From the 70s-90s, DC reigned supreme on the silver screen with their Superman and Batman movies, which captivated audiences everywhere. Fast forward to the early 2000’s, and the world was blessed with two X-men and two Spiderman movies, showing everyone that comic book movies could be amazing summer blockbusters, be entertaining and well-done, and be a gold-mine for Hollywoo (that’s not a typo, watch Bojack Horseman). Unfortunately, we were then hit with a barrage of horrible comic book movies that never seemed to end: Ghostrider, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic 4, Green Lantern, etc. In 2008, we were all blown away by DC and Marvel as “The Dark Knight” gave us Oscar-Worthy performances, and “Ironman” took a B-list superhero and propelled him to greatness (we can excuse the small hiccup of Ironman 2). Now we are in 2016 with three major cinematic universes for comic book movies. Comic book sales have been bumped up by new and eater readers. Its safe to say that Comic Book movies are here to stay and have become a major part of our pop culture.
So what makes a comic book movie “bad” nowadays? I’m not talking about the dry argument of “they’re formulaic, they’re all the same, I don’t like them”. I truly believe that we’re past the absolutely atrocious films (excluding the 2016 “Fantastic 4″…oh my) that are so poorly written and done, so what mistakes are being made in the modern Comic Book Movie? In this piece, I’m going to hit a few points that I’ve noticed in my long history of watching these movies. [MILD SPOILER WARNING] for the movies I use as examples, even though anyone reading this has probably seen most of them or (at this point) shouldn’t care about getting them spoiled.
1. “Spiderman 3 Syndrome”
Yes, this is a term I just made up, but I’m going to tell you why. Think back to “Spiderman 3” and where the first two movies left off. All the major events that have moved the plot forward have culminated into Harry Osborn being the villain. However, for some reason this movie decided not only to have Harry and Peter’s conflict happen, but to include the entire fiasco involving the venom symbiote, AND add in the subplot of Flint Marko being accused of Uncle Ben’s murder and turning into Sandman? It sounds a little ridiculous to put all of that into one movie, and it was! Especially when you throw in more MJ/Peter drama (which felt like the same fight that they’ve had for the past two movies), Gwen Stacy, and inappropriate jazz choreography. When it comes to the flow of the story, Spiderman 3 can be simply described as a trainwreck.
Other examples include:
Dark Knight Rises: They tried to have Bane, Catwoman and Talia be important and have Bruce Wayne suffer a broken back, heal a broken back, and return to Gotham to fight his nemesis, save the day and name a successor. Despite still being a well-done film, it ends up being the least compelling of the trilogy with parts of the movie that felt too slow and other parts that felt too rushed.
Suicide Squad: I didn’t speak about this too much in my Suicide Squad review, but dear lord what a sloppy movie. Upon rewatch, when they introduced Katana in about 30 seconds, I definitely had my hands in my face. She’s such a cool character that we’re probably not going to see again, and her presence didn’t really hurt or add to the movie. There’s just too much in this movie that the audience ends up disregarding. Side-note: When you spend literally 5 seconds on Slipknot’s exposition, we all know that he’s totally going to die within the next few scenes.
I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be more than one villain in a Comic Book movie. I’m even open to having more than one sub-plot that’s also taking place. But when a movie tries to rely on bringing multiple iconic characters and scenes to life in the same movie, often times the characters and their motivations become overshadowed by other poorly executed sub-plots. What was originally a selling point in the trailers becomes a weak point in the overall story structure. If you want to see a movie that did this right, “Captain America Civil War” made it work by focusing everything back to the central conflict.
2. Set-Up Movies
Remember when Sony had claims to a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe? It felt like they were trying to give Disney and the Avengers a huge middle finger, and they announced a slew of Spider-Man movies, including a “Sinister Six” and “Venom”. One of the big reasons that “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” just wasn’t a great movie was because they spent so much quality run time trying to establish a cinematic universe that they didn’t really accomplish anything big in the movie itself. When movies get so caught up in the big picture, we lose quality in the standalone film that we paid 10 dollars to go see, leaving the audience feeling somewhat empty and unfulfilled.
Other examples include:
Any movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that sets up an infinity stone or feels like a glorified advertisement for a new Avengers film. I’m looking at you, “Thor: The Dark World”.
Fant4stic: I’m not joking when I say that this movie is about 90% exposition that leads up to nothing notable and keeps acting like there are 4 sequels confirmed to follow it. It feels like you’re in stasis for a good 100 minutes only to be slapped in the face at the end.
3. Crossing into the realm of obscurity
This is something I’ve only really noticed recently. Casual fans of comic books, think back to “Batman V Superman” and be honest with me. Did any of you fully understand what was going on during Bruce Wayne’s dream sequence when some guy in a portal started yelling something at Bruce about Lois Lane being the key? I’d be shocked if any of you did. It’s always nice when filmmakers throw in a nod or two to the comic books, but sometimes it just leaves the audience even more confused than they originally were.
Batman V Superman: The “knightmare” sequence was undoubtedly a cool and well done scene on the cinematographer’s end. However, If I leaned over to my Dad and whispered “Psst, this is a nod to the Injustice series. Also thatâs Darkseid’s insignia and those are Parademons from Apokolips”,, his head might’ve exploded on the spot.
X-Men Apocalypse: I watched this one with a friend who’s seen the other X-men movies, but isn’t a comic book fan by any means, and he didnât really know how to react to a few scenes. It’s great that you wanted to give us Caliban talking to Mystique and then Apocalypse, but to most of the audience, he’s just a guy that looks weird. Not only that, after the post-credits scene revealed that Nathaniel Essex was going to be a part of the big picture now, some guy in my theater yelled out “Does anyone get that?” and the rest of the theater erupted into laughter.
4. “3Edgy5Me” Syndrome
This is another phrase I tend to use that no one else does, but I can explain! I love Nolan’s Batman trilogy…but I also hate that other creators said “Holy tragic story, Batman! This is so successful, maybe we could do this with every superhero!” Unfortunately this led to an onslaught of superhero stories that are described as “Dark and Gritty”. Most of these were so ridiculous that I’ve reached a point where I laugh when I hear those two words because I just know that the movie is going to be bad to an extent. It is a given that the protagonist of a film faces struggle and adversity constantly. However, when an uplifting character is turned into a tragic character, it tends to be forced and poorly executed. Not everyone can be Batman or Daredevil, that’s why unique and different characters are created so that more audiences can relate! Being edgy just for the sake of being edgy is just dumb, the movie doesn’t need to be dark to be compelling.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Did anyone find all of that “untold story” nonsense about his parents and finding subway tokens in his dadâs calculator to be memorable at all? Throw in his romance with Gwen being “so wrong but so right” or whatever they were going for. I swear when I was watching both these movies I got Deja Vu from the “Twilight” series (I promise we can make fun of the fact that I’ve seen more than one of those later). At the end, it felt like the only reason they killed Gwen Stacy off was to have something bad happen to throw Peter into a depression that eventually gets out of in about 5-10 minutes of run time.
Arrow: This obviously isn’t a movie, but ever since season 1 of the show, people kept commenting about the odd similarity to Batman. I had an open mind, but I just had to point out that in season 3 they LITERALLY tried to make him Batman. Almost everything that happened to the character in season 3 of the show was derivative of Batman. The two were about as different as “A New Hope” and “The Force Awakens”. It was just so odd, I watch Arrow because I want to watch Arrow. I don’t watch Arrow to get a poorly-done version of any given Batman vs Ra’s Al Ghul comic.
So there’s my humble opinion on what common errors are made in the modern era of Comic Book Movies! As always, let me know what you think because I love discussion and help a nerd out by sharing!
That’s all for now,