trinityvixen: (thinking Mario)
[personal profile] trinityvixen
I caught this article on Tor.com about the renaissance of the comic book movie. Despite the $$$ made by The Avengers, I have a suspicion that comic book movies, specifically superhero comic book movies, are actually on the wane. Not necessarily in terms of quality, but I think the fad it going to start petering out.

Anyway, it will surprise no one that I disagree with a lot of points in that article. I have a long post as to why I disagree, but I summarize it up in an image for those not interested in the rant.

Because she never mentions this guy:




Don't get me wrong, the comic book movie renaissance owes a lot to movies that came before Iron Man, Blade, in particular, to my mind. And Iron Man would never have been made had there not been profitable franchises, X-Men, Spider-Man before it to start the trend. But by 2007, with Spider-Man 3 and X-Men 3 running on fumes (as [livejournal.com profile] ivy03 said to me at the time, "breaking all the toys" before someone else got a chance to play with them), there was a real chance that this trend was going to die, big-budget, high-concept Batman Begins sequel on the horizon or no.

Enter Iron Man. A movie made by a notoriously tight-fisted and, worse, brand new Marvel Studios that was really 90% improvisation on the part of the director/writer and lead actor, neither of whom were especially tried-and-true commercial successes. Jon Favreau had Elf. (And indie cred. That and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.) Robert Downey Jr. had, like, just completed his umpteenth stint in rehab and/or prison. (And also had indie cred with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. See above comment about coffee.) And yet, if not for their combined, insane genius, Iron Man could have been yet another Ghost Rider. In a year with a most heavy-handed (and hearted, because of Heath Ledger's death) The Dark Knight dominating the box office, Iron Man did something fun, and, more importantly, memorable.

Let's face it, comic book movies are always going to be derivative on some level, but until Iron Man, most the films made were based on highly visible franchises within pop culture--at least, most of the commercially successful ones were. You didn't have to read the comics to know who Spider-Man was, even if he wasn't, say, Superman. Blade might not have had the most pop culture penetration, but it did have vampires, and what else did you really need to know about the character once you knew that? Iron Man was a song by Black Sabbath, which, if you were lucky, people knew. Favreau and RDJ took a character with limited street appeal and even less pop culture presence and turned it into a smash success. They made something people never forgot (unlike some of the 3 hours of The Dark Knight which I have definitely forgotten, and that's saying something for me).

And The Avengers would never have happened without it. That's the real reason it was so important. It accomplished the comic-to-movie transition for the team comic. Marvel Studios was able to build a stable of characters that it brought together in a way not seen since Abbott and Costello met the entire Universal line of monsters. It melded commercial appeal (because we all admit they did this for the money, which they are now drowning in) along with the perennial tease that made their comics sell so well: buy our stuff or you'll never know what happens to your favorite characters. Money, more than loyalty, drives these franchises. They make more money if you like it--if you make a movie that, yes, tries to do some of the things the Tor.com article cited as important--but with the way Hollywood has restructured to make all their money in the first weekend, they don't have to make it that good to get your money.

The woman at Tor.com wraps up her assessment of the state of comic book movies like so:
"But the trend overall seems to be heading towards creative, careful comic book films that know the formula for success and honor the fandoms they come from."

We can certainly hope so. But they did make another Ghost Rider movie, so I wouldn't hold my breath.

The other issue I had with her article is her assertion that there is some kind of mandatory "tone" that movies must get right about their source material which completely overlooks the fact that even the franchises considered tonally consistent (say, Batman) had a lot of different tones for many, many years. I don't think the tenor of a film needs must match that of the source material. In fact, I think some of what failed about Watchmen was the effort to maintain the tone of the source material--which is kind of ridiculously bleak--and it came out as just oppressive and dark in a generic and depressing way that wasn't fun for three hours of movie. (To be fair, there are a lot of reasons a movie adaptation of Watchmen failed.) I think tonal consistency is more important.

We can agree, however, that Catwoman was terrible. I think I might have to revise my previous statement that Ang Lee's Hulk was the worst comic book movie ever made. Hulk was bad. It made me angry enough to want to smash things (irony!), but I don't think I was as vicariously embarrassed for people in that movie or as prone to laughing out loud to relieve the awkwardness as I was with Catwoman.
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