Luc Besson Is Completely Wrong About Superhero Movies

Captain America and Valerian

Dear Luc Besson, can you just stop it with your crusade against superhero movies?

We all know superheroes have become the dominant force in cinema (we're wary of calling them a genre, which we'll get into later). This year there are six films from three different franchises and four different studios, costing from $97 million to well over $200 million: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League. The four released so far are in the Top 10 at box office both domestically and worldwide, and you can expect the latter two to equal if not surpass them. Beyond proven audience interest, these are widely regarded as good films as well; all four are Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with comparable audience ratings and, while that site is not a definitive measure of quality, in a summer full of big budget movies awarded green splats it shows a general appreciation.

And it's not hard to see why this is the case. In their source comic books, the superhero has transformed from the initial-yet-appealing power fantasy (or propaganda, which you can be sure we'll get to) into modern myth, constantly evolving to reflect the times and a maturing medium. And we're seeing a similar development on the silver screen; while many classic incarnations went for broad archetypes and character traits, in the past decade we've seen the types of movies made about once-spandexed heroes diversify from simple action tentpoles into crime thrillers, aging meditations, and trippy fantasies, all the while improving in technical adeptness and story ambition.

That's why the superhero bubble refuses to pop; rather than redoing the same basic ideas that turned supers into money-spinners in the early 2000s, through creative studios - especially Marvel, although now Fox is outreaching them in daringness - we're getting refinements of formula and evolution of tone. And at the core of each success is the characters - real people who struggle with real, albeit it extraordinary, concerns - be that existentialism or a supervillain. That's instantly relatable. And so, while we've had some middling or downright awful entries in recent years, it's proven as a strong source of good storytelling.

It's hard to make broad statements about anything in culture, but we feel pretty safe stating that everyone loves superheroes. Everyone, it seems, except Luc Besson.

Luc Besson's Superhero Criticisms

Over the past few weeks, the French director has been making a concerted effort to denounce superhero cinema. He started off broad, saying he struggled to relate to these overpowered characters:

“It’s very hard for me to identify with a superhero because he has a superpower, and I don’t have a superpower, all I can see is his power and say ‘oh, thank you so much for saving my life, me, poor little human being.’ I don’t like this relationship. I can’t identify with the guy, I’m not like him.”

But then he tried to cut deeper, singling out Captain America and directly attacking the character for his seemingly inherent jingoism (and there's many more jabs in other interviews besides):

“What bothers me most is it’s always here to show the supremacy of America and how they are great. I mean, which country in the world would have the guts to call a film Captain Brazil or Captain France? I mean, no one! We would be like so ashamed and say, ‘No, no, come on, we can’t do that.’ They can. They can call it Captain America and everybody think it’s normal. I’m not here for propaganda, I’m here to tell a story.”

Now, everybody's entitled to their opinion. However, we're inclined to call Besson out on these repeated, broad statements for two reasons. Not only do we think he's wrong in what he's saying; we'd suggest that he's not actually seen the movie's he's criticizing.

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