All hail the geeks and nerds who have ascended to the throne of mainstream cinema. These block-busters aren’t only providing entertainment but are also providing a fan service.
After watching the first ten minutes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier that floated over the internet… I want more! Can’t wait! And more to come: The Amazing Spider-man 2; X-men: Days of Future Past; Guardians of the Galaxy; and Sin City 2.
Last year as well, we had not one or two but five comic book adaptations hit our screens: Ironman 3; The Wolverine; Man of Steel; Thor 2; and Kickass 2.
As far as the critics go, Ironman 3 stole the show. However, before I go into the film history I want to make clear why people like this outlet.
So what is this fascination with comic book superheroes? First and foremost comic books are probably the first thing that help us dream through the growing pains of childhood, sheltering us from reality. The capers in them shield us from the world outside where there are no superheroes, or adventurous reporters. They have also become our mythology and they’ve been around for decades for their universality.
Even when we shift to adulthood the magic spell remains though the title gets replaced by graphic novels – a more pleasant term for grown-ups ashamed of liking comics. Who can deny that watching them on the big screen (or small) does not bring back a whiff of the wonder years, after all, the culture of comic books continues to get fresh leases on life even in this digital age.
What worries me is the bubble effect: where the demand surpasses by far the true values of these comic book adaptations (like any other adaptation) and then – a drastic drop. At the moment the studio execs are seeing the pot of gold attached to these adaptations and they’re milking them for all they’re worth. This happens all the time.
Some forty odd years ago this happened with the ‘Movie Brats’: big beards, big egos and with bigger budgets. I’m talking about Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Ford Coppola to name just a few. After Warren Beatty’s big budgeted, risky-with-obscure-sensibility Bonnie and Clyde blew away box office records, the execs watched in awe and wanted the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
They gathered these ‘first’ geeks who grew up watching films and always had some kind of reference to the past showing off their defining qualities. However, the train to success was sweet and short-lived as a couple of the crazy, overly ambitious filmmakers bankrupted the studio and lost a lot of money.
Like the “movie brats” we have a new breed of filmmakers with defining quality and passion who like to keep to the source material. Just like before, these filmmakers are brought together making films fast. It does kind of make sense to make these films as there is a huge demand. However, time is pressing and mistakes are bleeding through the gaps.
Often film-adaptations come at the expense of the fans of the original stories, who have invested time and fan devotion. At times the story is almost completely altered in an almost unrecognizable depiction, crossing the line between “interpretation” and “butchery”. This is often done for the purpose of profit and a “show me the money” agenda.
Let’s look at Sam Raimi and Bryan Synger who, with Spider-man and X-men, were faithful to the comics in early 2000. Besides the fact that these heroes would be seen on screen for the first time, there was a lot of money involved. Compare those to earlier versions of adapted comic heroes and you might cringe.
For instance, Ang Lee’s Hulk was a disaster. The overly ambitious Green Lantern had a negative reception – overproduced and lifeless.Catwoman managed to be an incredible disappointment too. Batman free? How was that possible? The Spirit, which was meant to be a sequel to the dazzling Frank Miller/Robert Rodriguez adaptation of Miller’s Sin City, flopped destroying Miller’s dream of producing a whole series.
A plastic armoured chest with hard, perky Bat-nipples is what I remember most about Batman & Robin. Venom’s screen time was forced in Spiderman 3 and Sony learnt their mistake by not shoving too many villains down our throats.
Let’s look at the recent mishaps: Kick Ass 2. I’m not sure what went wrong – perhaps people felt the joke was done and the film didn’t find the same audience as the first. Thor: The Dark World amped up the action and special effects but lost some of the human element that made the original Thor so charming. Perhaps it can be attributed to the director as the first was directed by Kenneth Branagh whose interests expand from fantasy adventure to Shakespeare, unlike Alan Taylor. However, if you look at Christopher Nolan who brought a gritty and stylized reboot of Batman we can see a massive difference.
Avengers went through pretty much the same change except that gritty part. Breath-taking special effects, scientific knowledge converted into humour, one story across two – multiple narrations have united into one excellent form of story-telling. Marc Webb did an awesome job bringing the Spidey we love so much on screen.
These are just a few examples of great geeks who like sticking to the source material with a movie formula that is not barren of the actual comic stories and characterizations that we geeks love.