Monday, June 1, 2015

Going Smaller Is The Way Forward - Why Most Superhero Movies Are Mediocre At Best


Paraphrasing Dwight D. Eisenhower on the military-industrial complex, every superhero film shot is a rom-com unmade, an indie un-financed, a female-led or original action film hurled in the trash to make way for putting together the $100-million-plus needed to make and the additional $50-million-plus to market a movie whose biggest purpose is reconstituting four-color characters who date back, in many cases, as far as…well, Dwight D. Eisenhower
 - James Rocchi, http://moviemezzanine.com/marvel-avengers-essay/


The quote you see above is taken from what I have told good ol' Peter earlier today is now my favoritest thing on the internet for the next five minutes. In it author James Rocchi talks about the modern superhero movie in such great lengths and about so many details that I won't take out the time to summarize it, so I highly recommend that you just read it for yourself.

Just ignore the first one okay?


The quote itself also illustrates the reason why I am so infatuated with shows like Arrow or Daredevil or The Flash or Agent Carter or Supergirl or any number of show that has premiered in the last few years or will premier except for Gotham and Agents of SHIELD because even I'm not that patient...
Point is, the modern superhero movie int he style of the Marvel Studios movies or the Warner Bros' DC movies are getting too expensive to be worth it. Creatively that is, profitable they sure as hell are, and even a movie like Amazing Spider-Man 2, chosen by the interwebs to be the newest "box office bomb" still made over 700 Mio Dollars before DVD sales so they are all sitting well. But what is the superhero movie that we right now, for there is really only this weird hybrid of Iron Man and Batman Begins, that it is actually worth it to spend so much money on it?

Rocchi said it himself in his article, and if you are following video games news as well as superhero news, you will notice similarities. Games, like superhero movies, cost too much money to make in a timely fashion and with all the modern bells and whistles to make them so called "AAA" games, and superhero movies don't fare much better. Both of these, even if they are good and creatively imaginative like say a Dark Knight or a Bioshock Infinite, they cost so much to produce that from the same budget we could have seen ten other productions with similar artistic and narrative stylings, if not with the same polish. Arrow and Daredevil have shown quite well on the side of superhero TV shows that with smaller budgets but tighter scripts and more time for development, they can actually produce equal or some might say even superior superhero narratives than most of the movies are able to achieve. At the very least they can actually take a chance because not as much money is at risk. They can spend an episode of two, maybe even an entire 5-6 episode mini arc within the season, to explore something they couldn't even on the biggest budgets. 

TV sized team action

The Marvel Studios films are often lauded as the return of the movie serial from the early days of Hollywood and, in theory, all sequels to each other in the overall story of The Avengers. In theory. In practice, after the origin story has been told, in the more cosmic movies even right there, we are treated to the same story. Sing after me:
 
"The hero has to stop the villain from getting the McGuffin/Infinity Stone or else he will be so powerful as to be able to enslave the entire human race. Also somewhere in there is a love interest and Samuel L. Jackson putting together a fantasy football team."

And to be fair, that's not exactly their fault. Orci/Kurtzman, the writing team behind every franchise that hadn't had a prom date within five seconds, once had the following to say after Star Trek Into Darkness came out:
Once you spend more than $100 million on a movie, you have to save the world.
 This is the prevailing attitude in Hollywood at the moment, it's a bit different in the video game industry, where, right now, every one is basically the USSR and USA in the final moments of the Cold War, that is completely fucked because they tried to outspend each other and even though the US is still standing, it's kinda doing so on a hollow leg.

The Budgets of (Pretty Much All) Marvel Superhero Movies courtesy of Hollywood.com 

It is the nature of superheroes that, as mostly urban, science, and high fantasy that they are incredibly expensive to produce. That means that companies like Marvel/Disney or DC/Time Warner or anyone else who wants in on the racket have even more to lose when things go south, when the movie bombs or doesn't even make as much money as it was supposed to. This is the problem Sony ran into with Spider-Man: making 700 Million Dollars was not enough. We are at the point where every movie that doesn't make a Billion Dollars is considered to "under perform" by the more negative parts of the entertainment industry. So you do what the most profitable movies taught you: if you can't be James Cameron or J.K. Rowling, you have to make movies that appeal to as wide an audience as possible. But as anyone who has ever tried thinly spread Nutella on the biggest piece of toast ever, it doesn't pack the same punch as a more proportioned slice of bread with Nutella. Where was I going with this...

This is where TV and, in the case of say video games, indie developers can come in. They can deliver more modest, some would say cheaper, experiences when it comes to visuals and actions, sure, but with a good script (and/or good game play when it comes to games) and greater levels of characterization and overall depth they can surpass the popcorn flicks of the same genre. 

This is why I should probably stop decrying most superhero movies coming out these days. They can't help it, they were made like this, they don't have the capacity to be anything more than a reason for the family to head out to the cinema on a lazy weekend but to paraphrase the great Gene Siskel... just because the movie aims low does not mean I have to applaud it for reaching that level.

The Future's looking bright for superhero tv shows... you know what I mean



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