– The Joker, The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008)
On July 14, 2000 Bryan Singer’s X-Men arrived in cinemas. It ushered in a new age of superhero films and changed the film industry forever. It took a genre that had become stale, camp, and beneath most moviegoers and turned it into the most popular and most bankable genre to date. And, perhaps most importantly, it changed my life forever.
I’m fairly certain that I did not see X-Men on opening day, and probably even on opening weekend. I had always liked superheroes, but I doubt much more than the average 13-year-old. Sure, I had seen all four of the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, and I was a big fan of both the Batman and Spider-Man animated series of the 90s, but up until that summer, I had never really “gotten into” superheroes or comic books. But then I saw X-Men. And I was hooked.
A few weeks after seeing the movie, I was in my favorite toy store, Child’s Play in Chevy Chase, DC. It was a small neighborhood store, and by 13 I was more interested in their book section than the action figures (or that’s how I like to remember it). Regardless, that day I stumbled upon a book called Ultimate X-Men (this was a big, white, hardcover book and had nothing to do with the Ultimate Marvel imprint, which had not been released yet). I flipped through some pages. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it is an in-depth history of the X-Men, with many of the pages dedicated to profiles of every mutant there ever was. I bought the book and within a week I had already read it twice. I knew everything there ever was to know about the X-Men and anyone and anything associated with it. Over the years I must have read through that book dozens of times.
And so Ultimate X-Men lead to comics and the comics lead to more comics and even more comics and then, a year later, in the summer of 2001, I heard about this new show coming to the WB called Smallville. It was to tell the story of an alien who crash landed on Earth as a baby and was adopted by a couple in rural Kansas. As he grows up, he begins to develop extraordinary powers, which he starts to use to save people in his town, and eventually, the world. The alien’s name was Clark Kent, but of course he is best known as Superman. Was I excited? Let me put it this way: I can remember the very first time I saw the very first poster for Smallville more clearly than I can remember my first day of high school a few weeks later. One year was all it had taken to turn me from a casual viewer to someone who was never going to miss an episode, ever. And on October 16, 2001, my love for superheroes was solidified forever.
Since then, I haven’t missed a single superhero movie or TV show. I was one of the dedicated few who watched Heroes every week until the bitter end, and one of the VERY few who can proudly shamefully say that they OWN the original 1994 Fantastic Four movie by Oley Sassone that was never technically released. And yes, it does include a POV shot from a blind character’s perspective and trust me, that’s not even close to being the movie’s worst offense. And, as of the writing of this post, I have seen all 200+ episodes of Smallville, most them more than once. Truly, the last 10 years have been the decade of the superhero.
So. What is a superhero movie? How does one define this high-flying genre? What makes it unique and deserving of its own banner? What are the qualities that these films have that set them apart from all others, able to keep our boredom at bay, our worries disappear, our lives gain meaning? These are the films that came to rescue Hollywood from a decline in movie attendance, the films that redefined the blockbuster. These are the films that will define the 2000s. They stand on the rooftops, gazing down upon us mild-mannered citizens, offering us hope, justice, and, of course, a ton of kick-ass action.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Welcome to A Place To Hang Your Cape, a home for the superheroically-inclined. Our mission statement is simple: to define, explore, examine, and dissect the Superhero Film Genre.