The Not-So-Marvelous

07-Feb-07 10:26 PM by
Filed under Films; 5 comments.

A week from today marks the four-year anniversary of the release of Daredevil:

It was a Valentine's Day I remember well, having spent it in the theater among fellow lonely geeks. Marvel plans to commemorate this milestone by putting yet another well-known actor into an incongruous superhero role: Nicolas Cage as Ghost Rider.

Frankly, I'm not impressed. Neither Daredevil nor Ghost Rider are the stuff legends are made of, and Marvel's attempts to bring these lesser-known heroes to life have been less than successful. The Punisher? Forgettable. Blade? Eventually despicable. Even better-known heroes, such as The Incredible Hulk and The Fantastic Four, have had their share of theatrical bombs. And if you look at Marvel's intentions for the next three years, you'll see that the opportunity for future failures is staggering: Captain America, Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, Thor… and, of course, sequels to previous critical failures but box office successes.

So what makes for a good translation from pulp comics to silver screen? One would think that putting the characters in the hands of directors who know and love them would ensure they are treated faithfully and with respect — but Bryan Singer defenestrated that notion with his masterful interpretations of both Superman and the X-Men, despite having never read a comic book prior to accepting the assignments.

Is it the original character? Certainly a strong foundation and good writing are essential; both have contributed to Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man becoming cross-culture icons, even before their cinematic adaptations. It's no coincidence that those films (or at least the ones lacking George Clooney and Richard Pryor) have also been well-received by geeks and non-geeks alike.

Does this mean we are to limit ourselves to storied superheroes who have been around for forty to seventy years, dismissing any young, fresh characters? Such a severe restriction would discourage innovation in Hollywood and ultimately hurt all parties involved — especially the audience.

What, then, are useful metrics for predicting a superhero's success? What are fair and accurate expectations when indulging in such films? Can — should — they be held to the same standards as any other cinematic enterprise?

5 Responses to “The Not-So-Marvelous”

  1. GeneD adds:

    On the one hand, I agree that movies based on comic book superheroes should be held to the same standards of quality as other films.

    On the other hand, as a genre fan, I try to keep in mind the dearth of well-done adaptations and that translating stories and characters from one medium to another is tricky.

    Plus, there are always guilty pleasures, such as the campy 1960s Adam West Batman or Stripperella.

    I liked second-tier flicks such as Constantine, Fantastic Four, and Hellboy, and I'm looking forward to Ghost Rider, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and eventually Wonder Woman.

    However, I would only recommend or defend to non-superhero fans movies such as Batman Begins, Superman Returns, or Spider-Man 2.

  2. sheppy adds:

    I've never been a comic book reader, but there have been some actually good films based on them, especially the last handful of years. I'll agree with Gene: Batman Begins, Superman Returns, and Spider-Man 2 were all good. I liked the first Spider-Man as well.

    I also enjoyed the first two X-Men movies. The third I didn't care for particularly.

  3. Ken Gagne adds:

    I agree that those films had mass-market appeal. But why is that? Because the characters are well-known? When directing minor characters, do directors decide, "Nobody but geeks know who these guys are, so let's make a movie that appeals to just them"?

  4. GeneD adds:

    True, the superhero movies I mentioned as personal favorites also happened to have mass-market appeal, partly because the protagonists were already known in pop culture. Yes, many secondary comic book adaptations fail because film makers talk down to their audience or because a low-budget flick featuring a second-string character has been cranked out in an effort to make money off the latest wave in popularity.

  5. peterw adds:

    Well, I've just come home from seeing Ghost Rider. Not having ever read the comic book, I had no real idea what to expect. (But I really wanted to see it if only to spot the location shots around my home town of Melbourne.)

    I've got to say that I really enjoyed the movie. I've never been much into the horror genre, but although it flirted with crossing the line, it retained a comic book feel that kept it all "fun".

    Having said that, as with most of the comic book movies, don't expect too much from the plot. Just sit back and enjoy the experience!

    BTW, I thought the special effects were pretty good too — CGI means character "transformations" are pretty seamless these days.