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Oscars & Heroes

Comic-book blockbusters don't get awards—and maybe that's just fine



Now that awards season is over, we can look at the major awards earned by superhero movies and ask, "Why aren't there any?"

The most obvious answer is that comic-book films aren't taken seriously because they're just that—comic-book films. As a genre, a lot of superhero movies are just bad. They don't transcend their medium in any way, and they don't add anything to their original stories, either. These are your Green Lanterns, your X-Men: The Last Stands, and your Amazing Spider-Man 2s. Of course, these films aren't going to win any awards because they're not very good. Aspects of each might be passable, but there's nothing out of the ordinary about them, let alone extraordinary.

You might want to point to Heath Ledger's posthumous Academy Award win for his portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as proof that comic-book movies can be recognized and taken seriously when a particular performance or film deserves it, but there's no way that Ledger's performance is the only one worthy of recognition in a superhero film.

Look at 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The film blends the very best of 1970s paranoia thrillers and superhero films in a way that is emotional and satisfying to audiences of all stripes. The story was well told on a technical level. You could stand the Captain America sequel next to All the President's Men or The Conversation, and it would rate a comparison.

Another example would be Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a goofy story, sure, with bizarre characters and an odd sense of humor, but it was well-crafted, as it stitched together the sensibilities of an adventure movie such as Star Wars with the storytelling flourishes one expects from comic books. Guardians was an illuminating film that, despite its quirkiness, spoke to people about the inner lives we lead, thanks to a heroic team of loners and misfits coming together.

After the joke-writers at the Academy Awards this year took a few potshots at the expense of these movies, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn took to Facebook to say, "If you think people who make superhero movies are dumb, come out and say we're dumb. But if you, as an independent filmmaker or a 'serious' filmmaker, think you put more love into your characters than the Russo Brothers do Captain America, or Joss Whedon does the Hulk, or I do a talking raccoon, you are simply mistaken."

And I can't argue with that. At all.

But what about people who are fatigued by superhero movies? An argument could be made that these movies need no artistic recognition because, 1. They're already recognized in terms of box-office receipts, and 2. No number of awards can encourage the studios to pay more attention to superhero films. There is no shortage of these movies. In fact, there is no end in sight for them.

And perhaps that's the most compelling reason for ignoring comic-book movies at awards shows: They don't need awards. While it would be nice to recognize the love and craftsmanship that goes into making them, they're going to march on regardless.

It would be great if our favorite superheromovies got the recognition they deserved from the circles of critics and bodies like the academy, but we're giving them all the ticket-buying recognition they need to keep going, and that's all that matters. I'd rather the academy give people like Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro Iñárritu awards if that's the recognition they need to be able to keep making smaller, brilliant films.

Maybe it's better not to award superheromovies at all. Otherwise, studios would have less than zero incentive to bankroll movies like Birdman or The Artist or No Country For Old Men. With the way things are now, we get the best of both worlds. So perhaps it's best if your favorite superhero loses this battle for now.

Bryan Young isthe editor-in-chief of BigShinyRobot.com.

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