Rules to Making a Comic Book Movie

For every Marvel’s the Avengers or DC’s the Dark Knight that is released, it seems like we could be subjected to just as many Daredevils or Green Lanterns.  Why is it that some comic books and their characters flow seamlessly on to the big screen and two disc deluxe Blu-ray packages while others can barely make the SyFy channel after midnight after they have left the theaters?

Before we can figure out how comic book publishers can put a successful superhero movie on to the silver screen, we need to get in to the mind of the comic book reader (Not an easy task. Professor X would have an easier time using Cerebro to find mutants on Earth 1602 from the 616).  What do they think?  How do they think? What do will they look for when it comes to watching their favorite characters in a big summer blockbuster?

First and foremost, let us agree that this is not aimed at the casual observer or fan of these movies.  We are talking about the really geeky fans.  The ones that may have a pet they named after their favorite character. They type of fans who have shunned the parameters of what is considered mainstream society for a copy of Amazing Spiderman #14 in 10.0 Gem Mint condition.

We’re talking about fans that are invested in the genre.  When dealing with fanatic, mostly male, observers who have based most of their lives, money, time, and social lives to reading books about superheroes, Hollywood needs to be mindful. A rabid fan base who know the first appearance of at least 3 dozen characters, backstories, what was retconned, the heroes on Earth-2,  and who will frequently point out just how “good-looking” a female character is, need to be treated with the same level of respect we expect the characters we love to be treated.

 

  1.  Stick to the Story.  Or stick to the story as faithfully as you can.  In attempting to make a movie based on characters’ whose first appearances happened 40, 50, 60, and 70 years ago (or 100 if you have read John Carter of Mars), even the guy who spent 9 months making an authentic Galactus cosplay outfit will allow for changes.  For example, Iron Man’s origin has him as a weapons manufacturer in Vietnam who builds his armor from transistor powered magnets and escapes his captors wearing a top hat and trenchcoat.  Changes to origin stories are fine when they fit in to the framework of the time.  Also keep in mind, there are established stories geeks hold up as canon. When you pull a, Sandman killed Uncle Ben moment in Spiderman 3, David Banner as the Absorbing Man in the Hulk, or a Two-Face, as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, that is more Joker than Harvey Dent, or Parallax as a big black cloud in Green Lantern, that is when we begin to turn on you. (For a movie that went above and beyond to ignore established lore about the character, I refer you to ‘Wolverine Origins’).
  2. Don’t Make it Up.  Nuclear Man?  Bruno the Troll?  Harry Osborn in a wetsuit and flying snowboard?  How quickly movie studios forget the literally hundreds of characters that have been developed within the pages of our books to pull from.  There is no need to “think up” new characters.  All that says to fans is you are more interested in selling action figures and toys for Happy Meals than you are with the content of the movie.
  3. Big Names don’t Equal Big Returns.  There is a no doubt a big name actor and/or director can make not only a great deal of hype for a movie but an excellent movie too (I point you toward the Avengers).  But you don’t need them in order to have a successful movie (and you don’t need to pre-cast Nathan Fillon in every single role).  I don’t think there is much argument about Sly Stallone being a more well established actor than Karl Urban yet Urban’s Judge Dredd is undoubtedly better than Stallone’s.  Alec Baldwin as the Shadow did nothing to elevate that character. No one knew who Hugh Jackman was until X-Men and now he is working on playing the character for the 6th time this summer.  Christian Bale wasn’t half as popular as George Clooney was when Clooney played the Caped Crusader and even if you got rid of the Bat-Nipples and Bat-Credit Card, I don’t think there is any question Bale was a better Dark Knight (even with that stupid voice he used).  Granted, better direction and better scripts could have saved these movies but Hollywood has to remember the characters being played are bigger than the actors playing them, at least through the ruby quartz lenses of fanboys and girls.  Just get us the right actor and director not the biggest.
  4. More is not Better.  Why do studios feel the need to pull use the Wrecker’s crowbar to force in multiple characters?  Because they want to sell more toys, toothbrushes, lunch boxes, tee-shirts, Lego sets and anything else that will display movie characters in order to sell to kids. More is not better.  By adding more characters, we get so consumed trying to find out what characters are in the damn movie and why, we forget to watch the movie.  Plus, more characters mean more chance for the studios to re-write their origins or make them up (breaking rule number 2 in the process).
  5. We Don’t Need It.  While every fan of comic books would publically state their desire to see every one of the characters written and drawn on the pages of their books doing super things on screen, in a quiet moment, when no one is listening, surely they would agree not every superhero needs a movie.  Take as an example, the Fantastic Four.  The first family of Marvel is a great book. The family dynamic.  The powers.  The villains. The worlds, times, adventures they have been a part of are legendary.  Should they be on the big screen?  That could be up for debate.  Brenda Starr? Road to Perdition? League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?  Is anyone glad those movies were made (I know Alan Moore isn’t)?  Were Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy not surely to be tied in to what Marvel is doing with the Avengers, I would argue neither should be green lit. To a certain degree, the Punisher and the Hulk both fit in to this category as well.  Some characters, alone, may not be enough to carry a movie successfully. Rumors of movie adaptations for Aquaman, Iron Fist, and Adam Strange may sound intriguing, but ask yourself, do they really need to be made?

So long as the courageous and noble are willing to don their capes, cowls, and suits of armor to protect mankind from evil in all its forms, Hollywood will be there with a digital 3-D camera to shoot a movie about and hope for record breaking open weekend ticket sales.  Because of the lure of money and Hollywood taking for granted putting anything on the screen will entice fanboys into seats, comic book geeks will have to wade through the symbiote like muck engulfing the genre they love so much.

 

Some Bad Comic Book Movies

  1. Spiderman 3
  2. X-Men 3
  3. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  4. Supergirl
  5. Superman 4
  6. Any Batman Joel Schumacher directed
  7. Judge Dredd
  8. The Phantom
  9. The Shadow
  10. The Spirit
  11. Wolverine Origins
  12. Elektra
  13. Daredevil
  14. Green Lantern
  15. Swamp Thing 2

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Husband, father to two girls, dog walker, living with male pattern baldness. In addition to writing on his own site, Jimmy contributes to DadsRT, COAL.com, and the Southern Berks News. He is the world record holder in his house for 'Best Hiding Spot' during Hide and Go Seek.

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