By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
I think the best example of how the Comic Book genre has taken over the film industry is the coverage of Disney’s growingly inevitable purchase of 21st Century Fox. Instead of selling it as “Disney might own The Simpsons”—a phrase which would have lit the world on fire a few years ago—the acquisition is being sold as “Disney now owns the X-men.” The genre is now fully in control of the pop culture discussion, and it is hard to imagine it leaving that pedestal any time soon.
And yet, despite being as critically beloved or financially successful as it has ever been, the genre has yet to break one critical barrier: An Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
It is hard to believe that roughly 9 years ago, the fact that “The Dark Knight” was not nominated for Best Picture was an industry consuming scandal (and “Dark Knight” doesn’t even hold up that well). The outrage was so intense it partially inspired the increase of nominees from 5 to 10, to ensure more genre films could get in. But since then, we have yet to get a campaign or push for any other comic book film to that magnitude.
I would argue that this is the year. This is the best chance, or chances, we have to see a comic book film nominated for best picture. We have never had such a massive pool of highly diverse, quality options from which to choose, and I fear that if we do not see a nomination this year, we very likely will never see one.
For a quick rundown of the ‘Comic Book’ films this year, we have “Justice League,” “Spider-man: Homecoming,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2,” “Logan”, and “Wonder Woman.” I’m going to remove “Justice League” and “Spider-man” outright; even though “Homecoming” is a wonderful film that has revitalized and modernized a property many had given up on, it lacks the ‘spark’ you need for a convincing Oscar campaign (to be fair, what second reboot would?). And while “Thor: Ragnarok” is arguably the best of the bunch this year, it’s deadpan weirdness and adherence to melodrama or stakes probably makes it too much of an outlier.
So between “Logan,” “Guardians,” and “Wonder Woman,” I argue all three are worthy in their own way of being nominated for Best Picture.
“Logan” in many ways is the second coming of “The Dark Knight,” a film that sells itself as something other than a comic book movie. While the ‘lab of mutant children’ and the clone subplot are classic comic book, the tone, pacing, and themes of the film are more akin to a western. The film is about an aged, disgraced hero living in the west taking up arms one last time to save a group of innocents and redeem himself. It shrugs off much of the modern comic book fad to be deconstructionist and small. I think of all the films, this is the one with the best chance, if it sells itself as a western as opposed to a superhero film. It is a once in a generation film in the sense that it is a rare chemistry of two iconic actor’s leaving signature roles.
“Wonder Woman” is the perhaps the closest we will get to the cultural feeling of Christopher Reeve’s “Superman” in modern Hollywood: a sweeping, mythic, and inspiring film starring a character that was once thought unfilmable. And as a ground breaking critical and financial success, breaking the glass ceiling of Female Super Hero Films, I’d argue that its net impact on the world will be even bigger than that first Superman film. It also helps that, in its own context free bubble, “Wonder Woman” is a damn good film. There might never be another super hero film of this magnitude—save for maybe “Black Panther”—if the Oscars wanted to capture a moment in time and canonize what is now a culturally classic film, this may be one of their last chances.
“Guardians” is a sort of dark horse. While critical and fan reception is a bit mixed, I’d argue that it is the perfect kind of sequel, using the framework of the first to tell a richer, more thematically brilliant story. At some point, the discussion of nominating an MCU film will need to come up, and I’d argue that “Guardians” is one of the best examples of what Marvel Studios can do: surreal, vibrant, colorful romps built on iconic characters that hide a more resonate and universal heart underneath the surface.
We have never had a stronger or more diverse comic book field. From deconstructionist genre film to classical heroes tales to the very best of the modern age of comic book films, any angle The Academy could possibly take on the genre is available. Despite what some pundits and critics want, the comic book genre is a cultural force internationally, and it will become harder and harder for awards season to ignore its meteoric impact. And, with such a diverse and wonderful field on display, if The Academy can not find room for just one of these films, when will it ever? If all three fail, it is hard to think of a chemistry and context where they would finally nominate the genre, because never before have their been so many worthy options and as wild and flexible a film season as this. I feel that this is a sort of last stand for the Comic Book Genre receiving critical recognition, and whether or not it will be seen as a valuable, signature part of the film landscape, or just ‘blockbusters.’