Bill Maher Suggests Success of Superhero Movies Means Stupidity Is On The Rise
During his HBO talk show Friday night the comedian questioned the panel on the difference between the highest grossing films adjusted for inflation and the most successful movies today. He then suggested the new founded popularity of superhero movies and fantasy films shows we are now less intelligent. Is he right?
Obviously, the short answer is no but I think this deserves a proper rebuttle. No one on the show seemed able to present one. Mr Maher, who I'm a big fan of, highlighted the top twenty-five films, so I'll only be using that list to make my argument. As a fan of comic book movies I'm aware of a slight stigma attached to it. If I talk to my parents about new superhero movies being released I'll be greeted with a little nod or a polite smile but virtually no interaction. My girlfriend, bless her does try to see the appeal and keeps up with the new movies on twitter but has limited interest herself.
So, superhero movies' aren't intelligent? It's not a new idea. Earlier this week a video showed Zach Galifianakis saying comic books are something you eventually just grow out of. I doubt I will but that's beside the point. I'm here to argue that superhero movies, specifically the six present in the top twenty-five highest grossing films are not something just for stupid people. Now unfortunately, some of the films present in that exclusive club do not exactly make this an easy task.
The Avengers (World Wide Gross: $1,518,594,910, 3rd Highest Grossing film of all time)
Starting off with an easy one then and the film with a tease that lasted a decade. Firstly, from a purely technical stand point, "The Avengers" was a monstrous achievement. Building up a film by introducing one hero after another in separate movies up to the year of the big event was unique and inspired. It was a completely new experience and I have my doubts whether it will ever be successfully replicated.
Looking at the film itself, I can't claim that it is deep. It doesn't require multiple viewings to understand. Is there a lot of action? Yes. Big cinematic explosions? Check. Filmed so it looks and feels like a comic book come to life? It certainly does and that is nothing to be knocked. I can only imagine how difficult it was to achieve. The film is shot at different angles so it actually looks like the page of a comic appearing on screen.
The characters are well written and thoughtfully portrayed. Thor and Loki's dynamic is ripped straight from Shakespeare, which is playfully pointed out in the movie. Tony Stark is constantly wrestling with what kind of man he wants to be. Steve Rogers is the character the audience can most relate to as at the heart of it he is dealing with his own short comings as not only a hero but also a human. I could go on but you get the idea. On paper or watched without sound The Avengers may look stupid, but it's actually a film with complex themes that are intertwined in a way only Joss Whedon can pull off.
"The Avengers" is an intelligent movie masquerading as a blockbuster.
Iron Man 3 (World Wide Gross: $1,215,439,994, 6th Highest Grossing film of all time)
I have a confession. I'm not a massive fan of this movie. I do like it, I even own it on Blu-ray, and I've watched it multiple times. It just wouldn't be in my top favourite films. I have my own personal reasons for that but none of them are that it's a dumb movie. Again, on the surface "Iron Man 3" could look fairly straight forward. But it is actually a mixture of statements on what it means to be human and political satire.
Does the film have too many jokes and quips? I'm not sure, what I did notice is that it includes a pretty damn good portrayal of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. When Tony returns from New York he is coming back from a war zone where he very nearly died. In Iron Man 3 he is shown suffering from Insomnia and random anxiety attacks. Downer Jr portrays these mental breakdowns in the way I imagine they would occur and I didn't expect to see this in a superhero movie.
Political satire? I have two words for you. Iron Patriot. For better or worse the appearance of Iron Patriot in the film is Shane Black poking fun at the US government's failings in Afghanistan and Iraq. A big clunk of armour plastered with the American flag and over stuffed with weapons goes around trying to find a terrorist where there isn't one, too subtle?
I would argue "Iron Man 3" is an intelligent movie.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon & Transformers: Age of Extinction (World Wide Gross: $1,123,794,079 & $1,087,404,499, 7th & 10th highest grossing films of all time respectively)
Yes, it's sad but true. Two of the ugliest stepsisters of the comic book movie family are in the top ten highest grossing movies of all time…for now. We can all hope that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice knocks them out. Just think if DC and Marvel fans could only all get along, they might never have been there in the first place.
Anyway, I said I would play by the rules and I stand by that. But shockingly there is something clever in these movies, one of them at least. At the beginning of "Age of Extinction," Cage finds Optimus Prime in an old broken down movie theatre. An old guy there says that movies are all remakes, sequels and rubbish these days and Cage takes Optimus home. When he greets his daughter he says: "I'm asking you to look at the junk and see the treasure."
Michael Bay's point is this. Critics are going to hate this movie but it's the type of thing that will save cinema because it can only be enjoyed properly on a big screen. It's a very clever metaphor and not one you would necessarily expect to find in a Transformers Movie. He also has a point because two of them are in the top ten. Well done Mr Bay.
I would say the Transformers movies do have intelligent aspects to them.
The Dark Knight Rises & The Dark Knight (World Wide Gross: $1,084,439,099 & $1,004,558,444 and 11th and 19th highest grossing movies of all time respectively)
Out of the top ten now and it's two of Nolan's "Batman Trilogy". Like them or lump them it's hard to argue these films aren't intelligent or that they don't appeal to intelligent people. Let's start with "The Dark Knight." Even if you ignore the fact that it is well crafted with an Oscar worthy performance from Heath Ledger, it's hard to ignore the social commentaries throughout the entire plot.
The film has numerous points to make on the insanity of terrorists and terrorism, questioning how society would and should react. The ferry scene triggered a debate on the car ride home almost as heated as the one based around whether or not Cobb was still dreaming.
The Dark Knight Rises while possibly filled with plot holes was packed full with commentary on the state of society at the time the movie was released including but not limited to, the type of social frustration that lead to "Occupy Wall Street."
"The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Dark Knight" are Intelligent films.
I have one final point to make about the Transformers movies and another confession. I like them. I'm sorry I do. They're fun and dare I say stupid and they have beautiful people in them. It's called a guilty pleasure like…oh I'm sure you guys can put a few of your own in the comment section. But I think that's where Bill Maher is definitely wrong.
If I watch a movie which isn't necessarily clever that doesn't mean I'm stupid. It just means you don't see the appeal of shutting your brain off for a while which is ironic considering you, Mr Maher, are a self-confessed pot smoker.
Finally, to quote Aaron Sorkin and render this article completely pointless: "Who the hell knows why anyone watches anything."