The real Clash of the Titans
Comic Book films have certainly come a long way in the past 10 years. There have been some truly sensational films, that spawn even better sequels that keep hope of more films like it alive. Yet there have also been God-awful messes that cannot be unseen no matter what you do. With all the good and bad out there I think filmmakers/studios are finding the groove but things could be a lot better. We need comic book adaptations which will do more than just keep the genre from simply breaking even.
Now to start things off, there is no one solitary reason more comic book films fail than succeed. It’s usually a combination of things which may include but not be limited to bad writing, poor casting, unconvincing visuals, source material omissions/oversights and a fair amount of luck.
Again, they’re not all doomed to failure and some have been near masterpieces. For example, Watchmen and Road to Perdition were films that worked just as good as their graphic novels but it seems the “Superhero” adaptations are tougher to get right, hence the various hits and misses (though I’d say more miss than hit). It’s time that the Marvel/DC adaptations offer something more flattering than the 2 dimensional stories/characters we’ve had to endure.
Now the cinematic world we live in today is drastically different from the one 20, 10, hell, even 5 years ago. The most significant change: CGI. With it, Hollywood set out to create these fantastic worlds and characters, but in my humble opinion, they should have slowed down. It seems today that Hollywood is happy with CGI that they’re more interested in getting a flaming Ghost Rider head than they were with getting a good story together. That’s always their first mistake. CGI is a tool in the whole process. Period. It should not take precedence over other elements.
Yet all the CGI in the world isn’t going to save a flat character or flesh out a poorly written story. Story, with a capital S, above all else is the main element to focus on. Sadly, it has been the one continually weak and overlooked element in all the failed comic book films. True, a purely flashy/action packed movie will get people in the seats but the style over substance approach and “CGI overload” is not a winning formula to a quality movie. CGI just has to be supplemental to the story, not driving the boat.
Also, I’m not saying a non-CGI or effects laden comic book movie won’t succeed. Batman Begins (which didn’t have an obscene amount of CGI or effects like others did) worked so much better than its predecessors because at the end of the movie you felt like you’ve grown with the character. It was less about loud colors, goofy one liners and (worst of all) nipple suits, and it was more about character and heart.
Additionally, I think what’s been missing from the movies in general is “longevity” which is a direct result of a good story. Even though we are a society of disposable entertainment, we really want to go back and see a film again and again because the quality is there. Films like Spider Man, Titanic and The Dark Knight are near the top of the All Time Box Office list for a reason. Those movies worked because 1. the story was good, 2. the film did a great job of investing time in the characters (so you would care what happens to them), 3. they made the elements of the storyline relatable in someway and 4. they got somewhat talented people to act it all out. So although I may have laughed at a character named Uncle Ben (because of the rice), I felt saddened when he died in Peter Parker’s helpless hands because it felt like I got to know him.
Now this is all my opinion, and I don’t have the math for a successful comic book movie but I know what I need to see for the movie to work for me. It has to be equal parts origin story (for those who don’t know the history), great writing (plot AND dialogue), fan service (the “what were you expecting, yellow spandex?” reference worked well with X-Men), and lastly a modest attempt at the first entry to a mythology which is so much larger than the one movie. I for one would not want to see an entire universe of a character I adore shoddily crammed into an hour and a half. If a comic has been around for all this time what makes you think the hero’s story can be summed up in on feature film?
Hollywood wants to make good movies (face it, it’s how they make their money back) but things like time, budget and other factors always get in the way. Great comics and their characters have been around for decades. Like I wrote above, don’t demean the legacies and dishearten the fans by trying to cram 40 years of content and great story lines into an either thin or heavily convoluted 90 minute movie.
There is hope dear friends as the last few years have shown major signs of improvement and while the’re still a fair amount of stinkers the odds are faring better for comic book adaptations in general. In 2010 we saw lesser known comic films Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgirm succeed while Iron Man 2 stumbled. Also 2011 has shown Thor and X-Men have been met with pretty solid reviews and fantastic results even though Green Lantern was a bit of a stinker. Also many others that people don’t realize were comics, like The Losers, are being quasi-accepted. But more and more there’s been a constant element increasingly injected that’s previously been missing in most recent adaptations.
What is that you ask? Well it’s simple. Most failing properties lack sufficient heart in their stories (although it could be easier than that if studios just didn’t waste their time on 2nd and 3rd tier heroes). Fans not withstanding, people care less about Matt Murdock and Johnny Blaze because the scripts for their movies didn’t get us interested in their characters. You get the audience behind the character and you could watch them read the newspaper for 90 minutes and they’ll be happy. But that’s just what I think. How about you all? What do you see as being the scapegoat for a failed comic book adaptation??
Side Note: I recently read a feature on Total Film showcasing the Marvel and DC comic films that work and the ones that don’t. Take a look at some of the films listed and see if what I wrote above doesn’t at least have some merit or correlation:)