Superhero comic book adaptations are not just more ubiquitous than ever (on both the small screen and big screen), they’re also consistently among the top performing titles box office-wise any given year. A commerically-successful film isn’t automatically an equal creative accomplishment, of course, but the drum’s been beating increasingly loudly for the various awards shows (such as the Oscars) to show comic book movies some love – something Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Anthony and Joe Russo touched on in a recent interview.
Comic books films still span the spectrum of general critical responses, naturally, but there’s a good reason that such respected actors as Jessica Chastain and Al Pacino has openly voiced a desire to appear in a superhero movie. Such recent high marks as Marvel Studios’ Cap sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy, as well as Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past and The Wolverine, have further demonstrated that comic book adaptations can blend genre influences and/or pay homage to cinema history just as well as any other sort of film (while having thematic substance and entertainment value to boot).
However, as Joe Russo pointed out in an interview with Deadline, the genre’s installments still tend to be viewed in terms of box office turnout, first and foremost, and not their artistic merits:
“It’s strange that the comic-book film genre is so often thought of only in terms of its economic merits. Yes, it’s shockingly popular and continues to grow, and yes, the box office success of these films can often embarrassingly outweigh their merits, but as Christopher Nolan perhaps first proved, real and valuable filmmaking can be achieved with the genre. It’s sad that some people, seemingly soured by having to endure the massive cultural presence and expectations that even mediocre or poor examples of the genre can generate, react by trying to reject the genre as a whole.
Even before Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the likes of Bryan Singer’s first two X-Men films and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 started making the case that superhero movies can be as socially/politically relevant and thematically-rich as movies that belong to any other genre. Going further back to the 1990s, for that matter, there were such films as Blade demonstrating how superhero movies can encompass multiple genre elements (while something like Tim Burton’s Batman Returns proved that a comic book movie can have a distinct auteur’s touch).
Similarly, as mentioned before, comic book adaptations have started to include meta aspects – like the politically-charged Winter Soldier having filled a key character role with Robert Redford, whose previous work has often been rife with sociopolitical commentary (see: Three Days of the Condor, Sneakers, Spy Games, Lions for Lambs, and so on). Joe Russo also touched on that specifically, during the Deadline interview:
“The moment we were able to cast Redford changed everything, because it gave a deeper cultural context to the movie. Not only are you taking one of the most famous actors of all time, you’re taking one of the most famous thriller actors of all time. And we’re subverting his on-screen persona and his off-screen persona at the same time. He’s a villain in the movie. He’s never played a villain, and not only is he a villain, but he’s a fascist.”
Point being, there’s certainly a strong argument to be made that it’s high-past time for organizations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to start recognizing comic book movies for more than their technical accomplishments. Therein lies the rub, though; as Joe Russo put it, companies like Marvel would first have to determine what the value is of pushing for an Oscars bid for a movie like The Winter Soldier, to help change that trend.
“I think you look at all those awards ceremonies, there’s a whole process of advocacy for those awards, right? What is the value of the award (to Marvel)? And why should they spend the money required to go down that road? To create the box office? They already have the box office.”
As film buffs, we tend to get very passionate about what does – and what does not – get recognized during the movie awards season of any year. Thing is, though, as Joe Russo pointed out, the reality is that in order to earn recognition from such bodies as the Academy requires more than just making a good film. And while The Winter Soldier was (obviously) ultimately made for non-artistic purposes (read: to make $$$), as Anthony Russo noted to Deadline, hat doesn’t mean the blockbuster is without creative ambition too.
“It’s a real movie, real filmmaking, and it has really high aspirations, in terms of what cinema can be and what it can do, and what our experience of it is. It has every intention on the part of the filmmakers to reach audiences on the deepest level.”
So long as that continues to be the case with the majority of comic book/superhero films on the horizon, we’ll be happy, regardless of whether awards season recognition comes with it or not. That said… do you think something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier deserves to be included in the upcoming awards season conversation?