Thursday, June 18, 2015

"The 21st Century Superhero: Essays On Gender, Genre and Globalization In Film", Edited by Richard J. Gray II and Betty Kaklamanidou

It is possible to publish a book of essays about superhero movies without discussing the source material. That's what this book was, as well as offering an argument that the films made in the early-2000s had allusions to 9-11, the war in Iraq and American military action, all within a narrow feels like it had a limited sell-by date, with some discussions dated by their choice of films to examine  ( it's been a long time since anyone talked much about Hancock, Aeon Flux or the Kick-Ass movies ), but there are some good tidbits:

*Bruce Banner's exile in Brazil's favelas, as depicted in The Incredible Hulk, piqued the author's interest more than the remaining 2/3 of the film ( so...somebody liked at least some of that movie ).

*Jean Grey's " cinematic presence" in the original X-Men film trilogy  is a reflection on "the mythos of patriarchy" in the films - in other words, she doesn't have enough screen time to develop into an interesting character..unless it's a character development that serves the mechanics of the script, i.e., everything centers around Professor X, Magneto, and  especially Wolverine.

*In his efforts at "Understanding 'Hotness' in the superhero film genre", Richard J. Gray had quite a lot to say about Ellen Page's sex appeal as Kitty Pryde. Considering how she barely had about 15-20 minutes of screen time and the essay was focused on her debut in X-Men: The Last Stand...I say he was smitten with Page...she was appealing in Super, though nobody has ever written this much about her attractiveness since - far less was written about her coming out a while back. He also has a crush on Jessica Alba, since he seems to give her shrill, vapid Sue Storm in Fantastic Four a favorable review. Even Halle Berry's Catwoman gets a light love tap of criticism, so whether he wrote the essay to talk shop about attractive female superheroes and ponder why they were sexy or critique their sexualized image is moot.

*No surprise that several essays compared Christopher Nolan's work on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight as commentaries on life post-9/11, but what caught my eye was a shout out to Batman Unmasked, a book I reffered to in my previous blog post as a possible inspiration for Grant Morrison's take on Batman, even confirming my suspicion by noting the passage I vaguely now I don't have to hunt for that out-of-print book just to check out a hunch!

*I've never read any of Marvel's Kick-Ass or seen the movies, so I wouldn't be able to agree or disagree if the films share a correlation with the Spider-Man movies in their contrasting use of voiceover narration reflecting the masculinity of their respective effete protagonists, but I do know that nobody's rallying for more sequels to Kick-Ass.

*I'm actually bored with reading material that puts Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen on a pedestal, because I don't really think it's the greatest comic ever written and drawn - I just respect the effort that the creators made at telling this story. I do agree with the essay in this book arguing that the film adaptation succeeded in being a pastiche of film noir, but that's what the comic book did, and Snyder was simply following it. It's hampered by the fact that it features an ensemble cast of also-rans, could've-beens and never-weres, so it feels like we're watching a big-budget made-for-cable mini-series on Starz or Reelz instead of a proper superhero adventure film.

So..the book essentially covers what I would argue was the formulative stage of modern superhero movies. If Avengers is being considered the definitive maturation of this genre and Tim Burton's Batman films the embryonic, then the films covered in this book premiering between 2000 and 2011 are formulative development...but that's my hypothesis. If the authors had thought of that, they would've cranked out two sequel books of essays by now..