Will we ever see a classic superhero movie?
Superhero movies have become a staple of summer movie season, for better or for worse. The question often is not whether we’ll see a superhero movie anymore, but how many we’ll see, with The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises being released within the last three months alone. Some may point to Christopher Nolan’s 2005 movie Batman Begins as the movie that kicked off superhero mania at the box office. Others might go further and point to Sam Raimi’s 2001 feature Spider-Man or Tim Burton’s 1989 movie Batman as the one that proved the financial viability of superhero movies, while others may cite Richard Donner’s 1978 movie Superman as the true beginner. Regardless of which movie can truly be credited for this, however, the fact remains that superhero movies as a genre have become a firm fixture at theatres, and written themselves into cinema history as a result.
Or have they? Despite their ubiquitous presence in the current cinema landscape, superhero movies still seem unable to break the barrier from good to great, and get compared to cinema as a whole. The genre seems to survive in a bubble, only being compared against others of its ilk, and never against movies in general, both for individual components and as a whole. There are some individual exceptions, to be sure, most notable among them being Heath Ledger’s exceptional turn as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, which received deserved accolades for being a stunning performance regardless of the film it was in, but by and large, superhero movies seem to be stuck within their own echo chamber, and as long as they continue to do so, a true classic will never emerge from the genre.
I should clarify at this point, when I say classic, I mean a movie that’s considered a masterpiece of filmmaking first, and classified in a genre second. Apocalypse Now is a classic film, not a classic war film. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic film, not a classic science fiction film. The Godfather is a classic film, not a classic mafia film. Superhero movies, for their increased volume, have yet to see a movie that similarly transcends the genre in a similar fashion. For now, it seems that all the “good” superhero movies continue to have that label stuck to it; for all its acclaim, The Dark Knight has slipped out of general film discussion just four years after its release, coming up only in relation to its sequel, The Dark Knight Rises. X-Men 2, adored by many upon its release, is also a footnote unless superhero movies specifically are being discussed; likewise with Spider-Man 2, appearing in the conversation only in relation to superhero or Spiderman movies. Compare that to a movie such as the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, which regularly comes up in discussion due to its quality, rather than its genre. Likewise for Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Mark Waters’ Mean Girls; these movies, despite not quite being labelled as classics yet, have managed to stand the test of time better than superhero movies that have been released after them, and standing the test of time is the first real mark of a classic.
CLICK TO EXPAND THE ARTICLE