I remember flipping through an old “Wizard” magazine back in the early or mid-90’s. The magazine pretended to cast a would-be Spider-Man movie that most of us knew would never happen. John Cusack was Parker. Howie Long was Brock/Venom. That’s all I remember off the top of my head. Again, it was an interesting read…but it was a fantasy. Nothing more. Superheroes simply did not get the big-screen treatment and if they did, it was never anything more than a half-assed attempt being made.
Fast forward to today. Every comic book, novel, video game, or other famous media is either in development or already on the fourth film of the franchise. My question is this: Have any of them REALLY panned out the way we once thought they would? In my opinion, the answer, with some exceptions, is “not really”.
As a kid, I worshipped Wolverine. Who didn’t? Still, I knew Cyclops was the leader…even if I didn’t like him. Wolverine and Gambit were cool, but they followed Xavier and Cyclops. In 5th grade, I didn’t understand how such cool rebels could respect guys who were so square. It was about mutual respect and teamwork. Being obsessed with the “cool” image, I couldn’t get that. I do now, but I didn’t then.
Growing up, I remember being blown away by all of the character contrasts. While my folks would flip through a comic and scoff at the size of the women’s breasts or the corny powers and dialogue, I was unbelievably frustrated that they couldn’t grasp the underlying themes. Racism. Teamwork. Morality dilemmas where it seems you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I daydreamed about an epic X-Men movie filled with teamwork, personality clashes, and beautiful messages about doing the right thing even when it’d would be easy to justify doing something else instead. I knew that if somebody made an X-Men movie and they did it right, it could be more than just some popcorn pop culture. It could be cinematic greatness and even the know-it-alls would have to admit that maybe there was something to those damned X-Men stories.
Unfortunately, The X-Men movies came and went. Oh, they certainly made money and they definitely impressed the casual movie-goer but my dream of cinematic greatness was like Xavier’s dream of mutants and humans co-existing, completely forgotten in the name of being cool instead. The colors and personalities were toned down for what people claimed was “realism”. Everybody wore black leather instead of the admittedly over-the-top yellow and blue suits. Nobody in the films had any personality and the film was written in a way that if Wolverine wasn’t your favorite character, there was nothing going on worth watching. Xavier was poisoned and put in a coma. Cyclops pouted and brooded, an obvious design on the part of the writers to make Wolverine more likeable, while Storm looked lost and Jean flirted with Wolverine while Cyclops and his jealousy kept her on a tight leash. Wolverine, on the other hand, had all of the fight scenes and cool lines. It was, in every way, a “studio film”. I understand the business side of things, but there was no effort made to make the movie anything more than a cash-in on what was popular. Gone was the brilliant undertone about working together despite personality differences. To be honest, at 18 years old, I enjoyed the movie the first time I saw it because I loved Wolverine…but when I went back and read some old comic books, I realized what had really happened. They’d pissed all over everything.
The sequels were even worse. The second time around, Xavier and Cyclops were kidnapped and Wolverine (now a big name celebrity along with Halle Berry) led the rescue mission to save them while also exploring his mysterious past and, of course, having a bunch of fight scenes. Even more infuriating was the half-assed attempt to make the film appear as if it were a deep study of racism and prejudice and the need to be fair and open minded. Of course, that selfless message is completely nullified when all but two characters are being shit on because they’re not popular enough, but audiences didn’t seem to mind or notice. They raved about how cool Wolverine was and how awesome Hugh Jackman was as an actor, but I was really disappointed. I felt like the story’s integrity was being kicked in the nuts repeatedly as the cash cow was milked of every drop until the milk was gone, the teets were chafed, and small drops of blood were dripping out. Still, they kept on milking until the cow was completely dead. By the time X-Men 3 ended, Cyclops, Xavier, and Jean were dead and Wolverine and Storm had taken over the team, while their counterparts, Hugh and Halle, had taken over creative control. Hugh was even the producer of the films. The message about working together and everybody being equal was dead. Buried. Lost in the rubble. The fourth film was simply titled “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. More mysterious past. More fights with people nobody remembers. More bs. Not a single spec of greatness or heart. Of course, it made huge money, keeping the door open for more inevitable “Wolverine and those X-People” adventures.
Be careful what you wish for.
The Spider-Man franchise was a tad better and definitely peeked with the second film, but crumbled under the weight of both audience and studio demands of the director and what he should do. It did, however, kick off the next decade of filmmaking and proved that if something has name power, you can bet your ass there’s going to be a movie about it.
Transformers. Ghost Rider. Daredevil. Harry Potter. Hellboy. G.I Joe. King Kong. Jonah Hex. Constantine. Star Wars 1-3. Elektra. Friday the 13th. Halloween. Street Fighter, The Legend of Chun Li. Twilight. Punisher. Hulk. Eragon. Iron Man. Indiana Jones and the Whatever of the Who Gives a Shit. Die Hard 12. Rocky 17. Hell, even a movie about Facebook is in the works! C’mon already!!!
Okay, so there are a few “cool things” in that list. Rocky Balboa was a great send off. Downey’s Iron Man is a little bit annoying with his “ain’t I a stinker” routine, but a little bit cool too. Hellboy 2 was a huge improvement over the 1st. And, to be honest, the Star Wars prequels were in the works before Spider-Man started the trend. That being said, 95% of what takes place in movie-land as a result of those titles is absolute garbage. We obsess over nostalgia and fond memories and Hollywood knows that. So, Hollywood does what any wise business man would do. It takes a trip to the bank to cash in. What we get as a result is a half-baked, sloppy, vague homage to what used to be awesome. We get our fond memories of something ruined as movie-land whips up a giant, idiotic turd painted gold and tied in a ribbon in an attempt to reel in every demographic possible. While morons are talking about how hot that one chick is or how cool the explosions were, the fans who loved the original content are having their memories raped and left for dead.
So when I hear that my favorite comic book/movie/book is being made into a film, I no longer get excited. I simply become indifferent. I know that chances are they’ll turn it into a vague, pandering, dumbed-down tale with no heart. Sometimes, I’m proven wrong and I’m given hope. Usually, however, I’m not.
There are, of course, exceptions. Superman Returns was okay. Not a studio popcorn fest and definitely lacking in the action department, but a creative and visually awesome take on an American myth. The new Batman films are pretty cool and Lord of the Rings is awesome.
So what makes those different? Simple. Not just fanboys know what they are. Everybody does. Even when the current remakes and sequels trend dies, there will still be Batman and Superman movies. There always have been. Always will be.
In closing, the truth is that as much as I complain about all of the nonsense, I asked for it. WE asked for it. Did we really need a movie about giant cars fighting each other? Probably not. I’m to blame. So are you. We’re the ones who stood at the bus stop with our buddies talking about how awesome an X-Men movie would be. We’re the geeks who go to those awful Harry Potter movies even though we know they suck just because we like the books so much. We’re the ones who will see Indiana Jones 5, knowing it will probably suck, just because we know how awesome he used to be. We’re the ones who did all of this. Us. The self-obsessed generation that thinks that if it happened in the 80’s, it must have been awesome. Can you really blame Hollywood for cashing in on it? Not at all.
We fanboys have an enormous influence over Hollywood right now and we use it to remake and rehash and to examine our childhoods when instead, we should be going forward. Shame on us. Shame on the fanboys. It’s time to quit looking back. Time to start creating new memories for new generations, rather than selfishly obsessing over our own.
Fanboy and Fangirls: It’s time to grow up.