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Ethan Hawke Says Super-Hero Films Are Overrated Amidst Marvel’s Push to Get an Overrated Super-Hero Film a Best Picture Nomination

Super-hero movies are decidedly middlebrow entertainment. They might be the most middlebrow thing ever produced, and don’t think I’m overlooking the huge number of westerns produced in the ’50s and ’60s. There’s a certain amount of jingoism baked into the super-hero genre on top of the clearly defined depictions of good and evil that super-heroes share with westerns.

Ethan Hawke wants to make sure everyone remembers that super-hero films are, at the end of the day, mostly PG-13 action-adventure films designed to be blockbusters and appeal in an almost generic way to the largest group of movie-goers possible. He said this to The Film Stage and I can’t believe that his remarks are being considered controversial.

That’s why film festivals have become so important because you guys at film festivals are like curators of, like, what does the world need to be paying attention to. What should be seen? If we didn’t have these festivals, big business would crush all these smaller movies.

Now we have the problem that they tell us Logan is a great movie. Well, it’s a great superhero movie. It still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It’s not Bresson. It’s not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is. I went to see Logan cause everyone was like, “This is a great movie” and I was like, “Really? No, this is a fine superhero movie.” There’s a difference but big business doesn’t think there’s a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.

Where’s the lie? Logan was good, maybe one of the best super-hero movies, but it’s still a fairly straightforward genre film. And given the chance, studios would replace their entire output with blockbuster genre films. For example, between 1977 and 2014 there were six Star Wars films. Then Disney bought Star Wars and there have been four new Star Wars movies in the past four years. Marvel increased their output to three films a year. Three films in one franchise from one studio every year! Even the James Bond movies, at the height of their popularity, were annual or biennial.

As if to underscore everything Hawke said, Marvel has been pushing to have Black Panther nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, not wanting to settle for the Best Popular Film category. On no planet is Black Panther deserving of even a nomination for Best Picture; the best picture of a given year doesn’t fall apart in the third act.

Genre films have been nominated for Best Picture before. Star Wars got a nomination in 1977, losing to Annie Hall, one of the best films of all time and one that would define the romantic comedy genre for the next forty years and counting. Genre films have even won Best Picture; Unforgiven won in 1992, and it absolutely deserved it. Westerns were almost a dead genre after Unforgiven because everything that could be said about them was said in that film. It’s only been in recent years that the genre has seen something of a resurgence, mostly thanks to Quentin Tarantino.

What this tells me is that Disney, who are about to own basically all of movies, isn’t interested in making the kinds of movies Ethan Hawke says they’re not interested in making. They want their blockbuster films to be the standard against which all other films are judged. But they’re not high art, and they haven’t been getting better. Black Panther isn’t even that good of a super-hero movie, it suffers from serious problems script problems. You can smooth those over with clever quips and pretty CGI, but like Ethan Hawke said, it’s not Bergman.

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