We live in a day and age where we've been trained to instantly assume that a comic book adaptation, no matter how good, will never be on the short-list for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category. There was a time when that might have made sense, but with these kinds of movies routinely being top-earners for Hollywood and well-received by critics and fans alike, why is this assumption still necessary? Joe and Anthony Russo, who co-directed this year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier, think it might be time for the Academy to re-think the cold shoulder they've shown to comic book films.
In a conversation with Deadline, the brothers opened up a bit how they think a comic book movie should garner respect and have a fighting chance just as any other kind of movie would. "It’s strange that the comic-book film genre is so often thought of only in terms of its economic merits,” Joe says. “Yes, it’s shockingly popular and continues to grow, and yes, the box office success of these films can often embarrassingly outweigh their merits, but as Christopher Nolan perhaps first proved, real and valuable filmmaking can be achieved with the genre."
Their film, The Winter Soldier, in particular makes an intriguing case for being worthy of highbrow credibility. With plenty of socio-political commentary and heady, emotional issues for both the protagonist and antagonist, the film took a Nolan-esque approach to comic book filmmaking. It used the medium to tell a story full of allegories for real-life scenarios, and it did so in such a tactful way that you could ignore the implications entirely and just go, "Oooh. Pretty! Go, Cap, go!"
"It’s a real movie, real filmmaking, and it has really high aspirations, in terms of what cinema can be and what it can do, and what our experience of it is,” says Anthony. “It has every intention on the part of the filmmakers to reach audiences on the deepest level." His brother also feels that having Robert Redford in the film helps establish the fact that they were going for something bigger with this film. "The moment we were able to cast Redford changed everything, because it gave a deeper cultural context to the movie,” Joe told Deadline. “Not only are you taking one of the most famous actors of all time, you’re taking one of the most famous thriller actors of all time (Three Days Of The Condor). And we’re subverting his on-screen persona and his off-screen persona at the same time. He’s a villain in the movie. He’s never played a villain, and not only is he a villain, but he’s a fascist."
It's clear that the Russos had loft ambitions when putting together Captain America: The Winter Soldier for Marvel. Whether or not a nomination comes of that, or if it helps to alter the perception of these big-budget superhero blockbuster extravaganzas remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: As these kinds of films continue to get bigger, draw in top tier talent, and continue to wow critics and fans, the genre is going to become harder and harder to ignore in the years to come. Or...not. Just look at Comedy, another genre that has gone widely overlooked in the annals of Oscar history.
What do you think of Joe and Anthony Russo's aspirations? On the money, or delusional? Do you think they achieved the "real filmmaking" they described, or was it just another bubblegum Marvel movie? Do you think we'll ever see George Clooney stand at the podium and say, "And the nominees for Best Picture are: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Holocaust Drama, Small Character Film Starring Attractive Actor Looking Unattractive, Prestige Film Where A Respected Actor Plays A Partially Mentally-Challenged Character, and Something Directed By Martin Scorsese That Won't Win"?