Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past ten years, you will have noticed the ubiquitous nature of superhero films like Batman, Iron Man, Spiderman, Superman–gosh, lotta men here (thank God for Wonder Woman)–The Avengers, Doctor Strange, and so on–as well as mega blockbusters like Transformers, Mission Impossible, Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic Park flooding the film market.

For those who attend the cinema to escape the vagaries and anxieties of the modern world, this is most likely a good thing. These movies tend to be visually spectacular, if not mind-blowing, and the action and laughs just keep on coming.

But for those who go to the cinema to have their intellect challenged and to feel culturally enriched, this trend is probably not such a good thing. Take Jodie Foster; she recently stated rather emphatically in an interview with Radio Times, “Going to the movies has become like a theme park.” And as not to be misunderstood, the two-time Academy Award-winning actress continued, “Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking–you get the best return right now, but you wreck the earth.”

The Silence of the Lambs star summed up her thoughts with a brash and unambiguous statement: “It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world.”

It’s probably safe to say that most people don’t go to Marvel or DC films to plumb the depths of the soul or to comprehend the mysteries of a universal mind. Chekov and Dostoevsky aren’t necessarily well represented in the stark world of the hero and the supervillain. But to dismiss such films as common escapism is perhaps a miscalculation. Take Batman for instance. Bruce Wayne is dealing with the death of his beloved father, the trauma of a childhood event, as well as his savage craving for revenge; the Hulk’s Bruce Banner is said to struggle with the after-effects of child abuse and latent Dissociative Identity Disorder; the Silver Surfer is a lonely old soul who generally chooses the path of peace; and Doctor Strange is an arrogant surgeon humbled by a horrifying accident. In fact, Strange ultimately battles an archdemon whom many consider a god. To some, this is pretty heady stuff.

In response to Jodie Foster’s unforgiving examination of the film industry, James Gunn, writer-director of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films, had this to say: “I think Foster looks at film in an old-fashioned way where spectacle film can’t be thought-provoking. It’s often true but not always. Her belief system is pretty common and isn’t totally without basis. I say not without basis because most studio franchise films are somewhat soulless–and that is a real danger to the future of movies. But there are also quite a few exceptions.”

What do you think about Foster’s opinions? Are spectacle films pure shlock? Or do they offer some real drama within the strictures of a bombastic genre?

 

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