Friday, June 22, 2007

Superhero Overload?

Since the box office success of the first X-Men movie back in 2000 (which was in turn made possible by The Matrix), we have been treated to an unparalleled smorgasbord of superhero cinema. Like most smorgasbords, some offerings have been incredible, some have been mere filler, and some have made us want to run to the restroom to relieve ourselves of their weight. With Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and The Dark Knight slated for next summer, more helpings are on the way. One of my fellow Extralife Forum-ites recently posted the following gripe:

“Ok, we get it. You can shoot a movie about a comic book hero and make almost a billion dollars. Now stop. In the past decade, there have been TWO "good" superhero movies, and only one I enjoyed (Batman Begins). Everything else is complete crap that is obviously a marketing decision rather than an artistic choice.”

Now, you must realize, I have been a comic book fan since I was old enough to read. Throughout the eighties and nineties, I endured through the obvious disparity between the rich, utter coolness of the comic books and their embarrassingly campy TV and movie counterparts. Then, finally, after keeping the faith, we came to a window in history where unprecedented interest in comic book material converged with advances in special effects. Finally, superhero movies could be produced that actually did justice to their source material from both a F/X standpoint and a dramatic standpoint.

Since 2000, there have been some bombs (i.e. Punisher, Elektra, Catwoman). There has been a lot of filler (i.e. Daredevil, X3, Spiderman 3, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Fantastic Four). These have had some great moments in and of themselves; more importantly, though, they have advanced filmmakers’ superhero instincts, helped them to see what works and what doesn’t. For instance, it’s obvious that filmmakers are moving away from mindless action and explosions and delving instead into their characters core struggles; dramatic substance is moving up the priority list.

Most importantly, this rush to produce superhero films has given birth to arguably the greatest films of the genre, films that not only master the source material, but also the medium. I speak of films like Spiderman 2, Batman Begins, Hellboy, and even X-Men 2 that have been successful critically, commercially, and in regards to their contribution to their source material. I would argue that these films would not have been possible without the other lukewarm eighty percent of superhero films, that it was the trial and error- the synergies of all of these projects, if you will- that created the right environment for these films to be produced so well.

So, with so many superhero films in theaters and on the way are we suffering from superhero overload? No. I think we could stand to do away with some crap (Please don’t ever allow another Zoom: Academy for Superheroes to ever be made… e-v-e-r). But for the most part, superhero fans are finally getting what we have waited for. We are seeing justice done to our most beloved characters. True, we have to expect that not every filmmaker will get it right. But with each Ghostrider and every overly metaphysical outing with the Hulk, Hollywood gets better at bringing our heroes to life. Suffering through these experiments is worth it when we get to see Batman or Spidey done right.

Stop making superhero films? Not on your life. Bring them on, I say!

What do you say? Too many superhero movies got you crying, “UNCLE”? Or are you loving this downpour of super-movies? Chime in and put in your two cents!


  1. Personally, I love it. For people like us, it's a dream come true because we love comics. For some people, it might be a bit much.

    I actually had a convo with a friend yesterday about how there are too many superhero movies, and that most of them suck. He's definitely not a comics fan (he said he'd rather see Dead or Alive than FF2, I really hope he was just giving me a hard time).

    So different strokes for different folks, I guess. I get all tingly thinking about the slew of movies that we'll be seeing in the future (Iron Man, Hulk, The Dark Knight, and ones that are on the slate, Cap, Dr. Strange, Avengers, etc). I just hope Hollywood has shaken all the "noob" out so they will be quality films.

  2. I say bring on the superhero movies. I may not rush out and see every single one but the more the merrier.
    And not just superhero movies but comics-inspired movies like 30 Days of Night later this year and recent ones like 300, V for Vendetta, Sin City, Road to Perdition, History of Violence, etc.; anything to show the general public that comics aren't just for kids.

  3. Mike got something right, different strokes. I think the comic book fans, or just fans of super heroes, have long had to deal with the Cleveland sports team like disappointment of having utter crap offered each summer. Even sci-fi (previous entry) has had a better franchise in movies than super heroes over the decades and decades film has been rolling.

    Horror has been going for a while, mystery as long as there's been voice on film, adventure before that. I think "comic book" could also be combined with "pulp" or "serial" if you really thought about it. It's a young genre, probably only second to cyberpunk in terms of recent emergence.

    And I'm glad you said "Hellboy," I enjoyed the crap outta that movie. I thought it did all the things a comic book movie should have done. It took itself seriously just enough to make us believe in the characters, but not so much as to come across over done or heavy-handed. It was light enough that you could slip one-liners in there, but dark enough that you felt for the people involved.

    And it didn't insult me as a viewer, which is what most comic book movies do. Shoot, most major motion pictures do that anyway.

    I dig 'em. We don't have many westerns anymore, and I'm sure these will die off eventually. But let's have fun letting it ride out.

  4. I'm hoping that rather than dying off the comic book to film conversions will shift direction to some of the less mainstream comics that aren't necessarily based on super heroes.

    I would definately love to see more movies like Sin City and hopefully all of the current comic book conversions will lend alot more credibility to these kind of films.

    My personal choice would be to see some of the 2000AD stories made into films by some good and passionate directors (mostly in the hopes of off setting the damage done by the Judge Dredd movie that is so bad it actually causes me physical pain to think about it).

    Hopefully things like this will be alot more likely now comic books aren't seen nerdy and of interest to only a minority audience (they actually sell comic books in bookshops in the UK now).

    But for the moment I'm happy to see more super hero conversions to film as it's all practice for future comic book conversions (plus super heroes are cool).

  5. I appreciate your responses. Also, I neglected to mention a few non-superhero-but-nonetheless-comic-book adaptations coming up very soon. Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman graphic novel, is coming out this summer. I think someone mentioned 30 Days of Night based on the groundbreaking and supremely atmospheric vampire graphic novel, coming out this fall. Looks very creepy (despite the cardboard presence of Josh “Hottie” Hartnett). This is our time, comic fans!


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