(This article was first published in print in issue 31-32 of the Philippine Collegian on 03 May 2012.)
At the top floor of TriNoma, one is welcomed by long queues of people, either in line to buy tickets, buckets of popcorn, or to enter the cinema. Some kids are running around, donning their Iron Man garb and headgear. Some adults, in the spirit of the event, just settle for their Captain America shirts.
Although subdued, such an atmosphere is still expected on the opening day of The Avengers, which is highly anticipated by comic book fans and followers of the superhero genre. The film opens the season of summer movies, a season marked with big budget productions, high box-office expectations, computer-generated imagery, and ear-splitting explosions.
The heat of summer brings with it the end of classes and the start of vacation season here in the Philippines. And while there remains a myriad things to do over the course of the summer, going to the cinemas to watch the latest movie offering remains to be one of the more popular activities.
The enduring heat makes it inevitable for people to gravitate towards the malls, where clean and cool accommodations afforded by restaurants, bistros and the cinema houses are easily made available through consumption. Added technology to the cinemas, such as 3D and IMAX, seemingly heightens the movie-going experience, thereby justifying surmounting ticket costs.
This summer is marked with the proliferation of superhero movies, with the likes of The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man leading the throng of cinema fare. While proving to be a strong summer staple, the superhero genre as we know it today is a rather recent development in the evolution of summer movies.
With a Vengeance
Throughout the years, the notion of summer movies has evolved, from merely pertaining to films released during the summer to highly stylized fare pegged for a hyped summer release.
As early as 1996, action films like Mission: Impossible and Independence Day have been summer blockbusters and have become the standards for summer movies to come. The hype leading to the release of the summer movie usually lasts for at least a year and involves multiple trailers, commercial spots and varied merchandising. The strength of a summer movie also lies on its capacity to produce multiple sequels.
The succeeding years saw the onslaught of terrifying creatures (The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Godzilla), comets and asteroids hurtling towards Earth (Deep Impact, Armageddon), more aliens trying to destroy our planet (Men in Black, War of the Worlds) and climatic disasters leading to the end of the world (The Day After Tomorrow).
The superhero genre, as we know it today, is one of the more recent stylized fare to define the summer movie, with the success of X-Men (2000) reviving the genre. The superhero genre has gone from camp to kitsch, with the latter conceptions of the Batman and Superman franchises in the late 80’s and early 90’s almost killing the genre.
Beyond the genre, what seems to define all these summer movies is their high cost of production, computer-generated visuals, massive explosions and their male-driven, single objective storylines.
The simple storylines mask the singularity of the message of these movies. As asteroids hurtle towards the Earth, astronauts successfully stop it from entering the atmosphere. As aliens threaten to invade our planet, American soldiers annihilate their kind. Coupled with senseless explosions and realistic visuals, we start to believe that America would save the world.
Cinema is rife with ideology. Soviet cinema was born out of the new republic’s recognition that film would be the most ideal propaganda tool for the Soviet Union; Vladimir Lenin, for one, declared film as the most important medium for teaching the masses. During Martial Law in the Philippines, young directors like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal saw the potency of film to address social ills, producing movies that highlighted revolt, labor unionism, social ostracism and class division. Even the simplest Hollywood fare holds a certain political ideology that could be manifest or masked by cinematic techniques and storytelling.
The global dominance of Hollywood films has intensified the soft selling of American ideology, which favored the Cold War and then developed to the neo-liberal rhetoric of the present, said UP College of Mass Communications Dean Rolando B. Tolentino.
The dominance of the American pragmatic ideology on the global war on terror made the US the global military hegemon. It is no wonder then that Hollywood has long been a global hegemon before the US actually gained its military might.
Summer blockbusters, in their seemingly harmless popcorn fare, silently win our consent and legitimize that claim. Summer movies, while serving primarily to entertain, also have the potency to change our perspective of history (X-Men: First Class) and to further demonize America’s old enemies (Salt, Captain America: The First Avenger). Because of this projected might, US military aid and presence is always welcome, if not deemed necessary, as reflected in the propagation of defense treatises like the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The incessant need to showcase military might, while at once a demonstration of dominance, is also indicative of a latent fear of the Other. Recurring themes of a seeming alien invasion (Independence Day, District 9) manifest a certain fear of foreign entities taking over. The excesses of this fear warrant exclusion, if not total annihilation, of foreign entities. While their seeming dominance allows them to exercise the excesses of this fear, it also confirms their waning stranglehold on the world.
Even as a demi-god, a super-soldier and a mechanically engineered crime-fighter prevent foreign entities from enslaving humanity, it becomes apparent that there would always be a more formidable force ready to defend freedom and justice. As the credits roll, America remains to be Earth’s mightiest hero. ●
Rolando B. Tolentino. “Ang Pelikula bilang Pabaong Amerikano at Inobasyong Filipino”. October 25, 2008. Bulatlat.com.