Monday, 26 April 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #496: Are Comic Book Movies Dead?

Welcome to the show folks...

According to the box-office,
The Loser lost, and Kick Ass didn't kick all that much ass, and some wags are saying that it's a sign that the comic book movie is, if not dead, dying.

Well, I don't think so. There are reasons for failure that are very specific to each film that don't translate to the genre as a whole.

Let's look at the facts:


SOURCE MATERIAL: The film is based on a relatively minor title out of the DC Comics adult oriented Vertigo catalog. It's not a part of the cultural zeitgeist like Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man, nor does it have the novelty, humor, and charm of Robert Downey Jr's portrayal of Iron Man. And to top it all off, it's a so-called "edgier" remake of a mostly forgotten 1960s comic series about WW2 soldiers who do dangerous missions as penance for mistakes that cost the lives of their comrades, with the notions of penance and self-sacrifice replaced with old fashioned vengeance.

CLICHE PLOT: How many movies have been made about battle hardened tough guys that always seems to end up fighting the CIA itself? Dozens at least. The Bourne films have rehashed the plot to the point of self-parody, and the simple reality of those who "know to much" in the CIA usually ending up profiled in the New York Times to plug their book deals makes it all seem silly.

Now there are two simple reasons for always going back to the CIA as the all purpose villain / conspirator. Reason #1 is political correctness, which dictates that foreign villains are automatically assumed to represent, and therefore insult, entire ethnic communities if they appear in a Hollywood movie, and the Reason #2 is a form of subtle, unintended, racism where non-white non-American or non-European villains are subconsciously considered unworthy adversaries of the predominantly white American or European heroes.

I like to think the most blatant example was the lowly Bond movie Die Another Day, where they literally turned a North Korean Colonel into a white Englishman via plastic surgery. Why couldn't he be a North Korean? Were they afraid of being banned in a country that already bans all western entertainment for everyone but their "Dear Leader?"

MARKETING: Judging from the commercials it looks like just another cookie-cutter, shaky-cam, action pic, whose central theme seemed to be Zoe Saldana cavorting in her knickers. There's nary a hint of what made it any different from the upcoming A-Team movie beyond an absence of humor and 80s nostalgia.


SOURCE MATERIAL: The original miniseries is fairly obscure compared to the more mainstream super-hero fare, and had a darker, more nihilistic edge to it than the usual heroics.

NATURE OF THE MOVIE: Kick-Ass had "cult" movie written all over it. It had an R-Rating, over the top violence, gore, and language. It had a budget that's normally spent paying off one actor, which meant that the financiers understood that its profitability was going to come from an extended shelf life on DVD and good word of mouth among fans.

LIONSGATE'S EXPECTATIONS: I'm afraid that Lionsgate's management let their ongoing war with Carl Icahn's takeover bid affect their judgment on this movie. They went on an all out publicity blitz expecting Kick Ass to be the blockbuster they needed to justify their hanging onto control, not realizing that just because it was in the same genre as many big blockbusters, wasn't a guarantee that it was going to be mega-huge in ticket sales.

If they had just downplayed their desire for a monstrous opening weekend, and used its cult-like nature to the film's advantage, they may have avoided the probably unfair stench of failure clinging to the film.


  1. Hollywood of the past made too many musicals and the public tired of them. Then westerns ruled the screen and the public tired of them. Now we have too many super hero comic book movies. What's next,Iron Man3,Rust is the Enemy!When this was new and novel, itwas okay lightweight fun,but I am officially burned-out with all of it. Thanks Furious D I enjoy your common-sense views on the movie business.

  2. You also remember the current comic book films are depictions of the heroes during their Silver Age. Not the current run. Most super hero fans of batman, superman and etc are not reading the current runs of the books because those stories in many ways have become far removed from what people remember from our collective cultural memory.

    Even then this memory comes from us learning about these icons from the retelling from others (old movies, video games and tv shows) not the original source(comics)

    It is somewhat like someone who believes in Jesus Christ but has never once read a single world of the Holy Bible. Because they learned about God from old jesus movies and work of mouth. Thus their religious beliefs are watered down mutation of the original ideals.

    Maybe that is a bad allegory as Comic Mythology is far more convoluted and incomprehensible as any religion is.

    Spiderman got retconned and turned back into a teenager. In marvel we have the Orignial universe and now the ULTIMATES.

    We now have a resurrected Capt America who is a 180 degree turn from the Cap that will be depicted in the film and what people collectively recall.

    DC had the same problem with the multiple earths making everything convoluted until DC had to do the Crisis in Infinite Earths to scale things down.

    many of these latest films the heroes are far better depictions that what are in the books these days.

  3. I hear your affection for these comic book heroes,but I just don't relate to that kind of storytelling.Current culture seems to be more comfortable watching fictional comic book heroes, even exalting them.Now that does make me uncomfortable.