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My open letter to Hollywood: enough superhero movies! Stop it!

superheroes

Dear Hollywood:

You and I have been friends for a very long time. Since I was born, really. Movies have been such a huge part of my life, and although not all movies worth seeing are made by you, many are, and as an industry and a part of America life and culture I hope you continue. However, as a concerned friend, I think it’s time to stage an intervention. You have a problem, Hollywood. You have a very destructive and crippling addiction. You are addicted to superhero movies, and it’s destroying you–and our American film industry.

First off, I don’t blame you for getting into the business of bringing superheroes to the big screen. They’re inherently cinematic. The first real big-budget, pull-out-all-the-stops superhero film you made was Richard Donner’s Superman from 1978, which was, and remains, a thrilling movie that encapsulates the best traditions of American studio  filmmaking. It’s impossible not to like Superman or now, 35+ years on, to regard it as a classic. Things got a little dicey with the sequels, especially The Quest for Peace, but we won’t go there. Having done Superman, I can’t fault you for getting into the Batman business in 1989. Like many people who grew up with Adam West as the caped crusader on TV, I was skeptical about Michael Keaton in the role. You proved me wrong. Batman was great; Batman Returns even better. Good on you, Hollywood. The billions you made on these flicks were well-deserved.

The blueprint for the modern superhero film. Unfortunately, Hollywood had to ruin it (of course).

But something went dreadfully wrong beginning, I think, in the early 2000s. Suddenly you were pushing superhero movies at us with such deafening hype that it was impossible for people like me, who like movies but aren’t necessarily big connoisseurs of superhero films, to escape. Every movie we went to, suddenly we were inundated by trailers for This-man and That-man, X-Men, Daredevil, Hellboy, Iron Man, and seemingly more Spider-Man than we can shake eight legs at. Okay. These films are cash cows for you. We get it. But what about providing real alternatives for high-minded adults, good movies that aren’t aimed at teenage boys? It seemed increasingly that you were getting out of that business entirely, and putting all your eggs in the basket of teen-friendly superhero and comic book franchises.

Then Transformers came out in 2007. Transformers was not a superhero movie, but it came from much the same place, and intended to capture much the same audience: teen boys out on summer vacation. Despite its merits as a stand-alone movie–and there are a few–Transformers was a very dark development for you, Hollywood, because suddenly you became drunk on Michael Bay. This person you unleashed upon us, who had made terrible movies before (Pearl Harbor, which was abominable), suddenly took bad filmmaking to a whole new level. You enabled him. He made you billions of dollars, so of course you gave him increasingly bigger budgets and more clout in the industry. You want profits and he delivered. But Michael Bay is bad for movies, because he cheapens the art form and has somehow melded cinematic badness into a commercial success. He’s like heroin in your bloodstream. You’ve got to cut him loose.

This sort of execrable, brain-dead filmmaking has become the stylistic blueprint for superhero movies lately.

Just look what Michael Bay has done to movies. Nearly every “blockbuster” you push at us is full of dizzying, split-second shots that are entirely incoherent. Explosions and hurtling machinery, usually police cars or military vehicles, fly left and right, and right at us, at the slightest provocation. Soundtracks are deluged with explosions. Dialogue is reduced to the tactical level, because so much of what you give us is now battle scenes. “Fall back!” “Incoming!” “We’ve got to get out of here!” Editing is nonexistent. The menace on the screen is almost always a CGI monster, usually knobby with a bunch of semi-streamlined protuberances. Skyscrapers have no human purpose except to explode and shower city streets with deadly rubble. This is mostly Michael Bay’s fault.

The superhero film, to which you were unhealthily addicted before you started shooting up on Michael Bay, has become the epitome of this style. I admit I didn’t see Man of Steel, your 2013 “reboot” of Superman (you’re becoming addicted to reboots as well), but the reviews I read stressed how dark, incoherent, and unpleasant it was. Evidently it was full of–guess what?–hurtling police cars and exploding skyscrapers. Superman was merely a thin foil for whatever knobby CGI menace was coming at him next. This is Superman, for God’s sake! You turned him into another Michael Bay clone.

And you destroyed Batman too. I did see The Dark Knight, and I was appalled. The plot made no sense. Literally, no sense. The motivations of characters were incomprehensible. The movie was full of night shots and I found myself squinting at the screen. I couldn’t follow the action scenes because they were so dark, and the shots comprising them flickered by so quickly and were so poorly edited, that it became just a jumble on the screen. Heath Ledger’s performance was good, yes, and I suppose I can even swallow the bizarre casting choice of the little Brit kid from Empire of the Sun as Batman, but the rest of the film was utterly dreadful–far, far below the level that a gifted director like Christopher Nolan should have given us. Not to mention the fact that Batman, as a character and a concept, has been so beaten to death that the mere mention of his name makes me wince.

This trailer, for a Superman film made in 2013, has more in common (stylistically) with the Transformers 2 trailer above than it does with the trailer for the Superman film made in 1978. Coincidence?

So now what do we have to look forward to? You’re soon giving us Ant-Man. I really hope you’re kidding. Ant-Man? Are you effing serious? Oh, and more X-Men. Please. No more X-Men. Please, no more X-Men.

Every superhero movie trailer I see–every noxious, eyeball-raping screed full of one-sixteenth-of-a-second-long shots of people jumping off buildings (at night), followed by big explosions, with more hurtling machinery, more shattered skyscrapers, followed by a close-up of some metallic-looking superhero logo that tries (and fails) to thrill me with some sort of faux-heroic reaction–every one of these I see makes me think the art of cinema is sinking ever deeper into its grave.

Please, Hollywood. Kick this habit. I know you love the money. But you can make money from other things. Look how much you made on Titanic, which was a real movie about real things, competently-made and smartly marketed. I suggest you take a voluntary five-year moratorium on superhero movies. No X-Men, Ant Men, Bat Men, Spider Men or Anything-Men. No knobby CGI monsters. No shattering skyscrapers. And please, no more Michael Bay. Fire him. Retire him. Just don’t ever let him direct another film ever again, and for God’s sake, don’t give him any more  money. He’s killing us, and he’s killing you as an industry.

Sincerely,

A movie lover.

5 Comments

  1. Sean, great post. I hope Hollywood listens though I doubt they will. I agree with all you’ve said.

    One word about Transformers: I think they really blew it. I follow the original Marvel comics. Simon Furman was a great writer for the characters — and yes the robots are supposed to be characters! Scorponok’s conflict between his evil and human sides. Grimlock’s determination to do what he feels is right even when it’s against orders. Megatron’s obsession with Prime, and settling their feud. None of that was in the movies and they blew it. Simon should have written the films and anyone else should have directed them.

  2. Richard Shepherd

    Great post, Sean! I strongly agree with your opinion about the superheroes film craze. I had already grown out of Superman by the age of 7, so the constant release of superhero films every year is unendurable. How can an industry that once produced classics like Sunset Boulevard have sunk so low? However, I don’t think that the current state of affairs will continue for much longer. There are many talented people working in Hollywood. The sooner they’re given the opportunity to show us what they’re capable of, the better.

  3. Hollywood goes through motions like these. In the 30’s-40’s, hollywood made lots of monster movies, hence it was called the golden age of horror movies. In the 50’s, movies began focusing on the future and space in general. The 90’s also had its slew of natural disaster flicks. Right now, we’re in a phase of having loads super hero movies. Hollywood has been through phases all the time.

    Personally, I’m not complaining, because these movies are quite entertaining and well made.

  4. luke yznaga

    I I used to be a superhero sci fi movie fan. But I too, am fed up with this. I want to see other good plot sci fi movies that have coherent dialogues, not super SPFX and cars being thrown arouind. Plus now, every hollywood movie that is NOT sci fi or superhero is imitating the genre by doing REBOOTS. And everything is about alien invasions, SPFX and 3 second action and sound bites. I prefere Lord of the Rings movie series and the Hobbit. They keep on changing characters in superhero sci fi movies by doing reboots. To hell with the comic and superhero fans. They are not gods. Give us a baseball or war movie or true life movie. Come on!

  5. EyeKyu

    Dumb ass kids drag their parents to the theaters in hordes. They are making bank off these superhero movies. Until the honey jar runs dry they will keep mass producing superhero flicks.

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