Science Fiction Film & Television

The work of art in the age of the superhero

Science Fiction Film & Television (2017), 10, (1), 27–51.

Abstract

The recent glut of superhero blockbusters and indie films in Hollywood highlights the persistent influence of high modernism/mass culture distinctions on how we talk about culture, a conversation that too often takes the form of ethical oppositions. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s indie portrait of the artist as a superhero, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), prompts a rethinking of such entrenched binaries in film criticism as a symptom of Hollywood in economic and aesthetic crisis after 2008. Using Birdman to diagnose this situation, the article explores the utopian prospects available in the web streaming medium in general and the superhero subgenre of sf in particular. The article argues that Netflix’s Marvel series – Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage – reinvent the superhero genre (at the levels of aesthetics, ideology, politics and production), and urge us collectively to imagine and enact new utopian world-building projects. These series, moreover, are redefining not just the superhero genre, but how we understand the artwork itself in the contemporary moment.

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Murray, Mitch