Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Is the Warner Bros plan to make all comic book movies "dark and edgy" a smart move?

The L.A. Times had an article yesterday about how Warner Bros. is still planning Green Lantern 2, but that they intend to make it "edgier and darker" than the original.


This, of course, is the big lesson WB took from the billion dollar worldwide take of The Dark Knight: dark and edgy = better. If that song sounds familiar, it's because that's what they said a couple years ago when announcing their intentions for the next Superman movie. I'm also pretty sure this isn't the first time, they've said all their superhero films will be "dark and edgy."

It's ridiculous that is their only judgement on why Green Lantern underperformed. I don't think the problem was that it wasn't dark enough, it's that there wasn't enough sense of fun and adventure. Oh, and the second act had problems.

Why did people like Iron Man? Because it was fun and because Robert Downey Jr. was charming and charismatic. The Spider-Man movies are among the top grossing films of all time and they were plenty of fun too. "Dark" works for Batman because that's the world he inhabits. But it's not Superman's world, it's not Spider-Man's world, and it's not Green Lantern's world. At least not in the degrees that Batman's is.

If you apply this sort of "one size fits all" assessment to every underperforming comic book film then you fail to examine each one as a unique property and a unique story. "Comic Book Movie" isn't a genre in the sense that "Horror" and "Comedy" are genres. If you equate Green Lantern to The Dark Knight, you might as well try to find a common element in the failures of The Godfather part III and the Star Wars prequels.

As I joked on Twitter, WB could make a Holocaust film about Hitler raping dead gerbils and when it failed at the box office, they'd think the problem was it wasn't edgy enough.

The comics have gone dark - sometimes successfully, sometimes not. The DC miniseries Identity Crisis was effectively dark and edgy when dealing in the moral greys that the Justice League was revealed to trade in, to say nothing of the shockingly brutal murder of Robin's father. It was less successful when the story's twists included a completely unnecessary violation of a beloved female character.

The Star Trek franchise succeeded when went darker with Deep Space Nine and used that to explore greater moral complexity during wartime. It was less effective in the final Next Generation film Nemesis, which featured the completely unaffecting death of one character and the mental rape of another. (Hmmm... I see a disturbing pattern developing.)

Dark is overrated. Sure, everyone remembers The Empire Strikes Back as their favorite Star Wars film, but they conveniently forget that when they were seven years old, that shit on Dagobah was boring as hell. It might be fun to rip on Return of the Jedi and the annoyingly cute Ewoks, but to the average 10 year-old who saw those movies as they came out, Jedi was probably the more exciting and "better" of the two.

Imagine if the same studio execs working on Green Lantern today had been put in charge of Return of the Jedi, and that Empire Strikes Back had been hailed as the superior Star Wars film as much as it is today. The Ewoks would either have been replaced with more ferocious, brutally violent beings, or we'd have seen the Empire's troops plow through the Ewok forces with all the intensity of the D-Day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. Jabba the Hutt would have raped Princess Leia, Han never would have survived the unfreezing, or would have done so with a horrible disfigurement, and Luke probably would have killed his father, only to end up in the Vader suit himself by the end of it.

Okay, maybe that wouldn't have happened. But must we always go "dark?" Don't we need some tonal balance in our superhero films?


  1. I think there is a confusion about dark and gritty, the reason these films like 'DK' work is because they have intergrity, and the distinction has to be made. Darker films tend to have more intergrity than the lighter ones just by their nature. But yeah, Spiderman and Ironman had integrity, not darkness. But GreenLantern didn't work because it didn't.

  2. I completely agree in this idea that superhero movies are going too dark. Or, that Warner Bros superhero movies are going too dark. Fox (with all their continuity screwups) and Marvel Studios have had great success with fun superhero movies.
    It is interesting that WB is blaming Green Lantern's failure on not being dark and edgy. Thor was a comedic blast in my opinion. It wasn't campy or cheesy, just good fun. X-Men First Class was an all around excellent movie, fun, action-packed and more homoerotic than I would have thought possible for a superhero movie without tights. I haven't had the chance to see Captain America yet but I heard it too wasn't "dark and edgy". (All 3 movies have outperformed Green Lantern).
    Going further, I think you make a good point about how superhero movies aren't a one size fits all. The best X-Men movies have been (imho) about the family you choose, not the family you're born with. Thor isn't about a kid who struggles to be a hero, it's about a kid who grows into a man. Even Captain America has always seemed to be more about a confident young man stepping into a leadership role, not learning how to be confident. And so on.
    And then we have The Dark Knight. Which I watch quite regularly, it's an excellent movie. But the darkness of TDK & Batman Begins works because Bruce Wayne is himself a dark character, as are the villains he faces. The real reason these latest Batman movies have worked so well though is pretty obvious. Christopher Nolan and a stellar cast. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Nestor's a who's who of Hollywood talent. (We'll just ignore that Katie Holmes foolishness).
    I'm not as well versed on the comic book history (though I know enough to love Marvel & be bored with DC) but I've always felt DC heroes spend more time stressing over every freaking detail while Marvel heroes have more of a Tony Stark outlook. IE: I'm a badass superhero and I don't care who knows it. That latter attitude was one of the more fascinating things about this summer's ABC Family show, "The Nine Lives of Chloe King". The minute the girl learns she's got superpowers, she starts testing them. Because it's cool. That's my kind of superhero entertainment.

    (Um, clearly I have strong feelings about this one because that turned into more of a rant than a comment. :D )

  3. Based on trailers, casting, and buzz, I quickly downrated GL from a 'must see' to a 'probably catch someday on my TV' movie. And one of the reasons was that it already looked pointlessly dark - nothing in the character or concept calls for it, and two hours of faux angst has no appeal. I'd have turned out for the version suggested by the fan-made Nathan Fillion trailer, though... that one looked more fun. If I was in charge of the franchise I wouldn't be trying to imitate Nolan movies, I'd be screening THE ROCKETEER.

  4. They seem to be mistaking dark and gritty for emotional depth. Though granted, exploring a character's darker emotions can be a very effective way to give an audience something to latch on to so that they care about a character. But I don't see why emotional depth can't cover a wide range of emotions.

    If we are talking about Superman, that emotion should probably be compassion. We need to understand why this alien with incredible abilities would choose to help people he has never met. This is probably why I didn't much care for the latest Superman movie. It detached him from the rest of the world and focused on his love for Lois. And we were just kind of plopped in the middle of that relationship without any development. We were just supposed to have prior knowledge of the nature of that relationship and buy the emotions.

    If they want me to care about the next Superman movie I think they could take from Nolan's Batman movies, but in the sense that he took time to develop the emotional depth of the character. In Superman's case they need to make sure the emotion is something different from Batman's because I don't see it fitting the character.

  5. I loved TDK, saw it 2 or 3 times in the theater and consider it the ne plus ultra of movies based on comic book characters -- but I hated TDKR and slept through Batman Begins twice.

    The distinction was I frankly had zero interest in all the fruity crap about Ras Argyle and his Mystical Badguy League or whatever they called it in the other two. I read the hell out of Batman comics from the mid 70s to the late 80s plus maintained custody of the huge 30s-70s anthology from my local library at least 2 months of every formative year. And the Batman I knew didn't and doesn't waste time on junkets to study the tantra with Dr Strange in some Tibetan ski lodge,

    Thing is, Heath Ledger's TDK Joker also bears slim resemblance to any Joker I ever saw in the comics -- but I loved that character in TDK way more than in his less complex comic renderings. So I'm hardly a purist.

    However, I recently ran across a fanmade short called Batman: Dead End on youtube that gave me a miniature epiphany. That short actually FELT like a Batman comic (up until it introduced some silly business with characters from other franchises, anyway) in a way that neither Burton nor Nolan even approached. It made me realize all non-West bigscreen Batmans have been rendered in such an atmospheric moody fashion that they depart the comic book milieu completely -- and represent a whole different animal virtually independent of the ink-&-paper root sources.

    If you want to see how Batman REALLY began, check out last year's animated feature Batman: Year One, a wonderfully fastidious panel by panel translation of arguably the greatest of all Batman comic series. (Bryan Cranston voices Jim Gordon woo-hoo!)

    And again, I adored TDK, and still smart that the Academy gave that year's top awards to an unintentional comedic farce called The Hurt Locker (TDK wasn't even nominated for Best Picture or Director). If you check out the projects I named above, tho, I bet you'll agree the blockbuster Batman films bear slim resemblance in texture or feel to the comic books they claim to represent.

    Maybe they shouldn't be considered to be nor evaluated as comic book movies at all.

    (No real point to this jeremiad, folks, just had to get it out of my system. Hope everything's going your way!)