Michael Keaton's new superhero spoof blows critics away

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Aug 28, 2014, 1:27 PM EDT (Updated)

More than two decades after he played Batman, Michael Keaton has donned a cape and cowl again.

Well, sort of. In the new movie Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a former Hollywood star who once dominated the box office in the title superhero franchise. Years later, the now down-on-his-luck Thompson attempts to rehabilitate his career by producing, directing and starring in a Broadway play, but an injured cast member, an arrogant co-star, a daughter fresh out of rehab and a pregnant girlfriend all threaten to derail his plans, while the voice of Birdman whispers in his ear that his only chance is to once again put on the mask and costume.

The movie has been directed by Alejandro González Inarritu (Babel) in such a way to make it look like it was shot in one long, uninterrupted take (although it wasn't -- visual effects took care of the transitions). And as you might guess from that plot synopsis, it's a black comedy about stardom, celebrity status, superhero movies and many more things, with the casting of Keaton clearly meant to reference his two-film stint as the Dark Knight in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). 

Like Thompson, Keaton has never quite hit the top of the box office again the way he did when he wore the cowl, even though he has worked steadily ever since. But with Birdman just premiering at the Venice Film Festival, the actor might be looking at an Oscar nomination and even a win.

Fresh off its Venice screening, Variety called Birdman "a triumph on every creative level, from casting to execution, that will electrify the industry, captivate arthouse and megaplex crowds alike, send awards pundits into orbit and give fresh wings to Keaton’s career."

Meanwhile, the Hollywood Reporter called the picture "one of the most sustained examples of visually fluid tour de force cinema anyone’s ever seen, all in the service of a story that examines the changing nature of celebrity and the popular regard for fame over creative achievement."

The Telegraph stated that "Birdman isn’t much like anything else at all. Think Black Swan directed by Mel Brooks and you’re in the vicinity, but only just.”

You can check out Slashfilm, Deadline and The Wrap for more reviews and reactions. So why are we covering this? Well, because of the connections to superhero movies via Keaton and the film's own satiric take on the same kind of franchise, and because, as Empire said, the movie deals with "issues of art, artistry and why we create."

Birdman, which also stars Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis, is out in theaters Oct. 17.