Friday, December 21, 2012

A nonsensical Superhero film rant and the importance of grit

My brain has been literally in full on “geek-mode” since my friend Brian posted a link to the new Superman, MAN OF STEEL, trailer on Facebook. Now I wasn’t even looking forward to this film. I haven’t looked forward to a Superman film since that disaster of a film, SUPERMAN RETURNS. Any film that has Kevin Spacey in it and still turns out to be garbage, is undoubtedly a bad film. It was my first time seeing the second trailer, and as soon as I finished it I felt something kick me in the gut. I was actually looking forward to it.

Now this upcoming rant comes as a misinterpretation of what my friend Brian had mentioned on his Facebook post. He had said that the trailer seemed a “bit too serious, given the subject matter.” Now, he was referring to the fact that it’s too serious for something that’s riddled with campy bullshit that we typically see in Superhero films. Now at first I thought he was saying he did not like the seriousness, and my response was a hasty “Nay, nay sir. A serious tone is the direction all superhero films should move towards.”
Now this is entirely subjective. Some people may enjoy films that act out more like Hollywood blockbusters, loaded with comical one-liners and unbelievable CGI ridden battles. Others, like myself, prefer the gritty character driven superhero films – hence why the Dark Knight trilogy is my favorite superhero film series.
First, let’s start off by looking at current super hero films and where they stand. Now I am talking SUPERHERO films, not comic films in general because then I would have to go in and talk about sin city, 300, scott pilgrim, akira, etc. And this would take forever. I am not listing all films, because that too would take way too long. Let’s look at the last 5-10 years.
Campy (yet sometimes enjoyable) Hollywood Blockbuster style Superhero films :
  1. Spiderman (Toby McGuire series)
  2. Iron Man
  3. Hulk
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America
  6. Avengers
  7. Superman returns (vomit)
  8. X-Men (you can argue with me on this one…but I feel it is more blockbuster driven than character driven….)
Superhero flicks that fall in the middle between grit, dark films and Hollywood camp :
  1. Hellboy
  2. Amazing Spiderman
  3. Kick-Ass (I’ll count it….they are superheros…)
  4. Watchmen
Superhero flicks relying mostly on grit and character development rather than half a movie dedicated to fight sequences :
  1. Dark Knight Trilogy
  2. Man of Steel (?) – this is based off the could be totally different. Then again, the trailer is 9 out of 10 times better than the film itself. But we will go it with it for now.
Do you see a trend? Besides the fact that many superhero films are geared towards the action driven mind numbing flick, most of these movies are MARVEL based. Now here-in lies the reason. There is a HUGE difference between MARVEL superheros and DC superheros.
MARVEL superheroes act and react as if they are starring in a television show. The comics are ripe with one-liners (spiderman especially), insanely unbelievable action scenes ( I know they are comics….) and, honestly I hate to admit it, weak storytelling. Some are better than others, but I don’t remember the last time I read a MARVEL comic for the story. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I bought a MARVEL comic.
DC superheros all start with a conflict. I’m not saying MARVEL character’s don’t  but the conflict seems to be carried as a burden throughout the series for DC superheros. Just look at Batman – he’s a hell of a lot more distraught over his parents death than Spiderman is of Uncle Ben’s. DC Comics have always trended more to a dark side in terms of their storytelling. I always find when they kill of a superhero, it tends to be much more convincing in DC comics than MARVEL.
Now, I feel this reflects directly upon the films. I am not going to outright say one is better than the other. Like I said, it’s subjective. But I will go off on my rant now and discuss the importance and necessity of grit in superhero films.
I’m at the stage in my life where I go to the movies for story, rather than mind-numbing action. Being the comic geek that I am, I have to go see a comic book movie when it comes out, but now I’ve become picky. The only movies I’ve seen in theaters are the Dark Knight films. I’ve avoided pretty much every other film, mainly because I lacked the interest. Even when Avengers came out and people raved about it, I was consistently saying to myself, “Meh, ill wait for redbox.” Sure enough, I waited for redbox, and guess what? MEH – why do people rave about this film? It was pretty lackluster.
Sorry – sidetracked.
As I was saying…
A super hero derives from one true origin. Their birth through conflict. Superman crash landed on earth, Batman’s parents were murdered, Spiderman gets bitten by a radioactive spider and is forever feeling guilty by uncle bens death, etc. etc. Most movies will briefly give you the moment of their “creation” and then move on as if nothing ever happened. The superheros tend to lack any real emotion besides the “Ooh I’m pissed that the villain is so strong, let me go kick his ass.”
I’ve always gotten a different vibe from the Dark Knight series. If you think about it, a good portion of the movies are build up to the final encounter. There is a lot of “mind-fucking” in the Dark Knight films. I’m talking about between the characters, not the film to the audience. Batman’s face off versus Ra’s Al Ghul in the first film. Who was once his mentor has turned into a villain who attempted to shape batman into a member of his army. Even his encounters with the Scarecrow are based upon how he is fighting against himself and his fears and feelings of worthlessness. In the second film we have Batman facing off against the Joker. A mad man who wasn’t so much bent on killing batman, than by proving to everyone that each and every person has a little bit of “Crazy”. Then we have two-face. A man who took the woman batman loved away, and turned into a villain. Yet even when Two Face was known to be evil, Batman took it upon himself to be the victim to hold down the beliefs of a city he loved. We see this conflict continue in the third film and its ultimate conclusion. Thankfully Batman was able to retire by the end (Thank you Joseph Gordon Levitt.)
Now why should Dark Knight be gritty and serious. Easy. It’s a serious and gritty comic book. No offense to Tim Burton. I enjoyed his movies..I enjoyed them for a laugh for the most part.
The Dark Knight as a whole is not about the villains. It is about Bruce taking on the cowl after the unfortunate events surrounding his parents. His mental state is destroyed after his parents died. The only way he can cope is by donning a costume and fighting his “dark side”. I believe if Bruce Wayne did not become batman, he would have gone insane. The films however are also about Bruce Wayne realizing that he can’t be the Batman forever. I did enjoy how he ages through the films, and by the end of the third he comes up with a way to escape his fate and pass on the torch. The Villains in the movies only encompass what Batman is feeling in the films. They bring out the worst in him and try to break him down in a more emotional level rather than a physical. Even with Bane breaking batman’s back. He did not want to kill Batman. He wanted him to suffer and show him that he is hopeless. Even Batman cannot save everyone. 
Sure the action sequences were enjoyable, but I also felt it odd when critics complained that the movies moved too slow. I’m sorry? Did you not enjoy the conversations between the characters in the film? Unlike other films, I felt like the conversations actually brought out new depth. I’m just one of those people that feel that it should be 50-50 and never more in terms of dividing action and dialogue, when you’re talking about a superhero flick. It’s the job of the director and screenwriter to make that dialogue interesting. The same thing is done in comics.
Which brings me to the new MAN OF STEEL film. I truly hope that they have gone the gritty route that they have done with the DARK KNIGHT films. Superman is not a happy-go-lucky story. Superman is sent spiraling through space from his doomed home world only to land on a planet nothing like his own. He is an alien child, and thanks to the added power of the sun, is granted super powers. The problem with super powers, is that you are forced to make a choice. Do you hide them? Or do you use them? And if you use them, what do you use them for.
From what it seems – the MAN OF STEEL film seems to be going this route of questioning your choices as a superhero. You can hear the conflict in the trailer. Questioning who he is. Questioning his purpose. Questioning who he should trust. In a way its heart wrenching.  Superheros don’t ask to become superheros. Fate forces them to become one. 
So here is me hoping, that MAN OF STEEL will focus more on the character driven story of a troubled child with abilities beyond his control forcing to make decisions that we couldn’t dream of. I won’t mind the action sequences, but I want to see a struggle. I want to feel for him. I want to it to be believable. Maybe that’s my problem. I want a comic book film to appear to be real. I want the characters to show emotion. 
Maybe I’m asking for too much. After all, everyone just wants to make a quick buck.
With Great Power comes Great Responsibility. And I feel its the responsibility of directors and screenwriters a like to focus on making superhero films right. Don’t ignore the character. It’s not them defeating the villain that makes them a hero. Its the choices they make.
I’m looking forward to any comments or arguments you may have – comment away.
This is one Nerd, signing off.



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