James Gunn has struck a blow for nerds and fan-boys everywhere, calling into question the elitist attitude of certain filmmakers and select audience members who see blockbusters such as comic-book movies as artless chores whose filmmakers are only doing it for the money.
Despite what you may initially think, that perhaps Mr. Gunn was offended by Jack Black’s jokes about superhero movies at the opening of the Oscars this year, that actually is not the case. It seems he was set off by a comment by ‘Nightcrawler’ director Dan Gilroy at the Independent Spirit Awards, who claimed the attendees had survived the ‘tsunami of superhero films.’ As Gunn himself points out, Gilroy’s wife has been in two ‘Thor’ movies, so the man is the last one who should be throwing stones at the superhero genre. Gunn’s main point is that people who make superhero movies have the same passion, dedication, and love for their movies as those who make smaller features. With all the years of production and post-production, the sheer size of the production, and all the work that goes into a blockbuster movie, it makes sense that people would only do it if they loved what they were working on. Look at Peter Jackson and his crew from ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit.’ Watch 20 minutes of the behind the scenes footage and try to tell me that every single person on that production was not extremely passionate about the films. Gunn is calling to end the stereotype that independent films are made with heart, and blockbusters by those just looking to make money. Sure, a studio signs off on a blockbuster knowing that is the goal, but those who actually work on the film are not solely financially motivated, and he wants people to understand that.
Gunn does bring up an interesting point about film snobs and their view of comic book movies. I’ve heard insults ranging from the infantilism of bringing children’s comics to the big screen, how the movies lack heart and originality, bringing nothing new to cinema, about the downfall of society as we all slavishly flock to these movies that are all action and no thinking, and about how these movies are bringing about the fall of true art and cinema in Hollywood.
To which I respond, deal with it.
Blockbusters have been around since the 70s, and in a lot of ways, blockbusters are what has kept Hollywood going for over 40 years. The spectacle of the big screen, larger than life characters and action-pieces are why people pay $15-$20 to go to the movies nowadays, not to see a small art-house movie that, in my opinion at least, can be enjoyed the same way on your own television screen at home. Movies are about the spectacle, smart filmmakers appreciate that, and use that spectacle to get their art up on the big screen, and tell stories that people would gladly pay to see. Movies like ‘Interstellar,’ or ‘Gravity,’ (neither of which is a “superhero” movie) took full advantage of their large canvas, and it became known that to truly appreciate these films you had to see it in a theater, IMAX if possible. Whereas movies like ‘Whiplash’ or ‘Nightcrawler,’ while excellent films, would still be just as great whether you saw them in a theater or on your own TV back home. I’ve seen ‘Gravity’ on a regular TV, the movie just is not the same.
As for the infantilism of ‘comic-book’ movies and their lack of originality and contributions to cinema, I say these are comments made by people who either haven’t been paying attention, or purposefully ignore what’s going on with Marvel and DC these days. ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ pushed the boundaries of CGI character building, ‘Captain America: The Winter Solider‘ fused the superhero and the spy/suspense thriller genres, ‘The Dark Knight’ was more film noir than superhero movie, with one of its leads winning an Academy Award for best supporting performance. I’m not saying they’re all phenomenal films, but not every “independent” film is a gem either. In fact, there are just as many long slogs without a point in the “artistic” cinema world as in the blockbuster world.
In the end, I agree with Gunn that the film elite need to get off their high horses. Film is about entertainment, and while audiences can surely find plenty to love and appreciate about the kind of award-winning movies heralded at the Academy Awards, there is nothing wrong with films that get people excited and entertained based on spectacle and action. True, society would be better if both sides met in the middle, and people made it a point to see both the art films and the blockbusters, but that is an argument for another day. For now, bravo Mr. Gunn for standing up for what you believe in.