Friday, August 23, 2013

A Blur of Capes and Tights

Hey, comic book fans, remember how excited we used to get whenever we saw a trailer for a movie featuring one of our favorite comic book characters? "Oh, wow, a Spider-Man movie!" or "Holy crap, the upcoming Batman looks awesome!" or "Cool, Iron Man is gonna rock!" As they say, we were such dorks back then.

It all snowballed too quickly is what happened, it all started bleeding together until all we could see was this blur of brightly colored tights and capes and massive CGI destruction. It just doesn't mean anything anymore. I find I've gotten really bored with it.

Yesterday, it was announced that Ben Affleck would be the new Batman in the Superman/Batman movie (which, incidentally, will only exist to help usher in the Justice League movie). Reaction on the internets ranged from mild annoyance to frothing at the mouth. But I found myself shrugging and saying Eh. Who cares.

In the past, I've been really forgiving of these comic book movies, even when they weren't perfect, because I wanted to like them. That goes a long way, man.

Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film was solid. The second even better. The third one... pretty bad. And even though they felt the need to re-hash the origin, I thought The Amazing Spider-Man was better than Raimi's take.

I enjoyed Edward Norton's Incredible Hulk, but I've always been a little biased toward Hulk.

Christopher Nolan's first Batman movie was great. The second almost staggeringly good. I'm a little ambivalent about the last one. The Batman films of the 90's all suck. Yes, even the first two Tim Burton ones. I don't know what we were thinking at the time, but watching them now is excruciating.

Hollywood's first two stabs at The Punisher left me cold, but you know what? I LOVE Punisher: War Zone, with Ray Stevenson. Yeah, I'm the only one, I know. But that's okay, because it meant I could buy the DVD for four bucks.

The first Hellboy was great. The second mediocre.

Watchmen just made me feel... dirty. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was so bad it made me angry.

V For Vendetta was awesome and I will fight you over it.

The first Iron Man was terrific. The second, not so much. I didn't bother with the third.

Captain America was good. Thor was good. Green Lantern sucked ass. Daredevil wasn't as bad as they say.

But you know, the apex of this whole superhero movie thing, I think, was The Avengers. What a marvelous spectacle that movie is. It hits all the right notes and gives us everything we could want from a comic book movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it on almost every level.

Even while watching it, though, I had a sneaking sense I was seeing the end of the superhero movie genre as something truly interesting. It was as close to perfect as we can expect from the genre, and really, where do you go from there?

Only one way: more of the same. Ad nauseum.

I was excited about seeing Man of Steel, because as un-cool as it may be, I really love Superman. The original Christopher Reeves version still stands up really well, but I felt we were long overdue for a more modern take on the character. And Superman Returns committed the cardinal sin of being boring. So I wanted to like Man of Steel.

And I more or less did like it. More than most of my friends did, anyway. My only real problem with the movie (and it's a VERY BIG problem) is the over-the-top, CGI-soaked, brain-deadening levels of destruction in the last third. The Superman I love would never have allowed that to happen. But more importantly, it was... tedious. Tedious and pointless. Maybe we, the movie-watching public, have been fascinated this century with scenes of total carnage and cities being devastated (the lingering psychological scars of 9-11, maybe?), but I for one am losing my appetite for it. It's not impressive or emotionally stirring anymore. It's dull. I actually would have liked Man of Steel a LOT more if Superman had found a way to avoid having half of Metropolis decimated.

Anyway, all of this brings me back to the Superman/Batman movie, and the announcement of Affleck in the cowl. Affleck won't make or break this movie. If it flops, it won't have much, if anything, to do with him. If it's a huge critical and commercial success, it also won't be because of Affleck. It'll be about how predictable the story is, how much we can suspend disbelief, and how much CGI devastation we can swallow before choking on it.


  1. Great piece, Heath, reflecting many of my same sentiments — though I got the fingers burned earlier with 'Fantastic Four', which I really, really wanted to love.

    I've been a comic book buff as we discussed since I was knee-high and barely able to read. Especially Marvel, but also DC usual suspects like Batman, the Flash and Superman.

    Some of the recent movies have knocked my mind-set out of the park in great ways (Avengers, X-Men, Captain America, Batman, Iron Man), even if they did take liberties with the four-colour fiction I remembered. There's nothing like a good change/update to suit a new medium and a new era.

    But I'm less concerned, too. When Ben Affleck was announced, I said to myself "Meh... you're kidding? He was crap as Daredevil" — and then went to wash the dishes without a second thought. Obviously, going by Twitter, a lot of other people care a great deal more.

    I don't think he'll fit into Bruce Wayne's shoes all that comfortably at all, but a lot of us said the same thing about Heath Ledger as the Joker. How wrong we were there.

    But after the the heights reached by Avengers and Iron Man... where DO we go from here?

    Personally I'd like to see a more down-to-earth approach, the kind that did filter through parts of Captain America, which I guess was helped for the 1940s/retro setting.

    But people love their grandstanding FX. ;)

  2. Excellent points, all. The level of saturation has become so high, it's become harder and harder to care.

    I saw Ang Lee's HULK on opening day. We could still get excited about a superhero movie even then.

    And regardless of what one might think about that, or any specific comic book movie, it's reached the point that I only saw MAN OF STEEL because it was still playing at a second-run theater near my last week, and I had nothing better to do.

    Hollywood has wrung the magic out of even this genre.

  3. I think I am finally finished with superheroes and action movies. The chances it will be any good is too small. ELYSIUM put me off one and IRON MAN 3 the other.

  4. Blur. Yep. The best word to describe it. Hollywood doesn't know when to stop. It can't. Too much money.