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It’s Time For The Indie Superhero Movie To, As They Say, Hang Up The Cape

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
August 19, 2011

The new Australian independent film Griff The Invisible does something I never thought would be possible: It makes superheroes uncool. The quirkfest follows a mentally disturbed twentysomething who thinks he’s a caped vigilante (Ryan Kwanten from True Blood) and the cute girl who indulges his fantasies, and depending on your tolerance for characters who say things like “Have you ever Googled the word Google?” you will find that Griff falls somewhere between mildly annoying and completely unwatchable.

2011 is, of course, the year of the superhero movie, and we’ve been treated to a long line of studio-produced costumed sludge ranging from The Green Hornet to Green Lantern to other masked marvels that are not green. There’s been talk aplenty about how Hollywood is creatively bankrupt and how studio executives will greenlight any ol’ superhero property out there to see some green come out of it (last time I’ll write the word “green” in this post, I swear), but this year we’ve also witnessed what effect such box-office clogging has on independent filmmakers.

Observe: Griff The Invisible, written and directed by Leon Ford, is actually the second low-budget flick this year about an unstable guy who dons a costume and thinks he can fight crime. The first, James Gunn’s Super, starred Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page and was released on DVD and Blu-Ray last week. And it’s … well, it’s not very quirky. In fact, it’s quite disturbing (though entertaining in the most depraved way). The American take on exactly the same story involves pipe bombs, drug kingpins and costume fetishists, whereas the Australian film is so treacly sweet it might give you cavities, especially when Griff’s love interest Melody (Maeve Dermody) makes him a star-spangled raincoat costume.

Super’s box office fell far short of living up to its name, and Griff likely won’t make much of a splash, but the indie film world now has two fairly high-profile deconstructions of the superhero genre, at opposite ends of the tonal spectrum. You could also easily make the case for Watchmen and Kick-Ass covering the same topic, although because both of those films had large budgets and were based on comic books themselves, they’re not cut from quite the same cloth.

The viability of trickle-down economics in the real world might be questionable, but in the film world, at least, there seems to be an analogous effect. Studios make lots of one type of movie, and the art-house market feels the need to comment on the same trends.

And Griff The Invisible is the kind of commentary that kills the discussion.

Griff is such a helpless soul – his main motivational factor for escaping into his spandex-clad alter ego isn’t a desire to help people but rather an inability to confront a bully at work – that we pity him instead of rooting for him. Because he’s not actually making the world a better place (and, in fact, is causing harm to himself and his older brother, who not unreasonably worries about his mental state), there’s nothing in Griff’s character to rally behind. There is only the sadness that comes with seeing his love interest become his babysitter, engaging in his fantasies both to humor him and amuse herself into forgetting about the real world.

After decades of the pop-culture landscape trying to convince us that superheroes aren’t just for little kids and nerds, Griff is a complete archetype reversal, a reminder that, yes, running around in a tight-fitting costume is inherently silly and pointless. To watch Griff The Invisible is to witness the superhero movie regressing back to its Underoos days.

It’s no secret that the entire movie industry is built on finding new ways to approach well-covered territory. Nevertheless, I would like to suggest that if you are a low-budget filmmaker looking to make a name for yourself, don’t pool your resources into piggybacking off cinema’s most popular genre. By this point, there’s simply not that much left to say.

Of course, I’d really like to tell this to the big-budget folks at Marvel Studios et al., but we’re taking baby steps, here. As any hero not named Iron Man can attest, you have to walk before you can fly. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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