The Column: Issue #25

Fri, September 19th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

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LET'S FACE IT: SUPERHERO FLICKS ARE SHITE!

Why do we always fall for it? Why do we always, always, always get so excited about these summer superhero movies when they're almost always invariably awful? Are we really that stupid? I'm afraid the answer is yes.

It all starts with the on-line gossip, bicker and banter between a million people who've just heard that some studio has acquired the rights to their favourite comic-book character. A few months of "Are you shitting me? Matt Damon could kick Ashton Kutcher's ass in this role" is replaced by the announcement of whoever they've just signed as the male lead and a whole new wave of postings about what a good/bad decision this was. Next up is the rumours about story content, the bicker and banter about how cool/shite these ideas sound, the eventual confirmation of the story content and then some dissection of what this all means for the franchise and/or our favourite comic-book characters.

Things often go a little quiet for a while and then we start to get some images released on the movie sites and so the bicker and banter begins all over again. Further story elements tend to get released and then, of course, we get the teaser trailer. This begins a whole new wave of speculation, only surpassed by the longer trailer that tends to be tied to a movie you don't really want to see or will spend the afternoon downloading with your friends. Now bear in mind that the longer trailer in a summer superhero movie is often the biggest selling point and so the most exciting twenty scenes of the movie is often cut and spliced into one hundred and twenty unmissable seconds and then the real public relations begins. We get the press junkets, the interviews, the advance screenings and the inside scoop. Only one thing is certain after anywhere from eighteen months to eighteen years of anticipation: When you see that character up there on the screen for the next hundred and twenty seven minutes there's a very good chance you're going to be disappointed.

What follows is an exercise in work-avoidance, a couple of days spent in the company of some dusty, old video-tapes when editors were leaving big fuck you kinda messages on my answering machine as they begged for late scripts, but this was important, dammit. Somebody had to give a retrospective of superhero movies from the last 62 years and it might as well be me.

ATOM MAN VS. SUPERMAN

I haven't seen this, but it's probably boring. They didn't have any money and Superman looks like your Dad in the stills. We didn't get the George Reeves show over here in Scotland and so I have no point of reference for the geezer as the mighty Man of Steel, but I'd bet my CGC copy of "The Titans" #1 that this isn't really going to be all that good. Same goes for "Superman and The Mole Men" and probably that old Captain America serial too. Shazam, on the other hand, completely excites me for some reason. I've only seen a clip or two, but it looks like someone came back from an alternate reality with thirteen or so episodes of superhero footage. If I weren't so lazy, I'd head into town and pick this up for a more comprehensive report.

BATMAN THE MOVIE

We loved it as kids, hated it as teenagers and love it all over again as adults. Watch it now and remember how angry you got when your uncles found it funny. Genius, sheer genius, and designed to look as cool in 2066 as it did one hundred years earlier.

WONDER WOMAN TV PILOT

Like Modesty Blaise, Danger Diabolik and other skin-tight adventures from the 60s and 70s, people only actually pretend to like this kind of stuff. It looks good on paper and a still or whatever might blow your mind for a few seconds, but an entire TV movie of this crap is like watching paint dry. Yes, like the real-life Princess Diana, Wonder Woman is the perfect character to appear as at a gay Halloween party and I'm genuinely amazed that Linda Carter was only twenty one when she first donned the tights, but as a live action feature this sucked Iraqi penis. The theme music is great, ditto the credit sequence, but ten minutes in and I was reading the newspaper, I'm afraid.

THE HULK TV MOVIE

I actually missed this when it first appeared and only just watched it this morning. Cruelly, this debuted on TV as the Nicholas Hammond TV movie aired in the UK's cinemas and I was torn between two worlds. I opted for Spidey because I figured the Hulk would be on every week and came home to a web of lies about The Hulk spun by my older brother to make me feel like I'd made a bad decision. Imagine my awe as a kid hearing about Hulk's fight with Thor, Reed Richards doing everything he could to help the poor guy after a knock-down battle with The Thing, etc, etc. I lamented my decision for years until I found out the whole thing was just a character drama with half a dozen TV actors. But what a character drama! I was surprised by how good this was and how well Kenneth Johnson's screenplay holds up. This predates "Superman The Movie" by a couple of years and was probably the first time we were lucky enough to have this shit played strayed. Superhero verisimilitude begins.

SPIDER-MAN: THE MOVIE

And then it disappears again. I must admit, as a seven year old I was obsessed by the Nicholas Hammond version of Spider-Man to the point where I even wore my yellow plastic Christmas present version of the costume under my street-clothes to school one time. The action seemed like John Woo, the budget seemed like "Pearl Harbor" and Nicholas Hammond brought Spidey to life like no-one else could manage. Of course, that was in 1978. When I watched it this morning, it was like watching the people making the Wonder Woman TV movie watching paint dry.

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE

It doesn't get much better than this. In fact, it doesn't get better than this at all. "Superman The Movie," I'm now secure enough to say, is my all-time favourite film. This flick is as crucial to both me and my eventual career decisions as the murder of Batman's parents was to a young Bruce Wayne. Reeve rocks. Brando rocks. Glenn Ford rocks. Even Hackman rocks. Otis, of course, sucks, but it's worth having him in "Superman" because it only makes "Deliverance" funnier next time you see it.

SUPERMAN 2, 3 and 4

You know the kind of person who likes "Superman 2" more than "Superman The Movie?" Well, they make me sick. Sure, "Superman 2" has more action, it's got super-villains that can kick Superman's ass and Superman even gets to shag Lois Lane, but it lacked heart at the time and even as a kid I hated all that slapstick shit. And, by Christ, how the action has dated. In era of fast cuts and Matrix-style slap-fests, I defy anyone to sit through the turgid, slow motion action sequence in Metropolis that seemed so nail-biting when you're ten. "Superman 2" was the John The Baptist for "Superman 3" and a horrible glimpse of what Richard Lester was about to do with tens of millions of dollars. The less said about "Superman 4," of course, the better.

SUPERGIRL

I got ten minutes into this and then just got bored. Sorry. For some reason, as a kid, I expected this to be really good which is just an indication of how stupid I was when I was thirteen.

THE BATMAN MOVIES

You know how "Batman and Robin" is the worst movie ever made? You're wrong. It's the first Batman movie that bites the big one. Yeah, the Tim Burton picture everybody's supposed to like and, frankly, that came as a bit of a shock. I remember being dazzled by this when I was eighteen and went back to see it four times in three weeks. Oddly, I hadn't seen it since and was quite excited about seeing it again, but oh fuck is this movie bad. Tim Burton's "Batman" is the one thing beneath Judas Iscariot at the very base of Hell and Michael Keaton is terrible as Batman. We all loved him at the time because he seemed to be taking it seriously, but watch it now and you'll realise he was just bored. The special effects are "Plan 9 From Outer Space" awful (check out the Batwing sequence, I dare you) and everything from Kim Basinger and Robert Wuhl to the paper-thin plot makes this by far the worst of the batch. Even the brilliant Nicholson is embarrassing, indulged to the point of tedium and clearly out of his mind on drugs the whole time. Please try to watch this again before you leap to your nearest message board to defend this gilded dog-turd of a movie. I swear you won't make it past the first ten minutes.

Daniel Waters (oh-so fashionable screenwriter of the time) does a really nice job on "Batman Returns," although the fact that it all takes place around one stage makes the whole enterprise oddly claustrophobic and not in a good way. "Batman Forever" is probably the best of the bunch, digital technology giving the movie the gloss and pizzaz it's lacking in story and, God bless him, Jim Carrey is nothing if not American's finest living actor. He doesn't just steal every scene he's in; he steals it, takes it home and sends a ransom note to the other actors. He's breath-taking as The Riddler and had Tommy Lee Jones not fucked up and delivered his lines as straight as they were I think this could have been quite close to very good indeed. The seeds are there, of course, for "Batman and Robin," but it's a waste of time to castigate that picture when we all know how shite it was anyway.

THE ROCKETEER, DICK TRACY and THE PHANTOM

I really see all three of these as one movie and it's not a good one. Each pic was kinda launched off the back of a successful Batman movie or whatever and quite rightly died a death at the box office. These were mercy kills and anyone who likes them is out of their minds. It's kind of depressing to hear people say how much they liked any of the above because they're clichd, lifeless and utterly charmless, patronising to an audience the studio people clearly had no respect for and think comic-book adaptations are merely an excuse to remove one dimension from celluloid. "The Rocketeer" had a likable lead and Jennifer Connelly's two original breasts going for it, but it's otherwise dull as dishwater. I like Warren Beatty, but hated "Dick Tracy" and "The Phantom" was, well, about as interesting as the comics. What more can I say?

THE X-MEN

Fuck, this was good. The ending looks like they ran out of money, but the first hour of this really, really surprisingly good. I'd forgotten what a find Jackman was and he lights up every scene he's in. If I'd had the cash, I'd have given them the fifty million bucks they clearly needed for a stronger ending because it would have been money well spent. Up there with "Superman" as one of the best we've ever had. McKellen is just fucking brilliant. I really liked this movie.

SPIDER-MAN

Again, I expected to hate this when I first saw it, but was surprised how much fun it was. The story was zero (what the fuck was the Goblin's plan?), but you somehow didn't care because it was just so bloody likeable. Like Jackman, Maguire was inspired casting and it's really just impossible not to like this movie. I like it, kids like it, everybody likes it. If you didn't enjoy this movie you're lying and just at that age where you're trying to appear cool and dismissive of such things.

DAREDEVIL

Oh dear. I wanted to like this. I really, really did, but watching this again was really a chore. After "X-Men" and Spidey, expectations were high and that opening weekend reflected how I was feeling too but, man, this movie didn't work for me at all. It almost did, though, and I feel that if it had been split up into the first two movies in a trilogy it would have been great. Just imagine all the flashback stuff as the first movie, "Man Without Fear" style, until Affleck slips on a less funny version of the costume in the final scene, paving the way for the sequel. The second movie is all the Elektra/Bullseye stuff and the third movie would be "Born Again." There's such a thing as loving a project too much and the writer/director gives this away when he says he was considering "Born Again" as the first movie. This, like so much of this film, is just an indication that he was too close to the material and writing exclusively for the small, established fan-base of Daredevil fans. It was funny seeing Joe Quesada as a rapist, though. That was worth the price of a DVD in itself.

X-MEN 2

Just when I was starting to worry, along comes the best sequel since "Godfather 2." I was talking to producer Tom DeSanto just before it opened and he was worried about "The Matrix," but I feel he kicked their ass in bullet-time. If I were honest, I'd say "X-Men 2" is the best superhero movie ever made, but "Superman" just has that childhood fixation for me that beats the "X-Men" every time. "Matrix Reloaded," by comparison, was the flattest flick of the summer as far as I'm concerned. The first movie cost half as much, but looked twice as expensive. It also took lots of complex ideas and made them very, very simple; the best bits of "The Invisibles" distilled down into mainstream brilliance. "Reloaded," on the other hand, took some very simple ideas and made them very dull and endlessly complicated. It took twenty years before George Lucas disappeared up his arse and made me hate something I loved as a kid. The Wachowki's Brothers managed to do this is just three. Well done, lads.

HULK

I don't know how I feel about "The Hulk." I was jet-lagged when I watched it in New York a few months ago and feel asleep a few times so it didn't seem overlong to me at all. In fact, it only lasted about sixty-five minutes and was mostly the Hulk fighting the army or something. With this in mind, I told everyone to go and see it when I got back home, but my little posse of six people accounted for 75% of the cinema on a Friday night. Yes, it was kinda boring, but also kinda good, too. Ironically, the brother who told me that the Fantastic Four was in the Hulk TV pilot was sitting beside me and he summed "The Hulk" up perfectly by saying it was a really smart, brilliantly made and complex movie done with such professionalism that he had almost no interest in it at all. Again, I think a little restructuring and it could have been the hit of the summer. I hesitate to say it, but I'd have made it less cerebral and juggled the acts around. Imagine the first forty five minutes was the first fifteen minutes, the second act being that amazing fight in the desert and the final act being a big, knock-down slap-fest with another big, Hulk-like creature. Everyone who went to see that movie both wanted and expected to see the Hulk kick some ass. I'm ashamed to say it, but that's what was missing from "The Hulk." Like all good comic-book movie junkies, I'm afraid I wandered out of "The Hulk" thinking about the "Punisher" trailer I saw before the main feature and, as you might expect, that's where the whole process begins anew.

Again, we've heard about the "Punisher" director, the cast, the storyline and now we're starting to see some stills from the movie itself. Again, the Internet is buzzing with the same bicker and banter as all the above pictures and I know for a fact that, despite the fact these movies have such a poor track record, I'll be first in the line when this fucking thing actually hits the cinemas.

Are we really this stupid? I'm afraid the answer is yes.

NEXT WEEK: Part Two of my superhero movie overview and a glimpse at some never-before-seen notes and comments from an upcoming book on Orson Welles and his proposed 1946 Batman picture. Oh, yes.

Visit Mark Millar on the Web at www.millarworld.biz and discuss this column on the MillarWorld forums.

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