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Opinion | Why Affleck Is Right About Superhero Movies

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The whole “superhero vs. cinema” debate has been talked about ad nauseam, but add Ben Affleck to the list of actors who have put out their sort of opinion about the genre that he was once a part of. For those who don’t know, and for context, Affleck played Daredevil in the 2003 adaptation of the same name, along with Batman in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Justice League, and finally, Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Take it from someone who has done nothing but small movies recently, with the exception of reshoots for Zack Snyder’s Justice League, franchise movies are killing the spotlight for non-franchise movies. Note: Not the theatrical experience, as people are still going in droves to see No Way Home which is great for theaters, but the ability to see something other than Tom Holland at their local movie theater.

Affleck’s quote was pretty clear, talking to Entertainment Weekly, the Good Will Hunting star said: “Hey, I’m so into the Marvel Universe, I can’t wait to see what happens next.” And there’ll be 40 movies a year theatrically, probably, all IP, sequel, animated.” He would then go on to mention The Last Duel, the Ridley Scott film that he starred in this last fall that had critical acclaim but underperformed at the box office, only making $30.5 million worldwide according to Box Office Mojo. The Last Duel did top VOD charts, so at least they can hang their hat on something.

When reading Affleck’s quote, some may roll their eyes at yet another person using Marvel as their example, but the numbers back it up. The top ten highest-grossing movies of 2021 domestically were all franchise movies of the prequel, sequel, and franchise kickstarter assortment. The first original movie to come up (not counting Free Guy or Jungle Cruise, which obviously have hopes for sequels) was another Ridley Scott movie, House of Gucci. Hell, Disney accounted for a quarter of the entirety of 2021’s domestic box office (CNBC), with Sony, by the power of Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, coming in at second place.

Ben Affleck photographed exclusively for EW on December 8, 2020, in LA.

Nothing that Affleck said above is wrong. Argo, Affleck’s Oscar-winning 2012 film, likely would be relegated to a streaming series. Hell, Martin-freaking-Scorsese had to make The Irishman for Netflix and his next film, Killers of the Flower Moon, for Apple. And look, thank God for streaming, or else these voices wouldn’t get to share their work. Ricky Gervais’ After Life has resided on Netflix for each of its three seasons, and it’s some of his best work. But what is depressing is that movies like Affleck’s The Tender Bar, which is not a perfect movie by any means, get a limited theatrical run before heading to Prime Video, a common practice nowadays for films without a post-credits scene.

And I should be the first to say, that I am very blessed to experience the number of movies I do at press screenings. If I hadn’t made a screening to see Flee, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, or The Tragedy of Macbeth to name a few, I likely would have missed them before they hit streaming. My local AMC usually does a decent job of getting the smaller releases, they had India Sweets and Spices for a week, but all three mentioned in the previous sentence were nowhere to be found at any point of their theatrical run. And I know that The Tragedy of Macbeth is heading to Apple TV+ this Friday, but it’s a visual spectacle more than anything, and seeing it on the big screen probably enhanced my enjoyment rather than watching the Bergman-like imagery on a laptop.

I must also disclose that screeners do have a certain level of convenience. Sometimes the commute into New York or Philadelphia does not outweigh the enjoyment of sitting in bed watching The Night House or Annette, so I cannot act like I am not guilty of opting for a screener, but there are also times where there isn’t a choice.

I’m also not trying to kid myself, not every movie needs a big-screen to fully experience the movie, but that also doesn’t mean that filmmakers who don’t make movies about men in tights should instantly be thrown onto a streaming service, with a limited theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles as the coveted added bonus.

Ben Affleck photographed exclusively for EW on December 8, 2020, in LA.

There are some filmmakers that seem to get theatrical runs; Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch expanded and was playing in almost every theater around me, Licorice Pizza has been going steady at the box office, hell, House of Gucci, by the same director of the financial flop that was The Last Duel, is still selling out showings almost two full months into its run.

The financial side of things is a whole other issue. Yes, of course, the film industry is a money-making business at the end of the day, but there has to be some middle ground that allows mid-budget/small-budget movies to see the light of day. There’s just something about seeing a comedy like Don’t Look Up in a crowded theater full of laughter that makes the movie funnier than watching it at home.

Look, at the end of the day, this is just my opinion and I am completely aware that people will go and see No Way Home for their sixth rewatch instead of The Worst Person in the World. I cannot act like I don’t catch the latest MCU movie, but I also make an effort to catch Spencer while it’s in theaters or do my rewatch of Licorice Pizza after already seeing it at a press screening at the AMC. I just wish that instead of asking people to cancel their reservation to see Nightmare Alley in an effort to open up auditoriums for No Way Home, Matrix Resurrections, etc., we let those films have at least one showtime. And none of what Affleck said was about the quality of the Marvel movies, that’s a whole different debate, it’s just the silencing of voices in the industry. With it seeming like the number of Marvel movies only rises every year, film lovers can only pray that Dr. Strange could cast that forgetting spell on moviegoers with the Peter Parker in this scenario being the MCU, DCEU, and any other franchise that has dominated the box office in recent years. Even Tom Brady and the Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots lost in the playoffs (thank you, Eli Manning) every once in a while.

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Comic Book Movies

The Batman | Official Theme By Michael Giacchino Is Here

In his second year of fighting crime, Batman uncovers corruption in Gotham City that connects to his own family while facing a serial killer known as the Riddler.

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Genre:

Action, Crime, Drama

Release Date:

March 4, 2022

Director:

Matt Reeves

Cast:

Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard, John Turturro, Jeffrey Wright

Plot Summary:

The Batman is an upcoming American superhero film based on the DC Comics character of the same name. The film is being produced by DC Films and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, and is a reboot of the Batman film franchise. The film is directed by Matt Reeves, who wrote the screenplay with Mattson Tomlin.

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Disney +

Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight | Official Trailer | Disney +

A former U.S. marine, struggling with dissociative identity disorder, is granted the powers of an Egyptian moon god. But he soon finds out that these newfound powers can be both a blessing and a curse to his troubled life.

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Genre:

Action, Adventure, Drama

Release Date:

March 30, 2022 (Disney +)

Creator:

Doug Moench

Cast:

Starring Oscar Isaac, Ethan Hawke, Gaspard Ulliel

Plot Summary:

A former U.S. marine, struggling with dissociative identity disorder, is granted the powers of an Egyptian moon god. But he soon finds out that these newfound powers can be both a blessing and a curse to his troubled life.

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MCU

Opinion | No Way Home Can’t Actually Be Nominated For Best Picture, Can It?

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Yes, I realize that my previous opinion column was also all about superhero movies, but given that we are heading into awards season, the idea of a Best Picture push for Spider-Man: No Way Home seems asinine. I cannot be the only one that feels this way, but after seeing tweets in support of Sony’s For Your Consideration campaign, it sure feels like it.

Let me preface by saying that I loved No Way Home. Not the 1996 Tim Roth movie, which was filmed in my neighborhood in Staten Island, but the latest MCU flick. I should also say that it has felt as if Marvel has tried to lose me as a consumer; Black Widow was horrendous, Shang-Chi fumbled the ball in the third act, and Eternals was hot trash trying to disguise as something it wasn’t: artistic. Had my sister not gone with me to see it, I would have walked out. And the MCU shows have yet to grasp me, I saw WandaVision and was on board until the last episode, got about 10 minutes into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, saw the first episode of Loki, and skipped any of the other shows that came and went.

But who doesn’t love Spider-Man? I even gave No Way Home a B+ in my review, which is higher than I expected going in. Was it the nostalgia? Probably; I can’t act like No Way Home had the smartest plot or anything like that, but it brought back a child-like joy that has been missing in other MCU movies. At the end of the day, there’s a reason Sony can reboot the character every five years, and that’s because Peter Parker is a universally-relatable character. Tom Holland’s iteration has been good, but I’ve always been critical of the young actor outside of his MCU work. I’m sorry, but Cherry is anything but sweet and I don’t even want to try and guess what Chaos Walking was. The Devil All The Time was a promising start to his post-MCU career, but projects like the aforementioned Cherry and Chaos Walking leave such a bad taste in your mouth but I digress. Maybe Uncharted can be his franchise outside of the MCU, but that is yet to be seen.

What Holland was missing in his Spider-Man movies was some growth. The “Iron Boy” conversation has been talked about ad nauseam, but the criticism was fair. What happened to the “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man” that stuck to street-level crime? Thankfully, No Way Home seemingly opens the door for that to come to fruition in the inevitable next trilogy. To his credit, Holland showed his ability to actually act emotionally for the first time outside of The Devil All The Time in No Way Home. Not that Holland’s acting in a scene with a major loss and the subsequent scene should get him Oscar gold, but it was a great step in the right direction. This is where the conversation about No Way Home and Oscars gets messy. Yes, Holland was great in the scene, but are those two scenes really good enough to bump Andrew Garfield, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Benedict Cumberbatch, or Nicolas Cage (who should be nominated for Pig) out of the Best Actor race? I guess the campaign isn’t pushing Holland too heavily, but it felt needed to touch on.

But with all of that being said, does No Way Home even belong in the Best Picture conversation? Look, it was probably one of the best movie-going experiences of my life, even the press screening was eating it up, but favorite films and the best films need to have some separation. No Way Home is great, but it shouldn’t take away the shine from films that feel on the brink like tick, tick… BOOM!, CODA, or Drive My Car for goodness’ sake. All three of those pack just as, if not more emotion than No Way Home did with its one major death.

And on the subject of the emotional beats of No Way Home, do you really care if that character dies if you haven’t seen the previous two movies? Let alone all of the nostalgic gimmicks the film pulls out of its web. Do we really expect that Oscar voters are going to sit through the Raimi trilogy and the two Amazing Spider-Man movies just so they can understand why Alfred Molina is hilariously de-aged in No Way Home? Or why (seemingly) every other joke is a wink directly at the camera? That’s a laughable proposition.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in Columbia Pictures’ SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME.

We can all agree that Holland is great in No Way Home, but the whole movie is full of good performances. Marisa Tomei and Willem Dafoe are both great, especially the latter, but why can’t we just nominate Dafoe for the right movies such as The Lighthouse or Nightmare Alley? It’s the Pacino situation all over again, and it would be even worse given that Dafoe never gives an “I’m too fucking old” monologue as Pacino did in his Oscar-winning performance in Scent of a Woman. Jokes aside, Dafoe deserves an Oscar sooner than later, but No Way Home feels like the wrong movie at the right time.

“But what about the box office?” Well, it feels like a no-brainer that No Way Home did gangbusters at the box office. Is the ascent to the top six all-time domestically and top ten worldwide impressive given its time in theaters? Absolutely. That accomplishment cannot be taken away from it. But are we just going to act like Far From Home didn’t gross a billion dollars? Add in the leaks and levels of speculation going into No Way Home. Yes, the likely journey to the top five in terms of highest-grossing movies worldwide is impressive, but this isn’t the “little indie that could.”

I’m not an Oscar voter, but at the end of the day, there are more than ten films that feel more worthy of one of the ten Best Picture slots. Oscar-darlings like Belfast and King Richard may be divisive among critics, but it could be argued that both films told important stories that outweigh that of No Way Home. The Power of the Dog may seem like a “pretentious critic” movie, with the pacing of a snail, but it’s another film that handles heavy themes like toxic masculinity in a poetic way. If I had a ballot, as of now, the ten films that would fill my Best Picture category would be (in alphabetical order): Belfast, Bergman Island, CODA, Don’t Look Up, Drive My Car, King Richard, Licorice Pizza, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, The Power of the Dog, and The Worst Person in the World.

THE POWER OF THE DOG BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH as PHIL BURBANK in THE POWER OF THE DOG. Cr. KIRSTY GRIFFIN/NETFLIX © 2021

None of this is to take away from No Way Home‘s accomplishments or what it has done for theaters. When I was at Scream last night people were still flooding into the IMAX theater to see No Way Home. It’s a wonderful thing, but I also think that we are getting ahead of ourselves to think it should be worthy of Best Picture contention because, at the end of the day, it’s taking away attention from smaller, intimate movies that tell stories with equal emotion and are not contingent on knowledge of eight other movies. Don’t these tentpole movies already take enough attention away from the mid-to-small budget movies at theaters?

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