For the better part of two decades now terms like gritty, dark and edgy have been the main words used to describe a good deal of what Hollywood’s been putting out in the superhero movie department. It seems that every hero is an antihero and every good-natured character has ambiguous morality and a penchant for betrayal. This is in no way surprising. Just like postmodernism in literature and its subsequent derivations signaled that the medium had ‘grown up’ and was willing to ask the tough questions, so too were comics ready to do the same in the late eighties and early nineties and movies were ready for their own introspection near the end of that decade.
It wasn’t all bad. In fact some good superhero movies came out of this Hollywood awakening and even a few great ones. Nolan’s Batman Begins or The Dark Knight were absolutely astounding. Sin city was a triumph of technique and style over substance (but in a good way) and proved that audiences were hungry for dark and dreary.
Unfortunately many of the films of the last decade tried to cash in on this trend. This led to some subpar productions pushed forward simply because of the often tacked on ‘dark’ element. The crowning achievement of this tendency was the duality of the atrocious spider-man 2 and the (almost) franchise breaking X-Men 3 in which previously established characters (in the case of Spider-Man the title character himself) were completely modified to give them an edgier feel to the severe detriment of the movie. Fans cried foul
Of course there are some success stories. The Chris Nolan Batman Series is very good and Watchmen was a masterpiece of storytelling. The recent reboot of Superman produced by Nolan and directed by 300 director Zach Snyder is shaping up quite well. The Punisher was thoroughly entertaining in a ‘guns gone wild’ way. . The show Heroes toyed with the concept quite a bit by presenting alternate versions of characters from different timelines. The ‘Gritty’ heroes were often put side by side with their more naïve selves for maximum contrast. A good deal of these movies as well as Heroes are available on the Comcast Internet streaming site Xfinity as well as most other streaming services so catch a bit of the action if you get the chance
However it’s high time that we draw the line and thank Hollywood: Gritty was good! Thank you! What next?
The Recent success of the Avengers might very well shape the future of superhero movies. Shared world continuity might be the next big thing as well as a gradual return to a more ‘heroic’ standard in our thrilling heroics. The success of the new Superman movie is perhaps the litmus test for ‘edgy’. After all, Batman is believable as a dark tormented character but the all-American Man of Steel? We shall have to wait and see.
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