In a time when superhero movies dominate the box office, you generally expect every movie studio to find a superhero of their own in an attempt to get in on the widespread success. 20th Century Fox has the X-Men license, as well as Fantastic Four and a few other properties. Fox Searchlight Pictures, a sister company of 20th Century Fox has released Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) which has a little bit of fun with the superhero genre while offering a unique and entertaining look at life after superheroes.
The movie stars Michael Keaton as the titular character (also known as Riggan Thomson). Many moons ago Riggan played Birdman in three blockbuster movies, but turned down a fourth starring role. After that he slowly fell out of the public eye, but in an almost Adam West-like manner, fans still flock to him on the streets and ask for autographs and photos. To make himself feel relevant again, Riggan is producing a Broadway play that could end his career or bring him back into the spotlight.
In addition to Keaton, Riggan’s family consists of Emma Stone as his daughter Sam, Amy Ryan as his ex-wife Sylvia, and Andrea Riseborough as his current love interest Laura. On Broadway, Zach Galifianakis plays Riggan’s lawyer and best friend Jake, Naomi Watts plays Lesley, one of the big stars in Riggan’s play, and Edward Norton is Lesley’s boyfriend Mike, the other big star of the play. Every single person listed here is extremely believable in their respective roles.
Keaton plays “down and out with a touch of hope” to near perfection. The voice in his head torments and supports him throughout the film, creating a troubled man who is both confident and disturbed. There are a few other issues at work that we won’t spoil here, but the artistry on display in the film keeps the audience is a constant state of wonder. All of this combines into a very different film that’s hard to categorize. It’s a well-written drama, with a bit of superhero flair, wrapped up in the midst of what seems like a mid-life crisis.
At its heart Birdman is a drama, but the subject matter of the film plays into what’s currently trending in theaters. There are even mentions of real superhero films playing in theaters today, as if Birdman actually existed. The parallels are constant, with Keaton once playing one of the most iconic Batman roles to date, and the Birdman film offering a bit of nostalgia for fans of the 1981 cult classic, Condorman, starring Michael Crawford. This only makes the movie harder to classify as there’s even a bit of satire mixed in with everything else going on in the movie.
The big question is whether or not audiences will enjoy their time with Birdman. If you like dramas with well-written dialogue, you’ll get something out of this film. There’s enough humor in the script to keep most moviegoers entertained, and enough parallels to Keaton’s Batman and modern day superhero films to draw in a more mainstream crowd. However, if you’re looking for action and adventure, this is not the film for you. Birdman is a drama first and foremost, but it’s definitely one of the better dramas of the year, even if you may walk away not fully understanding what you just saw. It’s different, and the end will have you asking a few questions, but that’s a good thing as far as we’re concerned.
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About Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Synopsis: A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone
Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton
Runtime: 119 Minutes
Bryan Dawson has been writing professionally since the age of 13. He started his career as a video game writer and has since worked for Random House, Prima Games, DirecTV, IGN, AOL, the British Government, and various other organizations. For GNN, Bryan taps into his passion for movies.