In a world where Marvel is dominating the superhero movie industry, Alejandro Gonzales Iñárritu’s latest film Birdman waits patiently in the wings as the next great superhero movie, although not for the reasons you might think.
Iñárritu’s black comedy follows the cast of a New York play as they frantically prepare for opening night. Michael Keaton portrays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who acts, writes and directs the play in an effort to restore his career to what it was 20 years ago.
Riggan is continually haunted by his past in the form of Birdman, a superhero he once played in a blockbuster franchise, who is heard through voiceovers offering words of discouragement to the actor.
Both in life and in theater, Riggan struggles with taking center stage as he is often outshone by those around him, particularly his co-star Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton), a pretentious Broadway actor who joins the cast after another actor is injured.
Despite possessing the superpower to telekinetically move items, Riggan poses as one of the movie’s least special characters.
Though missing the red capes, Birdman takes a new approach on what it means to be a hero. The movie explores the way fame and uniqueness, or lack thereof, drastically affects one’s self-esteem.
Much like his character, Keaton fails to capture the audience’s attention for the first half of the film as the audience is often left waiting for another character to swoop in and save the notorious Birdman from his lackluster scenes.
This isn’t the only way Iñárritu parallels the screen with the stage. The film is primarily shot with a single camera on a dolly following actors in one long extended scene which mimics the fluidity of a play.
Halfway through the film, Birdman wins over the audience (myself included) when Riggan receives the modicum of fame he needs after being filmed in a viral video crossing Time Square in just his underwear.
The movie features dynamic performances by Keaton and Norton, who go head-to-head both on stage and on screen to create powerful portrayals of two complex male characters dealing with insecurities in very different ways.
However, one of the film’s secret gems was superhero veteran Emma Stone’s portrayal of Sam, Riggans’ spunky drug-recovering daughter and personal assistant, who often serves as the voice of reason for the broken men of the movie. Stone delivers one of the film’s most powerful speeches when she brutally criticizes her father for caring too much about what people think.
Though none of the characters are entirely capable of being rooted for, Iñárritu juxtaposes a cast primarily consisting of antiheroes with a superhero film in a piece that makes us question our favorite heroes.
Although Birdman takes a while to get off the ground, by the end, the movie flies high as a cinematic masterpiece concocted by Iñárritu that effectively captures what it takes to be special.
There is no word yet on whether Birdman will fly alongside Thor and Iron Man in the next Avengers movie, but something tells me that Birdman will be soaring toward a best picture nomination come this year’s Oscar season.