EDITORIAL: The Danger In Making Comic Book Movies For The Fans
Before proceeding, please know this article is not intended to cause a “flame war”, though it surely will. This is merely an opinion piece. For a full understanding please read the articles that are linked throughout the piece.
Turn the clocks back just over a decade and people wouldn’t believe you if you told them that comic book movies would take over the industry one day. When comic book movies were first on the rise filmmakers weren’t sure how to please fans, this is when films like BATMAN & ROBIN, HULK, DAREDEVIL and CATWOMAN were coming out -- all of which were met with an onslaught of hatred. It wasn’t until Bryan Singer’s X-MEN and Sam Raimi’s SPIDER-MAN that people finally understood the potential of comic book movies. All of a sudden Hollywood knew just how much money all these franchises were worth and they had filmmakers who knew how to please that particular audience. This period is when we received some of the strongest comic book films ever made, such as HELLBOY, SIN CITY, SPIDER-MAN 2, BATMAN BEGINS, KICK-ASS, THE DARK KNIGHT, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, X-MEN 2, and IRON MAN. All of these films came as a result of filmmakers looking to put their own touch on these widely loved characters, but also to keep fans of the source material in mind while doing so.
Now things have changed. Recent comic book movies have shown us a different breed of film, the kind where audience reaction is more important than a good story. You will find this in most Marvel films, especially the ones leading up to THE AVENGERS with the exception of IRON MAN. If you were to delve into THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR and CAPTAIN AMERICA - all films that were met with good reactions from comic book fans – you would find a severe lack of substance. These three films do a great job hiding their faults by giving the audience exactly what they want, and fans can confuse getting what they want with a good movie. So as a result a film that is average at best can succeed well at the box office, however these films (and others) have set a very dangerous precedent for the future of comic book movies.
Fan service is not a good thing. Luckily in the past audiences have been able to spot the difference between good movies and fan service, the biggest example being the STAR WARS prequels, which were entirely designed for fans and ended up being awful because of that. Unfortunately now production companies have gotten quite good at hiding bad stories by layering them with plot. Yes there is a difference between story and plot. Film Crit Hulk wrote an amazing article labeled THE AGE OF THE CONVOLUTED BLOCKBUSTER that will go into more detail about what I’m about to tell you guys, but essentially these comic book films have turned their back on story and replaced it with plot, and it’s to the point where audiences are actually unaware that this is happening. Any person that goes into specifics about how a film has illogical moments isn’t focused on the story but rather the plot (i.e. How did Bruce get back to Gotham in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES?) Whether a film ties up all its loose ends logically shouldn’t actually matter as long if it’s telling a good story. Film Crit Hulk put it best when he said:
THE TRUTH IS THAT THE REAL VICTIM OF THIS CONVOLUTED PLOTTING IS TRADITIONAL DRAMA. BY OBFUSCATING CLARITY IN THE NAME OF A GRANDIOSE PUZZLE, WE CAN’T HELP BUT GET IN THE WAY OF THE OPTIMAL EMOTIONAL RESONANCE IN OUR STORIES. WE MAKE THEM FEEL LIKE CONSTRUCTIONS. WE SHOW ALL THE STRINGS. AND IT'S GOTTEN TO SUCH AN OBLIVIOUS STATE THAT THIS IS BAD THAT WE NOT ONLY SHOW THESE STRINGS, BUT THEN TURN TO THE AUDIENCE AND SAY "Hey! Look at all those strings I tied! Don't they look complicated!?!?! I did that!"
And the truth is that that oblivious state in the writing room has now become the oblivious state in the theatre. Audiences care more about how many plots match up to the comics rather than a good story unfolding in front of them. This has dramatically lowered the expectations in blockbusters (including comic book movies), and production companies will exploit this for as long as they can. I am not at all suggesting all comic book films are like this. Nolan’s BATMAN BEGINS and Whedon’s AVENGERS were well-crafted stories that just happened to please fans, and that’s the ideal movie. Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT is actually in a story-plot limbo. While it suffers from the convoluted blockbuster disease Nolan has a way of turning his convoluted plots into actual human drama -- something no one else has been able to do, other than maybe Abrams with STAR TREK (2009).
But here we approach the epitome of this issue: MAN OF STEEL. For some MAN OF STEEL is one of the greatest comic book movies of all time. It was written by David S. Goyer, the guy who helped get Nolan’s Batman to the screen so why shouldn’t it be just as good, right? This is the film that has sparked this topic for me. MAN OF STEEL has been widely loved by comic book fans because it’s exactly the kind of movie they wanted. A darker, more real take on Superman. MAN OF STEEL suffers from the same issue that the THE DARK KNIGHT RISES had yet people are so eager to hate that film and love this one, why? It’s because on the surface level MAN OF STEEL has nothing inherently wrong with it, while Nolan’s conclusion to Batman had some more obvious plot elements breaching its shell. Personally I also believe expectation has something to do with it, while THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was being compared to THE DARK KNIGHT, MAN OF STEEL was mostly being compared to SUPERMAN RETURNS which obviously wasn’t as well received as THE DARK KNIGHT. I actually think SUPERMAN RETURNS is a stronger film but I think I’ve pissed off enough comic book fans already today so I won’t bother getting into that.
To help understand this point better check out Film Crit Hulk’s other phenomenal article called THE IMPORTANCE OF DRAMATIZING A CHARACTER in which he highlights everything MAN OF STEEL does wrong as far as story, one of the biggest being the “show, don’t tell” rule, which I found to be a huge issue in PACIFIC RIM as well. All the characters in Del Toro’s film are one-dimensional cutouts that tell you how they feel rather than show you how you they feel, and most of the characters in MAN OF STEEL did the same thing. Dialogue throughout both of these films was mostly used to help explain things to the audience rather than being used for character development which is just plain lazy. A good way to avoid this is to write a dialogue free movie and see how much sense it makes. If you need dialogue to explain your story than it’s probably convoluted (though there are exceptions to this rule).
2013 was a rather interesting year for comic book movies, given that IRON MAN 3 was hated by fans and MAN OF STEEL was loved. I think this perfectly illustrates the issue. It’s no secret that IRON MAN 3 purposefully deviates from the source material, and boy has it taken a beating for doing so. Unfortunately this jolt midway through the story upset fans so much that they can’t see the film for what it is, a great story with actual character arcs. Shane Black is an extremely talented writer/director and IRON MAN 3 is one of the strongest films Marvel has ever turned out, and yet one of the most hated only because it wasn’t loyal to the source material. I’m not saying that we should make every comic book villain be revealed as some stupid actor, but that letting talented filmmakers have creativity can actually result in better-crafted comic book movies that push the boundaries of these characters in ways we’ve never seen.
The biggest issue here is that giving fans what they want usually means sacrificing story for convoluted plot, which actually wouldn’t be a huge deal if fans could see past the cloud of fan service and realize what they’re watching isn't a good story. Herein lies the danger -- now that audiences can’t tell the difference between a good and bad story what’s to stop lazy filmmakers from taking over your favorite franchise, dishing out some fan service and cashing in on it? Nothing. The reason these comic book characters resonate so well is because their stories are fascinating, and the fact that people not only settle with something like MAN OF STEEL but consider it one of the best comic book movies ever while picking IRON MAN 3 apart limb-from-limb is just depressing. Though telling a great story and pleasing fans is the ideal situation, with comic book movies coming out the wazoo over the next few years I would prefer those filmmakers follow in Shane Black’s footsteps and deliver us a great story, even if it results in fan backlash.
If we continue on this path the future of comic book movies is grim indeed.
Anyway guys that’s enough from me! I told you guys once before as someone who has studied film and writing that my opinions might not be well accepted here and I think this will be a good example. I implore some of you to see reason and at least have a healthy discussion below, rather than a “flame war”. That being said I’m interested in what some of you think.
: This article was submitted by a volunteer contributor who has agreed to our code of conduct
. ComicBookMovie.com is protected from liability under "safe harbor" provisions and will disable users who knowingly commit plagiarism, piracy, trademark or copyright infringement. For expeditious removal, contact us HERE