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Feb 18, 2007

The Comic Book Movie GLUT -- no end in sight

There was a very long spell where comic book movies just were not being made. Whether it was thanks to the lack of technology in terms of effects, the rights or the fact that the ones being made were just plain bad, who knows? But every once in a while one comic book movie comes along to inspire a rash of others (although this can actually be said of any genre in Hollywood really). In the 70s it was Richard Donner’s epic SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE which was followed by the fabulously fun SUPERMAN II directed by Richard Lester (and partially by Donner before he was fired. A new cut of the film supervised by Donner has just been released on DVD). But then came the disastrous SUPERMAN III (which had a couple of good scenes), the worse than bad HOWARD THE DUCK and the even worse SUPERMAN IV and suddenly the comic-book movie was box office poison – especially the Superman franchise.

Then there came 1989’s BATMAN which at the time was one of the highest grossing films ever. And after a period where it seemed that comics were back in vogue, a rash of incredibly bad sequels and other forgettable films such as SPAWN, THE SHADOW and THE PHANTOM to name a few (I somehow liked the oft forgotten ROCKETEER – great James Horner score on that one, but I digress) killed the buzz once again.

In 2000 and 2002, the comic book movie was back with a vengeance, and this time Marvel had the upper hand with SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN which was followed by the even more successful SPIDER-MAN 2 and X2, and nestled in there somewhere was BATMAN BEGINS (DC) which revitalized the dead-and-buried Batman film series. These were 5 phenomenal movies that not only worked as comic book movies, but essentially were also extremely good films that non-comic book readers could enjoy (the same can definitely be said of Donner’s ’78 SUPERMAN). But now here we are in 2007, and it seems that every comic book under the sun is being produced, in development or being optioned for a film no matter what the cost, or if we even need or want it. Singer’s SUPERMAN RETURNS did a good job of resurrecting the cinematically dead Man of Steel, but the film itself was a drag, and now we have disasters like HULK, DAREDEVIL and the equally vapid GHOST RIDER and X-MEN UNITED (that effectively killed that franchise) littering theatres. This year we have 300 and SPIDER-MAN 3 due with IRON MAN, THE DARK KNIGHT (Batman Begins 2!?!) and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT on tap for next summer with many more expected. WONDER WOMAN, THE FLASH, GREEN LANTERN, CAPTAIN AMERICA and more are all in the development wings waiting for their moment in the sun. Will this insanity ever end?

Do we really need all these comic book movies? It seems that studios and publishers (Marvel in particular) are now rushing to get their characters on screen so they can boost comic sales and create infinite tie-ins and now they’re just going to piss off the fans who, by the way will go see the worst dreck no matter what. And if SNAKES ON A PLANE proved anything, you can’t always listen to the online chatter of 12 year-olds who spend most of their waking hours in front of a computer screen, then won’t go to the cinema but instead find a way to download an illegal copy (you almost wonder if these people are truly fans, or do they just think it’s cool to be on top of all this stuff….I think the latter). Did we really need a GHOST RIDER movie? Were people screaming for it? And, did it have to be so bad? Most of the reviewers state that if you shut your brain off, you’ll enjoy the cheese factor of it all. But, while I sat there, my IQ dropping rapidly, I felt like lighting my own head on fire because it probably would have been less painful than sitting through the rest of the movie (at least the ticket was free). You know it is bad when you see solid talents like Sam Elliot, Eva Mendes, Peter Fonda and Nicolas Cage give cold readings of lines without any feeling, gaping plot holes, continuity errors and a just outright stupid film. It makes Hollywood look bad, and drives more and more people to their homes to wait for the DVD rather than watch films in the theatre where they should be seen – and remember, these movies are not cheap to make in the first place!

Admittedly, comic fans are the most gullible lot. They’ll gush over any comic adaptation that is announced, spend hours obsessing over details and casting, try to get as many spoilers as possible then go out in droves to see the film, say they did not mind it right after then bash it repeatedly later on. Ahh for these Peters, the cock crows 3 times after every bad movie. Sound familiar Star Wars fans (the most fickle of all movie/sci-fi fans!)?

The thing with comic books is that they are almost tailored as being ready to film. A comic book is easy to translate given the fact that it is essentially one long story board. In fact, I have even noticed at the last few San Diego Comic-con events that people are now just releasing their movie ideas and treatments in comic form in order to suck fan-boys in, and then prove to the powers that be buying up this stuff that their material is worth filming. 5 years ago I went to a panel where a company (name slipping my mind at the moment) announced a huge deal with Artisan to make all their properties into films. 5 years later, and those films have not been made, nor are they on the horizon. Let’s face it, when it comes to comic material, the marketplace is so jam packed at the moment, it’s probably harder to sell your adaptation than it is to sell something you wrote from scratch. There are even a glut of non-comic book superhero movies out as well like MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, SKY HIGH, ZOOM and THE INCREDIBLES which are further killing the genre (except THE INCREDIBLES. Pixar can get away with it where others cannot).

Anyhow, if you don’t have to see GHOST RIDER, I suggest you don’t. Avoid the DVD (you know there will be several releases too. A regular edition, a director’s cut, an unrated director’s cut, the director’s mother’s cut, etc.) and do not waste your time, money or energy. Maybe then Marvel and DC will spend more time to make sure their material turns out as good as say SPIDER-MAN rather than trying to beat each other out to get their film released. Well, in a perfect world perhaps, but sadly not this one.

The tally thus far:

THE GREAT

Superman: The Movie (1978, Warner Bros.; Richard Donner)
Superman II (1980, Warner Bros.; Richard Lester)
X-Men (2000, 20th Century Fox; Bryan Singer)
Spider-man (2002, Columbia; Sam Raimi)
X2 (2003, 20th Century Fox; Bryan Singer)
Spider-man 2 (2004, Columbia; Sam Raimi)
Batman Begins (2005, Warner Bros.; Christopher Nolan)
Sin City (2005, Dimension; Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and Frank Miller)

THE GOOD

Conan: The Barbarian (1982, Universal; John Milius)
Batman (1989, Warner Bros.; Tim Burton)
The Rocketeer (1990, Walt Disney; Joe Johnson)
Blade (1998, New Line Cinema; Stephen Norrington)
Ghost World (2001, United Artists; Terry Zwigoff)

THE MEDIOCRE

Batman Returns (1992, Warner Bros.; Tim Burton)
Superman Returns (2006, Warner Bros.; Bryan Singer)
Blade II (2002, New Line Cinema; Guillermo del Toro)
Road to Perdition (2002, Dreamworks; Sam Mendes)
Hellboy (2004, Columbia/Revolution; Guillermo del Toro)
The Fantastic Four (2005, 20th Century Fox; Tim Story)

THE BAD

Superman III (1983, Warner Bros.; Richard Lester)
The Punisher (1989, New World; Mark Goldblatt)
The Shadow (1994, Universal; Russell Mulcahy)
The Phantom (1996, Paramount; Simon Wincer)
Spawn (1997, New Line Cinema; Mark Dippe)
Hulk (2003, Universal; Ang Lee)
Blade: Trinity (2004, New Line Cinema; David Goyer)
The Punisher (2004, Artisan; Jonathan Hensleigh)
Constantine (2005, Warner Bros.; Francis Lawrence)
A History of Violence (2005, New Line Cinema; David Cronenberg)
V For Vendetta (2006, Warner Bros.; James McTeigue)

THE DOWNRIGHT UGLY

Conan: The Destroyer (1984, Universal; Richard Fleischer)
Supergirl (1984, TriStar; Jeanne Szwarc)
Red Sonja (1985, DEG; Richard Fleischer)
Howard the Duck (1986, Universal; Willard Huyck)
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987, Warner Bros.; Sidney J. Furie)
The Fantastic Four (1994, New Horizons; Oley Sassone)
Judge Dredd (1995, Hollywood; Danny Canon)
Batman Forever (1995, Warner Bros; Joel Schumacher)
Batman & Robin (1997, Warner Bros.; Joel Schumacher)
Daredevil (2003, 20th Century Fox; Mark Steven Johnson)
Catwoman (2004, Warner Bros.; Pitof)
X-Men: United (2006, 20th Century Fox; Brett Ratner)
Ghost Rider (2007, Columbia; Mark Steven Johnson)

If I missed any, let me know.