Paul Thomas Anderson likes period pictures. He likes the 1970s. He likes making character studies of powerful, deeply flawed men as well as misunderstood outsiders. And wouldn’t you believe it? He also likes superhero movies. One of these things is not like the other, and yet it’s true: Paul Thomas Anderson, director of There Will Be Blood and The Master, of Magnolia and Boogie Nights, is a fan of capes, tights, and vigilante justice. Who knew?
Anderson’s new film, Inherent Vice, is in wide release as of this writing; it’s a change of pace for the American auteur, whose recent output is better characterized by gravity and significance than shenanigans. True, The Master contains a fart joke while There Will Be Blood sports humor as black as oil; nonetheless, they bear a fleeting family resemblance to Anderson’s willfully silly stoner noir in terms of content.
He might, in other words, be the last person you’d expect to champion the superhero niche. But in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, that’s exactly what happened. The article is centered on the process of making Inherent Vice – adapting the original novel for the screen, working with his ensemble cast – and yet the conversation eventually wound around to the state of modern cinema and the growing popularity of superheroes in American filmmaking.
Ask a question, get an answer. Anderson doesn’t even let interviewer David Fear finish his sentence before leaping in with a decidedly spirited defense of comic book flicks.
Here’s the full quote from Anderson himself:
Ah, that’s such a f***ing crock of s**t. I can’t remember a year in recent memory where there were less complaints about the quality of movies. And what’s wrong with superhero movies, you know? I don’t know. You’re talking to someone that enjoys watching those films. People need to get a life if they’re having that discussion [laughs]. Those movies get a bad rap.
Are there too many superhero movies? Is genre over-representation a bad thing for Hollywood and for movies in general? Are superhero movies really getting old? There’s merit to these questions (and there are plenty more questions about superhero films worth asking), but the most important question of all is the subtext of Anderson’s outburst: who cares?
There’s no denying that superhero flicks are more prevalent today than they were even half a decade ago. And it’s impossible to ignore the explosion of comic book cinema since the early 2000’s, when movies like Spider-Man and X-Men helped build the foundation for big screen comic book fare as we know it today. (Also worth mentioning: Blade, a movie that often gets ignored in discussions of the superhero movie’s evolution.) But why is that a bad thing?
Hearing a guy like Anderson, who practically breathes indie cinema, drive this point home so emphatically is refreshing. Sure, Hollywood churned out a metric ton of spandex-laden narratives in 2014: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider-Man 2. (And it’s happening again this year with The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and The Fantastic Four.) Though, in between the latter slew of releases, there’s a smorgasbord of great movies off the beaten path, from The Guest to Locke, Enemy to The Babadook, Belle to Pride. Superhero movies might be ubiquitous, but they don’t have a stranglehold on cinema.
And that means it’s an exciting time to be a fan of movies – not just highbrow movies, but lowbrow movies, too. There’s no reason to divorce appreciation of films like Selma from appreciation of films like Guardians of the Galaxy. It shouldn’t take a maestro like Anderson to make that argument, but we should all be glad he did so anyways (though don’t take this as a sign that he might bother making his own superhero movie someday).
Inherent Vice is out in theaters now.
Source: Rolling Stone