I knew that they were coming; I just didn’t think it would be this soon.
As you’ll no doubt recall, my introductory post for the blog discussed singing cowboys, an unaccountably popular film genre from the 30s and 40s that spawned dozens of movies per year, and then disappeared completely from the American public consciousness. The fate of the singing cowboys looms large over the history of superhero blockbusters, suggesting that even the most successful genres can be abandoned and forgotten.
The singing cowboys will be back one day, when comic-book stories are tired and played-out, to fight once again for their place in the pantheon. They are the existential threat just over the horizon, ready to pounce when the superheroes stumble.
And even here, the cowboys remind us that the eternal sequel is never assured.
Continue reading Superman III 4.25: Revenge of the Cowboys →
I’ve been writing about the first Superman movie for several months in this blog, and I’m just reaching the end of his first date with Lois Lane. And if you want to know how superhero movies have changed from their relatively humble beginnings in 1978 to the frantic blockbuster factory of today, consider this: Superman: The Movie just spent a full twelve minutes entirely focused on the two main characters getting to know each other. I can’t imagine a superhero movie in the 2020s spending twelve minutes focused on anything; they can’t even make one movie at a time.
Just the fact that I can think of Superman as a “humble beginning” is insane; in 1978, they spent 55 million dollars making it the biggest and most exciting film that they could assemble. But as of this weekend, the film seems impossibly small.
This blog is a history of superhero movies, but I don’t want to be stuck entirely in the past, while the rest of the world moves forward. So when a new superhero movie is released, I’ve been writing special weekend popcorn posts looking at what the current film tells us about where this history is going. So far, Superman: The Movie has held up pretty well in comparison to Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Eternals, but the scale of Spider-Man: No Way Home is a different universe entirely.
Spider-Man: No Way Home assumes that the audience has spent the last fifteen years watching superhero movies. To fully appreciate it — or even just to follow what’s going on — you need to have watched at minimum eight other movies, with bonus points for following several spinoffs, including TV shows on two different streaming services. In the normal world that we inhabited not that long ago, that level of pre-release homework assignment would kill the picture; you can easily imagine the scathing reviews, saying that this movie is too complex and self-referential to appeal to mainstream audiences. But it looks like No Way Home is on its way to the 2nd best opening weekend of all time, with a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who’s been tut-tutting about the future of superhero movies needs to reconsider; the lonely echoes of the singing cowboys calling across the prairie have never seemed so far away.
Continue reading Spider-Man: No Way Home 93.1: The Big Deal →
Consider the singing cowboy, in his natural habitat: the silver screen.
Settled comfortably on his best friend’s saddle as they advance across the western landscape, he strums an acoustic guitar and serenades the sunset, singing in a mellow voice about the trail, the sky, and his undying affection for his horse and his sweetheart, in that order.
He’s the hero of the movie, so naturally he puts the guitar down once in a while; he chases rustlers and fugitives, rescues honest homeowners from sinister plots to steal their ranches and kidnap their pretty daughters, and otherwise pursues justice on the open plains.
At sixty-one minutes per, with anywhere from six to eight musical numbers, it’s hard to say whether a singing cowboy movie is an adventure story punctuated with songs, or a concert film interrupted periodically by galloping horses and gunshots.
Continue reading Introduction: The American Way →