Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Have comic book movies had their day?

When I was a 12-year-old, the prospects of seeing every comic book hero I loved on the big screen seemed so awesome, and yet not all that likely to ever happen. Now, nearly ten years later, within the past decade, I have pretty much seen every comic book hero I desired get a movie, and many of which having varying shades of success. While I loved Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3 was just awful, same goes for the first two X-Men movies in relation to the third one and the Wolverine spin-off. Then you have the comic book movies that failed to do anything, like Daredevil, Hulk, and more recently, Green Lantern.

Back when I was 12, there was maybe one comic book movie every year, a reasonable number. The market was not over-saturated as it is now, and so when we got Spider-Man, when we got X-Men, they were truly something special. They weren't movies that felt like they were just being pumped out for the quick buck that a comic book movie is almost guaranteed. Great care and time was taken to make these adaptations the best movies possible, and over the years this attention to detail has been lost in most comic book movies.

The problem now lies in the fact that movies like Spider-Man and X-Men established a formula, and Hollywood took that formula and made the mold of the comic book movie, where this happens at this point in the movie, then this happens, then this, all to tie together at the end. They did not care about making the best adaptations possible anymore, wanting instant gratification, just seeing how many comic book movies they could make and gross money from. This is where we are now.

As much as I enjoyed Iron Man and The First Avenger: Captain America, these movies were simply products of the comic book movie mold, no innovation, just straight forward, repeating the same formula that they did with X-Men and Spider-Man. While the formula can be comforting, there are no more surprises in the stories, and the movies tend to now be so rushed with haphazard casting and directing that they have lost any real sense of awe and wonder, which is the whole reason we see these fascinating fantasies play out on the silver screen to begin with. Now, with the big team up movie, The Avengers coming next Summer, promising to unite Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, with the Hulk, all in one movie, I cannot muster any excitement. Why?

When I was 12, the idea of The Avengers movie was so preposterous, but now it is a reality, less than 10 months away from release, but I'm not excited. Sure, I'll see it, probably even enjoy it, but the chances of me being wowed like I was by Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight upon first viewing is very slim. This is all because these movies have just become cookie cutters. To think that this movie will be any different is just wishful thinking.

What is worse, when a genuinely original take on the comic book movie comes around and shakes things up, like Spider-Man 2 or The Dark Knight, then everyone just wants to make a new mold and copy those movies. I mean, look at the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man, coming out next year. It looks so much darker and grittier, more realistic, trying to stay in lines with Christopher Nolan's Batman movies. Or when after Spider-Man 2 came out in 2004, it seemed like every comic book movie that came out over the few years after were all just out of the same mold. The thing is, what made these comic book movies succeed, is: A.) they did not adhere to the molds of the traditional comic book movies, creating their own molds; and B.) they tailored these movies specifically to their respective characters.

The reason the gritty look and feel of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight worked for that movie is because Batman is one of the grittier, more realistic superheroes in existence. Where as the reason Spider-Man 2 was so rich in character exploration of Peter Parker with a nice mixture of over-the-top melodrama and humor is because that is the essence of the comic book upon which it was based. While The Amazing Spider-Man looks to include the necessities to make it a Spider-Man story, and hey, it may even be fantastic, but the first trailer paints a picture that is not Spider-Man but a copycat of Christopher Nolan.

Honestly, I am burned out on comic book movies. I still like them and watch them, I may even occasionally find one original enough from the rest to love (like X-Men: First Class), but with the same movie essentially being made and released every three months, how can I muster up any excitement? Sure, I'm excited for The Dark Knight Rises, but that is because of the originality and innovations of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and not just because it is another comic book movie. The saddest part is too, is that there have been many filmmakers over the years that have tried to break that mold, but the studios pulled the plug, choosing not to innovate. I mean, check out this article over at IGN about all of the great unmade comic book movies. I for one would have watched Supermax, or J.J. Abrams' Superman Flyby, and I would personally rather see Joss Whedon's take on Wonder Woman as opposed to him sticking to the formula with The Avengers.

To argue for innovation in comic book movies is essentially a moot point, seeing as how nothing is going to change until that day that comic book movies start to fail at the box office, which we're already starting to see a little bit of decline in box office results of these comic book movies. While the studios try to spin the numbers, the bottom line is, Iron Man 2 did not make as much money as its predecessor, and that none of the comic book movies from this Summer crossed the $200 million mark, which used to be considered a given if a movie was a comic book movie, with the best going above and beyond $300 million! With movies like Thor, Captain America, and X-Men: First Class, barely making back their budgets, have comic book movies had their day?

As I said, the studios are trying to spin these numbers as successes, but you have to know when these same studios were once making twice as much money on comic book properties, they are deep down worried. And why shouldn't they be? It's just like when the Blockbuster first sprung into existence. At first, every Blockbuster released made buckets of money, whether or not it was any good was a different matter. Now, there are so many, people have to pick and choose, so a movie having a Blockbuster budget is no longer a sure bet that the movie will makes oodles of money. The same is happening with comic book movies. I mean, The Dark Knight was huge, but Thor barely scraped up enough cash to be 1/4 as successful. But notice, the more innovative comic book movies make more money. At least, that's my observation, so maybe the studios may wanna brush off some of those unmade scripts and make amends with the directors to keep comic book movies from fading into obscurity.

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