Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"What? He was freaking me out!" and Other Such Nonsense

When I first saw The Green Lantern trailer I just shook my head in utter disappointment and disgust. Since then, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the movie, I've admitted to myself that I will most certainly go to see it in theaters. I will not go see it because I think it will be good, however.

I have liked comics, comic book movies, and the like for the entirety of my conscious life, but with Green Lantern, the dismal Thor, the irritatingly promising Captain America, The Dark Knight Rises, Superman: Man of Steel, The Avengers, The Justice League, the Spiderman reboot which will spawn several sequels, the DareDevil reboot that could spawn several sequels, the inevitable Iron Man 3, sequels to The Avengers movies, sequels to The Justice League movies, a Wonder Woman television series, The Cape (which disintegrated into awfulness after three episodes), and the Batman reboot set to occur once Chris Nolan forfeits the director's chair which will then spawn several sequels, I've come to lose hope, not only for comic books, comic book movies, movies in general, originality, quality, but in the human race itself. There are, very simply, too many comic book movies. I honestly do not care if every single one of those franchises manages to create a variety of excellent and entertaining movies. We, the people, need more than comic book movies. While there certainly are other sorts of movies available, one would be hard-pressed to find other genres producing anything worthwhile either. It's frustrating, as a human let alone a film-lover, that the only somewhat intriguing or attention-getting movies that keep coming out are from one very narrow, very specific genre.

How I feel about the latest Green Lantern trailer is the epitome of how I feel about the genre, and how I'll likely feel about the movie. The beginning of the trailer is impressive. It looks like something new and alien and striking, and it's clearly "serious". Then the lovable, devil-may-care, wise-crackin' protagonist starts talking to a lantern in an "amusing" fashion, and suddenly my heart sinks. Do people actual laugh at this? I ask. Why must he do this? I ask. Do people ever say these things in reality? I ask. Perhaps they do, but do they say them in this way? I ask. Why is every one of these movies the same? I ask. And then there are pretty lights and explosions and I get a little excited again and suspend my disbelief and am left feeling hopeful. Then there's more disheartening stupidity, then more "goodness", and then I am left feeling as though, finally, I'm saturated by the whole of it, and I'm bored with this emotional & mental tug of war.

I just finished watching Tron: Legacy, quite possibly one of the biggest disappointments I've ever encountered, and it aided me in realizing how utterly disgusted and exhausted I am by big budget CGI effects driven "action" fanboy pandering "films". There's a point in Tron where the good guys are fighting the bad guys in a dogfight, swirling around shooting digital bullets at each other. The main character says things like "They're coming!" or "Roll!" and the lead female character goes "Woooo!" as the villain says something like "I have you now" and the wise older father figure pushes the plot forward. I realized, that not only have I witnessed this exact scene a thousand times, but that far too many action movies have followed this exact same pattern, leading to this exact same sequence. And realizing this left me feeling as though nothing happened. And nothing does happen in Tron: Legacy. Nothing happens in so many of these movies now, because for all their "action" and "production value" I am never once moved, and I never once see something that I have not seen before. There isn't even the imprint of a perspective, something honest from a human's creative soul, tweaking a narrative they've always loved, offering up their touch that makes it different.

I love the things that have made movies like Thor, Tron, and Avatar the norm. You would think this would be a paradise for me, being that I love old-fashioned adventure tales and pretty flashing blue and red lights and big weird-looking monsters that fly. But it's not. These are dark times, my friends, and they are dark because the things which have provided me joy are being produced with the speed and efficiency of toys on an assembly line. The genre has been robbed of its soul, of its wonder, of its fun, and, ironically, of its actual quality.

Yet another comic book movie. Okay. So?

It's to the point where all one can do is hope for a comic book movie about their favorite hero. That will be the only thing unique about any of these movies, the fact that they star different super heroes. But even that is going to be taken away because the studios know how desperately we, "the people", want our cross-over fangasm in the form of The Avengers and The Justice League.

The reason I don't care if any of these movies are good, is because a "good comic book" movie is going to become rather easy to come across. It used to be a special thing because it rarely happened. The original Superman, Batman (1989), Spiderman 1 & 2, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass are rare gems deserving of their mantle and worthy of inspiring others. What made them special was the fact that they were made by talented, intelligent people who knew what they were doing and had an actual point of view. But now, with the success of The Dark Knight, it's as though the studios have caught on. They've realized the following: Hey...let's make these movies...good! It's not the honest version of the revelation our society so sorely needs; that being the very logical and simple recognition of actual quality's worth. It's the recognition of quality's ability to sell.

"Good", which can be used to describe the first Iron Man, is a perfect example of the studios and the culture recognizing how "quality" can sell. And so adjectives like "dark" and "serious" get tossed around and the market gets flooded with a stream of "good" comic book movies or "good" sci-fi actions movies like Cowboys vs. Aliens, Battle: LA, and Super 8. The Green Lantern has the potential to be good if it emulates much of the tone in this latest trailer...but will that make it unique. Captain America has the potential to be good based on its trailer...but will that set it apart. The Spiderman reboot is something I'm actually excited for and it could potentially be better than the originals...but in what way does that make it special? It's simply another good comic book movie.

It used to be a rare and wonderful occurrence for there to be a good comic book movie, to the point where even an average one like Iron Man or Iron Man 2 could be called "good". The Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America simply have to be not terrible for them to be considered "good" in the same way Iron Man is considered good. With enough stars, enough production value, and enough adherence to the source material, any of these "comics" can be called "good".

In fact, if a comic book movie is even remotely good or has anything of quality about it, we tend to believe it's better than it actually is. The perfect example of this is The Dark Knight.

Have you watched The Dark Knight lately? I love The Dark Knight...but it's not the cleanest movie ever made. It's not There Will Be Blood. It's not The Godfather. It's not even Heat. It's legitimately good, but if it weren't a Batman movie people would notice the disorganization of the plot, characters, and pacing and not give these poor qualities a free pass. If it weren't a comic book movie people would notice the bad acting of all the secondary characters, the heavy handed high-school level moral lessons taught to us by unnamed and uninteresting ferry pedestrians. If it weren't a comic book movie people would wonder why there's an obnoxious Swat team member saying unrealistic things as his fellow cops die before his eyes in a fiery blaze of helicopter wreckage. If it weren't a comic book movie people would revile the character who discovers Batman's identity. If it weren't a comic book movie people would think The Dark Knight is a disjointed mess fluctuating between confusing quality and odd choices in voice-acting, editing, and writing. But it's a Batman movie and it has some great performances by a few people, some great and intelligent dialogue, and one good action sequence...and so it is considered one of the best movies ever made by many.

I fear the time when "quality" becomes the standard practice and we are given a series of Iron Mans, Watchmens, Trons, and Star Treks, movies that I shouldn't call "bad" because I recognize a certain level of craft...but there's just something about them that rubs me the wrong way. It's as though a corporation is licensing "good" and "serious" and "dark" and pumping out a product. It's not staggering and remarkable in its ingenuity, but it's just good enough for us to not complain and not notice what's going on.

This numbs a creative mind. It dumbs a society. And it's all about to get very, very boring for a lot of people who desire a bit of spice, a bit of variety, a bit of originality in their entertainment lives. The things we love are being manipulated and twisted and exploited in the subtlest, most intelligent fashion yet, and many fans are being sold on this process. It's not sustainable, however. Eventually people will tire of this and something new or something old will take its place.

But, I never actually explained why I'll go see The Green Lantern. My reasoning is that of a DC comics fan, and if The Green Lantern was the only comic book movie coming out this year and for a while, I would feel there's nothing wrong with my reasoning. I would feel it's perfectly fine to support the brand you love or the genre you love, take a chance on something being awful, if there weren't so many of these movies coming out.

DC Comics has not been as successful as Marvel in cinema. Successful is a relative term, however, and in this case it's strictly referring to finances. In terms of actual quality, has Marvel ever produced a film that is as good as the original Superman or the original Batman, not even mentioning The Dark Knight?

I like the story of The Green Lantern and I want to see DC have one of their only other good comics brought to life. And so, with the hopes of a fan, I will see it strictly for that purpose. There's nothing wrong with that, but there definitely seems like there's something wrong with it based on my lashing of comic book movies in the previous paragraphs. I'm made to seem a hypocrite simply because there are so many comic book movies coming out.

What I believe is needed for things to get better is for people like myself, who are typically excited by the prospect of any comic book movie, to simply refuse to pay and see them in the theater. I encourage us to view them and formulate our opinions of them, but to do so without spending money on them. I would be a hypocrite if I went to see Thor, Captain America and every other comic book movie that came out. But I will not pay for Thor or Captain America or Iron Man 3, or The Avengers or a host of others. I will only pay to see The Green Lantern this year. I will pay to see The Spiderman reboot. I will pay to see The Dark Knight Rises. I will pay to see the Superman reboot. I will pay to see The Batman reboot. The only reason I'll pay to see these particular comic book movies is because of the promise of actual quality as a result of their lead characters, and their track record. I'll pay to see them for the same reason I'd pay to see The Tree of Life, the prospect of insight, entertainment, and joy. I refuse to pay for Thor for the same reason I refuse to pay for Fast Five. But where I would never actually consider ever paying for Fast Five, I typically would consider paying for Thor simply because it's a comic book movie and I'm a comics fan. This is the sort of thinking that must cease.

If you really love Thor and you're being honest and you actually think it looks good based on the clips and trailers you've seen, then by all means, pay for it and enjoy yourself. But if you're going to see Thor, Captain America, or The Green Lantern simply because you love comics and you want to be able to talk about these movies with your buddies, not necessarily because you think they look excellent, then do not give away your money.

Let us be more selective, friends, and in so doing dictate what is created for us.



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