Recently, I’ve been seeing some articles from acclaimed directors bashing on superhero movies. ‘Superhero movies are ruining cinema’, ‘All superhero movies are bad’, ‘The superhero genre is cheap’ etc. etc. and quite frankly, this isn’t true.
I’m a big fan of superhero movies (hence why I bought my No Way Home tickets two weeks in advance), but as a film student myself I can clearly see why they aren’t exactly winning any Oscars anytime soon. Of course, this is a generalization and there are several different ways to tackle the superhero genre in less traditional ways, such as Watchmen, Hancock, Logan and the Kickass series. However, going off the stereotypical view of superhero movies, they serve one very clear purpose: to entertain.
And that’s perfectly fine.
Let me explain - which, honestly, I shouldn’t have to. Not everything is art and that is perfectly fine. Some people make films to help society reflect on itself or explain the things that words and metaphors simply cannot do. Other people make films for people to laugh at, and have no deeper meaning beneath the surface. Just like one artist may use blue in a painting to represent the melancholy and depression of everyday life, another might use it simply because it’s a pretty color. The false conception that everything that doesn’t make a particularly important statement or isn’t groundbreaking and philosophical is somehow lesser than others is an extremely basic view of the world of media.
The popularity of superhero movies in the modern day is not due to audiences becoming duller or less appreciative of art. It’s simply due to these movies being fun and exciting! I watched the new Spiderman movie in theatres because it made me happy, not because I’m expecting to see an artful cinematic masterpiece. I wasn’t looking to get anything extraordinarily artistic from this film, and that didn’t make it any less valid than others. Yes, I do love watching great films that explore the boundaries and conventions of cinema and create something marvelous, but I can also appreciate the films that don’t do that.
The Problem with This Outlook
I remember feeling sort of bad, and quite insecure about my interests the first time I read one of these superhero bashing articles. Am I becoming just any generic audience member? Have I lost my taste in good films? Am I doing something wrong? I questioned myself for a while, before realizing that simply liking a genre of films (or disliking one) didn’t make me better or less than anyone else around me. After all, what do you really expect when you go to watch the newest Marvel or DC movie in theatres? If you’re watching Avengers: Endgame and looking for the next Citizen Kane, you’re probably in the wrong place. And once again, this does not take away any value from either movie. They accomplish the goals their filmmakers set out to achieve in different ways, and that’s what makes them memorable. If a superhero film is artistic, great! If it isn’t, that’s okay too! As long as it is entertaining and well made, I will be happy.
As a society, we tend to look down on others for simply enjoying themselves. Watching an action movie makes you less sophisticated and out of touch than people who enjoy ‘real’ cinema. Reading fanfiction on Ao3 makes you weird and nerdy, unlike reading ‘real’ (aka traditionally published) books. Laughing at an outdated meme makes you out of touch and cringy compared to the people who are caught up with recent trends. Basically, doing the things that you find simple joy and entertainment in, paint you in a bad light.
I’d like to reiterate that none of these things are actually bad. The fact is that we live in a society that has always praised the outstanding, and shunned the masses, while simultaneously uplifting the masses and shunning the unique. It’s a hard system to navigate, and even harder to explain, but in essence, our interests can both be looked down upon for deviating too far from the norm (as in the case with fan fiction) or remaining firmly invested in it (as in the case with mainstream media).
To play devil’s advocate, and to be perfectly honest, I can understand some of the concern from these directors. Living in a capitalistic society means that a lot of our entertainment nowadays is made for profit, rather than for passion or love of the arts, and this is especially true in the film industry. We get a lot of rushed or cheaply made works that are more focused on generating as much income as possible, rather than telling a compelling story, and that is sad, but this is simply not the entirety of the film industry. To write off an entire genre as senseless and derivative is not only silly, but just plain unfair. Even if it were true, it still doesn’t mean that there is no substance or value to it.
Art is subjective, and it can be argued that any film can have some sort of artistic merit to it, but in my general opinion, this is not true of everything (trust me, I watch Riverdale). However, I believe that there is some amount of passion that goes into every artwork out there, and this is always important to consider before we bash any particular mediums or genres. This is only according to my definition of art, and depending on what yours is, you might think differently.
Personally, from someone who is entering the world of film analysis and criticism, it can be really easy to absorb yourself in the details of filmmaking and start analyzing shots or symbols while you watch movies. Once you start learning about the behind the scenes tips and tricks that make the movie work, you begin to see films as several moving parts rather than as a whole, and this really takes away from the enjoyability of the average film. But I like to step back from all this, let my mind relax and enjoy some of these so-called ‘mindless’ films, because nothing good can come from constantly looking for perfection in every piece of media, when it is a rarity to find. Complaining about a superhero movie not being artful enough for you is like asking why aren’t all the lamp posts on your street 100ft tall. The real question is, why would they need to be?
This is in no way saying that superhero movies can’t be artful, poetic and impactful, and this goes for every genre and medium out there, but the simple fact is that not all art will live up to this standard. Whether or not their creators put passion and heart into them or intended to make something artful, some films are just fun to watch. And that is perfectly fine.
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgemental and more accepting place for people everywhere.