Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wearing the Reboots: Reinventing Superhero Movies

Ever since (at least in my case) the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, all I seem to be hearing is how a bunch of "reboot" films are coming down the pike. I don't mean new films that haven't been done before such as Iron Man or the upcoming Thor and Captain America films. I'm talking about superhero/fantasy films that have already been done and either flopped or have gotten too old and need to be updated (speaking of Star Trek).

Superman seems to fall into both categories. The original film starring Christopher Reeve was made in 1978, which in terms of the superhero/fantasy genre is eons ago. While the first film was revolutionary for its time and reasonably watchable (minus the "Can you read my mind" sequence), each successive film became more campy and, dare I say it, dull (and I know I'm going to get hate comments for that). Warner Bros didn't exactly try for a reboot with Superman Returns (2008), but rather described events that should fit between Superman II and Superman III. The general consensus is that the Brandon Routh rendition of Superman was ghastly. I haven't been able to force myself to watch it after my first viewing.

The Smallville TV series by comparision, has been wildly successful. It departs significantly from the established Superman canon, but has managed to incorporate significant elements from the Reeve film series lore and the extremely large body of comic book content (JLA, JSA, the Martian Manhunter, the Phantom Zone, and on and on and...). All and all, Smallville is extremely entertaining and Tom Welling is a delight to watch as Clark Kent pre-Superman. The problem is, I can never figure out how Welling's Clark will ever pull off the transition to the costumed Superman. Lex Luthor knows his face so well (being such good buds for years before having their falling out), that a little thing like wearing glasses won't prevent him from figuring out that Clark is the guy wearing the big red cape. For that reason, Smallville has to die so Superman can be born, or reborn.

Enter the numerous rumors and half stories about a Superman reboot film with Christopher Nolan at least offering some creative assistance. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past five years, you've most likely seen Nolan's landmark Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) films. While Batman Begins was incredibly good, The Dark Knight virtually blew my socks off, it was that much better (and a sequel as well). If Nolan can do for the Superman film franchise what he did for Batman (and the prior Batman series launched by Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader just didn't "do it" for me), then the Superman reboot is in very good hands. I feel secure.

Daredevil (2003). What can I say. It's watchable and I've seen it more than once (better than Superman Returns, apparently). Ben Afflick is hardly my favorite actor, but the film was more or less true to canon and the "radar sense" effects were awesome. However, there's a reason why no one has made "Daredevil II, III, and so on". It wasn't particularly good. Better casting would have helped. In addition to Afflick not being a good model for Matt Murdock/Daredevil, who in their right mind would consider Jennifer Garner as a woman born and raised in Greece and a master assassin? Not me. Why anyone bothered to do an Elektra (2005) spin off is beyond me. Total waste of money. Rumor has it that a Daredevil Reboot is on the way, but nothing is confirmed.

Actually, I should probably mention that Ang Lee's rather lackluster Hulk (2003) film (and 2003 doesn't seem to be a good year for superhero films) was already rebooted as The Incredible Hulk, a much better film thanks to the stellar acting and multiple uncredited re-writes of the exceedingly talented Edward Norton. It was still not well received, but I think it did well enough to warrant a sequel and even if that doesn't happen, the Hulk should make an appearence in the upcoming Avengers (2012) film. After all, the reason the Avengers became a team in the first place was to stop the Hulk (though it was really a ruse by Thor's half brother Loki to "get" Thor).

X-Men First Class isn't exactly a reboot but more of a prequel. The original X-Men film trilogy was made between 2000 and 2006 and showed the original team as rather long in the tooth to be students. Hank McCoy (the Beast) had already left the "nest" and both Scott (Cyclops) and Jean (Marvel Girl/Phoenix) were teachers. The prequel gives us an opportunity to see what the team was like when Professor X first formed them. Of course, the timeline departs significantly from the comic book canon since Warren (Angel) first meets the X-Men in The Last Stand film in 2006 and Bobby (Iceman) only finally figures how to "ice up" in that same film. Nevertheless, exploring the early days of Xavier's school promises to be a treat.

The Fantastic Four (2005) is in desperate need of a reboot. Although someone thought the storyline and cast deserved a sequel, both films quite frankly sucked. Someone should tell the film makers that, just because modern special effects including CGI make it possible to create realistic stretching, flaming, and rock-skinned Thing images, it doesn't mean the film will automatically be good. Also, as much as I admire Jessica Alba's body, the comic book version of Sue Richards never depicted her as an air-headed blonde (Alba's chronic role, whether she means it to be or not) with almost no clothes on.

A Fantastic Four reboot is also confirmed but no timeline has been set. I hope Marvel/Disney doesn't screw this one up. The FF was one of my favorite comics as a kid and there's a vast wealth of sagas that could be adapted to make excellent films. Now all someone has to do is create the right team to build on what's already there and make a movie to be proud of.

While the Spider-Man (2002) films starring Toby Maguire were generally good, it was decided to "take it back to formula" by doing a complete reboot of the film franchise. What was handled well before can only (hopefully) be handled well again...and perhaps improved upon. Word on the street has it that the reboot will be based more on the Ultimate Spider-Man incarnation rather than the original canon, but I'd like to see a more Steve Ditko look, which tended to be darker and more mysterious than later versions of ol' webhead.

What else? Should I mention the horrible Supergirl (1984) film? What about Swamp Thing (1982) or (yuk) Catwoman (2004)? Not that Halle Berry isn't both beautiful and talented, but this was not the film for her.

DC Comics has largely had its successes on the silver screen thanks to Superman and Batman. Other DC character films were of lesser value or no value at all. I doubt anyone is dying to see either of the aforementioned movies rebooted in any sense. If we see Catwoman again, let her be within the context of a Batman film.

Marvel has only come to the silver screen in the last decade or so. That's not absolutely true, but you have to go back a ways (like 1944) to see the original Captain America movie serial. Hardly modern film quality in any sense, but fun if you like the history of film. Wikipedia has a list (not complete) of superhero films if you're interested.

Departing from reboots, and besides the new Marvel Avengers-related films, DC is going to be coming out with a series of new movies including Green Lantern and The Flash, so can Aquaman, Hawkman, the Atom, and Wonder Woman be far behind (and I still think, at least physically, Megan Fox would make a great Wonder Woman)? Actually, we've seen at least some of these characters in the Smallville TV series, and it was really fun to have them included in the mix. I should also mention The Flash TV series (1990) which starred John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen. I thought it was done well, with just a bit of an art deco feel. Mark Hamill even got in on the fun playing one of the classic Flash arch-foes, The Trickster.

What superhero films would I like to see made? Ones based on the characters I just mentioned in the previous paragraph would be great, but of course, they have to be handled well. A lousy film is worse than no film at all (and I could have lived without seeing the Fantastic Four dragged through the mud by the last two filmed versions).

I often wonder how Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner would look like on the big screen (now in 3D). He was originally created in the late 1930s and reintroduced as one of the early anti-heroes/villains battling the Fantastic Four. He also fought the Nazis and Japanese during World War II (he's rather long lived), so there's a Captain America tie in.

If you're into the mystical, Doctor Strange would be an interesting choice. Film makers could explore darker and more occult themes than would be possible for most other comic book characters but would need to avoid the temptation to turn the movie into a horror film.

If I missed any candidates for superhero reboots or "wish list" films, let me know. I can always include your ideas into a "part 2" blog.

Addendum: The latest quote from Chris Nolan about the Superman reboot.

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