Ethan Hawke: ‘Logan’ isn’t a ‘great movie, it’s a great superhero movie’

Sundance Film Festival - UK Premiere of First Reformed - Ethan Hawke

I love a good Ethan Hawke interview, but they are a chore to cover because the man has more riffs than a jazz pianist. He can talk and talk and talk in circles and digress and make a great point, then bring it back to the original subject. He’s a great talker and, frankly, an oddity in the current era of Hollywood, where getting a good quote or soundbite from a movie star is often like pulling teeth. Ethan will give you a million good soundbites and he’s only answered one of your questions. Ethan sat down with The Film Stage to promote his appearance at the Locarno Film Festival (he’s being honored with a lifetime achievement award). He honestly would not shut up – you can read the full piece here. Here’s only a fraction of some of the interesting stuff he says:

A Christian Bale story: “It’s also strange to be 47 and also have been making movies for over thirty years. It’s a little rare actually. The other day I saw Christian Bale in a movie and I felt this sense of pride for him for how talented he is, what a good actor he is. I realized that the first time I was jealous of Christian Bale, I think I was 19. Because I had been the youngest client at my agency until they signed Christian Bale. There was this huge list. They represented Robert Redford, Paul Newman, blah blah blah, you know, Warren Beatty. And I was really proud to be on it, I was the youngest one. And the next year there was this other guy, younger guy, “Christian Bale,” who the hell’s that?! And I was like: aw sh-t, I’m never gonna forget him.

This is an interesting observation on ageing and storytelling: “One of the problems with contemporary culture is that there is a tremendous amount of energy put into trying to help 18-year-olds be 35 or, you know, 22-year-olds be 40. But there’s not a big amount of energy put into helping 40-year-olds become 80. You know, there’s no university for it.”

On how the film industry works now: “I’m always astonished, I’m sure you are too, you can go on Apple TV now and see that Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow made a movie together that I never heard of. What? And like, Matt Damon’s in a Clint Eastwood movie I never heard of? So many things get lost in the cracks and if those big names are getting lost, where are the Gattacas of right now? It might be like other art forms where it might take 50 years to curate what’s happening right now. That’s why film festivals have become so important because you guys at film festivals are like curators of, like, what does the world need to be paying attention to. What should be seen? If we didn’t have these festivals, big business would crush all these smaller movies.

On superhero movies: “Now we have the problem that they tell us Logan is a great movie. Well, it’s a great superhero movie. It still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It’s not Bresson. It’s not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is. I went to see Logan cause everyone was like, “This is a great movie” and I was like, “Really? No, this is a fine superhero movie.” There’s a difference but big business doesn’t think there’s a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.

[From The Film Stage]

There was some pushback online about Ethan’s comments about superhero films, but it came at the end of an extended riff about how the industry has changed and how those big-budget superhero films are destroying people’s taste for thoughtful, studio-backed dramas, art films, what have you. Plus, I sort of agree of him, even though I’ve never seen a Bergman film in my life. But there IS a delineation between “this is a good movie” and “this is a good superhero movie.” Logan is a good superhero movie and arguably a good movie overall, but also: it’s not Citizen Kane and that’s okay. The industry should be big enough and inclusive enough to support Moonlight AND Black Panther, Captain Fantastic AND Captain America. Ethan isn’t ghettoizing superhero films, he’s merely pointing out that our standards have been warped by the takeover of superhero films.

Tribeca Film Festival 2018 - Stockholm - Premiere

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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21 Responses to “Ethan Hawke: ‘Logan’ isn’t a ‘great movie, it’s a great superhero movie’”

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  1. Moe says:

    That he was a posseur during reality bites era. But now i love him more with every year the passes. He’s my age and he speaks sense to me

  2. SlightlyAnonny says:

    I was bracing to be offended and totally wasn’t he’s right. I do scroll through Apple TV and Hulu and wonder, “when did that get made? I totally would have seen that.” And Gattaca is a perfect example, it is a great and deep and prescient movie that would totally be lost on Apple TV/Hulu if it came out today. It would have never have gotten a theatrical release and that is a shame.

  3. tealily says:

    I don’t understand the comment about helping 40-year-olds become 80. Does he mean just generally that there’s not “school” for late life?

    • Veronica S. says:

      Coming to terms with mortality is more what I think he’s getting at underneath it. Past forty, your body starts to enter physical decline – some more rapidly than others. There’s no balm for realizing the ultimate end to your inevitable march through aging. Our culture is obsessed with youth in part because it’s so dramatically removed from the prospect of death. Instead of making that process easier by respecting the elderly or caring to examine the complications of an aging society, we’d rather inject ourselves with Botox or have conversations about “body versus face” in our elderly years instead of anything of real merit.

  4. SM says:

    I can relate. I also went in to see Logan because everyone were saying it’s a masterpiece. No it’s not. Also I got pissed because the ending was so lazy, like the writers and director just put all the energy into the first part of the film and everyone just passed out for the ending. I felt like Boyd Holbroock was robbed. He made what he could with the characted and then the moviemakers just forgot about him. Overall, for me the superhero movies never live up to their hype. Had to learn it the hard way by gettig my hopes cruched in the movie theatre.

  5. Cindy says:

    Look, I’m not big on superhero films either, but it really bothers me when people point their fingers at those and act like ever since those came along people no longer have taste for thoughtful movies. Come on now, the only era in the history of American cinema were thoughtful dramas were the money makers was during the Golden Age. Silly summer blockbusters have been a thing long before Superhero movies were.

    Everyone whines about Superhero movies but, honestly, I’m more bothered by the “Academy Award” movies that come late in the year. Marvel is unpretentious at least, they are making entertainment for money and are upfront about it. By the end of the year, you have all these dramas were the actors, directors, producers and everyone is just trying to bait awards and recognition, and then the academy and critics go crazy over them and try to convince us they are great movies. They are not! They are formulaic and completely devoid of artistry and passion – because, again, they aren’t done for an artistic merit, they just want to win awards.

    The accusations people used to make about TV – that it’s always too safe and commercial, are applicable to the movie industry now. Nobody wants to take risks anymore, they just stick to the same formulas. Heck, they can’t even bother to write new ideas now, how many remakesof ’80s and ’90s movies are lined up for 2019?

    • Millenial says:

      All of this.

      I also think there’s something to be said to the rise of popularity of super hero films. I’m sure people much smarter than me have put together great thought-pieces on our state of perpetual war, mass shootings, etc… and our desire to see pretty people saving the planet several times a year.

    • paranormalgirl says:

      They bring us dreck like “La La Land.” Ugh. So not a good movie.

      • Cindy says:

        OMG, La La Land was THE moment when I lost all respect I could have for the Academy.

        It’s movies like that, The Imitation Game or American Hustle that bother me. Nobody is going around acting like Avengers: Age of Ultron is some cinematic masterpiece that will be studied and analyzed 30 years from now. But the Academy wants to paint those movies as stand outs of filmmaking. They are just as trite, formulaic and money-centered as any superhero film out there but they want to paint it like they aren’t. Actually I take that back, at least superhero films show some commitmment to please the audiences, award-bait films seek to please no one but the Academy and those involved.

    • Addison says:

      Very spot on. I for one enjoy superhero/fantasy films, some more than others. Some are just amazing story telling. And I do see them as MOVIES. There is no difference to me between a superhero film and a drama or musical (Like The Martian, remember that). There are plenty of Dramas and other types of movies that just suck. And there are movies about super people that are really well made. The Cristian Bale “Batman” was so good. The Lord of the Rings was way better than The Hobbit. Because I grew up reading comics I have respect for the genre. So as a comic reader I think Logan was amazing! Even though I never read any Marvel stuff. The first Ironman was WOW. The rest not so much. Black Panther, the most I’ve enjoyed that type of movie. The best DC has made was Wonder Woman. The Justice League is so, so. Superman is okay. Green Lantern was Awful and I have no hope for the Aquaman series. I already know I’m not gonna watch. StarWars I’ve liked all of them except for episodes 1, 2 and 3

      Ethan Hawke is just mad he was never in any of these otherwise he would not say this.

      Oh and the first Thor was good.

    • DesertReal says:

      Cindy, you are 100% correct.

      I loved Logan, but it doesn’t mean Hawke is wrong. It was a violent, somewhat melancholy, superhero movie (albeit no one was in tights). No one is saying it’s The Hurt Locker or anything, but its take on the Old Man Logan plot was wildly entertaining.

      However, there’s room at the box office for the Gatticas (I think I still have the VHS in my basement) and the Logans, because there will always be people with different interests when they make their trek to the movies.

  6. Sankay says:

    For a great superhero movie he needs to watch Unbreakable. Saying that, I enjoy Marvel and am looking forward to the second part to IW. I also enjoy small art house movies. You have to do your research which so many people fail to do.

  7. Veronica S. says:

    I agree with him to an extent of how film is catering to the “lowest common denominator.” There’s nothing wrong with silly and fun, but I can see how the mainstream popularity of superheroes reflects to many the apathy and sense of entitlement from American audiences. We’ll gladly turn out to see the Avengers save the planet but can’t be bothered to show up to vote in a mid-term election. It’s the same privileged mindset that backs purity politics – this idea that politicians must be charismatic and charming and unrealistically perfect, expected to save us from the problems of modern America, rather than the reality that politicians and law must be shaped by the demands and engagement of the public.

  8. ninab says:

    He’s very funny and dishy, and other times he’s kind of a dick, especially rationalizing his midlife crisis affair with the nanny, lol. But he’s always an interesting read.

    • Cindy says:

      He can be very annoying at times, but that’s what I like about him. He’s one of the very few actors out there that truly seem genuine to me. Nobody’s perfect, but Hollywood stars are very adamant on making us think they are.

  9. CK says:

    I’m a big Oscars follower. I try to stay appraised of release dates and studios/festival news. I watch pretty much every precursor and depending on the release schedule, I see most of the buzzed about films (pre nomination) and fill in the rest post nomination. And frankly, I can not even remember the amount of times my eyes glazed over because of a thoughtful, studio backed drama or art film. So while I can see where he is coming from, I can also see the delusional snobbery of it. There have always been popcorn films that serve as tentpoles and pay for these smaller films that tend to not make money. It’s not a new thing. The only difference is that now there is an expectation for big budget films to be better (a la Logan, Deadpool, and Black Panther) while the smaller thoughtful drama/art films are just as insular and at times, boring as they have always been. And they really shouldn’t be used as a benchmark for what a good film is because often times, they’re not. They just have some make believe prestige.

  10. Case says:

    I get a different but equal sense of satisfaction from some superhero movies as I do serious dramas and indie flicks. I’m a movie lover and really don’t classify them differently — I think some superhero movies currently being made have as much ability to be thoughtful and moving as any other genre. Many films ask us to suspend our disbelief and are still great — why should superhero movies be singled out?

    People don’t exactly consider Star Wars to be an artful series, but I personally adore the intricate writing and poetic method of storytelling.

  11. st says:

    I agree with him about superhero movies but I also agree with others that sometimes the indie or prestige movies are overrated. I think one thing that’s not being mentioned is that maybe actors find more to sink their teeth into with smaller films and maybe there’s a feeling that people don’t appreciate or look for that anymore, if they ever did.

  12. Esmerelda says:

    He’s right.
    But I think the US only had a brief era of auteur cinema – which is different from art house/oscar bait/indie cinema – and the general audience has no idea of what in is implied in “a Bergman’s movie”.
    Movies as an art form are over, at least in the US market. There is no longer an audience for “real” movies, most people don’t have the cultural capital.