Time to admit superhero is a genre


If there were a constitution of cinema and Hollywood had its own government along with separation of powers and in all likelihood a Supreme Court of the most powerful figures in the industry, not only would that be awesome and open up hundreds more press jobs which I would be qualified for, but also at some point within the last two years, some cinematic lawmaker would’ve proposed an amendment to write in “superhero” as its own genre.

While you shake your mind of that excessive analogy, consider the truth to that idea, especially with a movie such as “Kick-Ass” hitting theaters tomorrow. No denying it folks, superhero movies have earned their own distinction. It’s already true in conversation: you don’t say “I just saw that really good coming-of-age action movie ‘Spider-Man,'” you say “superhero movie.”

You could attach “superhero” to comic book or graphic novel adaptations, but it’s not always true. Take “Hancock,” for example. That’s an original film that wanted desperately to capitalize on the insane revenues of these stories. “Kick-Ass” does come from a graphic novel by Mark Millar (“Wanted”), but the two were practically conceived in tandem.

kickass-first-official-full-02“Kick-Ass” is also — as you’ll find out if you see it — a spoof on superhero films, and “spoofage” is supreme validation that whatever is being spoofed is in fact a genre. Disaster films (“Airplane”), military movies (“Hot Shots!”), cop movies (“The Naked Gun”) — all genres by this proposed definition. None, however, wield more power in today’s world than the superhero movie. New graphic novels and comics are considered possible gold mines and Hollywood execs are the first guys moving out West hoping to strike it rich. Most studios want the next Harry Potter or Twilight mega-franchise because it means a guaranteed number of box office smashes and insane revenue, but these films are the second best thing.

After “The Dark Knight” became one of the highest-grossing and most popular films of all time in 2008, this became more clear than it already was. To earn that much money, respect and adoration from such a wide audiences speaks volumes to the effectiveness of the hero’s journey story convention. Hero’s journeys have powered stories for centuries, but superheroes are the current evolutionary stage of them because they psychologically probe characters who tend to be gifted with abilities beyond our comprehension. Somehow we so instantly identify with that idea, with those moral choices. Maybe it’s because we wish we were endowed with powers, or maybe it’s just great character-fueled storytelling.

With “Kick-Ass,” we’ve gotten to the point where comic book writers and filmmakers have become fascinated with the territory that “superhero-ness” can cover. Several “what if ordinary people tried to be superheroes” or “what if almost everyone was a superhero of some kind” stories have emerged in the ten years since the superhero boom that began with “X-Men.” “Kick-Ass” explores how a superhero in our actual world, not the one loosely portrayed in the classic Marvel and DC universes, might actually function. The protagonist, Dave Lizewksi aka Kick-Ass becomes a phenom through the Internet — far more likely these days than the Daily Bugle or the Daily Planet breaking superhero headlines in the morning paper. I mean, I wish things were that great for print still, but no way.

But that’s the kind of territory these films are in, narrowing the gap between our world and the one that comic book legends such as Stan Lee or even Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created for us. That’s what is generating such powerful buzz for “Kick-Ass”: it’s playing with the conventions that its audience holds near and dear. Well, that and making it rain fists, blood and bullets (not necessarily — or usually — in that order) for a good couple hours. It would be wrong to leave out the entertainment factor, but after films like “The Dark Knight,” the bar is high for adding inches of depth and the sky’s the limit with this genre.


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