You can tell we’re in the lull between Joker and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker because news outlets (like ours! Hello!) are filling the space with stories about what famous directors think of superhero movies. It’s an easy conflict because directors like Scorsese, Coppola, Loach and Meirelles are never going to make superhero movies, and superhero movies are the most popular blockbusters around right now. It’s an easy us-vs-them conflict depending on whether you “side” with auteurs or corporate blockbusters even though it’s easy to like both. But by asking these famed directors about superhero movies, you do get some interesting critiques that are worth exploring even if you don’t agree with them.
For instance, Vulture reported back in April that at the Lincoln Center’s 50th-anniversary gala, Pain and Glory director Pedro Almodóvar said that making superhero movies is limiting in some ways because the movies are so sexless. “There are many, many movies about superheroes. And sexuality doesn’t exist for superheroes. They are neutered. There is an unidentified gender, the adventure is what’s important. You can find, among independent movies, more of this sexuality. The human being has such sexuality! I get the feeling that in Europe, in Spain, that I have much more freedom than if I worked here.”
He’s not wrong that superhero movies are largely sexless, and that’s because most of them are meant for the broadest audience possible including children. Sex has largely been removed from the marketplace because it makes audiences feel uncomfortable, which is its own societal can of worms as people. Some may say that criticizing superhero movies for something they don’t even attempt is a false criticism; they’re not even attempting sexuality so it’s not like you can say they’re doing it poorly. But Almodóvar’s larger point is about freedom that Hollywood movies don’t provide to directors, and in this case, he’s correct. You can’t get everything you need from one form of cinema, especially when it’s Hollywood where movies may have limitless budgets, but they’re constrained in what they depict and what they explore. If you want to be a well-rounded viewer, you have to go beyond superhero movies (we have some suggestions on that, which includes Almodóvar’s All About My Mother).