Enough of These Comic Book Hero Movies -- It's an Endless Parade of Sexist, Semi-Fascist Bores
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Twenty years ago, after appearing in two phenomenally successful, visually opulent and generally brilliant Batman movies, Michael Keatondecided he didn't want to make any more Caped Crusader films. So he walked away. It was a disastrous move that effectively ended Keaton's career as a leading man, the actor learning the hard way that the only unforgivable crime in Hollywood is to walk away from a phenomenally successful franchise.
Today's superhero films have not yet reached the point where they flat-out suck. But they are getting there. Iron Man 2 was a huge disappointment, The Avengers (Iron Man 2½) an aimless hodgepodge and The Dark Knight Rises a pretentious, incoherent mess. And now this week we have yet another Superman movie, Man of Steel. Those of us who would like to see an end – or at least an extended pause – to the hegemony of superhero films would be very pleased if Robert Downey Jr, Christian Bale and the nebbish who plays Captain America would make a similarly audacious artistic decision and walk away.The next two Batman films starred Val Kilmerand George Clooney. Batman Forever was not very good and Batman & Robin was terrible. And for the next few years Batman dropped out of the global conversation. This was good because it gave society a breather. The Dark Knight thing was played out: the excitement moviegoers felt when Tim Burton made the first Batman film had evaporated under the tutelage of Joel Schumacher. In retrospect, Keaton's catastrophic decision to walk away now seems heroic, because he was the last actor to go through a script, take a cold, hard look at the superhero genre and say: "Enough. These films are starting to suck."
As Steven Soderbergh recently complained, these films are sucking the life out of motion pictures, diverting virtually all of the industry's resources into insanely expensive "tentpole" films that supposedly prop up other projects. It is unlikely that any of these actors will make such a courageous decision as Keaton, though: they saw what happened to him, they saw how Sean Connery's career stalled when he quit 007. But it's still okay to dream, isn't it?
This thing is starting to get old. There are too many superhero films: their storylines are all beginning to run together. It is a genre dominated by the thoroughly unoriginal notion that you cannot trust the government. Even when you can trust the government, you cannot trust all of it. And even the branches you can trust aren't much help, because they are incompetent. To save humanity, one must rely on a bootstrap operation headed by a dedicated go-getter and self-starter. At heart, all superheroes are Republicans.
In superhero movies, women are almost always accessories. This is true even if they themselves are superheroines. The men do the heavy lifting; the women serve an ornamental function. This is why we are all the way up to Iron Man 3 and Batman 7, but have not seen a Supergirl film since 1984, or a Wonder Woman film ever (supposedly, it is coming this year). The 12-year-old boys for whom superhero movies are made are not interested in women. They may not even be interested in girls. They are certainly not interested in girls with superpowers.
Superhero films increasingly rely on a structure where the hero thinks he is fighting one villain when he is actually fighting another. In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman thinks he is up against the crypto-fascist Bane, when he is actually locked in a deadly struggle with a mysterious fellow philanthropist played by Marion Cotillard. In Iron Man 3, the hero believes he is going toe-to-toe with a terrorist called the Mandarin, when the villain is actually a mad scientist who bears a striking resemblance to the dead but not forgotten US rock star Warren Zevon.