One of the perks of this gig is that now when I have a lengthy response to an MGK.com post I can just post it here. Convenient!
Truth be told, I knew I was going to have to challenge Bird on this matter even before yesterday’s post, because the other day he was complaining about Green Lantern’s mask. I don’t see the problem, seeing as:
- They decided to make a Green Lantern movie.
- Green Lantern wears a mask.
- They used the same mask in the movie.
To me complaining about the mask is like arguing that there shouldn’t be a monkey in Speed Racer. You can debate the merits of Speed Racer as a film, but of course there was going to be a monkey in it, because it’s frigging Speed Racer.
Anyway, I think my liege raises valid concerns about comic-book movie adaptations becoming overly faithful to the source material, at the expense of presenting new ideas. I just don’t think those concerns are nearly as big a problem as the alternative.
Bird offered some fine examples of Richard Donner, Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan introducing concepts in their movies that are now gospel in the Superman and Batman mythoi. That’s great when you can get it, but it cuts both ways. Donner’s vision of Superman was so influential that it’s become difficult for filmmakers to think of Superman in any other way. (Coming soon, Superman fights General Zod! Again!) Joel Schumacher’s Batman basically ensured that nobody else’s Batman would be in a movie for eight years. Tim Story presented a groundbreaking new take on Doctor Doom wherein he didn’t use anything anybody ever liked about Doctor Doom. And so on.
These decisions matter because they have a lot riding on them. Consider the perspective of a comics fan who dreams of seeing the next big superhero movie. You wait for years, perhaps decades, for your favorite hero to emerge from development hell. At last work on the film starts and suddenly Hollywood is casually dismissing heretofore unquestioned truths about the property. The people working on the project talk about the character and the comics in the past tense, like they’re relics from the 1950s that nobody cared about until now. You whine on the internet and everybody calls you a geek for even caring so much. Finally the movie comes out and you just have to make do and hope it doesn’t suck. Because if they got it wrong, that’s it–you might get a reboot several years later (Incredible Hulk), or maybe nothing at all (Constantine 2: Yeah Right).
I don’t mean to overdramatize the unwarranted entitlement of fanboys, but you can see why they have a lot more at stake in a particular comic book film than anybody who’s making it. For the mainstream, superhero movies are a dime a dozen, but each hero has fans who consider him their personal Superman, and they demand their own personal Superman: The Movie. For me that was Steel, so as you might imagine I’m not surprised that the hardcore base prizes loyalty to the comics canon above all else. By now it’s an easy choice–everybody can generally agree upon the canon (that’s why they call it “canon”) and nobody knows what kind of stupid crap the director is going to conjure up because he’s never read a comic book in his life.
None of this is to say that I want comic book movies to be 1:1 adaptations. I figured that out when I watched Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four and noticed a) it was astonishingly close to the comics and b) it sucked sour frog ass. So yes, Filmmakers need to have the room to, y’know, make films and all that. Nevertheless, if I have to choose between a faithful movie like Thor and something more innovative like Spider-Man 3, I’m going to take the safer bet. In a perfect world, I’d have a third option that is both an awesome movie and an acceptable adaptation, but I won’t hold my breath on Steel Returns.