Part I — On Dehumanity
Let me address a question which, if answered, would answer several questions at once. Why are crass popular comic book superhero movies better than mainstream Hollywood movies?
Why are they better and more honest, more sound, and more true than a modern comedy or tragedy or melodrama, or what passes for it? Why are they better drama?
There are some deep questions unexpectedly connected to this shallow question. Let us see into what oxbows of digression the river of conversation leads. A prudence of space may require the discussion to be drawn over several parts.
The question is also based on some assumptions, such as the assumption that comic book movies, by and large are good, and are good drama. (I am aware of the glaring exceptions, and any useful theory must explain those exceptions as well.) What comic books are not is naturalistic drama; they are high romantic drama—but more on this later.
I am thinking in particular of movies like THE INCREDIBLES, DARK KNIGHT, SPIDER-MAN, IRON MAN, BATMAN, BATMAN BEGINS, and the first SUPERMAN movie by Alexander Salkind, and also MEN IN BLACK and X-MEN. If we are generous with our definition of comic book movies, we can add that best beloved version of FLASH GORDON known as STAR WARS; but I cannot in this space defend that these movies are good, and make for satisfactory drama.
Those of you who disagree, read no more, or accept it in philosophical humor for the sake of the argument, because this article is concerned with discovering the reason wherefore this is so, not debating whether this is so.
To the skeptic, all I can report is that the taste of the public put these films in the top ten to top hundred of highest grossing films of all time, whether ticket price inflated or no, so that if you scorn such films are trash, you do so in a lonely minority.
The second assumption, harder to defend and harder to swallow, is that mainstream Hollywood movies are artsy, trivial, greasy, and bad. I do not mean popular blockbusters like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, inspired by old cliffhanger serials, nor do I mean CASABLANCA, inspired by genius, or WIZARD OF OZ or GONE WITH THE WIND or LORD OF THE RINGS, inspired by widely beloved best-selling books.
I am thinking of movies critics and Hollywood insiders like, flicks such as FULL METAL JACKET, RAIN MAN, DANCES WITH WOLVES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, AMERICAN BEAUTY, CHICAGO, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CRASH, THE DEPARTED, THE HURT LOCKER. These are not obscure films, and each won widespread critical acclaim, awards, and praise; and you could not, for 357 dollars gold nor with a 357 Magnum persuade me to sit through one showing of them.
The third assumption is that Hollywood movies are made by the elite for the elite, and that it is only with reluctance, or to pay the bills, does Hollywood turn out nutritious fare meant to please and sate the coarse palate of coarse commoners like me, as the popular blockbusters mentioned above.
I do not mean to dwell on this point, I merely ask that you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, accept it as uncontested, since surely the counselor for the Defense of Hollywood dare not claim the actors and studios like us, want to be like us, or like what we like. Their entire claim to be an elite, and superior in taste, intellect, and moral insight to the pathetic bourgeoisie is dashed if they do not discriminate themselves from bourgeoisie tastes.
With these assumptions explicit, let us ponder the question.
Why are comic book movies better than Hollywood movies?