Friday, 22 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #153: The Hero & The Darkness

Oh dear.

DC Comics' parent company Warner Bros. is about to engage in a major pooch screw when it comes to adapting their superheroes to film. In this article (h/t Dirty Harry) in the Wall Street Journal, Warner Bros. plans to reduced their slate of films, and to make the films that they do produce, bigger, and more "bad-ass" than ever before.

This philosophy will be exercised the most on adapting the superhero properties owned by subsidiary DC Comics, as illustrated in this disturbing quote:
Like the recent Batman sequel -- which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far -- Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as "The Dark Knight." Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.' DC properties. "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it," he says. That goes for the company's Superman franchise as well.
Oooh, that does not sound good.

Not good at all.

You see, Superman doesn't brood.

Batman can brood, because Batman has limitations, both physical, due to his mortality, and faces many ethical challenges because of those limitations. He's forced to lurk in shadows, using mystery and fear as weapons, because he can't just use X-Ray vision to find the villain's hideout, then punch his way through the brick wall and tie up the evil-doers with a readily available steel beam.

Batman walks a fine line to remain "the good guy" in the face of evil, and it's hard, because his job is hard to do for even an above average man.

Superman is an extra-terrestrial with god-like powers who can wander free in the sunshine. His only limitation is Kryptonite, and when it comes to exploring his evil side, well he doesn't really have an evil side.

Batman is a lone man struggling mostly alone against evil. Superman is a symbol of American power, an immigrant, raised on the corn-fed Judeo-Christian morals & ethics of the American Midwest. Superman could smash cities to the ground during a temper tantrum and declare himself emperor of the world, but he doesn't, because that would be violate the code taught to him by Ma & Pa Kent. He doesn't have to worry about becoming the bad guy, because in his brightly day-lit world, lines are usually very clearly drawn.

Any attempt to make Superman "brooding" would turn him into a whiny little emo bitch-child with a new all-black super-suit, his hair parted all to one side like he showered in a wind tunnel, and spends his free time cutting himself with a kryptonite razor. And I think the whining, and moping were what turned people off the Superman Returns reboot forcing yet another reboot.

Does it mean that Superman can't face any serious moral and ethical challenges?


But whoever does the film must remember the essential themes behind Superman, which is essentially optimistic.

Plus, I think Warner Bros. is making a mistake by thinking that "dark" is the way to go.

Yes, The Dark Knight is a dark movie, both in themes, manner, and lighting. However, the film is not about darkness. It's like all the other summer comic book blockbusters, it's a tale about a fundamentally good person pushed to the extremes of his abilities to survive and ultimately overcome a powerful and terrible evil.

In a world where most mainstream drama leans toward nihilistic or pointlessly rebellious anti-heroes in the name of "artistic truth," the comic book movie goes right for the primal archetype of the hero.

The hero does the right thing, the hero endures terrible hardship, pain, and sacrifice, not for some tangible reward, not to "stick it to the man," but to do it because it is right.

Part of these movies is wish fulfilment. The average viewer wants to see the good guys win, they want heroes, and they only seem to get these "pure" heroics, without politically based judgements or moral equivalence, with superheroes.

So to sum it all up in a way that even a senior studio executive can understand:




    He will... after an 8 months delay. ;-)

  2. StevefromMKE23/8/08 11:54 am

    How many reboots does a franchise get?

  3. How many brain cells actually exist in Hollywood? I mean, really.

    Batman was a good movie (so I hear, I've not seen it) that happened to be "dark". Of course it was "Dark". Batman is "dark". That's why he's called "The Dark Knight" for christ's sakes.

    Giving "The Dark Knight's" being "Dark" the credit for its revenue is like giving a Lamborghini's paint job credit for it's speed.

  4. I blogged about this at my site.

    Basically, Hollywood CANNOT get this, because Comic Books are a male empowerment fantasy, and Hollywood is filled with empowered males doing as Dirty Harry at Dirty Harry's Place says, doing rails off the ass of teenage hookers.

    They can't understand Joe Average much less his desire to see male empowerment fantasies.