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And Now James Gunn Steps Forward to Defend Comic Book Movies From Birdman & Dan Gilroy

James Gunn just took to his Facebook page to defend comic book movies.  As you’d expect from the man who made Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s kind of awesome.  But, first, the set-up:

Look, comic book movies are doing just fine for themselves at the moment, even with Sony’s on-going drama with Spider-Man.  The bubble hasn’t actually burst yet, although it most definitely will at some point.  Hugh Jackman apparently wants to keep playing Wolverine until he dies.  So, no one really needs to defend the comic book movie right now.  However, after what happened over the weekend at the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday and the Academy Awards on Sunday it does kind of feel like comic book movies are under attack.

First, Nightcrawler writer-director Dan Gilroy praised the Independent Spirit Awards crowd for holding out “against the tsunami of superhero movies that have swept over this industry.”  Then, Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture.  It’s about a former comic book movie actor (Michael Keaton) suffering a mental breakdown while attempting to stage a Raymond Carver play on Broadway, but at various points the film practically shakes its finger at the audience for embracing mindless comic book drudgery instead of true art.  Its director, Alejandro Inarritu, is on record as thinking that the superhero movie in particular is bad for society, telling Deadline, “[Superhero movies] have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human […] It’s a false, misleading conception, the superhero.”

As such, it seemed pretty fitting that The Hollywood Reporter titled its Oscars recap Birdman Wins, As Hollywood Atones for Its Superhero Movies,” joking the film is like a roast of Hollywood which everyone laughed about and applauded even though they’re just heading right back to work the next day to continue planning out the next decade of superhero movies.  However, there are those who reject the very idea that Hollywood actually has anything to atone for, seeing this recent run of attacks as another example of how there are those who claim to love film (like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) but do not, in fact, take every genre seriously.  There are also those who might watch Birdman and still walk away thinking, “I don’t care what that movie says.  My favorite film last year is still Guardians of the Galaxy.”  Collider even took a crack at Birdman, arguing that Rocket the Raccoon is possibly a more nuanced character than anyone in Birdman‘s cliche-ridden, yet now Oscar-winning script.  It’s also possible to simply like both Birdman and Guardians of the Galaxy just as it’s also possible to dislike Birdman for many reasons which have nothing to do with its commentary on the state of superhero cinema.

James Gunn looked at all of this and said:

“Whatever the case, the truth is, popular fare in any medium has always been snubbed by the self-appointed elite. I’ve already won more awards than I ever expected for Guardians. What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films.

I’ve made B-movies, independent films, children’s movies, horror films, and gigantic spectacles. I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do no find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film.

If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we’re dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a “serious” filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken.”

If you’re unfamiliar with his background, James Gunn truly has run the spectrum of Hollywood, working on the lowest of low-budget movies during his early days with Troma Entertainment and acting as the general of the small army responsible for Guardians of the Galaxy, the second highest-grossing film of 2014.  In-between those two extremes, he wrote indie films like The Specials (a superhero comedy, appropriate enough), major studio films like Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead, and Scooby Doo 2, dabbled with online-only content like the web-series James Gunn’s PG Porn and the XBox Live-exclusive short Sparky and Mikaela,  and he was even a judge on a VH1 reality TV show.  He was also married to Jenna Fischer from The Office from 2000 to 2008.  That actually doesn’t have anything to do with any of this.  I just wanted to share it because I didn’t know about it until like two minutes ago.

Guardians of the Galaxy Dog
And now for no real reason other than “Awwww” is a picture of James Gunn’s dog on the set of Guardians of the Galaxy

So, considering that great variety in Gunn’s experience the major takeaway I have from his Facebook commentary is his conclusion that, “I find there are plenty of people everywhere making movies for a buck or to feed their own vanity. And then there are people who do what they do because they love story-telling, they love cinema, and they want to add back to the world some of the same magic they’ve taken from the works of others. In all honesty, I do no find a strikingly different percentage of those with integrity and those without working within any of these fields of film.”  In other word, just because someone is working on one type of film doesn’t automatically make them an artist to be admired or a hack to be derided.

That all being said, I don’t actually disagree with Dan Gilroy.  Even if I personally like them, superheroes have unquestionably taken over Hollywood like a tsunami, but I love that James Gunn is out there standing up for himself and the Russo Brothers and Joss Whedon.

What about you?  Where do you stand on all of this?  Or do you just wish James Gunn would post more pictures of his adorable dog on Facebook?  Let me know in the comments.

Source: Collider


  1. I think that no genre is inferior to another one. And I think that The Winter Soldier was more relevant to our current society than 70% of the movies which were made this year. And that there are a lot of movies which won academy awards which are forgotten nowadays, and a lot of movies which will always be remembered, even if they were initially overlooked. I think that every movie which tries something new might influence other movie creators in the future. I think that since you can’t really predict the impact a movie has in the long run, it is impossible to truly measure the quality of one.

    1. On that last point, I think even Birdman’s director is aware of that. During one of his many acceptance speeches at the Oscars, he sort of dismissed the idea of truly being the Best Picture, saying something like, “Who knows about these things, really. Time will ultimately be the judge.”

  2. There are definitely things we can learn about the human condition from many comic book themes and characters. Just as much or more, for example, as we can learn from Gilroy’s robot movie and franchise action movie. I agree with Gunn that there are caring artists in any genre and fine films or hacks in any genre.

  3. To acknowledge that there are a lot of superhero films and not be a fan of them is one thing. It is another thing to look down upon the people who enjoy or work to create those films. It is like someone saying that they do not enjoy tearjerkers and thus anyone who does or works on them is of some lower ilk. The script about superheros could be said about any genre of film. There are good movies. There are bad movie. Claiming superiority over any one genre is narrowminded. Rather one should acknowledge your dislike is a personal feeling rather than universal truth.

  4. Birdman doesn’t have to be taken as a comment on superhero films at all. It’s a comment on Hollywood in the same way that Maps to the Stars was. It specifically goes after the ridiculous archetypes that make up the town- Ed Norton’s self obsessed star, Keaton’s character who is washed up (but it doesn’t matter what kind of films he did before he washed up). If anything, Birdman takes a stand against elitism in hollywood- the main antagonist in the film is the critic who promises to give Riggan a bad review JUST because he used to do big budget superhero flicks. We should be deriding the fact that the most popular films of the year (such as Guardians) aren’t at least being nominated for more awards. Maybe not for acting, but Gunn’s direction and his script were far better than in films like Theory of Everything or Foxcatcher.

    1. You are not wrong…but it is kind of hard to ignore the fact that the director and writers of birdman all admit that they do not like superhero movies. When the Birdman alter ego in the film refers to superhero movies as cultural genocide that is exactly what the director and writers have said they think superhero movies are. So, to say that birdman the film is simply a huge slam on comic book movies is too simplistic, but it has been very obvious what point of view the filmmakers were coming from. The actual content of the film is not actually as important as the general impression people have of the film, at least as far as the “Comic book movies are kind of under attack right now.”

  5. One thing that Birdman winning for Best Picture does is validate us pondering over the comments of the director, something you have done before and, having read your post, I did:

    What does it really mean for superhero stories and comics to be bad for us? More than any other genre? More than the ridiculous amounts of money 50 Shades of Grey made?

    It’s funny, though. The Academy expanded how many Best Picture nominees there were so that they could include some more genre films, at least in theory. Like that the only problem was that the big name genre flick of the past year was the very next pick, if only they could nominate one more. Except then you have a year like last year, with how many biopics, and others that you can look at from a mile away and say “awards contender.” With obvious stuff like American Sniper and Selma coming out right at the end of the year, to be considered for Oscars. Blarg.

    Anyway, it’s funny with Birdman winning, if it really is commentary on Hollywood and the Awards circuit and all of this. Because it also got caught up in the machine. Now I need to actually watch Birdman!…

  6. Movies were over-saturated with senses-shattering explosions and exiting thrills and spills long before super hero films came around melding Campbell’s Hero’ Journey to american style action cinema.

    Hitchcock made the same basic films over and over again, I don’t see anyone complaining about him.

    Oh no, too many murder films, oh my too much drama and exposition!

  7. I don’t see Birdman as saying anything about Superhero films other than that they are popular and there are a lot of them.
    If the most popular emergent genre was currently spanish horror films or dutch biographies or whatever, then we would have seen scenes parodying (but not really commenting on) those genres. Birdman was more a fun poke at the nature of art and identity (or false identity) more than anything, and in this case performance art such as live plays, films etc

    1. Birdman seems to make a commentary on superhero movies. It doesn’t really.

      Guy at an Indie Film Awards show takes a swipe at comic book movies. He’s maybe a hypocrite for doing so considering his wife, Rene Russo, was in two Thor movies, but it’s the kind of thing you’d expect someone at an Indie Awards Show to say.

      Jack Black’s portion of the opening song of the Academy Awards takes aim at comic book movies as well as Hollywood’s increasing dependence on franchises and China.

      It all just gives us an excuse to jump to the defense of comic book movies or tear them down, whatever our preference.

      The whole thing with Birdman is more distracting because I get the sense from the people I know who’ve seen that movie or written about it that a lot of people don’t completely understand what Inarritu was trying to say with that movie. Your interpretation seems pretty spot-on.
      Interpeting the actual film is sometimes complicated by the fact that while Birdman the film might be simply using the superhero genre as the stand-in for whatever the popular form of the day might be the actual director of the film has made it very clear he does not like superhero films, telling Deadline:

      “I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of things, and they are honesty very right wing.”

      “I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don’t respond to those characters. They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human […] It’s a false, misleading conception, the superhero. Then, the way they apply violence to it, it’s absolutely right wing. If you observe the mentality of most of those films, it’s really about people who are rich, who have power, who will do the good, who will kill the bad. Philosophically, I just don’t like them.”

      The film’s screenwriter also saying:

      “Those [superhero] movies are so black and white. Whatever side of it you are on, Gaza is grey. Abortion is grey, and so is the death penalty. You can have a side and think that side is right, but the problem is when, whatever side you take, you’re either right or wrong. These movies tend to be myopic in their view of, this is right, this is wrong, the hero does this and the bad guys…it all comes down the manufacturing line and you know what is going to happen.”

      1. I don’t know anything about the awards, I don’t watch TV, Im just going by this article, plus the birdman film (which I did watch)

      2. That’s cool. I just remembered that I failed to mention the thing about Jack Black at the Oscars, and I did not give as many quotes from the Birdman as I could have. So, I was trying to sum everything up in my previous comment.

  8. I just reread your post above, and to me superhero films are not much different than westerns and other hero promoting films where the hero typically uses force or violence to get their way.

    While I love the Birdman film, the directors comments are quite valid, most superhero stories are pretty shallow stories. After all, they were based on disposable entertainment.

    However, going back to the narrative form they grew from (the comic books), there is nothing essential to the nature of the form that says a give story has to be shallow. The only limits are the imagination of the writer/artist and the reader.

    In the ongoing discussion that is “superheroes” a genre within comics, in 70+ plus years those characters and stories have gone through various cycles, that the adapted films would take most likely several decades to catch up to, as any new cycle of art form in literature, music etc inevitably goes through. (creation/invention, experimentation, formal practices of the genre/style established, innovation, post-modern reinterpretation etc etc)

    While I respect the director and for the large part agree with his comments (while still loving superhero cinema and the source material), the comments do come off as somewhat sounding ignorant of the potential of both comics and cinema to not only entertain, but to inspire, have cultural relevance and deeply personal meaning.

    I think we all are guilty of that sort of thing though. Any time we start talking about a topic that we admittedly know little to nothing about in a critical way we end up sounding like a jackass, because we are only looking into something in a superficial manner.

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