One of the funniest parts of this year’s Academy Awards in my opinion was Jack Black’s song about the tsunami of superhero and big blockbusters lately. The day before that, Nightcrawler director, Dan Gilroy, called out all of the superhero movies as well. James Gunn took this as an opportunity to defend the superhero genre as being just as important and serious as indie films. Obviously in half a decade we have seen a huge increase in the number of superhero movies and there are even more coming in the future. Independent films have also been entering the mainstream slowly, making the general movie goers aware of them. This made me think about the state of movies today, specifically the difference between indies and blockbusters. Here are the thoughts and insights I came up with:
I’ve been in enough arguments over movies and hundreds of other things to have learned something from them. More than likely, no side is ever completely correct. It’s almost never black and white. The dress is blue and black by the way. Anyway, there is no winning side to the ongoing debate between superhero movies and smaller, independent films. I wanted to say that before I went into detail about each of them, because I love them both. Movies like Birdman and Whiplash are some indies I thoroughly enjoy, while I also had a great time watching Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America 2.
Like Gunn said in his comments, he was not offended by Black, nor was he supposed to be. I think especially now, the superheros we see on screen are written with lots of care, giving them substance, rather than relying on mindless action sequences to keep audiences interested. Since movies like Batman Begins and Iron Man, the superhero is as much a human as a person with superhuman powers. We are interested in the person behind the mask because they have human stories we can relate to. Human stories that an independent film has. But on top of that, they add a layer of fiction and fantasy.
There’s not much room for us to complain about either. The reason we see so much Batmans, Jedimen, Prequelmen, and Sequelmen is because that is what we want to see, and are willing to pay money for. We see all these movies because they all make money, so studios make more, and why wouldn’t they? We’re not brainwashed to like every superhero movie that comes out. We will get bored of the same thing being rehashed over and over. Before that happens, filmmakers like Gunn and Joss Whedon will change it up. That’s why I don’t think they follow formulaic scripts, as Black pointed out in his opening number.
The Avengers wasn’t completely original and there wasn’t much sense of danger for the characters, but every filmmaker challenges the audience with a new superhero movie. Captain America 2 introduced the spy thriller to the genre, Guardians created a space opera, The Dark Knight became a realistic crime thriller, and I can’t wait to see where Whedon takes Age Of Ultron. Superhero movies are adapting to our increasing expectations for something new. The average superhero does not fit into one generic category anymore. A superhero movie is an art, an epic one that appeals to a large audience.
I do agree with Gilroy in his comments about how hard it is to make an independent film, and how huge it is when that movie does get recognized. The movie industry today is a lot more willing to finance a movie they know will be a success financially. If it is a popular book or has an already recognizable name, you can bet a film adaptation has at one time been considered. A movie like Nightcrawler, while sharing a name with a X-Men character, was thought up originally and introduced to its audience without any background information to support it. A superhero movie or general blockbuster on the other hand, needs less convincing for the public. You can hire any person to helm that movie, add lots of action and special effects to it, and people will pay for that ticket. Looking at you, Michael Bay. Bay is a bad apple amongst a ripe selection of other great mainstream filmmakers though.
When an indie does get money from a production company or is self financed, I assume that filmmaker has confidence in what is being made and has given a lot of thought into the film. Since not having a big name title to garner interest makes it harder to make a movie, it is important to recognize the success when it does, so that a larger audience can see it. That is why I am glad to see movies like Birdman, Whiplash, and The Grand Budapest Hotel do well at the Oscars, because they do get attention because they are amazing films.
It is also important to realize that there are bad superhero movies. There are bad independent ones too. And there are good, even great ones of both genres. The part I think Gunn said best is that almost every filmmaker no matter what genre, does what they do because they love storytelling and cinema. They all have that in common and do it effectively in their own ways. So here is my “Jonathan Swift” modest proposal: Watch both, enjoy each of them in different ways. Why do we have to choose? They both offer us something different, but also the same. They entertain us, immerse us into their respective universes, and evoke emotions in a way we can’t get anywhere else.
We will always want to argue for or against a certain viewpoint when it comes to these movies. It is fun to make jokes at their expense and generalize what these filmmakers do. But really, what they do is deceptively similar. If there’s one thing I’d want people to take away from this article, it is that a blockbuster and indie are both movies. The reason we are here talking about this is because we all love movies. So let’s watch each of them and not force ourselves to choose just one.