The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Are Superhero Movies Science Fiction?

The Last Sci-Fi Blog: Are Superhero Movies Science Fiction?

Apr 27, 2012

The Sci-Fi News: Charlie Kaufman Goes Sci-Fi and a Brief Behind-the-Scenes Look at Prometheus

There's a new featurette concerning Ridley Scott's upcoming Prometheus over at Apple trailers. Call if a puff piece. Call it fluffy. Call it lacking in any and all kinds of useful information about the filmmaking process. Just don't call it dull, because, let's face it, there's nothing dull-looking at all about Prometheus, easily this column's most anticipated film of the summer. This featurette is mostly the cast waxing poetic about how great their director is, but it contains a handful of badass Ridley-On-Set moments and a few glimpses at footage we haven't seen before. So watch it.

Is Stretch Armstrong a science fiction concept? Nah, but this was yet another slow week for sci-fi news, so we'll take what we can get. Based on a toy (of course) first created in 1976, Stretch Armstrong is a man with the power to stretch and contort his body to fight crime. I think. Like I said, he was a toy. More importantly, he's a toy that no one under the age of 20 even remembers at this point, which makes me wonder why Hollywood maintains any kind of interest in this character. Anyway, the film adaptation of the Stretch Armstrong has a new writer in the form of Dean Georgaris, who wrote Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate remake. I think we can expect a super-serious, grim-faced Stretch Armstrong movie to make its way into theaters sometime in 2014.

Charlie Kaufman, the genius/madman behind Being John Malkovich and Adaptation has been tapped by Lionsgate to adapt the young adult science fiction novel The Knife of Letting Go to the big screen. Considering the company and source material (a series written for teens that takes place in some kind of post-apocalyptic future), a few of the honchos at Lionsgate obviously think they may have another The Hunger Games on their hands.  Of course, by hiring Charlie Kaufman, they seem to be placing a high value on one of the best and brightest screenwriters in the business right now rather than on creating something that will be easy to sell. I fully expect to hear that Kaufman's draft will get rewritten before the cameras roll, but his very involvement suggests that there might be something special about this source material. Here's the official plot description:

"Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him -- something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn't she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd's gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is."

Finally, Fringe has been renewed for a fifth and final season. Rejoice, tiny but passionate fanbase. Rejoice.


The Sci-Fi Discussion: Are Superhero Movies Science Fiction?

Originally, this section of the column was going to be a review of the science fiction action movie Lockout, but that quietly vanished from theaters before I could even open my wallet. So, Guy Pearce VS Space Jail will have to wait for another day.

So, let's chat about something that's been plaguing me for quite some time: do superhero movies belong in the science fiction genre? Let's break them down a bit, shall we?

A young man is bitten by a radioactive spider. His body mutates and he gains extraordinary powers.

A billionaire arms dealer suffers a near-fatal injury and builds technology that will not only save his life, but transform him into a technologically advanced warrior.

A new species, Mutants, forms from within the human race. They are hunted, feared and persecuted by the human population.

An alien crash lands on Earth, is raised by human beings and uses his powers to protect the planet from all kinds of evil.

Taken at their core, characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men and Superman are purely sci-fi concepts. Heck, if you leave out the parts about red and blue spandex, the plot of Spider-Man is almost the same as David Cronenberg's The Fly! Taken as singular, stand-alone films, many superhero movies are clearly science fiction (of course, I'm not counting Batman and other "realistic" vigilante characters, nor am I counting "magical" characters like Thor). Look at the first Iron Man movie: for 99% of the runtime, a viewer unaware of the character's comic book origins could easily think he was watching an original science fiction concept.

Then comes that Nicky Fury cameo and with it, a connection to a larger universe. A universe inhabited by Norse gods and Sorcerer Supremes. One of the great things about the Marvel Universe is how heroes born of technology co-exist with heroes born of magic (and others who are just born of tons of guns), but what does that do to the genre? Can we still classify The Avengers as a science fiction film if heroes who fight with futuristic power armor go head-to-head with villains wielding magic? How far do you have to go before you tip into pure fantasy?

This is not something to complain about. The great joy of shared comic book universes (for both Marvel and DC) is to see such a wide variety of characters from such vastly disparate backgrounds come together. Just look at the Justice League: an alien, a space cop, an Amazon warrior, a rich vigilante and others, depending on the line-up. Just by the characters in the cast, a Justice League movie couldn't be science fiction. By extension, there is no way The Avengers could be classified as sci-fi.

It feels weird to shuffle all superhero movies into their own special genre, but they certainly don't belong in any other. If anything, it's testament to the unlimited possibilities of a superhero tale that you can't quite pin down what they are. The best superhero movies share one thing in common with the worst superhero movies: they're just plain hard to classify. Daredevil is a pretty generic action movie, but its hero is a blind guy given extraordinary senses by toxic waste. Which shelf do you put that on at your local video rental store?

Categories: Features, Sci-Fi
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