We Love… Superheroes

batman-signalcopy1

 Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without them.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

 

We Love…

Superheroes

 

 

Batman – Ciara O’Brien

Darkman – Darragh John McCabe

The Hulk – David Neary

Spider-Man – Daire Walsh

Superman – Glenn Caldecott

Thor – Rory Cashin

Watchmen – Anthony Assad

Wolverine – Tony McViker

Wonder Woman – Carmen Bryce

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We Love… Superheroes: Batman

 batman signalcopy(1)

  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

 

We Love…

Superheroes

Batman

‘… his only real super- power is his dedication to his self-created

ideologies …’

Ciara O’Brien

 image

 

Superheroes are undoubtedly the most enduring of movie figures and recent years have seen them explode onto the silver screen with renewed vigor. With the recent releases of Man of Steel and Wolverine’s latest offering it seems their 15 minutes is showing no signs of slowing down.

 

Of all superheroes, there is one who always sticks out, not least because of his knowledge of the fashion faux pas that is underwear as outerwear.  Batman, or Bruce Wayne, the millionaire playboy with a past and an unshakeable belief in justice. An outsider in his lack of superhuman powers that should make him inferior but somehow doesn’t. Although let’s face it, Ant-Man’s powers are probably not ideal and make Spiderman feel strangely lucky about his own insect-like status.

 

Despite his seemingly vapid alter ego, Bruce Wayne spent his youth travelling and training himself for his future having sworn an oath to rid the streets of Gotham City of evil and crime. This is what sets the figure of Batman apart; his only real super- power is his dedication to his self-created ideologies. Despite the varying stages of ridiculousness the character has evolved through, the idea of a hard-working vigilante remains the focal point.

 

Batman is the epitome of the outsider, positioning himself outside of the realm of superheroes by being a nighttime vigilante, and positioning himself outside the realm of the public by coming across as a dim-witted millionaire playboy. It is the manner in which he exists on the periphery, which has appealed to children and adults alike for over 60 years and looks set to continue that appeal for a very long time. Batman exists as both the anti-hero and the anti-superhero but somehow perseveres as a firm favourite.

 

Superheroes are unlike other movie characters in that they persevere, Batman has been imagined and re-imagined countless times in various guises and yet somehow as an audience we don’t feel like we have been cheated when we see a new story. Regardless of how many times he emerges from the shadows, there will always be a crowd waiting in the cinema.

 

Batman is in good shape for a character who originally appeared in Detective Comics in 1939, and with the announcement that the Batman figure to appear in the upcoming Justice League movie will be an entirely new imagining than Christopher Nolan’s, it is clear that even filmmakers have accepted that Batman is a figure that audience don’t tire of. Public interest in the character of Batman perseveres regardless of how many people we see don the infamous cape.

 

Regardless of how many interpretations of the same character we see, we still care. We have been taken through the camp Batman of the 1960s, George Clooney’s nip-slips and the dark lisping broodiness of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, yet we will still queue to see the next. Who can say they have survived so many re-inventions unscathed?

 

Sit down, Madonna; we aren’t talking about you right now.

 

Ciara O’Brien

Stay tuned. Next time on ‘We Love… Superheroes’ – Glenn Caldecott on Superman

Check out the all the Superheroes we love…

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Batman Season at Screen Cinema

Kapow! Blang! Thunk! Whak! Hold onto to your capes bat fiends. In anticipation of the eagerly awaited Dark Knight Rises, due out this summer, the Screen Cinema is giving Batman fans the opportunity to come out of their bat caves and view a whole season of the greatest and silliest Batman films on the big screen.

We will be taking you through Tim Burton’ dark and delerious Batman and Batman Returns, to Joel Schumacher’s homage to the campier Adam West days with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. While Christopher Nolan’s genre-bending juggernauts Batman Begins and The Dark Knight will be screened.

This will be an action-packed, rollicking ride through the back catalogue of one of the world’s greatest super heroes. Don’t dare miss it.

Batman May 7th

Batman Returns May 9th

Batman Forever May 14th

Batman & Robin May 16th

Batman Begins May 21st

The Dark Knight May 23rd

Tickets are on sale now. Usual ticket prices apply, a 10% discount  season pass  is available in the the Screen cinema box office only.

For more information see www.screencinema.ie

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Sounding Off: A Response to ‘Superhero Movies – no longer films for our times’

 

Paul Counter responds to Paul Lynch‘s insistence that  superhero movies are no longer films for our times featured in Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

Last month’s Film Ireland carried a cover showcasing the Death of a Superhero, and a back page proclaiming it. After years of horrible box-office domination the superheroes were finally about to succumb to their kryptonite – in these complex times, cinema audiences would demand more from their heroes and superheroes would simply be outgrown.

The aspiring scriptwriter in me is yelling just to nod and look intelligent. It really is. I’d love to work with some of the people on this forum in the future. Why am I sticking my head above the parapet and defending these awful films?

The comic book fan won’t lie down though. The main reason he can’t sit still is not to convince you superhero films are high art, or even better than half good. There have been many superhero films so bad they should be wiped from existence. It’s because super hero films really aren’t about to die. They are obviously making a fortune. And it’s because having spent many years with the guilty secret of admiring men in tights who can summon thunder, I’d like to understand why now so many other people pay for a cinema ticket to do so. And it’s because if we’re serious about making films in Ireland with a real commercial appeal, as James Hickey says, then we should try to honestly assess why these films make huge, huge money each summer rather than exaggerating rumours of their demise.

The thrust of Paul Lynch’s argument is, I think, that superhero films have been in existence for 70 years, and their format of good versus evil must evolve to reflect more complex times today or else it will lose its audience. Whether we might wish it so or not, as a statement of fact this is utterly wrong.

The modern CGi-enabled superhero blockbuster has been with us for around a decade and as a spectacle is a completely different beast to what went before. Five of the highest ten grossing superhero films have been released in the last four years. More and more are being greenlit for development by studios desperate for the sure-fire return they bring (listing the number of sequels and reboots slated for release would exhaust you, reader). Rather than needing to evolve, this vast success is stunting growth, leading to a formulaic and limited approach to recycling the same kind of story.

With their easily translatable character arc, obvious external change, internal dilemmas and protagonists, the superhero origin story could have come straight from one of Syd Field’s workshops. With their huge brand recognition (since those ’40s films there have been millions of comic books and hundreds of cartoons) and universal values these films are of course that dreaded thing, the perfect summer blockbuster. Indeed superheroes and Hollywood have become such a match made in heaven that Disney recently bought Marvel, one of the two major comic book companies.

Suggesting that that simple story structure and a clear moral delineation are exclusive to superhero tales or have had their day is equally wrong. This is true of most films throughout history and will remain so until we become so cynical that good and evil are concepts a generation doesn’t even encounter in childhood.

So are superhero films kids films dressed as adult films? Of course. Challenging the films to grow up is paradoxical when the route of their success is that they allow the audience to do exactly the opposite. Today’s audience grew up with these characters as kids. At the root of their appeal are individuals who choose to wear spandex, can do impossible things, live in mansions and drive flying cars. This is essentially a childish fantasy, much like becoming a Teletubby or appearing on Wanderly Wagon. Unlike a guest slot on the Wagon, however, harnessing the living power of the sun and driving a flying car still appeals to me immensely. It stops becoming so appealing however if I have to park my flying car outside the White House to advise Obama on a responsible foreign policy, or spend a six months helping a recovering drug addict through a painful rehab. Other films do this very well, that simply is not the function of the superhero film.

Perhaps the time will come when the genre must subvert that expectation, as Paul observes the Western chose to do with the morally confused ‘70s upon it. It should be remembered though that the most successful film of the seventies was Star Wars. Westerns had simply been overtaken by better special effects and spaceships.

The most interesting aspect of all this is the one he has back to front. The complex times we live in don’t damage black and white escapism: they encourage it. With property out of reach to first-time buyers this generation stays at home longer. Grown men play on playstations. We get married later, and get drunk more. We exist in a state of extended kidulthood, an absence of responsibility that just wasn’t there in the ‘70s, so the audience has changed.

But could superhero films grow up? There is the material to support this such as The Authority and The Ultimates (which reimagines the Avengers as alcoholics/schizophrenics /wife beaters), but this isn’t the version getting made (Watchmen excepted). The problem is, I suspect, because the audience like to be quite clear what they are getting when they purchase a cinema ticket – probably one of the few experiences where we deliberately purchase the goods without inspecting them – and for a superhero film they expect mindless escapism.

Can we get better superhero films? My definition of a better superhero film would be different to my definition of a better piece of cinema, so it depends. They are films that arrive at the cinema with a history already behind them. Where a film captures the essence of the source material from page to screen, entertains an audience and generates enough revenue for a sequel to be made it has probably done its job. It’s not meant to be anything more.

Are comic films going to be left behind then in an evolutionary cinema race in which they are unable to adapt? No. They currently have no need to adapt, and the material is there if, and when, they do.

The more likely reason for their extinction is the finite number of characters that automatically command a large audience. With Spider-Man already on his fourth film this summer, three Nolan Batfilms and five X-Men films already completed, people will tire of seeing the same characters and studios will be unwilling to invest in lesser known properties.

Until that happens, for those that have no history with comic books, and no desire to reconnect with that inner child, I suggest the best course of action is simply to avoid watching them. I doubt they damage credible cinema, or take any audience share from more meritorious films, indeed with cinemas teetering on the edge of economic viability these cash cows probably effectively subsidise much of the more creative endeavour out there.

Paul Counter

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

 

 

 

 

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Sounding Off: Superhero Movies – no longer films for our times

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Paul Lynch explores why superheroes movies are no longer films for our times. – continuing Film Ireland‘s ‘Sounding Off‘ section – the place for debate and discussion on the topics that you find most compelling.

The long winter is almost over. Jack Frost is retreating his icy fingers. And the superhero movie is coming out of hibernation. If only it would stay there for good. For after 70 years of thump and thunder, crash and clamour, the superhero movie has outstayed its welcome.

Since the start of the 2000s, superhero fan boys and the cinema-going public have never had it so good. The era of incredible CGI ushered in a decade of superhero movies in a way that just wasn’t possible before. Mostly it’s been a run of diminishing returns, but there have been some classics: from Sam Raimi’s takes on Spider-Man to the juggernauts that were Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, the genre has hinted at adolescence.

These films have built upon the foundations of superhero films from the 1940s. Those old serials laid down the names we know and love today — Batman, Superman and lesser favourites such as Captain America. What marked those films out was that they were films made for kids.

And there lies the rub: today’s superhero movies might prowl on the surface like more sophisticated beasts, but underneath they are still the same: they operate within a simple world of black versus white, good versus evil. Despite their largely adult following, they are still movies that see the world like children.

The rebirth of the modern superhero movie goes hand-in-hand with the era of the Republican Neo-Cons. George W. Bush made their credo simple: it was ‘us versus them’. Their good versus evil approach to foreign policy was disastrous. It failed to see the world as a vastly complex place, and looked upon the Middle East with the naivety of a child. The repercussions have been enormous. America’s heavy borrowing to fund two wars has helped prolong the world economic crash. And in this more challenging era, it’s not hard to see that superhero movies are no longer films for our times.

If the superhero genre has a forefather, it is the western. The genre began in the silent era and spent a good three decades providing moral comfort food: good guys faced off against bad guys and civilization was allowed to thrive. Wholesome morality was the only game in town.

But after World War Two, the western had to rise to the challenge of meeting a new, hard-bitten cynicism. Watch the development of Anthony Mann’s westerns over the 1950s: beginning with Winchester ‘73, Mann darkened the genre, roiling it with moral ambiguity and psychological complexity. He blurred the boundaries of who was good and who was bad.

Those films paved the way for John Ford in 1956 to make The Searchersa John Wayne vehicle with an unambiguous racist as a hero. By the 1970s, the genre was a different animal: heroes weren’t heroes at all; westerns were populated by amoral assholes. The terrain had become a lawless, evolutionary plain of moral relativism where good and evil did not exist. Much like the real world then.

As the dominant Hollywood genre, can superhero films rise to the challenge of representing these complex times? I doubt it. Rewatching the genre’s greatest achievement, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, you can sense Nolan pushing at the boundaries. He gave Batman very dark shades, but in the end, darkness was something Batman had to shake off.

For there is a code governing the form of superhero movies. And there are rules the viewer brings to it, built on the belief that our heroes, unlike ourselves, cannot be corrupt and that good must always remain strong and true over evil. You can shade character, you can make heroes into temporary outlaws, but the outcome must remain the same.

Can a superhero film transcend genre under such strictures? It seems unlikely. After 70 years of doing battle with evil, the superhero genre remains the Peter Pan of the movies: it is incapable of growing up.

Paul Lynch

If you would like to respond to this article or feel strongly about something and would like to kick off your own topic, please email steven@filmbase.ie

 

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JDIFF 2012: Out of the Past Cinema Review: Tim Burton’s Batman

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Out of the Past: Batman

Thursday, 23rd February, 6:00pm, Light House

Few icons are as known world wide as Batman, the bat signal itself being a logo that can be found in the most unlikely of corners and a huge part of the ubiquity is down to how the character has been portrayed in various media since his inception.

However the character was nearly overwhelmed by tonal shifts throughout his tenure. Firstly in the 1950s where the grim and Gothic crusader was replaced by a frothy boyscout all silly adventures which took him out of his usual milieu and dumped him into adventures encompassing time travel and cosmic concerns.

The ’60s then brought the smash hit TV show which built on the revised ideal and repositioned the character as a camp ringleader of a truly absurd and lighthearted world. With the humour ramped up the essence of this dark character was being lost. This had to be rectified. While it’s true, the essential elements of Batman lends itself to an endless array of interpretations, it was still decided that as a property it needed to return to its roots. Under the stewardship of writers such as Denny Adams and Frank Miller not to mention the moody art of Neal Adams, the comics began to claw back the angst and twisted sensibilities that first defined the book and it’s this version of the character that Tim Burton, long time fan of dark fairytales would fashion the tone to take Batman onto a wider stage.

With its film noir trappings and exaggerated and askew internal logic the film works in killing off the earlier camp but fails to hang together as a coherent film. A famously chaotic production (the final Batman/Joker confrontation, being written on set, which explains its poor resolution) one gets the feeling that the film had too many cooks. Having to accommodate Jack Nicholson who puts in a towerhouse performance as himself in clown make up, Prince on the soundtrack whose funk stylings clash with everything around it, introducing a hero, his entire raison d’etre and a love interest proves too much for a director who admits narrative is not his strong point. The love story is ridiculous even as these things go, rushed and unconvincing a potentially vital character reduced to a mere damsel in distress.

There’s no throughline to the film to anchor it as its constantly mutating script introduces elements only to discard them like some ‘wonderful toys’ as Joker himself might say. It’s a collection of ideas and tics rather than a proper story. Being too dark for children, whose desire for escapism would not be sated with this dismal and undesirable world and too simplistic for adults, its garish roster of gangsters and shallow characters find no nuance and settles instead for being patronisingly cartoony. Burton should have taken after Richard Donner’s philosophy when making Superman the movie, his notion of verisimilitude, that subject matter like this must be played straight to actually work.

Despite being dissatisfying as a whole there is one thing it gets right. Controversial when announced, the casting of Michael Keaton proved a masterstroke, his Bruce Wayne a nervy counterpoint to the more square jawed archetype of the comics and all the more interesting for that. Bob Kane who lobbied against the decision was forced to concede his mistake when Keaton impressed. The other feature of the film which is perfect is the score provided by Danny Elfmann a stirring piece which became iconic in its own right and endured past the films as the theme of the definitive Batman Animated series of the ’90s.

Simon Terzise gave a talk before the film extoling the virtures of the score remarking on its power and iconic stature. Burton himself did not relish the experience of making the film and his return to the series in ’92 for the very flawed but superior Batman Returns was a way for him to absolve the mistakes of this. It’s easy to see on screen why he felt uneasy about it all but the character has suffered far worse that this over his lengthy career. The movies most famous question, posed nonchalantly by Nicholson was ‘Ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?’ Yes we can answer and a most mediocre experience it was as it turns out.

Emmet O’Brien

Click here for Film Ireland’s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Click here for full details and to book tickets for this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlsM2_8u_mk

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