“I sometimes enjoy [superhero movies] 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,” explained acclaimed director Alejandro González Iñárritu in a recent interview with the entertainment news outlet Deadline.
Iñárritu’s works have always felt immensely personal, often carrying an emotional weight that’s lost to a number of his generation’s filmmakers. Both 2003’s 21 Grams and 2006’s Babel dealt with the fragility of life while sustaining an impressive sense of cross-cultural awareness — themes that are almost completely absent from the relentless onslaught of superhero blockbusters experienced as of late. Iñárritu’s latest feature, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), serves as the director’s own scathing letter to Hollywood and the current state of cinema in general.
Birdman stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a burnt-out actor best known for playing the iconic superhero Birdman in a trilogy of high-grossing films. Having recently passed on an offer to star in “Birdman 4,” Thomson sets out to resurrect his career on Broadway by directing and starring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” What follows is wild satire — a fascinating examination of art, identity, and show business in the 21st century.
The casting is nothing short of inspired. Boasting an admirable ensemble, the film co-stars the great Emma Stone as Thomson’s estranged daughter, Sam, and Edward Norton as Mike Shiner, a renowned method actor, among others like Naomi Watts and a surprisingly serious Zach Galifianakis. It’s no coincidence that Keaton, Stone, and Norton have all appeared in superhero films before, with Keaton’s two-picture run in Tim Burton’s Batman series paralleling Thomson’s famed role.
Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki manipulated the film in post-production to appear as if it was shot in one single take. It’s a relatively gimmicky technique, attempted before by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1948 film Rope, but the result is impressive — the fluid camera, paired with the jazzy, improvisational score, fuels the already incredibly fluid performances, making the near two-hour runtime breeze by. The confines of the film reflect the confines of the stage and the challenges that Thomson faces as he attempts to be recognized as a serious actor.
There’s no doubt that Birdman will be up for many of the major Oscar categories come February. It’s a technical marvel propelled by two career-defining performances from Keaton and Stone. Iñárritu’s passion and panache for personal stories like this make for his greatest argument against the dumbed-down blockbuster, sequel, or reboot. Take a stand against this “cultural genocide” and go see Birdman. It’s quite possibly the best film of the year.
Review by Shea Garner. Go ahead, tell him that Michael Keaton was a better Batman than Christian Bale. Do it. Tweet him @sheaDUCK.