the authority, the boys, and the future of the superhero genre (part 1)

[NB: Once I really got to working on this, I realized it was just too long for one post.]

In the last decade or so, Hollywood has gone through two Spider-Mans, three Hulks, and a whole lot of X-Men. Christopher Nolan just finished a trilogy of Batman movies that re-invented him as a "darker, grittier" character, a couple of decades after Tim Burton re-invented Batman as a "darker, grittier" character, just three years after Frank Miller re-invented Batman as a "darker, grittier" character in The Dark Knight Returns (which, as noted in this space recently, has been recently re-made as a surprisingly good direct to video animated feature.) I didn't watch Green Lantern because I don't care to have green CGI pixels projectile vomited at me for two hours. (I'm told it was actually slightly worse than that.)

Marvel is poised to make approximately 73 Avengers and Avenger-tie-in movies in the next week alone.

The current cycle of comic book movies is certain to play out, eventually. And joking aside, there have been some good ones: The Dark Knight was a seriously good film. X-Men: First Class, Iron Man, and The Avengers were all a lot of fun. But for every one of those, there's a musical number from Spider-Man 3.

And really, we ought not call these "comic book movies" because comic books are not just about superheros anymore. (Non-superhero comics have a similarly spotty track record of translation to other media: The Walking Dead is pretty amazing, and Sin City is a great guilty pleasure, but Keanu Reeves as freaking John Constantine..?) Anyway, the appeal of superheros to movie studios is obvious: well-known characters with a large, built in audience is about as safe a box office bet as a studio can make these days.

But I cannot help but wonder if there is an untapped market for--if I may clumsily coin a phrase--indy superhero movies. The main barrier to making decent superhero movies for the longest time was special effects. Digital technology has cursed us with the ability to literally make anything we can imagine happen on film, if you just have a big enough budget (which is why so many movies are so big and stupid now.) But the upside of this is that special effects are now really accessible to independent filmmakers; off the top of my head, Iron Sky was made for about $10 million and District 9 for about $30 million. That's not "cheap", exactly, but it's chump change compared to the $220 million it took to make The Avengers.

In the next installment, I'll talk about a couple of comics that have done much more interesting things with the superhero genre (even more interesting than Watchmen!) and how they could maybe serve to rejuvenate the genre at the movies.


Gino said...

the genre dont need rejuvenating. its needs to just play out, so i can see some real movies again.

Brian said...

Stay with me, G. If someone did a good treatment of The Boys, I promise you'd like it.