During David Cronenberg’s ill-fated efforts to generate interest in Cosmopolis last summer, Next Movie asked him about superhero movies, prompting him to offer some scathing remarks about Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Specifically, he argued that those who think The Dark Knights Rises is “supreme cinema art” don’t “know what the f*ck they’re talking about.” In a recent interview with The Playlist, he clarified these remarks, explaining that he hasn’t even seen The Dark Knight Rises and that he was simply responding to an assertion made by the interviewer (about superhero movies rising to the level of “supreme cinema art”) that wasn’t included in the published interview. He also elaborated on his original argument, explaining that comic books are “created for adolescents and they have a core that is adolescent,” adding that Nolan and his collaborators are “very clever,” but superhero movies are “incredibly limited.” In other words, Cronenberg qualified his original remarks—in order to quell backlash from Nolan disciples, presumably—but reached pretty much the same conclusion.
While Cronenberg’s remarks certainly apply to the vast majority of comic book movies—particularly those that closely adhere to youth-targeted source material—it’s surprising that he doesn’t have a better grasp on the misleading potential of genre. Given the cost of modern filmmaking, directors can only get an ambitious, serious-minded film produced if they include elements that give their film mass appeal. As a result, filmmakers like Nolan (and yes, Cronenberg) frequently get away with making ambitious, personal projects by locating their themes in a disreputable genre framework. Just as Cronenberg unfairly discredits comic book movies for being derived from humble source material, he tries to ascribe an instant legitimacy to his own films when they are based on respected literary properties. However, as Cosmopolis recently illustrated, a film’s merit doesn’t always mirror that of its source.