Saturday, August 30, 2008

Top Nine Superhero Movie Mistakes

I'm not talking about bloopers from the movie Superhero Movie, or any other movie for that matter. I'm talking about bad (or rather, not good) decisions made somewhere in the filmmaking process that nobody thought to correct.

9 - Not using Danny Elfman's theme (Batman Begins, 2005)

For the first part of Batman Begins, the music seemed somewhat disjointed; like it couldn't find its voice, paralelling Bruce Wayne's struggle to find Batman within himself. I knew that the moment we first saw Batman on screen, Danny Elfman's iconic Batman theme would blare, letting us know that Batman had arrived.

It didn't. Maybe they would save it for the end of the movie to symbolize the completion of Batman as an idea.

They didn't. No offense to the composers, but I would have. It's a minor thing, but one that would have made a great movie even more amazing.

8 - "M.J." (Spider-Man/2/3, 2002 - 2007)

This one isn't entirely actress Kirsten Dunst's fault - the characters of Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy had the reverse of their comic book roles in the films. But there's only one line in the entire franchise ("go get 'em, tiger" from the end of Spider-Man 2) that she manages to get the right feeling from. The rest of the time, the character is a clichéed damsel in distress or wishy-washy teenager in love.

7 - Bryan Singer (Superman Returns/X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)

Director Bryan Singer deserves a lot of credit for reviving the superhero genre with his film adaptation of X-Men. The second film in the series was more mature than the first, and contained allegories to real-world issues such as racism and homophobia. It also left the ending wide open for a well-thought-out and intelligent sequel... which never got made. Instead, Singer went on to create a movie based on Superman.

For those unfamiliar with the character, every Superman story can be summed up in this handy flowchart:

That first yellow diamond sums up the dilemma pretty well. If you don't have any kryptonite, you're going to lose. Bryan Singer decided to drop out of the X-Men franchise to direct a movie about a character who is inherently boring because you already know the outcome of any conflict...

6 - Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)

Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth? (Image Source)

...which would be OK if they had hired a competent director to replace Singer. Instead, we got Brett Ratner, the genius behind such gems as Money Talks and Rush Hour 3. All kidding aside, Ratner is a great director of high-speed action flicks in which one cop plays it by the book and the other likes to break all the rules. Unfortunately, the X-Men franchise doesn't include any of that type of movie.

5 - The not-so-dark knight(The Dark Knight, 2008)
(Image Source)

Batman's voice in Batman Begins was wicked. Who can forget the scene when Batman's got Flass hanging upside down and Flass says "I swear to God" and Batman replies "Swear to me!" and he drops him like ten stories then pulls him up again? Christian Bale's Batman voice is perfectly suited to a vigilante who lurks in the shadows, striking fear into the hearts of cowardly and superstitious criminals everywhere.

Which is why, of course, in the sequel they decided to show Batman hanging around in a brightly-lit bank vault having a chat with his buddy Jim Gordon. In the Batman voice. I know that he can't speak naturally in case his identity is revealed, but couldn't the filmmakers have lit the set a little differently? Maybe the Joker's heist caused the power to go out or something. Hey - it's not as contrived as the Deus Ex Machina at the end of the film.

4 - Green Goblin's Mask (Spider-Man, 2002)

Willem Dafoe. Image is unaltered. (Image source)

Imagine this scenario: you have a character named the Green Goblin in a movie. You cast an exceptionally gobliny looking actor with a powerfully expressive face in the role. Do you:

a) Let the actor use his well-honed skills and natural goblinitude to create a moving performance
b) Cover his face with a plastic mask that you found in an old "Power Rangers: Live!" storage locker

If you chose b) then congratulations - you're Sam Raimi, director of Spider-Man! Just look at that picture there - Willem Dafoe looks just like the character from the comics. I wouldn't be surprised if Dafoe were actually the Green Goblin. Like in real life.

3 - Ang Lee as the Hulk (Hulk, 2003)

hulk \ˈhəlk\ (n) : one that is bulky or unweildy. (Source)

This movie was so terrible that I guess I'm nitpicking with this one, but why the heck did the Hulk, a ten-to-fifty foot tall monster move like a five-foot-seven-inch tall Chinese film director? Just look at the way an elephant moves. It lumbers around, "hulking" if you will. The bigger things get, the harder it is for them to move, so they have to move slower. Ang Lee must have forgotten this when he performed the motion capture for the Hulk (yes, he did it himself).

2 - 300 as a superhero movie (300, 2006)
(Image source)

Just because two things are totally awesome on their own doesn't mean that putting them together will produce totally awesome results. Take the movie Braveheart for example. Adding a bunch of monsters for William Wallace to fight would significantly decrease the impact of the story as a historical epic. As would scoring the movie with rock music.

But that's just what director Zack Snyder did with 300, the true story of three hundred Spartan soldiers who did not fight against an army of ogres to the sound of electric guitars. It would be like Wolfgang Petersen making a movie based on the Iliad but removing all of the gods and fantasy elements. Wait a second...

1 - Turning Watchmen into a movie (Watchmen, 2009)

Watchmen is often called the Citizen Kane of comic books. It would then follow that its writer, Alan Moore, is the Orson Welles of comics. And I guess that explains why he's always getting screwed over by movie studios. Remember LXG? Yeah, that was based on one of his (really good) comics.

So what do you do when you've got the movie rights to one of the seminal works of a genre? You hand it over to the guy who screwed up another seminal work (see #2). Watchmen (the comic) is such a dense piece of literature, so intricately woven, so layered that many filmmakers have said that it can't be made into a 2-hour-long movie without sacrificing many of the metaphors, themes, and symbols that make it so good in the first place.

Just as even a good novelization is never as good as the film it's based on, Watchmen may end up being a good film, but it will never come close to the comic.

- Lex

What other "mistakes" in superhero movies did I miss? Discuss in the comments.

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At 11:36 PM, Blogger Nick said...

Glad to see you've started a blog. I'll link to it from mine when I get around to it.

That said, a couple of notes:

- Disagree with #9. The classic John Williams theme did wonders for Superman Returns, but I think Batman needed a clean break. I'm not necessarily that fond of the Zimmer score to Batman Begins, but as far as film scores go, Danny Elfman's Batman motif just isn't on the same level as the Superman march.

- That said, the Superman flowchart is very appropriate. The thing about Superman is that he's fundamentally a wartime hero, a propaganda figure... that's a context where you can get away with always winning. Not so great for storytelling, though.

- Watchmen's aiming for a three-hour cut, last time I checked... hopefully the distributors don't force it down to two. Terry Gilliam considered doing Watchmen twenty years ago, but didn't want to do it in less than twelve hours. And come to think of it, Gilliam keeps getting struck by one production disaster after another anyway. I remember being so excited when Aronofsky was (very briefly) attached to it. At any rate, it doesn't look like it's going to be anywhere as bad as LXG.

- Ang Lee's Hulk failed in execution more than concept, I think. I, for one, wanted to see a trend towards really artsy-fartsy comic book adaptations... this summer's The Incredible Hulk was a better film, but there was just something so rote and ordinary about it. It didn't try to be special. My theory remains that Peter Jackson's King Kong did everything that Lee tried to do in Hulk and Spielberg tried to do in The Lost World, but didn't.


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