NY Times: Have Superhero Movies Peaked?
There’s an interesting question posed by the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott in a new piece regarding superhero movies.
He surveys the Summer of the Superhero and notes the genre’s success, but then wonders if it might have hit a creative high-water mark. In other words, could the conventions of the superhero limit every superhero film, keeping it from exceeding The Dark Knight?
But to paraphrase something the Joker says to Batman, “The Dark Knight” has rules, and they are the conventions that no movie of this kind can escape. The climax must be a fight with the villain, during which the symbiosis of good guy and bad guy, implicit throughout, must be articulated. The end must point forward to a sequel, and an aura of moral consequence must be sustained even as the killings, explosions and chases multiply. The allegorical stakes in a superhero are raised — it’s not just good guys fighting bad guys, but Righteousness against Evil, Order against Chaos — precisely to authorize a more intense level of violence.
… the disappointment comes from the way the picture spells out lofty, serious themes and then … spells them out again. What kind of hero do we need? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? How much autonomy should we sacrifice in the name of security? Is the taking of innocent life ever justified? These are all fascinating, even urgent questions, but stating them, as nearly every character in “The Dark Knight” does, sooner of later, is not the same as exploring them.
As much as I liked The Dark Knight, I agree with Scott on its limitations, owing mostly to the abundance of "speechifying."
But, personally, I disagree with his main point. Watchmen, if it truly ends up following Alan Moore’s vision, would certainly represent a new creative high for the genre.
What Scott reveals in the piece isn’t the great limitation of superheroes, but rather a limitation in his understanding of what a superhero can be.