A Caped Citizen Kane?

It's been too long since I paused for a few minutes to ponder some of the larger issues regarding the superhero film genre. The last few weeks, I've just posted a news item here or there, and while I don't believe there's anything wrong that, there's certainly room for more.

The history of cape movies can be a wonderful starting point for discussions beyond what actor should play what role or whose costume didn't look like the one in the book. To what other issues am I referring?

Okay- one "big picture" topic that bears discussing is this: How far, or to what level of quality, can superhero movies advance in terms of story-telling, cinematic artistry and overall quality?

What am I talking about?

I'll try my best to explain. - One of the most fascinating developments of recent years is the way in which superhero movies have entered what one could call a "post-ironic" era. The current Batman incarnation and Watchmen are prime examples of this phenomena. These films presented the heroes with all the trappings of their comic book roots, but with nary a snicker or lame joke about long underwear. With these films, the makers said "Here's the character. He wears a costume and does extraordinary things. Now, get over it and let's get on with the story." Instead of trying to pander to the non-super aficionado with juvenile humor, the films got their power from literate screenplays and stellar acting, among other attributes.

So, what do I draw from these recent cape movies that try to appeal to the intellect while not losing any of their entertainment value?

Simply put, I think we're witnessing the rapid evolution of a genre- one that filmmakers have only begun to explore. The sheer number of creative options that the genre presents to intelligent filmmakers is mind boggling. If the present rate of improvement continues, I see a day in the near future in which some cape movies will be ranked with films that are regarded as the greatest ever made. For example, I see a day when we'll have a Superman trilogy that will rival anything George Lucas ever imagined in Star Wars.
This next statement might sound crazy, but I think one day, (as the post title suggests) some as yet unknown director will make the Citizen Kane (1941) or The Godfather (1972) of superhero movies. Far fetched, I know, but I wonder how many thought, back in '41, that a movie about a newspaper mogul's childhood psychoses would make for a classic film? On a side note, I haven't mentioned the new generation of 3-D technology that might transform the genre in ways we haven't even considered.

So, there's my take on the current state of the genre as of November 24, 2009. I can sum it up like this: If you think The Dark Knight is the pinnacle of capes in the cinema, you ain't seen nuthin yet.
Image: The Avengers, copyright Marvel Comics- painting by Alex Ross

Nick Cage and The Cape Movie Curse

Speaking of Kick-Ass(2010), since Nick Cage is one of the stars, I did a little reading on his really, really bad money troubles. As stated in this article from the New York Daily News, he owes the IRS $6.2 million, and is essentially broke. This, despite earning close to $20 million per picture.

He blames it on an unscrupulous business manager, others blame it on his opulent lifestyle. (I remember a couple of years ago he sold his huge comic book collection, and I wondered why. Now it's pretty clear.)

Cage's troubles got me to thinking about all the other actors who have appeared in superhero movies, and who have either met tragic deaths, injuries, or other terrible misfortunes. Just off the top of my head I could name close to a dozen. Has anyone ever investigated this strange coincidence? Hmm...might be fodder for a future post.
Image: Nicholas Cage, courtesy Google Images

Next Up: Kick-Ass!

I'm starting to get psyched about this one...

As reported on Splashpage and other sites, Lionsgate Films has launched the official site for Kick-Ass, the movie based on the book by John Romita Jr. and Mark Millar. Right now, there's not much on it besides the posters and a countdown to the release of the first trailer, which will be on November 15 at 1:00am on MySpace.com. The movie hits the screen April 16, 2010.

This is one I'm really looking forward to. Early gossip sounds like it has a gritty, realistic look that's missing in most cape movies and some amazing set pieces. I hope it lives up to the rumours, if for no other reason to help out Nick Cage. Lord knows that dude needs some good news for a change.
Image: Kick-Ass Movie Poster, Lionsgate Films

Terence Stamp: Out of the Phantom Zone

Since starting this blog I've wanted to do some research on actors who appeared in superhero films, and post some thoughts regarding their influence on or importance to the genre. I'm choosing actors that I've always wanted to learn more about, but in no particular order. In looking at the entire history of superhero films, Terence Stamp seemed like the perfect starting point for this little endeavor. His portrayal of General Zod in Superman II(1980) is still regarded as a high point of the genre, and one of the two or three most memorable villains in superhero movie history.

Stamp's Zod is a classic villain because he possesses the inflated ego and air of superiority that a world-dominating dictator should have. However, the brilliance of Stamp was in his entire approach to the characterization. The way in which he underplays many scenes fits perfectly with Zod's back story of a military ruler accustomed to having his orders followed without question. He hardly raised his voice in much of the film, except in certain key scenes. (The oval office scene included in an earlier post is a perfect example of this.) Instead, he used an icy stare and simply exuded a sense of power and ruthlessness. That performance in II has always been a favorite of mine, and yet until now I knew nothing about the man behind the role.

Stamp's career spans nearly fifty years and 70 film roles, therefor the list below only includes some highlights of that huge body of work. In conducting this research, one of the things I found interesting in his filmography is that his roles in the first two Superman films were not his only connection to the superhero genre. Until I read his Internet Movie Database profile, I was unaware of the amount of work he has done in superhero or science fiction films. Besides his 2005 appearance in Elektra, he's appeared in two Star Wars prequels, Alien Nation and has done voice work on the TV show Smallville. Interestingly, on Smallville, he voiced the character of Zod and Superman's father, Jor-El.

Even though this article was tougher to write than I expected, I'm really glad I put the time in. I learned so much about an actor whose work any movie fan should be familiar with. The most significant knowledge I gained from doing this research was discovering not only the impressive quantity of films Stamp has appeared in, but also the critical praise he has garnered over the years. I look forward to searching out these noteworthy films and acquainting myself more with his filmography.

Important Dates

July 22, 1939 born in Stepney, England

1962 - Makes film debut as Billy Budd in the film of the same name, receives Academy Award nomination for Best Actor

1965 - Again, won critical acclaim for his role as the psychopathic Frederick Clegg, in the thriller, The Collector
1969 - Moves to India, allegedly because of the breakup with his girlfriend, Jean Shrimpton

1969 - 1977 - semi-retirement- appeared in a few small films

1978 - Appeared briefly in Superman: The Movie as the villain, General Zod

1980 - Reprised his role as Zod in Superman II

1981-89 - Appeared in Legal Eagles, Wall Street, Young Guns, Alien Nation

1994 - Co-starred in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

1999 - Appeared briefly as Supreme Chancellor Valorum in Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace

2000 - Garnered critical praise for his work in the crime-drama, The Limey

2002 - Another brief appearance in Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

2003 to the present - Has performed voice work on the television drama, Smallville (as both Superman's father, Jor-El and General Zod

2005 - Appeared as the martial arts master, Stick, in Elektra

2008 - Appeared as Ludwig Beck, one of the key figures in the plot to kill Hitler in Valkyrie

This article is based on content from the following sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terence_Stamp
Image: Superman II publicity still, Jack O'Halloran, Terence Stamp (center), Sarah Douglas- Warner Bros. Pictures