Earth’s Mightiest Xeroxes: The Unfortunate Legacy of The Avengers

“We’re surrounded by shitty knock-offs!”

I’ve spoken before about studios learning the wrong lessons from box office megahits and trying to apply said lessons to whatever franchises they have, whether it suits or not. In the past few days, it’s been announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the still untitled Batman vs Superman film. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also hit, giving us not one villain as previously thought, but multiple bastards to deal with as well as massive hints at an expanded universe to come. Plus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past and as of yesterday, X-Men: Apocalypse in the pipeline, the former promising an all-star mash-up of the established cast of the original trilogy with the swingin’ ’60s versions of the characters from First Class. I should be dancing about my room, yelling about how we live in the golden age of comic book films, but I can’t shake the feeling we’re in danger of having some monumental clusterfucks on our hands.

I’ll take them on in order. Firstly, that whole Wonder Woman thing. I’m happy that she finally gets to make an overdue appearance, but I’m pissed off that she’ll be playing third fiddle to Bats and Supes. Obviously, I have no idea how much she’ll appear in the film, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t going to be taking too much attention away from the two beefy boys. I’ve said it before, but D.C.’s attempts at creating a cinematic universe to rival Marvel’s are a fucking mess. Wonder Woman deserves her own film, not just a glorified cameo. Yeah, they may do a solo outing later on, but my guess is that they’ll be steamrolling ahead with all this Justice League stuff for the foreseeable future and are only cramming Ms. Prince in because people expect some form of introduction to the character before the big team up film, thanks to the groundwork laid by The Avengers. Warner Bros. are grasping at straws and forming a film completely out of knee-jerk reactions. All it is is a shaky response to Marvel’s throwing down of the (Infinity) gauntlet.There’s nothing to go on so far apart from internet tittle-tattle and scant announcements, but I can already feel my caution starting to overtake my anticipation. As with all these entries, I want them to be good and would be delighted if they turned out that way, it’s just I feel that Man of Steel 2: Bruce and Diana Too is not being given the care and attention it needs. We’ll see.

Onto my pet subject: Spider-Man. I’m being honest here, I haven’t had high hopes for this one at all. The first one left me angry and it seems they have no interest in righting their wrongs. Some terrible CGI, rubbish dialogue and the baffling return of bullet time aside, there are more troubling things contained in the trailer below:

If you haven’t spent whole stretches of your life dedicated to the adventures of a smartass, spandex-wearing teen like I have, let me fill you in on what’s going on. Around the 1:14 mark, there are some recognisable villain hallmarks to be seen in the background, namely Vulture’s wings and Doc Ock’s tentacles. It seems like the trailer’s setting up the appearance of The Sinister Six, a supervillain group, pretty much the anti-Avengers, who team up to take down their common arachnid enemy. The roster has changed over the decades so it’s tough to say which line-up they’ll go with, but they could have given us the answer in this trailer and have Doc Ock, Electro, Lizard, Vulture, Rhino and the Green Goblin for their sickening sextet. If you’d have told the 10 year old me that not only would there be loads of Spider-Man films one day, but one featuring The Sinister Six, I think he would have flipped his lid. Thing is, adult me has been hurt before by Spider-Man 3 and more pertinently, The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb et al have already showed they don’t “get” Spider-Man and it’s only going to get worse. I would have liked to have seen at least one more film where Spidey takes on a singular villain without the constraints of being shackled to a spider origin story before we barrel in to a big “event” picture. Having multiple villains can work, but only if a deft touch is used. They couldn’t even handle The Lizard on his own without ballsing it up, so I doubt that they’ll be able to handle three in this sequel and six in future films. They’re trying to run before the can walk. Christ, they can’t even wallcrawl properly yet. I will say this though- Dane DeHaan looks like he’s nailed Harry Osborn and I’m looking forward to see where he takes it.

The X-Men franchise is the one I’m least worried about. I believe in Bryan Singer. Whilst I would have liked another film focused on the First Class lot, I think Days of Future Past is going to be good. Singer cares about character and will hopefully be able to balance all the spinning plates. Besides the time-twisty adventures planned, there’s still a Wolverine sequel to come and spin-offs in the form of an X-Force feature, which could possibly set up a spin-off of its own in the form of a long-awaited standalone Deadpool film. There’s even talk of merging the X-Men and Fantastic Four universes, creating a Fox branded take on the Marvel universe. It’s pretty damn likely to happen too. As you may have noticed- everyone has to have their own version of The Avengers paradigm by law, apparently. If you’re still with me at this point and your brain hasn’t dribbled out of your nose, good on you.

I think the thing that annoys me is the reactionary nature of it all. Studios see the opportunity to sell 5 times as much merchandise and have jumped all over it, not taking time to figure out what made The Avengers good. It’s a fucking miracle that The Avengers worked at all and they need to respect that. In my opinion, they hired the right guy for the task. Joss Whedon had a history of making ensemble things work, from his stint as a writer on the X-Men comics to his TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He has a great knowledge of team dynamics and has a wonderful inclusionary way where you as the reader/viewer/whatever feel like part of the team and share in their triumphs and losses. The lesson to be learned isn’t “Team-ups are in right now. Let’s copy The Avengers and cram as many fucking characters in as the screen can hold and set up our next 70 films”. It says a lot that The Avengers doesn’t work nearly as well as a standalone film as it does as a sequel to all of Marvel’s “Phase One” films up to that point. I realise they’re all rushing these things into production and trying to strike whilst the iron’s hot. Here’s the thing- that particular iron cooled a while ago, it was struck at peak heat to the tune of a billion dollars, and if I may stretch this metaphor to near-breaking point, it might be a better idea to focus on creating their own iron doodads fit for heating purposes. Marvel Studios doesn’t and shouldn’t have the monopoly on superhero team-ups, but it went about it the best way, took its time building the foundations and has already started manufacturing a second iron thingamajig (sorry, I’m swear I’m completely done with that analogy now). I think that’s the lesson that studios should be taking away from the success of The Avengers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to team up with several other crappy little movie blogs and together, we’ll write the biggest and bestest review you ever did see. Be sure to buy the tie-in video game where you get to play as me and struggle to get over a handful of daily views!

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angsty: Why it’s time to stop copying from Batman’s notebook

Man of Feels

Like many thousands of other people, I went to see the new Superman flick Man of Steel the other day. Whilst I quite liked it, I had my problems with it. Chief of which was the fact it was the same type of joyless, po-faced, sullen comic book adap we’ve been seeing ever since Chris Nolan reinvigorated the Batman series. I know I can’t be the only one getting sick of how ridiculously seriously these films take themselves.

I’m not saying that I would prefer a Superman film that undermines the comic at every turn, pointing out how silly things are. Not at all. I love it when films have confidence in the comics and strive to make what worked on the page work on screen. Films used to take the attitude of  looking at comic series and seeing what they could salvage, but now they’re mostly interested in being faithful to the source material. I’m also not against dark and gritty adaptations. The Dark Knight trilogy is fantastic and I love stuff like Sin City, Road to Perdition and Dredd. Thing is, dark and gritty worked for Batman because Batman was all downbeat and moody to begin with. The washed-out palette and realistic approach worked because it suited the character and world that he inhabited.

Comic books are renowned for having a multitude of takes on their characters. Spider-Man alone has had so many different iterations ranging from a futuristic 2099 version to a cartoon pig known as “The Spectacular Spider-Ham” it’s hard to keep track of them all. Practically every time a new artist/writer is hired, the series is technically rebooted and some new blood gets a crack at taking on an established character. Whilst 1997’s  Batman & Robin can go drown in a bucket of piss, this is one of the reasons why I don’t mind Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever as much as most people do. As long as the core character traits are kept the same, you can remix the tone, characters and world as much as you want. It’s like Shakespeare- as long as the essence is kept the same, people don’t give a fuck what you do.

What I do have a problem with is when filmmakers artificially grit up a franchise to appeal to the emotionally stunted moody teen demographic out there. It happened with The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s happened again with Man of Steel. Both films were tasked with rebooting a franchise and making the hero relevant and cool again (the necessity of which is debatable). Both films took the “darker” route and I would argue they both sold out their characters to do it.

I’m not the biggest Superman fan ever, but I like the character a lot and have enjoyed my fair share of the comics,  films and TV shows. I even played the craptacular Superman 64 back in the day. When I bought my ticket for MoS, I expected a grittier take on the franchise, but for the basic character to remain the same altruistic saviour figure he always has been. What I got was a mopey, brooding bellend in a skintight suit. Superman’s sincerity and earnestness doesn’t have to be cheesy. They could have made it work. But no, they washed out the colours and sucked out the joy.  Where’s all the protecting and inspiring good in people? Abandoned in his own selfish quest to get to know just who he really is.

This grittification reminds me of comics in the ’80s when many heroes were like huge steroid-abusing bears, muscling their way around swearing, killing and being “mature”. Looking back on them now, it’s funny how juvenile they are. Comics have thankfully got through that awkward phase and are now more diverse and legitimately adult than ever. The film adaptations need to do this too. At this rate, the much-talked about Justice League film will be Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman et al sitting in a room chain smoking, cutting themselves and looking for “deep” pictures to put on their Tumblrs.

I think the reason that people are supposedly connecting with the Nolanised breed of films is an overall weakening of audiences’ imaginations. People just can’t suspend disbelief like they used to. Nowadays you have to explain the fuck out of everything and meet audiences three-quarters of the way. People like to think they’re too cynical and clever for the older, cheesier superhero flicks, but they really aren’t. They’re too fucking stupid to get caught up in the escapism of it all. The Nolan Bat-films worked because Batman isn’t superpowered. All his tech is plausible and only slightly science-fictiony. When you present a realistic take on Superman who, may I remind you, can fly and has laser vision, you’re forced to really think just how he can achieve flight, rather than just buy the concept. I want to believe a man can fly, not just be told it. Same problem with The Amazing Spider-Man. Using the film’s own logic, explain to me how a teenager with no income can afford to bulk-buy crates of a commercially available web-like fluid and isn’t tracked down by any competent law enforcement agency once they find out there’s an outlaw swinging around using the stuff. Over-explanation is a killer. Think of Toy Story. Did you need an explanation as to how the toys could talk and became self-aware to enjoy the film? Would it have been better if you were told that an accident at a toy factory had caused all the voice chips in the toys to work at 40,000% capacity, granting motor skills and AI? Fuck no. The toys talk when people aren’t around. Boom. Done. Let’s get on with the story.

Some people are grumbling about reaching a saturation point when it comes to superhero films. I tell you what, I’m nowhere near. However, I’m not sure if I can take another dour, shoe-gazing version of a favourite hero of mine. Films need to be confident enough in the unique charms of their chosen properties and not paint over everything with the angsty “mature” brush. Basically, they need to be adult enough to have a little fun and not do something because it worked for Batman.