The comic book movie has had a patchy reception history: when it has led the way in producing new film technologies and spectacle it has often been well-received (for example, the 1970s-80s Superman franchise), but the genre has also seen nadirs in reputation ranging from Howard the Duck (Willard Hyuck, 1986) to Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997), and this before a global element of superhero filmmaking is included. The current cycle of American superhero films, which many cite as beginning with Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000), has now become well-developed enough to be producing films seen as “bad” by critics. The last few months alone have seen the critical mauling of Green Lantern (Martin Campbell, 2011) and wildly divergent opinions on Thor (Kenneth Brannah, 2011) and X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011). While it is perhaps understandable that a maturing genre or cycle of film production will result in films of varying quality, what we might add as academics is a sense of the contexts through which the reputation of the superhero film keeps rising and falling.
This is important because, with the rise and fall of reputation, we get new kinds of superheroes in new contexts. Moreover, the reception of the superhero film in a global framework can take on a multitude of local forms. As well as the significant differences that can emerge between, for instance, a Thai or a South African reading of an American superhero film, we also have widespread review and opinion online that are bringing ever more obscure examples of the superhero film to light. We hope that reading this post will inspire some of you to tackle the fast-changing discussions of the superhero in print, online, on television or in the myriad other formats that currently make or break the reputation of screen superheroes.