The writer of Ecclesiastes once said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Such a statement has never been truer than in the case of movies. As we endure the endless onslaught of prequels, sequels, remakes, etc, we strongly suspect that our age is derivative and has nothing new to say. It appears as if our time has lost the ability to create stories and has the talent only for taking the stories of and adding CGI, explosions, and tedious dialogue by performers who are easy on the eyes. Though there is truth to such an excoriating critique, it deserves noting that these movies also function as our culture’s mythology. What stories we keep retelling and how we choose to retell them provide glimpses into what we as a culture find most meaningful and valuable.
When I mentioned to my wife that the new Batman movie comes out tomorrow, she responded, “What? Another superhero movie!” Those four words managed to express a perfect blend of astonishment and disgust. Her outburst reminded me of something Ross Douthat wrote earlier this year on the New York Times website. Douthat was bemoaning the fact that The Avengers was going to be a great movie. Since The Avengers was to be so successful, studios will make more superhero films to follow up on that success. Add that to the superhero movies that led up to The Avengers, and we find ourselves with too many movies based on comic books. Douthat thinks this is such a tragedy because all the time and money that studios invest in superhero movies ensures that resources won’t be invested in fresh movies with new concepts and themes. With The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, I’d like to argue, however, that the superhero movie ought not be disparaged but should be celebrated as consistent with our Western Tradition. Continue reading