There are a lot of reasons why superhero movies go wrong. It’s easy to forget just how long it took Hollywood to even get them this close to right; go watch The Shadow, or Meteor Man, or Batman and Robin if you want to know what a real superhero trainwreck looks like.
Beyond that there are literally dozens of superhero movies that are merely “just okay” – all three Punisher movies have major flaws, the only really good Blade movie is the first ten minutes of the first one (though that’s a really good first ten minutes) and we’re all still waiting for Marvel to figure out how to make a decent Thor movie. Then again, they never quite managed to make a decent Hulk movie, and that was a character people actually knew about and liked.
So the important thing to keep in mind with superheroes these days is that even the movies that people really hate – which is basically all of them aside from maybe the three Captain America movies and the first Avengers one… and maybe the first Iron Man, though it doesn’t really hold up now – are still a heck of a lot better than the ones we were getting around the turn of the century.
Catwoman? Daredevil? Elektra? Please. So what’s changed? Oddly, it’s not the thing that usually makes a good movie: even the best superhero movies (say, The Dark Knight) have plots and dialogue you simply couldn’t get away with if the film was basically the same but without the superhero.
If The Dark Knight was about a rogue cop trying to take down a maniac terrorist, or Captain America: The Winter Solider was an espionage drama (we do all realise that the Bourne movies are basically superhero movies without the outfits, right?), the complicated plots and corny dialogue would seem silly even for a blockbuster.
Usually the effects are good but not amazingly good, the fights are much the same, and the acting is fine but no-one is playing an actual human being so it’s a little hard to tell. What superhero movies do get right these days, and have been doing so since the current Marvel age, is the actual superhero part.
Before Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, what we usually got in superhero movies was an outfit that didn’t really look like the comic character and a character that wasn’t really like the comic book version either. Even Christian Bale in his Batman movies was only kinda sorta like the comic version (which actually worked well with Heath Ledger’s Joker, who wasn’t much like the comics either). Not that Downey – or most of the other Marvel movie characters – are exactly like the comic versions: what they do is boil the comic character down to their essentials and then build that up into a movie character. They adapt the character for the movies rather than just try to duplicate them whole.
While the DC movies have had their problems, they seem to have at least figured that out: Ben Affleck’s Batman is the closest to the comic book version yet, Henry Cavill’s Superman is pretty spot on (not that there’s ever been a truly bad big screen Superman), and the Suicide Squad all worked well as characters even when the film itself struggled. They just have to figure that story thing out…
Written by Anthony Morris