EDITORIAL: Humour And How It's Handled In Comic Book Movies

EDITORIAL: Humour And How It's Handled In Comic Book Movies

Humour is one of the most subjective things on this good Earth. Lately, it seems people just don't want it around, people seem to think a film, especially a comic book film, is silly if there's so much as an ounce of humour. Hit the jump to hear my thoughts on the topic.


As I mentioned in the teaser, humour is subjective and people's sense of humour can vary massively from person to person. As of late, especially in comic book  films, people don't seem to accept humour as much as they used to. A lot of the time, people would watch a film hoping to get a bit of a laugh out of it, it brightens your day a little. Nowadays though, people seem to rejct humour and demand that there only be serious themes and tones throuhgout a comic book film with little to no signs of so much as an attempt to make you laugh. Some might argue that this is a good thing but the truth is, it really isn't. The ever-decreasing levels of humour in comic book films actually reflects us, comic book readers, as a fanbase. These films, no matter what company we're talking about, are primarily made as fan service as well as telling a broader story. So, if the film is tailor-made to make us as a fanbase appreciate it more, then the film itself influences the perception people have of the die hard fans like us. Seeing as it's the main reason this is occurring, let's look at Chritopher Nolan's Batman trilogy as a kickoff point.

Where It All Began

Nolan's Batman films are held in astonishingly high regard by most comic book fans and general audiences alike. The films are truly exceptional and they served their purpose, they provided us with a gritty, realistic comic book film series that suited the character around which the story was centered. They had their humourous moments, not in high quantity as it would have ruined the tone, but nonetheless, humour was present. Before these films, most mainstream audiences had only seen comic book films that catered to a humourous character like Spider-Man, or even the X-Men movies which contained quite a fair amount of humour. Never before had the masses of the general audience seen a serious comic book film. When Batman Begins rolled around, we received our first mainstream gritty comic book film. Batman is a character that doesn't require humour to tell his story. He's quite a dark character with plenty of troubles in his past and humour would have spoiled that if used excessively. This is where the script-writing and directing come into play. David Goyer's script portrayed this gritty and grounded world perfectly, and he has to be applauded for painting that picture. Christopher Nolan then took that and presented that picture to the masses, for which he is critically acclaimed by fans and actual critics alike. The influences the pair had on the comic book genre are far too vast to list, but not all of them were for the best. Especially in regards to humour. The film was so well-received that the fanbase decided they preferred their comic book films to be realistic, dark and gritty, but at this early stage, it wasn't too much of an issue. By the time The Dark Knight was released, the fanbase truly made up their minds. Humour almost became a no-go area due to how brilliant the film was, and how little humour was used. Again, Batman is a character that doesn't require humour to portray accurately and so it's easy to accept him in this dark and gritty world because that's what we get in the comics. But us, the fans, we found The Dark Knight so good we wanted all comic book films to aspire to its greatness. This was our first downfall.

True Grit

It seemed after Batman Begins that "gritty" was the word we wanted to hear from critics in regards to our comic book films. When Marvel Studios released Iron Man, it was met with rave reviews and was also a financial success to boot. The film had action, drama, explosions, hot chicks, emotional weight and on top of all those other things, they found time to make us laugh. Iron Man is a character that can have humour used in his story as the character himself is quite the wisecracker. The Incredible Hulk, a film most consider to be quite underrated, had humour and also managed to balance out the drama and the action. Again, the Hulk is a character that can have humour used in his movies because he doesn't need to be dark and gritty, he's a giant green monster for Christ's sake! Why is it then, that a character like Superman gets pegged into this dark, realistc and gritty world? Superman is a bright character, heavy-laden with symbolism and messages pertaining to honour, patriotism, kindness and well-being. He's no Batman. He could do with a git of light-heartedness in his movies, as the original two proved rather well! Zack Snyder came along to direct Man of Steel and fan's got pretty excited. He was the guy who adapted Watchmen almost perfectly from book to screen! He was the guy who made that awesome movie 300 that was so far out and massive, yet believable! David Goyer's writing the script... It's gonna be dark, gritty and realistic apparently... WOOHOO, IT'S GONNA BE LIKE THE DARK KNIGHT! No. That's not how we should have reacted to that. Superman should be a much more light-hearted character than Batman and that's why the two of them have such a great character dynamic in the comics is because of their contrast with each other. Man of Steel came out and it was all grey and gloomy, yet they managed to portray Superman pretty well and there was humour where it was okay to use it but if there's anything  Man of Steel wasn't, it was light-hearted. The destruction, the doom and gloom, the fact that every shot seemed to be tinted grey, it didn't help the movie at all. Humour would have helped that film. It would have established Superman as much more of a light-hearted character and not only that, but it might have made the film just that little bit more watchable for the general audiences. But the fanbase went nuts for it because we got to see a gritty and dark Superman. Why? That goes against pretty much every aspect of the character. Nonetheless, I enjoyed Man of Steel for the most part and highly anticipate Dawn of Justice, but wouldn't it be great if there was this stark contrast between Batman and Superman, one being the light-hearted "Superman to the rescure" character, the other being the troubled and damaged character we all know Batman to be? Of course there are times when humour can get to be too much.

It's Complicated, Alright, It's Complicated

We received the movie Iron Man 3 last year and I think it's safe to say, we comic book fans hated every last minute of it. Why? Because the film's plot was sacrificed to humour. The film was peppered with gags and unnecassary moments of humour, and it was all at the expense of one of the most highly anticipated villains since Heath Ledger's Joker (oh no wait...). Iron Man 3 is the perfect example of how humour can ruin a film. The film we were expecting was a tale of retribution, conspiracy and terror. The tale we got was one straight out of an eighties Seagal movie. Iron Man 3 ended up feeling like a filler episode for a t.v. show rather than another standalone super hero venture. The humour was the film's primary downfall. It was handled incredibly poorly and was over-excessive in all the wrong places. It's a rule of storytelling that you don;t use humour in the climax of the story, especially if it's a showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist. The arrival and subsequent blunder of the Mark 42 armour was probably the moment I truly felt like the humour was the main reason I wasn't liking this film as much as I wanted to. It certainly had its moments and handled drama well at times, like the house destruction and the aeroplane sequence. That doesn't change the fact however, that the humour damaged this film by being handled incredibly poorly. The same goes for Thor: The Dark World. Again; humour during the climactic battle between the protagonist and antagonist, it ruins the tension and it just downright upsets the tone of things. There were unnecassary characters that were obviously only put in place as comic relief and there were scenes written as comic relief but still, the film was help up entirely by the relationship between Thor and Loki. The humour between those two was well-executed and well-written also, but the rest of the humour in the movie felt incredibly shoehorned and out of place. Just when we were all on a downer due to the bad implications of humour, a film came along and restored our faith.

But It's A Price I'm Willing To Pay

Captain America: The Winter Soldier truly was the return of the prodigal son. The film managed to balance every aspect perfectly. The tone remained consistent throughout. The characters all got developed significantly, perhaps with the exception of Winter Soldier. The action sequences were executed brilliantly. But best of all, the humour was handled well. Humour seems to be what makes or breaks a comic book film these days and I can't decide if that's a good or bad thing. Nevertheless, The Winter Solider restored the faith we originally had in Marvel Studios and it all came down to the fact that despite maintaining a cohesive plot, humour was handled well and wasn't over-excessive. All credit for this achievement has to go to the Russo Bros. In my opinion, people who can write comedy, proper comedy that makes you laugh because of words and not actions, are the best people you could have writing something. When you're at school writing essays you're told, "Write something emotional, it'll be more impactful to the reader. Making people laugh is one of the most difficult things in the world, so avoid trying to be funny." Allow me to explain, as someone who wants to spend the rest of his natural existence writing, why that is bullshit. Comedy, humour whatever you want to call it, like I said before, is subjective. If you're going to write something that you want to be funny, think about what would make you laugh and go with that. When you can do that as a writer, you can write damned near anything because if you can put your own sense of humour on paper, film or imagery, you're going to create a connection between yourself, the piece and the audience. That's exactly what the Russo Bros. did with The Winter Soldier. They took their sense of humour and imparted it into their film, made it their own and it certainly payed off in a big way because they knew their cutoff point, they knew where their humour would fit in the movie and where it wouldn't. Lessons can be learned from that film from many different dimensions.

Looking To The Future

With the highly anticipated Guardians of the Galaxy mere weeks away and people reporting the humour was well-balanced in the 17 minute preview, we must ask ourselves, has James Gunn done what the Russos did? Has he taken his sense of humour and imparted it into the film? Well, considering he was told his original draft "needs more James Gunn", by Avengers director Joss Whedon, I think it's safe to assume he has indeed done such a thing. It wouldn't be the first time either, his other movies are the exact same, there's a real sense that you're getting his sense of humour in there.
Will Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice follow suit? Will Goyer actually try to impart his own sense of humour into the highly anticipated sequel? Time will only tell, but given the fact the only two official images we've seen have been gloomy, we should probably prepare ourselves for the likelihood that the film will be just as lacking in humour as its predecessor. But who know, maybe they'll surprise us and give us the contrasting personalities of Batman and Superman like in the comics.
If the script writers all allowed their own sense of humour to be the humour they put into their scripts rather than trying to cater to the humour of other people, I think comic book films might just start to be the films they were before Nolan's Bat trilogy came along and made grit and darkness a necessity.


Just to sign off, these are all my personal opinions of things and I'd much prefer healthy discussion to an all out flame war so please, I'm begging you, keep the comments reasonable. I do hope humour becomes a much less taboo thing in future comic book films and I'm sure if we get the right writers and directors, it certainly will make a come back. If not, I'll probably give up on comic book films. If current trends continue with writers and directors, I can certainly see humour being  a trademark of the comic book film again and also being accepted by the fanbase. What do you make of humour in comic book films? Should screen writers try to start throwing off their inhibitions about humour and allow their own sense of it to show in their scripts? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments section below!


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