Posted November 27, 2011 by Alex Moss Editor in Features
 
 

Over Stretched Spandex


2011 has been another bumper year for our spandex clad, world beating superheroes.

2011 has been another bumper year for our spandex clad, world beating superheroes.

From the hammer chucking of Thor, the colour pallet of The Green Lantern through to the shield throwing of Captain America and the educational exploits of X-Men; First Class, superheroes have once again made their presence on the silver screen felt. It is fair to say they have become a stable diet of summer ‘blockbuster’ season. But do we need a change, are we all caped crusaderred or mutated out?

Given the history of some of these comic book heroes it was somewhat surprising that Hollywood took so long to catch onto the potential marketing value of these products. Yes there were early Superman movies, but in the last ten years we have seen Batman, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, The X-Men and Iron Man all have their Bang, Crash and Wallops plastered over the screen with varying degrees of success.

It seems though that the trend is getting worn. Next year will see the climax of arguably the most extensive, and impressive, superhero franchise in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan, above all others, has paved the way for the men in dress-up and brought a sense of real life jeopardy to the concept of a superhero. The problem is there are already rumours that, once Nolan’s opus has finished, we will see another re-boot of The Caped Crusader. Is this really necessary? Most people will tell you that Nolan’s vision is quintessential, in regards to Batman law. So why sully that by starting again?

There is a very easy answer to this and that is money. Hollywood is a business, hence the title Film Industry. If Bruce Wayne were in charge he would almost certainly be issuing another outing of his escapades. Why? Because they come with a built-in audience. Whether a fan of the character or of Nolan’s films, people will flock to any new installment to see if it can live up to, or in some other cases better, the last incarnation.

Furthermore, superheroes have a core following, namely in the shape of those who have read and worshipped these characters before they even dreamt of swooping across the big screen. Even the internet based aficionados who berate and deride the new Spider-Man logo are certain to go to the cinema to either be proven right or wrong. Either way they will then flood the online forums with comments, positive or negative, and incense or inspire another wave of people to see for themselves. Suddenly that rumoured $220 million budget handed to Marc Webb for his The Amazing Spider-Man Reboot seems less of a gamble.

Of course the case of Spider-Man perfectly highlights why super heroes will continue to be re- booted, reborn and regurgitated. If the last film in a franchise, namely Spider-Man 3 in this case, was less than what the film going population wanted, then the studio implies that they must correct their mistake, or to put it into superhero terms right the wrongs of the previous incumbent. Make no mistake Hollywood is more than happy to take our money twice. They will not offer you a refund for Spider-Man 3, but they will take the plaudits if The Amazing Spider-Man does better than Sam Raimi’s last Web-slinger outing. In other words it’s a win win for the studios who bankroll these pictures.

Of course part of the reason these heroes are constantly re-booted is due to the high turnover of actors. Batman has been played by at least four, not including Adam West in the TV series, different actors. Superman is now being played by yet another young up-and-coming actor in the form of Henry Cavill. Even Spider-Man has the fresh young face of The Social Network’s Andrew Garfield heading back to high school. Part of this is down to actors ageing faster than the films can be made. Toby Maguire as a young Spider-Man simply wouldn’t work now. That and cast members originally being signed for one film, with perhaps an option for a second outing, meaning that their wage demands go through the roof. But put this into perspective with Captain America. Chris Evans has signed a six, count them SIX, picture deal to star as Steve Rogers. That’s an awful lot of star spangled shields being thrown around the place. In other words is it time to reign in this current fad?

Genres come and go all the time. Gangsters, Westerns, Sci-Fi and even vampires have periods of trending. Superheroes have taken this one step further. They are no longer just a genre unto themselves, instead they are infiltrating other genres with the ruthless cunning of a Catwoman. This year’s Thor was clearly a fantasy film, Jonah Hex and Priest tried to tap into the Western, Nolan’s Batman movies are crime thrillers in a similar vein of Michael Mann’s Heat, Captain America hints at a war drama and even X-Men; First Class could be read as a political thriller with its Cold War back-drop. Clearly these films cannot simply fit into the superhero genre that will fluctuate like other genres, they are transcending that label to draw out their longevity.

But what about James Bond, you cry? Well it’s true that 007 is constantly making a come-back from a previous existence. However, Bond is a Madonna in every sense and constantly re-invents himself. Britain’s Best will always have a place in cinema. But, and this is crucial, he has periods of hiatus hanging up the tux and allowing cinema to evolve to a point where there is a demand for him again. It is no coincidence that Daniel Craig’s first outing came about as a result of the appetite for the Bourne Franchise. As such we are never bombarded with Bond like we are currently with comic book heroes.

Superheroes on the other hand only offer us the same again. We have the origin story, followed by the fall from grace and finally the point where they rise like a phoenix from the ashes to be accepted and worshipped by the public they serve. With this in mind constantly re-booting grows tired and worn. You begin to wonder if there will ever come a time when we check the cinema listings and are not greeted by a plethora of costumed heroes?

While the heroes might be fun they are potentially hindering more original and interesting films from being made. JJ AbramsSuper 8 stands out as one of the few original films this summer. There are plenty of other stories out there to keep audiences flocking to the cinemas; you need only look at the success of Harry Potter to see evidence of this. Comic books lend themselves to cinematic interpretation, in fact the source material is almost a ready-made storyboard from which to start from. In doing so Hollywood is resting on its laurels, this insistence to spew heroes out stifles fresh filmmaking.

Do not misunderstand; there is plenty of room for graphic novel adaptation. The world is crying out for a film version of Preacher or indeed Black Hole. But these are not your run of the mill superheroes, they offer something different to the now tried and tested formula. So, perhaps, for now we do not need another hero but rather something that can spark originality while still allowing people to flood to cinemas. In the meantime though we look forward to Nolan’s Batman conclusion and Joss Whedon’s super hero monster mash with The Avengers but after that let’s hope these characters ride off into the sunset until the world is in need of their super services again.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com