours and on a shoestring budget. And there are movies that stretch human imagination and push impossible farther away, for $200 million. But you insisted on pitting Adaminte Makan Abu against Man of Steel…you can fill in the adjective you want to. I got nothing.
Growing up. And not
Despite the shortcomings of Man of Steel, I am encouraged by the superhero trend. I am encouraged by the strong criticism against it, just as I was thrilled by the praise The Dark Knight got. This genre has grown up. It’s not about PG-13 comic books and special effects alone anymore.
The men and women who make superhero movies are diehard fans first. And as they grew up, their favourite characters did too. So when they translate these legends into cinema, the effect is a pioneering age of epics on screen. There’s no going back, you see. You can’t do Green Lantern the way you did, because we all saw what was possible with Ironman.
It’s the best of both worlds, Joe. You don’t need to feel like you’re going to a kids’ movie anymore. And when you put on those 3D glasses or look up at that IMAX screen, you can let your jaw drop all the way to the floor. It really is spectacular. I mean, sexagenarians whooped with delight when the Ironman suit wrapped itself around Pepper Pots, took her away from danger, and when called back with a pre-determined gesture transmitted through sensors implanted in Tony Stark’s forearm, disassembles itself and zooms back to cover Stark’s battle-scarred body.
Joe, it’s true. You don’t have to grow up and talk like a bore.
(Anand Venkateswaran is fascinated with people and with words. So he writes about people. Even when he's writing about food, film or formaldehyde. Fatten his ego or spit in his punch, at firstname.lastname@example.org)