WHAT DOES THE EVOLUTION OF SUPERHERO FILMS MEAN FOR MAINSTREAM ENTERTAINMENT?
By Sathujan Manmatharajah
The rise of the superhero genre over the past decade or so has been unpredictably huge. However 2018 may take the crown as the most influential year of superhero movies. Films such as ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse’ are shining examples of the leaps made, but what could this progress mean when looking at media in general?
Black Panther needs no introduction. It was and still is a cultural phenomenon. Firstly, the fact that its cast is mainly composed of black actors was revolutionary to the blockbuster genre. Not only this, but the movie also proudly explores the vibrant colours, sounds and landscapes of African identity and culture throughout, with Wakanda being a technologically advanced country rooted in rich tradition (contradicting the stereotypes of poverty associated with the continent). In an interview with Glamour magazine, Michael B Jordan, who plays Killmonger, said, ‘I think representation is extremely important. I keep looking back at my ten-year-old self and what I didn’t have to look at in films.’ The portrayal of minorities and strong female characters in a blockbuster movie diverges from typical blockbuster tropes but has proved to be a massive success. Not only does this provide heroes whom certain minorities can relate to, the proud expression of African heritage is something that reflects our diverse, real-world society. This exploration of identity is also much more of a mature theme, when compared to preceding superhero flicks, which has been realised by the Academy. Traditionally, superhero movies would be nominated exclusively for the special effects and sound mixing categories (which is still something to be proud of), however Black Panther received 7 Oscar nominations this year, including for the prestigious Best Picture award. Looking ahead, Black Panther proves that superhero movies can be so much more than what they are on paper, but also how cinema and media in general must become more diverse to accurately represent the society in which we live. The more recent success of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ further solidifies this idea of audiences wanting accurate representation in Hollywood.
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse is an animated picture released by Sony Animation in 2018. Whereas Black Panther was game-changing because of its mature themes, the animation style in ‘Into the Spiderverse’ is what sets it apart from the rest of the pack. The animated feature is a great film in terms of its story, characters and how it handles the ideas of the multiverse, but the production team have given ‘Into the Spiderverse’ a look that is completely fresh and original. Over the past 2 decades since the release of the first ‘Toy Story’, animation has evolved very little artistically (some exceptions), with a very large fraction of movies opting for a 3D ‘Toy Story’-like style. From the very beginning to the end, it’s very clear that ‘Spiderverse’ aims to LITERALLY put the pages of a comic book on the silver screen, with an eye-popping colour scheme and visual exclamations, such as ‘KAPOW’ and ‘BOOM’. It is worth mentioning that this film also received an Oscar nomination (and is tipped to win). Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, it is very relevant to the story being told. This movie is an example of imaginative film making, and shows the capability of animation, which has an unfortunate stereotype of being ‘for kids. Hopefully, this movie can change these perceptions and inspire even more creative films.
Have a look at this video, with the directors of the movie talking about their artistic choices:
The innovations made by superhero movies in 2018 made ripples not only in the genre but in media overall. After countless years of growth, this year may be the one where the movies truly exceeded expectations and became a force for good in cinema. (P.S. I haven’t forgotten about Avengers Infinity War, now the fourth highest grossing film of all time.)