It’s very easy to criticise comic-book movies – not only easy, but popular. Not as popular as the movies themselves, but it’s still a pretty good way to rack up soc-med likes and gain you a reputation as a thoughtful critic. After all, Martin Scorsese himself said superhero flicks are “not cinema”! And how could Marty be wrong about anything to do with movies?
Well, I am here, in my capacity as a loudmouthed ignoramus, to say that this time, he is.
This isn’t an argument in favour of comic-book movies taking over the whole world. The market is saturated with Marvel and DC right now, and that’s not ideal. A pull-back in the sheer volume of comic adaptations would be no bad thing. But to dismiss them, as so many do, as trash, pap, empty fast-food movies with nothing to offer but exploitation of a gullible public for the enrichment of greedy corporations? No. No, that will not stand.
Of course, I understand why people are down on these films. The idea of a superhero is inherently pretty silly. They’re magic people who zip around in ludicrous costumes having big fights with other magic people. In order to enjoy a superhero film, you have to sit back, relax and accept that this is the universe you’re enveloping yourself in.
Some people don’t like doing this, because to them, films are supposed to be realistic. They’re supposed to depict Real People with Real Struggles encountering Real Issues. The Serious Cinephiles will accept the odd fantasy or sci-fi film, but only if it’s clearly allegorical: only if the filmmaker is Saying Something. Comic-book movies, the wisdom goes, do not Say Something, and therefore should be shunned.
Well, to hell with that. Many millions of people around the world love comic-book movies. In fact, they don’t just love them – comic-book movies are important to millions of people because, despite the ludicrous costumes and extravagant CGI budgets, they do what movies have always done, and what movies – before worrying about anything else – are supposed to do: they tell stories.
Some of the stories are kind of lame. What do you expect? Not every Western is The Searchers. Not every gangster flick is The Godfather. Not every rom com is Some Like It Hot. Some movies, of every genre, suck. But the comic-book genre has as many non-suckers as any other. Rollicking good stories, interesting characters, cracking dialogue, thrilling action. In the best comic-book films, the heroes are indeed Real People. People with extraordinary lifestyles, for sure, but people as real as fictional characters can be, who hope and fear and love and hate and who we get to know through their adventures in those silly costumes, fighting those magic guys.
And there’s the key: we get to know them. Not all comic movie fans are idiots. They aren’t just addicted to loud noises and bright colours. They love the heroes and villains and they want to know them better. That’s not just a fluke, or marketing. That’s skilled artists – and remember: the writers, directors, cast and crew of superhero movies all work in non-superhero movies too – applying their skills to making people care about what they make.
Which they do. And they are no more foolish for caring than fans of any other genre. Some won’t ever like comic-book films, and that’s fine: having stories wrapped in cape-and-tights trappings isn’t for everyone. But empty? Worthless? “Not cinema”? Nope. You can’t tell me that Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn’t a cracking espionage adventure, or that Thor: Ragnarok isn’t one of the best comedies of the past decade, or that The Dark Knight isn’t simply one of the greatest crime dramas ever. You can’t tell me that Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man, or Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool, aren’t displaying the actor’s art at a wonderfully high level. At their best, superheroes make for brilliant cinema. If you don’t get that – well, it’s your loss.