What a wonderful time to be a nerd
I was at the movie theater this weekend and saw this…
It’s an ad for X-Men: First Class and it isn’t new. It’s been standing there for more than a month, but its importance only struck me recently.
Blade was probably the true beginning of the modern resurgence of superhero movies, but for me, the most important was X-Men in 2000. As a longtime comic fan, it seemed crazy to believe that Hollywood was not only capable of taking superheroes seriously (Singer’s movie was about social equality as much as guys who can shoot lasers from their eyes), but that they could manage to turn a profit in the process. In other words, the people who scoffed at spandex and capes went to see the movie too. The casting of Patrick Stewart, literally everyone’s first choice for Professor X, put the icing on the cake, proving that those involved were fans themselves.
After X-Men, came another Blade, Spider-Man (finally!), Daredevil, an even better X-Men, Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hellboy, Punisher, an even better Spider-Man, Catwoman, yet another Blade, Elektra, Fantastic Four, and the most well regarded of the lot, Batman Begins. This was all in the first five years of what was then still being called a fad, even by me.
Certainly these are not all excellent films. I had forgotten Elektra even came out. But to a lot of fans it was important that they simply existed and be just good enough to prevent the critics from saying “Well, that’s it for superhero movies! Trend’s over! Pack it up, Hollywood, this cash cow is dry.” Because then the party would end and we’d all go back to the universe we came from, where superheroes are silly. Neither profitable nor respectable enough for theaters.
We endured Singer’s yawnable Superman reboot, as well as the film it spawned through neglect, the bitterly disappointing third entry in the X-Men trilogy. We cringed nervously at Ghost Rider and hoped Nicolas Cage would shoulder most of the blame. We had high hopes for the Fantastic Four sequel. It looked better than the first one. And it was. Though not by much.
We pretended Spider-Man 3 was “fun”. Then we saw Iron Man and remembered what fun actually meant. There was another Incredible Hulk for some reason, but that was okay because there was another Batman too. A dark and moody (as well as long and preachy) tale of the Dark Knight we knew from the comics. Re-imagined for the screen, but only by degrees. The tone, the themes, and most importantly the characters that made Batman great were present. And right. And the rest of the world liked it too.
There were others, of course. Niche ones like Watchmen and Kick-Ass. Flat-out imitators like Sky High and Zoom. Blatant cash grabs like My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Superhero Movie. But the point is this: It’s been over a decade since X-Men was released. And amazingly, we are still here.
I just paid good money to see a movie about Thor (hear my thoughts on this Wednesday’s podcast!) Not the regular old Norse god, I mean Marvel Comics’ Thor. What’s more, Sam Jackson shows up as Nick Fury, and there’s a three-line cameo by an Academy Award Nominee playing Hawkeye. GODDAMN HAWKEYE. The high school version of me never thought he would see anyone play Hawkeye outside of a convention.
And more are coming, folks! We’re going to see a Captain America movie that contains the line “A weak man knows the value of strength.” YES. They get the character. There’s a Green Lantern film that not only acknowledges the cinematically expensive proposition that there are thousands of other alien Green Lanterns, but actually makes them a central part of the plot. The guy who did Firefly is directing an Avengers movie that will actually attempt to tie together Marvel’s cross-movie continuity in the same way the comics do. These are pipe dreams made manifest.
That ad for the new X-Men prequel (which I hope is as weighty and thoughtful as its most recent trailer makes it out to be) made me realize that for ten years I’ve been holding my breath. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and the superhero fad to end. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think, at least for now, the dream has come true. Superhero films are just another sub-genre. An offshoot of fantasy, sci-fi, whatever you want to call it. There will be good movies. There will definitely be bad ones. But there will be movies. For the first time, we live in a world where it’s possible for the heroes we love on the page to come to life on the screen.
If this is just one big What If… story, nobody tell me.