Christopher Nolan dragged Batman (and superhero cinema) into a more serious “real” world

Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are as revered as any franchise of summer blockbusters can really be in this day and age. But when people make fun of them, they always seem to settle on one thing in particular: the Batman voice. When he’s in his Batman suit, Christian Bale doesn’t have too many long conversations,…

The Incredibles didn't need comic-book source material (or origin stories) to do superheroes right

Nobody starts with the origin stories. At least when I first fell in love with comic books, the lure wasn’t the story arcs of these individual heroes. It was in finding out about this whole world full of outsized characters, many of whom had decades worth of interconnecting storylines. When I’d pick up individual…

Mystery Men clumsily spoofed superhero movies before the genre even really took flight

For whatever reason, a lot of the early superhero movies were also superhero-movie parodies. Before the genre was fully formed—before it was even close to fully formed—movies were using it as grist for jokes. The idea, I think, was that the superhero was a ridiculous and outdated form of American cultural lore, the…

The Phantom paid tongue-in-cheek homage to old-timey do-gooders but never got its due

They kept trying it. All through the 1990s, movie executives were greenlighting big summer movies based on mostly forgotten ’30s-vintage pulp superheroes. Clearly, people placed high within Hollywood’s largest studios thought that the teenagers of the ’90s, kids who had grown up buying gold-embossed collectors’…

What the hell were any of us thinking making the terrible Batman Forever a huge hit?

You can see how it happened. The executives at Warner Bros. didn’t set out to destroy the Batman mythos or to make unwatchably shitty Batman movies that would put both the character and the superhero movie genre at large into a state of prolonged stasis. They just wanted a hit. Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, from 1992,…

Batman Returns is a relic of an age when disgusting monsters only ran for office in the movies

It seemed ridiculous in 1992: the idea of a misshapen, braying lunatic running for higher office while barely bothering to disguise his own painfully obvious-bordering-on-theatrical creepiness. These days, would anyone blink? In fact, the biggest difference between Batman Returns and our own impossible present-day…

’90s kids didn’t give a damn about the peerless movie-serial nostalgia of The Rocketeer

Rocketeers exist. There aren’t many of them, but they’re real. A few years ago, at an action movie festival in North Carolina, I met one. His name is Dan Schlund, and he’s a stunt performer who flies a gleaming silver rocket pack that doesn’t look too different from the one in the 1991 movie The Rocketeer. It doesn’t…

It’s a bird... It’s a plane... It’s Superman, the first big-budget superhero movie

It’s become a common complaint among movie lovers: Superhero movies have taken over, and it’s hard to get anything made if it doesn’t feature people in capes. In its own way, it’s a valid point. The superhero movie has become the dominant form of American popcorn cinema, playing the same function that genres like…

We wrap up our history of action films with 2017’s very ’80s-style bombast opera Wolf Warrior II

If you haven’t seen Wolf Warrior II, the massive 2017 Chinese blockbuster, the first thing you might know about it is that it made a ton of money. During its theatrical run, Wolf Warrior II grossed a head-spinning $870 million. Globally speaking, it’s the sixth-highest-grossing movie of 2017 (the top five: Beauty And