Oscars begin to relent on superhero films
By Jake Coyle
AP Film Writer
Aside from the posthumous Oscar for Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight”) and best animated film for “The Incredibles,” no superhero film has ever penetrated the top categories of the Academy Awards.
Though regular honorees for their bombastic visual effects or thunderous, wall-to-wall sound, comic-book movies have been denied the upper reaches of achievement. Marvel Studios – one of the most dominant pop-culture juggernauts the movies have ever seen – hasn’t won a single Academy Award.
But there are signs that the deep freeze for superheroes is thawing. “Logan,” James Mangold’s acclaimed final chapter of Wolverine, the long-clawed “X-Men” character played by Hugh Jackman, is nominated for best adapted screenplay at Sunday’s awards. The nod, which Mangold shares with co-writers Michael Green and Scott Frank, is the first screenplay nomination for a superhero film.
That could be read as a sign that the film academy is finally starting to give in to the era’s most bankable box-office force. Last year, “Deadpool” seemingly came just shy of scaling the Dolby Theatre walls after a quixotic awards campaign netted the hyper-violent and hyper-verbal R-rated film two Golden Globe nominations. This year, Patty Jenkins’ female empowerment blockbuster “Wonder Woman” was considered a definite contender but came up short despite a nod from the Producers Guild.
A tide may be turning just as the sensation and acclaim of Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” has positioned the Marvel release to be a potential heavyweight at next year’s Academy Awards. A decade after Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” was denied a best picture nomination – an omission that sparked the academy’s expansion of the best picture field from five films to up to ten – “Black Panther” is poised to score the first best-picture nod for a superhero film, not to mention potentially a host of other categories including directing, costume design, visual effects, production design, score and, maybe, Michael B. Jordan as supporting actor.
Any shift for the academy, though, may be less about changing tastes than the rising ambitions of filmmakers – such as Coogler, Jenkins, James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and Mangold – who are expanding the possibilities of the genre.
“It’s people opening up to consider something that might have been seen wholly as a money-making effort to see that in some cases these films might constitute more ambition than previously imagined,” Mangold said of his nomination in an interview. “It’s a stepping stone and it won’t be the last.”
Mangold is a veteran of star-led but naturalistic character-driven dramas (“Walk the Line,” “Cop Land”). In “Logan” he endeavored to, like a revolution launched from within, invert most of the genre’s conventions. Its title bares no sequel-signifying numbers, just a simple, unadorned name. “Logan” connects to no future installment but, after a 17-year run for Jackman’s character, has the finality of death. Where other superhero films are all heroism and invincibility, the violent, R-rated “Logan” – styled after a Western – is filled with pain and vulnerability. It’s a human-sized movie in a supersized genre.
Mangold speaks with both optimism for super-hero movies that can take the mold of any genre (“There’s infinite possibility”) and derision for the assembly-line product that Hollywood has often favored that give a filmmaker little room for personal expression.