Birdman got it wrong: serious actors love playing superheroes

The torment of Michael Keaton’s washed-up thesp grossly exaggerates the gap between arthouse movies and Hollywood’s fantasy blockbusters


I blame Alec Guinness. The late Englishman is famously reputed to have labelled 1977’s Star Wars, which brought him elevated fame, fortune and an Oscar nomination, as “fairytale nonsense”. And so, right at the very beginning of Hollywood’s blockbuster era, the message to awards season voters was clear: the new wave of fantasy action epics were to be regarded as inferior, especially so as even those who starred in them thought they weren’t much cop.


The key character in Birdman, Riggan Thomson, might be seen as a latter day Guinness (though surely the Englishman never suffered so greatly). Former Batman Michael Keaton plays a washed-up former A-lister fighting against almost constant psychological torment, desperate to prove himself as a “real” actor because his best-known role is that of the titular man-sized avian crime-fighter. His damaged daughter (played waifishly by Emma Stone) tries to persuade him that the Broadway play he is mounting is little more than a vanity project. But Riggan is so terrified at the prospect of finding himself returning to the role of Birdman (to the point that he hallucinates the character urging him back into what is admittedly a very silly suit) that he cannot see the truth.


Related: After Birdman's Oscars win, Guardians of the Galaxy director leads defence of superhero movies


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