Words by Benjamin Pinsent
This summer was definitely a good summer to be a fan of films, but it was also a good summer to be a fan of comics. With Marvel’s Avengers released at the beginning of the period and The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan’s close to his magnum opus trilogy on Batman, released last month.
From 2008-present comic fandom has been blessed with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and X-men: First Class. With other good superhero films on the way this is truly the dawn of the dominance of costumed heroes in mainstream Hollywood.
However there was a pervious boom in superhero movies that were kicked off by Sam Rami’s Spiderman and the X-men films back in the early 2000’s, though these films were critically and financially successful, those films inspired by them proved that at times the comic book formula can fail.
So in a grounding process, let us take a look at the hero’s that fell by the cinematic wayside over the course of Hollywood’s attempts to bring the panel dwellers to the silver screen and those who rose to the top before falling further than any of the others.
The first great super hero was also the subject of the first great super hero movie; 1978’s Superman. Due to the massive success of DC’s poster boy in 1984 Tristar created a confused spin off, Supergirl,in the hope that they would get some of the profits that Superman was getting. With a bizarre premise and horrible pacing problems the film was a complete flop.
The only other note-worthy super hero film to be released in the period between the end of Superman and Marvel’s attempts in the early 2000s was 1989’s Batman. The final nail in the coffin for DC movie properties was 1997 Steel staring Shaquille O’Neal as a man who builds high tech armour to fight crime. With terrible effects and a lack lustre lead performance by the notoriously wooden Shaq the film did not live up to the hopes of the studio and was promptly forgotten.
Late 1990’s cinema showed more variety with Marvel throwing down their movie gauntlet with a trio that would rule the super hero blockbuster slot until Batman put the cape and cowl back on; Spiderman, The X-men and Blade. These successful movies would spawn better sequels and inspire other studios to adapt more of Marvel’s super hero roster. 2003 saw the release of Daredevil and a new strain of superhero movies were made: boring ones.
Despite action set pieces and big name stars attached, no one could make an interesting superhero film. 2004’s Blade Trinity saw a leading franchise’s reputation destroyed with another stupid plot and shoddy performances even from the series veteran Wesley Snipes. From 2005 till 2008 super hero movies where not taken seriously at all, and the only one that was, 2003’s Hulk directed by Ang Lee was considered boring despite detailed exploration into a character with a great a terrible power.
In 2005 Christopher Nolan had started his Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, that started DC comic movies on a new role, despite stumbles with Catwoman (so bad it sweeped the 2004 Razzie awards) and Superman Returns in 2006, Batman would lead DC into mainstream cultural relevance again. Marvel would catch up with the Avengers reinvigorating their movie properties and creating a revolutionary new interconnected movie universe.
There have been other comic movies that have proved as comics have been trying to prove for decades, super heroes aren’t just for children. Zack Snyder’s adaptation Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, showed the world that there where darker themes that can be explored in comics, while Frank Miller’s 300 and Sin City emphasised the relevance of the Graphic Novel, with violence and a very stylised visual design these films proved to be so popular Sin City is rumoured to have a sequel.
As it stands now Marvel are moving strong with more Iron man, Thor and Hulk movies confirmed or rumoured to be in the pipeline. There are also new properties that are being promised; Edgar Write has said that he is involved with an Ant-Man movie, there is an adaptation of a less well known property The Guardians of the Galaxy thought to be properly announced sometime next year. DC however seems to be in a rut, their only successful movie property is Batman and with that now drawn to a close there seems to be a rush to reach Marvels level of success and output; 2011’s Green Lantern was a critical and commercial disappointment. There are rumours of a Justice League movie but as they have been circulating for a while there may be no proof to it. A Flash film is rumoured to be on the slate as well as a Wonderwoman revivalas well as a Green Lantern reboot.
Whatever these creative power houses choose to do, one can only hope that the level of quality is maintained while the poorer efforts can learn from the major successes and the continued mainstream nature of nerddom continues.