Why are there so many bad superhero movies?
I’ve gone back and forth so many times trying to figure out what to write this week. I’ve thought about writing on The Avengers, origins, sequels, and probably a half dozen topics that I’ve since forgotten about. I finally settled on this topic, why are there so many bad superhero movies? There are lots of great superhero comic books, and comic books are a visual medium, so you would think that moving from one visual medium to another would be easier than say adapting a novel, right? And yet it was so easy to come up with a list of the 33 worst superhero movies, and I can probably think of a dozen high profile movies that didn’t even make that list. The number of really great superhero movies, there are probably only a couple dozen or so, and many of those have only been made in the past few years.
One thing I think is a big trap that a lot of superhero movies fall into is that they often want to have a lot of special effects to cover the “super” portion of the superhero. The problem is that the effects are often trying to play catch up with what the filmmakers want them to do, and the result is that in the bad movies, the special effects look worse than they should. A good example of the opposite of this is Chronicle. One of the standout scenes in that movie is the flying scenes which are very understated and use what appear to be minimal effects, and yet they come off looking fantastic. There are dozens of examples of what not to do and I think the best example is when CGI had advanced just far enough that filmmakers thought they could start doing actor replacement effects, but the problem is that they started too soon and the difference between a real actor doing a stunt and a CGI actor doing a stunt was still leaps and bounds apart and it looked awful. This can especially be seen in Catwoman with Halle Berry. Another big issue that’s coming into play right now is when 3D effects are tacked onto a finished movie to try and garner a few extra million out of its box office. When the 3D is being added afterwards it can often make a film look worse than it should.
Another big misstep in a superhero movie is to add comedy in all the wrong places. I enjoy comedies, and comic relief can be used to good measure in a superhero movie. The first Superman movie had many scenes that made me laugh, Hancock had a lot of scenes that made me laugh, but… and it’s hard to explain this effectively, but it needs to be done in the right tone. If the superhero, or at least the superhero’s secret identity is the butt of the joke, it still needs to have the right amount of context and it shouldn’t be belittling the hero. The best example of humor used poorly in a movie is in Spiderman 3 when Peter Parker goes “dark” or “emo” as many people like to put it. During that entire sequence, Peter Parker is being the butt of the joke and it sets the absolute wrong tone for him as a character. It makes the entire danger of the symbiote become more ineffectual. Another example that I had an issue with was the beginning of Superman 2. It starts out with a big comedy of errors with a Rube Goldberg-esque chain of pratfalls and physical humor that absolutely sets the wrong tone for a Superman movie.
The next thing is the disconnect between the creators and the executives. I think this is likely the cause for many of the big budget superhero movie failures. When a movie studio decides to make a superhero or a comic book into a tentpole movie because that’s what the fad is as the moment or whatever the reason is at the time. The executives make the choices for the name stars that are chosen for the audience they can bring to the theaters, and the writers and directors are brought in because they are willing to put up with the executives. There is often no one person that you could clearly point to that came up with the unifying concept of the movie. Instead, everyone had their hand in the cookie jar trying to make what they worked on better, or at least make what they worked on fit with what they were told by the execs. In the end it turns out to be a big mess with no unifying concept, changes that were made for no obvious reason, actors that make questionable choices, even questionable choices about the actors themselves. I would guess that the recent Green Lantern fell into several of these pitfalls.
On the other end of the spectrum, it seems that the superhero movie is often the one with the budget is too small for what it needs, or the budget gets cut out from under them. Superman IV had its budget cut out from under them, even the recent Ghost Rider 2 had its budget cut from 100+ million down to 75 million, there’s plenty of other examples of the superhero movie failing because the budget was smaller than it needed to be. In other types of movies it can often be a blessing of hard work and ingenuity, but for a superhero movie it can much more often be the kiss of death, or at the very least the final nail in the coffin of a destined to be bad movie. There are so many ways that the superhero movie can go wrong, it makes it that much more special when one gets it right. Over the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing The Green Hornet, Robocop, and I think one other gun toting superhero movie before beginning prepwork to get ready for the Avengers. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.