There’s been a lot of trial and error in the last ten years. In the race to make the biggest superhero blockbusters, Hollywood has also made some real shit. Hollywood has been making westerns for decades, same with comedies and dramas. Comparatively, superheroes are new territory. The following is a list of the greatest disappointments from the decade when superheroes were king.
Sin City, Watchmen, and the literal interpretation of comics
Is there such a thing as being too faithful to your source material? Comic books are much like movies in that they are a mix of story and picture, but they are still two vastly different mediums. The key flaw? Pacing. You can’t argue with Sin City‘s direct from the page visual style, but story itself is rough at best. Zack Snyder became a household name with his sleek, amped-up adaptation of 300. Yet with Watchmen, Snyder felt compelled to shove every last panel into that poor movie. If Jane Austen and J.R.R. Tolkien require a little trimming and gussying, then why are Frank Miller and Alan Moore so sacred?
Heath Ledger dies
The Joker is alive at the end of The Dark Knight. Remember that? Just hanging there, mocking an entire SWAT team. I’m sure Nolan will address what happened to the Joker somewhere in The Dark Knight Rises, but it’s still a let down because what we all really want is another movie with the Joker. Sadly that can’t happen.
Mark Steven Johnson makes bad movies
Two of the decades worst entries are due to the same man. 2003’s Daredevil is a silly mishmash masquerading as a moody character piece. 2007’s Ghost Rider is basically idiocy on parade. Both are prime examples of what can go wrong when adapting comic books to screen. If all comic book films can be placed on a spectrum where at one extreme you have movies that fail because they are too realistic and serious (Hulk), then Mr. Johnson gave us the opposite extreme where movies fail because they hit audiences like a haphazardly ham-handed elbow to the ribs. Fun fact: The script for Daredevil was widely praised and said to be “perhaps the greatest comic book adaptation ever.” Yeah, really.
Who needs source material!? The filmmakers behind Catwoman tossed out everything we know and love about this character in favor of a script that must have been based on a focus group full of fourteen year old boys. “You guys like basketball? What if Catwoman played basketball?” While most ill-conceived superhero movies come off as boring and/or “safe,” Catwoman is so outrageously bad, I take joy in watching this train wreck.
It should also be mentioned that Halle Berry not only showed up to accept her Razzie for worst actress, but gave a teary eyed parody of the acceptance speech for her Oscar.
Hulk was part of the first wave of superhero adaptations to hit theaters. Aside from Daredevil, which was released in February, Hulk was the second character to get a big summer roll out. Everything about the production implied that the gamma monster would be the next big thing. Boy, were we wrong.
The big lesson we all learned was that maybe not every director is a good choice. Ang Lee wanted to make a film about a modern Frankenstein as told through the sequential art style of the comic medium. We all wanted HULK SMASH! Looking back, Hulk is rather faithful, not to the comic, but to Ang Lee’s filmography. Hulk has more in common with The Ice Storm than Spider-Man. Think about it.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the Opening Weekend
Perhaps one of the finest examples of comic book adaptation and one of the decades biggest flops. The Scott Pilgrim series takes places over six graphic novels but was expertly squeezed into a single film with a run-time under two hours. Director/writer Edgar Wright created a film that mixed everything we loved about comic book style, video games, and even love stories. Sadly, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World showed us how hard it can be to sell comic book properties that don’t have characters with metal claws or suits of iron.
How good was Spider-Man 2? It was so good that for one moment in time we forgot that the first Spider-Man was a hollow paint by numbers piece of stale toast. By the time the final installment of Sam Raimi’s trilogy came along, the whole world was in a fever pitch of wondering what could be. Spider-Man 3 turned out to be a cluster-fuck of poorly executed ideas. Lot’s of poorly executed ideas. Subtle seeds planted in the first film, nurtured in the second, bloom into big retarded hoverboard-riding clichés in the series finale.
Joss Whedon exits Wonder Woman
As we wrap up this first decade of superhero superiority, one question begs to be asked. Why are we only now getting Joss Whedon behind the camera? Surely, the man who defined female heroism for a generation would be a shoe in to make a movie based on a certain Amazonian princess. Joss Whedon’s Wonder Woman was, for a time, a real thing. Unfortunately, now we can only imagine what could have been. What woes made Whedon walk away from Wonder Woman? Producer Joel Silver wanted a big name star to dawn the gold bracelets while Joss wanted small screen actress Cobie Smulders.
X3: X-Men Dismounted
Oh, the story of how studio greed nearly sunk the series that started it all. If X-Men is the “how to” guide to comic book movies and X2 is the “how to” guide to sequels, then X3 is the “how to” guide to squandering faith of devoted fans. 20th Century Fox took their sweet time locking series head Bryan Singer in to helm the third film. The reason was, of course, money. Fox took so long that Warner Brothers was able to hire Singer to direct their reboot of Superman. Word is that studio head Tom Rothman was so furious when he found out that he had Singer escorted off the lot by security. The next day however Singer had to be let back in so he could direct the pilot episode of House. Ouch. The third X-Men film went forward without Singer and we all paid dearly.
Check back tomorrow for Earth’s Mightiest Decade — Part 4