[This article was originally written as an assignment for my degree.]
BATMAN & BIRDMAN.
The star meanings of Keaton and Thompson are one and the same.
Keaton was cast Burton’s BATMAN in the 80s. Best known at the time for being MR. MOM and the titular BEETLEJUICE (say it 3 times). The two BATMAN films in ’89 and ’92 cemented his cultural status. Even in 2019 he’s still BATMAN for many of us, myself included.
When the Japanese reporter hears “BIRDMAN 4”, his interest piques. The cultural expectation and hope of more of the same gets audiences excited.
When (nearly) every actor has a superhero film or has a hand in a franchise, is BIRDMAN trying to say something by having Riggan Thompson wanting to find validation outside of his big recognisable role? Is there a reason why Iñárritu casts Naomi Watts (who is best known for MULHOLLAND DR., aka not a franchise film), and Andrea Riseborough?
At the start of the film the TV news cycle is reporting on Robert Downey Jnr. His star power and earnings are astronomical compared to most. When searching for a replacement actor, he wants Woody Harrelson, Michael Fassbender, and Jeremy Renner. The first two committed to franchise money-makers; and Riggan wanted Renner as he was award nominated and is an ‘Avenger’.
I feel that the directing effort of Iñárritu, albeit technically good (and it also looks bloody good thanks to Lubezki), is just too pretentiously presented. The stitching together of multiple long takes to create a ‘long take’ advertisement is merely an attempt to give the illusion that BIRDMAN is an immediacy. It is happening right here and now. But all it really does is make it a marketing target. Much like how a superhero movie uses its own iconography to sell itself.
Michael Keaton is incredible in this though (hoping for his Old Man Bruce Wayne/BATMAN BEYOND resurgence).
Scott Tobias of The Dissolve (RIP The Dissolve) wrote a scorching takedown of BIRDMAN. A great read if you hated the film, a highlight is the following: “Iñárritu’s inability to take it down a notch makes him uniquely unsuited to the backstage film, which requires an offhand deftness that isn’t in his limited repertoire. “
Thinking of my past experience in the world of amateur dramatics, and my love of superhero films, Scott Tobias has a very valid point. Iñárritu just wants to try too hard, he wants to use (almost heading into parody) skillset to hit us over the head with something he finds profound. It is a shame, seeing as the messages of his directorial debut AMORES PERROS are handled with a bit more care.