I saw a post last week which said there would be eight – yes eight – superhero movies coming out in 2016. I am old enough to remember when the first modern Batman film (with Michael Keaton) came out in 1989, and how excited the audience was, because film production had evolved to where we got to see the main character portrayed in a believable way. No shtick, no schlock, just a well done production that kept the audience engaged inside the “bat-verse.”
Believability was always my watchword when viewing a film based on a comic book super hero. (“Suspension of disbelief” is the technical phrase psychologists use.) If the writing, visual effects, directing and acting all kept me in the story, all was well. Growing up in the 70s, such fare was not guaranteed. There were rather weak attempts at prime time super hero entertainment – Spider Man with Nicholas Hammond comes to mind – and some that were more successful, such as The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby. The big limitations were costuming and special/visual effects. If the overall effort came off as cheesy, the program in question died a slow, painful death.
Comic book adaptations began to change for the better with Superman in 1978. The effects people managed to make Superman’s flight look real on the big screen, which was huge. Unfortunately, like the Batman films of the 90s, the Superman scripts got cheesier, not better, and the series withered on the vine. Believability had taken a torpedo amidships, and went to the bottom with all hands.
When the X-Men (2000) came out, I remembered what had happened to the Bat and Supes, and was not willing to go to the theater to watch another iconic set of characters get trashed by inept film makers. Even with Patrick Stewart and Halle Barry in the cast, I had doubts. The film was a commercial success, which led to X2 and X3, as well as two really good Spider Man adaptations. Daredevil was panned – rather unfairly in my opinion – but I was pleased, as a former comic reader, that film makers as a whole were finally getting it right. Mostly.
When Iron Man (2008) came out, I was again skeptical. Money was tight, thanks to the Great Recession, so we had to wait for the film to come out on DVD. It was worth the wait, and is the best adaptation of that series. When Captain America: The First Avenger came out, I had to pass. Cap was my all-time favorite, and I could not bear the thought of watching a bad adaptation on screen, so we waited for the DVD. Big mistake on my part. BEST MARVEL FILM EVER. My wife actually liked it more than I did, in spite of the fact that she knew nothing of the title character. The commercial success of The Avengers was the icing on the cake. There was a market for comic book hero movies, and it was a big one.
Now we have Arrow, The Flash, Gotham, Agents of Shield, Daredevil and Jessica Jones on television, and the aforementioned eight movies coming this year. Some critics wonder if this is symptomatic of too much of a good thing. Some, like Spielberg, say that the comic book superhero movie will go the way of the western. All I know is, the audience is getting good stories told in a believable way. As long as that trend continues, I think comic book movies are here to stay.
So what do you think?