Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 5 Biggest Problems with Comic Book Movies

A few years ago, everyone was amazed by the amount of comic books being turned into full length feature films. Now, the rate of their production has quadrupled (according to an official, statistical guess by this blogger) with no signs of slowing down. Superpowers That Be takes a look at the difficulties and pitfalls in successfully bringing a comic book to the big screen.

1. I didn't write it.

That is to say, most comic book movies are not written by fanboys. While my own writing abilities are being sort of decent well I guess I like them usually do I most of the time, I don't personally have experience creating screenplays for big budget motion pictures.

The problem with the writers who do have experience, however, is they have none with the characters. Is there any possible way a fan, a reader and lover of the X-Men character Storm, could have written the words that came out of Halle Berry's mouth? Don't think so.

Hence the excitement (tinged with jealousy) regarding Joss Whedon having full control on The Avengers. No one is more of a fanboy than Joss, except that he's better than us. More brilliant, creative, funny and experienced. Problem is, past few years, he's started to seem unfortunately aware of this truth.

But I'm probably still just pissed I didn't get the job. (The Maximoffs would have totally been on my final team roster.)

2. Special Effects

Granted, this is a tough balance to maintain. On one hand, you don't want to see the wire holding Superman up in the sky. But on the other hand, you also don't want to see him flying stiffly in the uber-fake, detailed stratosphere and be reminded of that scene where Neo fights a thousand Agents at once. You know, that digital scene that singlehandedly destroyed The Matrix movies.

What else is on?

Clearly special effects are absolutely necessary, particularly for some heroes more than others. How else would they make a Green Lantern film? The flight, the green energy, the monsters, it's all hard to recreate with cardboard cut-outs in an age where movies that were made in the 1990s to feel dated.

And yet, from what I've seen of the Green Lantern movie so far, the costumes, aliens, Oa, even the lantern itself,  all look stylized by a goth cosplay Tim Burton enthusiast. (And what's with the freaking lines on his suit? They couldn't keep one of the simplest super outfits ever?)

The point being, not enough 'splosions, they think they'll lose their audience, and too many effects, they kill the story. Sad to say, the latter option doesn't effect ticket sales, hence it's not as important.

3. They'll make anything now.

Mark Millar has only to announce his intention to possibly release a new gory, flashy, light-on-story comic book and Kablammo! he's got a new movie deal.

Let's cast Jon Hamm before Issue #1 comes out!

I mean, who actually thought Jonah Hex was marketable? A Western, with a disfigured male lead, and a wooden, albeit it hot, Megan Fox making out with his deformed face?

Let's get a little more selective here folks.

4. Casting

Certainly this is a potential problem in all movies, but particularly here when the producers don't seem to realize that it's the hero we love, even more than the heroics. Thus, big names, used in attempt to guarantee ticket sales, are not the only option, and in fact often help destroy the movie by tarnishing and misrepresenting a beloved character. (Halle Berry's Storm, Ben Affleck's Daredevil and his wife's Elektra, Jessica Alba's Sue Storm, etc.)

Neither does gambling on an unknown actor always produce great results (Brandon Routh's Superman) but at least it shows an attempt to be true to the character. (And hope is very much alive for Chris Hemsworth's Thor.)

5. They keep making follow-ups.

Never ones to let 30 million bucks get in the way of a potential 100 million dollar profit, Hollywood only abandons a franchise if the film completely bombs, or else intends to say something positive about America. And in general, the follow-ups suck.

To be fair, exceptions exist here as well. X2 was better than X-Men, but the third provoked actual physical pain in its audience. Christopher Nolan has kept Batman relevant and critically acclaimed and Jon Favreau's Iron Man sequel saw a drop in quality but not a huge one. (Naturally one expects the third film to maintain this trend, especially with Favreau's lack of participation.)

In face, it's nearly impossible to maintain the high quality of a massive comic book franchise just by depending on audience interest. Studios shoot themselves in the foot by announcing sequels, and even beginning production on them, before the first film has been released. And don't even get me started on the market saturation of popular characters being "rebooted" only four years after their blockbuster trilogy ended.

In the end, all these problems boil down to the same thing: Respect. Respect for the characters, for the firmly established universes, and for the fans who have loved and supported them for decades.

If Hollywood producers went into a comic book project with the same reverence that they give to a biopic of Harvey Milk, or the enthusiasm that goes into an HBO production made exclusively to mock Sarah Palin, the quality of these films would be so consistent that soon every movie released would be based on a comic book.

After all Hollywood is not so enamored of original storytelling, so if they intend to remake everything ever, why not put some more comic book movies out there?

Just do it with love, please.



  1. Great piece. Really enjoyed reading it.

  2. Thanks so much! Checking out your blog now. Expect a new follower soon :-)

  3. My god. Please produce the next comic screenplay.