A couple of weeks ago I published my list of films that I am most excited to see that are coming out in 2011. A Campus Circle reader responded to the list, inquiring why I hadn’t put any of the several comic-book film adaptations slated for 2011 on it, and even went on to ask if it was because I just didn’t like the superhero genre.

It’s a great question, and I figured I’d respond to with a full column instead of just a blog post. If you look at the 2011 list, it’s a mix of big mainstream stuff and indie fare, so obviously I have no issues with commercial films. I’m a big fan of comic books as well as the comic-book film genre. Superman: The Motion Picture, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 1 & 2, Blade, Iron Man, Hellboy and Sin City are all films that I love that are based on comics.

But I didn't put any comic-book adaptations on the list because, quite frankly, the superhero genre has become stale for me. I’ve been let down so many times by comic-book films that to get excited about them has become an inconvenience. I’ll go see the films, but I’d rather wait and see how it turns out before I get my hopes up.

Ever since comic-book films became huge summer blockbusters, they’ve become too generic and formulaic. More emphasis is put on appealing to the widest possible audience as opposed to focusing on telling unique, compelling stories. Instead of mining all the great pre-existing material from the comics, they go with telling the same generic hero story over and over again. Quite simply, they have become “product.”

I’d like to take a moment and make a clear distinction between what I consider genuine films and what I consider product. A “film” is made with the sole purpose of making the best film possible. The end result is the vision of a filmmaker who was able to make the film he wanted to make. Now, this doesn’t mean the studio or the financiers gave the filmmakers a credit card and told them to shoot as many long shots of people sleeping as they wanted. Obviously, the filmmaker needs to have somewhat of a grasp of the demographic he/she is trying to hit, and if the intention is to make a really artsy art-house film, that needs to be understood by everyone involved going into it. In essence, a real “film” is the creation of a visionary.

“Product,” on the other hand, is the vision of many and is made for the purpose of making money. Products are created by groups of people who model their thing after other things that have made money in order to try and ensure that it makes money. The focus is not making a great film that – for better or for worse – reflects the intended vision of the filmmaker, the focus is on appealing to the widest possible audience in order to maximize profit.

Obviously, moviemaking is a business, and the businessmen make the decisions that they feel are right, which is understandable. But if you look at cinema history, it’s always the original visions of crazy filmmakers who dared to be different that are the biggest hits. Only a decade ago the superhero genre was almost nonexistent, but after X-Men and Spider-Man proved that they could be incredibly lucrative, superheroes became a brand, and now we get at least three or four every year. Just because a film is made about a superhero doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. But when a superhero character is entrusted to a passionate filmmaker like Christopher Nolan, who is focused on making a great film and not doing what everyone else is doing, that gets me excited.

Nolan’s third Batman film has a tough act to follow, but I’m definitely excited about that. And what I’m really excited about is Darren Aronofsky being brought in to direct Wolverine 2. Personally, I think he’s going to hit a grand slam with that one. But the fact of the matter is I’m not excited about them merely because they’re superhero films. I’m excited because I know there’s a filmmaker behind them that cares deeply for the craft of film and is going to proceed based on that fact.

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