Heroes or villains
Are comic-book movies great… or a tired and old idea?
They are everywhere. This year alone has seen Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 and in cinemas this week, The Wolverine. There’s talk of Batman and Superman appearing in the same film – last year there was The Avengers – it goes on.
But is this a problem? Isn’t this just great – great stories, great spectacles, great characters? Stuff.tv’s Luke Edwards and Stephen Graves dust-down their super-powers and battle to the death (until the sequel)…
Luke Edwards in defence of the world’s defenders
First off let’s just say two words to win this debate: Dark Knight. But comic-book movies aren’t just about winners – there have been a few failures too. It’s about the magic being brought slightly closer to reality so that everyone, kids and adults alike, can enjoy the freedom of imagination. It’s also about pushing the power of CGI thanks to the money made from these films – that tech can then filter down to games and low-budget film productions, improving them graphically.
But back to the magic. As a kid I read a lot of comics. And the nineties offered a few attempts at big screen adaptations in the shoddy Captain America and laughable Hulk-Thor team-up. It was teased but never realised. Then along came Batman, Spider-Man and The Avengers.
Sure it’s got a little over-the-top of late but that’s like cinema at large – you need to accept some rubbish will slide your way to lubricate the pathway for the greats. It’s all positive for geeks who can now openly read comics without the worry of being hit. Unless they’re reading My Little Pony – that’ll never be acceptable.
Comic book films have action for adults, fantasy for kids and stories for everyone else. It’s a cross-generational win for studios – hence the huge investments. And that’s without the toy sales. But more crucially it’s a great way to tell stories to everyone at once. Isn’t that what cinema is all about – communicating ideas while entertaining? And watching super people punch other super people through buildings, of course.
Stephen Graves has had quite enough
I like superheroes as much as the next geek, but we’re reaching a point of over-saturation. In 2013 alone, we’ve already had a third Iron Man film and a Superman film, with sequels for Wolverine and Thor on the way. Marvel Films and Warner Bros (home of DC characters like Batman and Superman) have already scheduled 13 more superhero films through to 2018. That’s just the ones they’ve announced – and it leaves aside independent superhero movies like Kick-Ass 2.
Those films are, increasingly, coming to resemble the overstuffed crossover event comics that became popular after DC’s 1985 epic Crisis on Infinite Earths. It’s a safe bet that more Marvel characters will be joining the seven superheroes seen in The Avengers, while 2014′s X-Men: Days of Future Past will feature almost every single mutant introduced in the last 10 years of the film franchise.
Warner Bros is scrabbling to catch up with Marvel’s Avengers franchise, announcing that Batman and Superman will be duking it out in the Man of Steel sequel (and a Justice League film is a near-certainty in the next few years). Just giving each character enough screentime is going to pose a monumental challenge.
And is it really such a good idea to base your film strategy on the bloated crossover events that helped to hasten the decline of the comic-book industry in the 1990s? The Avengers was pretty accessible but it all but required casual viewers to have seen at least one of the preceding Marvel films – good luck working out who Loki is and what his motivation is if you haven’t seen Thor. With more characters joining the fray in subsequent films – and the Agents of SHIELD TV series – the Avengers sequels are going to be hopelessly difficult for casual audiences to follow.
Meanwhile, the film industry’s undergoing substantial changes thanks to the arrival of streaming services like Netflix and spiralling budgets for blockbuster “tentpole” films – of which a significant proportion are superhero movies.
Steven Spielberg has predicted that “there’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen megabudget movies are going to go crashing into the ground”.
We’ve already seen collapses like this before – the three-and-a-half-hour Western Heaven’s Gate brought down the United Artists studio and effectively killed the Hollywood Western. A string of flops could do for the superhero movie in the same way.
It’s not all doom and gloom – film-makers like Joss Whedon and James Gunn are taking risks within the genre, and for geeks like me, it’s still a thrill to see iconic comic-book heroes leaping off the page and onto the screen.
But you can have too much of a good thing.
Where do you stand? Tweet your outrage with #howtoliveit – and put the writers in their place.
Stephen Graves (@stephengraves) is deputy editor and Luke Edwards (@eelukee) is multimedia journalist for Stuff.tv. They argue about this all the time… It gets boring for everyone else.
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