Robot 6

Quote of the day | What superhero movies and superhero video games have in common

Honestly, most comic book movies feel like most tie-in-videogames do. Those things get made to service the trademark. They aren’t very good games. There’s nothing amazing going on in innovation or gameplay. They’re cool because you get to roleplay Batman kicking skulls in or the like. I’m sure they’re entertaining enough, but they’re not memorable above and beyond that.

Strangeways writer (and Robot 6 veteran) Matt Maxwell, with a comparison that really clarified a lot of things for me about the pleasures and disappointments of superhero movies. Fatherhood has done to my movie-going time what I do to about 20 diapers a day and thrown it right in the garbage, but I’ve looked forward to and seen a lot of these flicks over the years, and on an alternate Earth I’d have seen two more already this summer in the form of Thor and X-Men: First Class, with another two, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger soon to join them. I’ve disliked many of them. I’ve liked some of them. I’ve liked a handful — the Marvel Studios suite of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 — well enough to own them on DVD. But with the exception of the first Tim Burton Batman movie, I’ve never seen one that offers the never-seen-that-before sensation that superhero comics still regularly afford you, if you know where to look.

I enjoy the Iron Man films’ use of crackling banter as connective tissue. I’ve seen memorable action sequences in Incredible Hulk and X-Men and Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight, the latter of which also boasts a for-the-ages performance and villain. But only that first Burton Batman (the second took things too far into Burton’s self-indulgent Hot Topic bubble world) had a sense of style — an extra element, an x-factor, a weirdness, something that didn’t need to be there just to sell the characters to a wide demographic and deliver the basic popcorn-movie beats. (Ang Lee and Bryan Singer gave it a shot with the Hulk and Superman, but any idiosyncratic flair they might have brought to the material was crushed under the weight of leaden self-seriousness.) The comparison with superhero movie tie-in video games, where the selling point is generally just “hey, you can play as Captain Character!”, is dead-on. “Hey, it’s Captain Character up on the screen, surrounded by tens of millions of dollars in special effects and publicity and famous actors’ salaries!” That’s terrific, but I’ll tell you what: As soon as one of these things pushes the boundaries of even just popular English-language action-adventure filmmaking the way comparable efforts from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, George Miller, James Cameron, John McTiernan, the Wachowski Brothers, and Peter Jackson have done, gimme a call.

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11 Comments

He’s right: most superhero movies succeed only on that very superficial level of just being psyched to see your favorite fictional characters/icons on a big screen, in the same way that video game adaptations of comics books are only good for the minor kick you get out of playing as a character you’ve always liked.

If actually making a good movie were the top priority and maintaining the licensed trademark was the second priority, comic book movies would be worth REMEMBERING and loving, not just idly watching. This is why Chris Nolan’s work on the latest Batman series to be a minor miracle. To make good movies that are also comic book movies instead of just comic book movies that are decent incidentally is really rare.

Lot of good comments here, both Maxwell’s and yours. I haven’t felt compelled to see any of the superhero films since the first X-Men movie (and yet I, too, have continued to feel like the ’89 Batman film is worth an occasional rewatching). I’ve given thought to my reasons, but I really like the video game analogy.

The main thing they have in common is, they make money. Unlike the comics.

Batman Arkham Asylum was an exemplary with respect to game design. The boss fights were simplistic, but the level design and the combat are some of the best written ever.

Mr. Maxwell is talking out of his ass.

My friends often ask me, “Joe, you read so many comics, why don’t you watch comic movies?” To which I reply, “You watch so many movies based on comics, why don’t you actually read the comics?” Lots of people don’t seem to understand that it’s the medium that I’m interested in.

Sean T. Collins

June 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

It’s a little much to say someone’s talking out of their ass when all you’ve got in your favor is the exception that proves the rule, Mudassir. The reason everyone flipped for Arkham Asylum is precisely because it was so much better than decades’ worth of lousy ones, as far as I can gather. (My money’s still on Lego Batman, though.)

@sean:
Spider-Man 2. It was based on a movie based on a comic. One of my favorite games of all time. Played before I was into comics. X-men legends/Marvel Ultimate Alliance, great hack and slash. Marvel vs Capcom series, each iteration breaking genre boundaries. The NES Batman game, Snes/Genesis Batman & Robin. And while not being based on a real comic book, Comix Zone. That’s just off tje top of my head. Sure, there are terrible comic book games, but until recently when cost became prohibitive, most video games released were crap. Hell look at 80% of Nintendo Wii library.

But I mention AA because it was referenced to in that quote. The writer had no idea what the game was about. Video games take time and money to produce and most licensed game are not allowed those liberties. Comparing them to movies is unfair because movies get the big budgets, the name stars and MORE development time.

Also, the Burton Batman were stylish indeed, but terrible. And they were just as devoid of personality as Ghost Rider. I wonder what you guys would have thought if Mario Puzo’s original draft for Superman was filmed?

Sean, I think you need to play more Marvel vs. Capcom. :)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

June 13, 2011 at 6:24 pm

X-Men 2 and Batman Begins hit the level of excitement for me that Batman hit me with as a kid, in a way other films have failed to do.
Iron Man would have made the list, but perhaps unfairly to the original, Iron Man 2 was so bad that it’s tainted my love for it. That said, Iron Man 2 did capture the feel of corporate comics at their worst – the plot was muddled and slowly paced, constantly tripped up by the need to launch stories for other films – it’s eye so on the ‘big story’, that it forgot to make an enjoyable story of it’s own.

I’ve also got to agree with Mudassir – The Spider-Man 2 game was great, if oddly overlooked.
That was the game that made me wonder why we bothered with the comics, films and cartoons – with Spider-Man 2, it felt like I was Spider-Man, in an adventure.
I’d put it on par with, if not above, Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Yeah….no. This comparison doesn’t hold water. Super-hero video games are known community wide to be deliriously horrible when held up against even the most humble of action-adventure titles. Super hero movies are not as bad (and notthought of generally as being as bad) as what passes for typical action/adventure movies — in fact, they’re usually among the best (if not THE best) option if you want that sort of thing for the year. So asking for RAIDERS level filmmaking from them is really unfair when they’re already batting above average (at least if you count the years since, let’s say, the first X-Men sequel).

The upcoming Neveldine/Taylor Ghost Rider gives me hope…

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