Roland Emmerich, the auteur responsible for such modest, human-centred dramas like The Day After Tomorrow (ice chases New Yorkers), 2012 (the Mayans try to kill John Cusack), and the 1998 Godzilla remake (Ferris Bueller and half of the Simpsons cast fight a lizard of ever-shifting size), has been on the publicity circuit promoting his latest micro-budget cinéma vérité treatise, Independence Day: Resurgence.
As part of this circuit he gave an interview to The Guardian over the weekend, where he expressed his distaste with the comic book movie formula, while in no uncertain terms distinguishing his works from the faceless mega-destructo trend he arguably helped usher in:
When you look at my movies it’s always the regular Joe Schmo that’s the unlikely hero. A lot of Marvel movies, they show people in funny suits running around. I don’t like people in capes. I find it silly when someone dons a superhero suit and flies. I don’t understand it. I grew up in Germany, that’s probably why.
Chalk up another director, then, broadly aligning themselves against the superhero/comic book movie trend.
Remember Alejandro Iñárritu, about a year ago:
I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. And they are honestly very right wing. I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don’t respond to those characters. They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn’t mean nothing about the experience of being human.
That’s what I am saying. Superheroes…just the word hero bothers me. What the fuck does that mean? It’s a false, misleading conception, the superhero. Then, the way they apply violence to it, it’s absolutely right wing. If you observe the mentality of most of those films, it’s really about people who are rich, who have power, who will do the good, who will kill the bad. Philosophically, I just don’t like them.
The thing is, as condescending as they both sound — and as apparently ludicrous as the sentiment is coming out of the mouth of one Roland Emmerich — in some ways I agree with them.
There are huge limitations to what can be done with superhero movies. Fundamentally, at one point or another, someone (usually a white dude, though blissfully we seem to be broadening our scope slowly) will have to put on a costume and go punch someone in the face.
And, yeah sure, you could apply a similarly reductive lens to a whole bunch of other sub-groups:
‘It’s an action movie! At some point someone has to chase someone!’
‘It’s a romcom! At some point some kind of relationship has to be involved!’
‘It’s a Zack Snyder movie that isn’t Dawn of the Dead! It has to be shit!’
And there is nothing inherently wrong with big, dumb, explode-y entertainment of course. You can only really judge a piece of work against its intended goals. The best superhero movies give you the pulse-pounding excitement they mean to, with a dash of humanity thrown in for good measure sometimes (Civil War managed this pretty damn well). I grew up reading comic books as well as ‘serious’ literature, so I can appreciate both worlds. Again, I think the key is the filmmaker’s intent. Emmerich almost has a point when he says that his heroes are usually just normal people — not destined for greatness or imbued with supernatural powers, strictly speaking — and that makes it a different flavour story altogether, but I think that to unpack this properly would take more time (and coffee [or booze]) than is available to me right now, so instead let’s just settle on the irony that Roland Emmerich — despite his disdain for superheroes — does seem to be showing signs of having a superpower himself: the formidable power of self-delusion. His only weakness is self-awareness!