Jodie Foster's criticism of superhero movies is unfair and outdated

Hanna Flint
Jodie Foster is not a fan of superhero movies (PA)

Jodie Foster is back in the limelight after delivering “Arkangel”, a brilliant new episode of Black Mirror, but she’s used the Netflix series’ promotional tour to have a go at the superhero genre.

“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,” Foster told the Radio Times. “It’s ruining the viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world.

“I feel like I make movies because there are things I have to say in order to figure out who I am or my place in the world, or for me to evolve as a person.”

Jodie makes a fair point but she should also respect that there are plenty of audience members out there who have turned to comic books, and their subsequent movies, to figure out who they are.

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, one of 2017’s most critically and commercially-acclaimed movies (Warner Bros.)

Since 2008, we’ve seen the evolution of superheroes like Iron Man and Thor, Black Widow and Captain America through each movie they appear in as they figure out their place in the world as a person as well as a hero – that has always been the raison d’être of the comic book genre.

It’s also been to explore social and political themes and issues; the X-Men franchise’s human vs. mutant narrative has been a leading comment on the racist and prejudice attitudes of the US, while the Captain America movies have explored the corruption of government, government accountability and the problem with too much bureaucracy and surveillance.

Of course, there are some superhero films that have failed to impress, Justice League and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for example, but it’s not like it’s the only genre to deliver disappointing movies and even Foster herself has put out a few stinkers – Nim’s Island and Flightplan certainly come to mind.

The most disappointing point of her attack is the idea that appealing to the masses is something to be avoided when historically cinema has always played this game. From the early 1930s to the late 1990s, movie musicals – both live-action and animated – help to fill up cinemas, as did Westerns during the early 20th century to the 1960s.

Her whole argument seems to be perpetuating the Clement Greenberg school of thought; that the films she makes are “avante-garde” compared to “kitsch” superhero movies that dumb down the genre. High-brow art critics also turned their nose up at the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Sir Peter Blake and Claes Oldenburg and their kitsch pop art, which rallied against the elitist and iconoclastic notions of what art actually is, but now their work is hanging in the world’s most famous galleries.

Maybe there are a lot of superhero movies right now, we are certainly in that phase of popular cinema where they are being championed, but that doesn’t mean they are not a welcome addition to the medium. Just look at the excitement in the black community regarding the upcoming Black Panther movie or the response from women following the release of Wonder Woman last year. These movies have inspired and uplifted marginalised groups and offered a point of view that they can get behind.

Even Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn has suggested Foster’s comments are old-fashioned and do not reflect the current state of popular cinema.

“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,” he tweeted.

“But, to be fair, at least from Foster’s quotes, she seems to see filmmaking as something that’s primarily about her own personal growth. For me, that may be part of why I do this, but spending many millions of dollars on a film has to be about more than that – it’s communication – so my experience is merely one spoke on that wheel.”

There’s no doubt Hollywood could be doing more to make more movies outside the big budget genre, but to suggest that the superhero genre is “ruining the viewing habits of the world” seems unfairly hyperbolic.

Foster may not want to make a superhero movie but there’s no need to be a snob about it.

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