And then no doubt the cycle starts all over again with a million and one imitations.
Us comics fans have been spoiled in the past 10 years or so, ever since the first X-MEN film, when Hollywood (and moviegoers) started to take comic book movie franchises seriously. It helps that CGI and technical wizardry has come on leaps and bounds. A superhero film HAS to be a blockbusting summer tent-pole movie, and a superhero film HAS to have lots of special effects…but not necessarily a big name star – otherwise all that moviegoers will see is basically exactly how superhero movies were treated in the nineties – with derision. But even with CGI and loads of money, a superhero film HAS to have one more thing if it’s going to compete with some of the genre’s best efforts (Spider-Man 1&2, X-MEN 1&2, Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Dark Knight to name a few)………and that, my friends, is an intelligent treatment of the idea.
This, my friends, is imagination version 2.0.
I have been reading comic books since I was about 12 and properly collecting since I was around 14. I immersed myself in the Marvel and DC Comics worlds growing up, and still regularly keep my hand in – even if I can no longer afford the extortionate prices of a monthly. A lot of my own writing (if you know where to look) is directly associated to my mind’s mixture of all that I have learned and loved in comics. and ‘my kind’ of movie. The three subjects that I know most about in all the world are Star Wars, James Bond films and superheroes. I mean, if I was on Mastermind I would totally ace my specialised subject. I reckon I’d probably score about a million or something, but anyway….due to my ploughing of back issues, trade paperbacks, graphic novels and so on and so forth ADDED to my love of films and TV and sci-fi for a LONG time the world’s were separated. The world of the superhero was always one that had tantalised Hollywood, and there was a general feeling that doing a decent superhero film was impossible – and this was BEFORE the internet kicked off and its notorious armies of fanboys and girls threatened to petrol bomb Ang Lee’s house.
If we were to trace the comic book movie’s recent success from today to when Hollywood has at last got things right, the obvious choice might be the first SUPERMAN film with Christopher Reeve in 1978 – but I would disagree. One might also suggest the Tim Burton BATMAN movie in 1989 had a great deal of input, but again, I would disagree. Both those franchises (the first 2 films at least) were incredibly ground-breaking both in their subject matter, their popularity, their exposure and general ‘coolness’, however…both of them suffered from sequels that only served to tarnish the original’s success (yes, I am looking at you, SUPERMAN IV THE QUEST FOR PEACE) and both ended up severely damaging not only their own franchise, but the whole concept of a superhero movie that was not either ridiculed by the press, went straight to VHS/DVD or sincerely apologised for.
Just as a film like ‘Star Wars’ birthed a slew of science fiction counterfeit copycats in the late 70’s, so too did Burton’s BATMAN in the late 80’s/early 90s’. In movies, TV (and even in comics themselves!) all of a sudden dark and broody heroes were all the rage, wearing muscle-moulded costumes that (frankly) sucked big time. Superheroes became a hot property on the back of BATMAN. But they lacked substance. And eventually, people got bored of Danny Elfman soundtracks and gravelly-voiced heroes of the night and so Hollywood looked elsewhere.
Actually it looked inward….to THE MATRIX, where you could make a sense-twisting action movie grounded firmly in a world not reliant on logic.
The 1990’s saw Marvel and DC (but mostly Marvel) break out a new generation of hot artists and they stuck them on their biggest titles and saw the sales go through the roof. Jim Lee on X-Men, Whilce Portacio on Uncanny X-Men, Rob Liefeld on X-Force, Todd McFarlane on Spider-Man – to name but a few). Marvel were churning out gritty, street-level heroes by the bucket-load completely blind to the irony of it all.
Comics inspire movies and TV that then go on to influence the comic book.
But in my mind it is clear that if it wasn’t for the X-MEN movie and Bryan Singer (specifically) there would have been no Ang Lee HULK, no Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN and (crucially) no X-MEN 2 – in my opinion THE best superhero movie of All Time. And then if there’s no SPIDER-MAN there would have been no SUPERMAN RETURNS, BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT, WATCHMEN, IRON MAN, KICK-ASS, no THOR, no GREEN LANTERN and definitely no AVENGERS…………and that’s not even including all the non-superhero movies inspired from comic book material AMERICAN SPLENDOR, 300, SIN CITY, SCOTT PILGRIM, ROAD TO PERDITION and on and on and on….you’d probably be amazed what films you love that have been sourced from comic books.
So that is why, in my humble yet incredibly well-read opinion, the first X-MEN movie was a catalyst that somehow convinced the normal, everyday Mr and Mrs Joe Public that it was OKAY to like superhero films. They weren’t for kids. This ain’t the frickin’ Power Rangers, dude! Superhero movies BELONG out there. Not every superhero movie is BATMAN AND ROBIN. They can be wild, they can be headfucking, they can be visceral, cerebral, surreal and they can be fantastic – a celebration of imagination, not something that has to be ‘grown out of’ when we become adults. Think TOY STORY…..now, those movies appeal to both adults and kids alike. The balance is superb, and no other movie series has quite managed to juggle the ages quite so successfully.
But THAT is a story for another time.