Day weekend, I went to see Daredevil, the new superhero movie based
on the red-suited Marvel Comics character. As the theater went dark, the previews
lit up the screen like a bat signal in Gotham City's night sky and, to my
amazement, each feature teased was yet another superhero movie. The Incredible
Hulk, X-Men 2 and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen were among
the treats promised.
of superhero ventures bound for theaters this summer floored me, but it probably
shouldn't have. Spider-Man had the highest opening weekend numbers
in movie history, more than 114 million dollars, and is already the fifth
biggest movie of all-time, quite an accomplishment. No doubt the friendly
neighborhood web-slinger has cast an equally long shadow across the minds
of imitative producers, and every studio in Hollywood is trying to cash in
on the trend director Sam Raimi and Peter Parker ignited in May 2002.
the available statistics, the audience's appetite for superheroes is not even
close to being sated. Daredevil's opening weekend has clearly extended the
popularity of superheroes, grabbing first place at the box office with numbers
in the 40 millions, well beyond Blade or Blade 2, another contemporary
franchise also considered very successful. By February 27, CNN had announced
that a Daredevil sequel would be produced, as well as a spin-off starring
Jennifer Garner as Elektra. Wow. That was faster than the Flash, and lest
one forget this important fact, Daredevil is something of a second-stringer.
How many mainstream audience members (not comic book fans) had heard of the
guy before seeing the movie? Probably not many, which means that at this moment
in history any well cast, entertaining, lavishly produced superhero film has
a shot at super success. Aquaman anyboy? Or how about my personal favorite,
flood of superhero films headed this way, Hollywood does not have a good record
adapting comic book heroes to the silver screen. Fans will no doubt recall
1997's Batman and Robin, the garish fourth installment of the Batman
series and the movie that single-handedly killed the Dark Knight's movie franchise.
Now that we've seen two relatively faithful and respectful adaptations of
superhero lore in Spidey and D.D., we must be realistic and accept that the
trend isn't going to continue. At least one of these new summer movies is
going to prove a bummer, simply because of the odds and the realities of moviemaking
today. The way Hollywood is structured prevents greatness, more of an assembly
line than an artistic innovator.
So which venture
will suck and really piss off the fans? Not X-2, I'm sure. The previews
for this film looked nothing short of amazing and director Bryan Singer has
already proven that he respects this material. If anything, he looks to have
improved on 2000's X-Men, a film that had strong themes and characterization,
but muddled action and a closed-off feel. Just from the trailer, it looks
like Singer has taken extraordinary measures to open up the action and give
the film a more epic scope. And with Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan,
Famke Jansen and Halle Berry all returning, this one should emerge a winner.
It had better: it will be tangling with The Matrix Reloaded during
its theatrical run...
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or "LXG" as the previews
called it, though most people will hopefully refer to the film by its given
title, not this bizarre acronym (which sounds like a new Lexus model, not
a superhero film). Adapted from a comic by the brilliant Alan Moore, this
is the story of a team of Victorian Era heroes, including Captain Nemo, Dorian
Gray, Mina Harker, The Invisible Man and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.
the chap that shepherded the first Blade to theaters in 1998 directed the
movie, which is a good sign. Most folks consider Blade a terrific film
(remember the bloody vampire rave in the opening sequence?) so Norrington
definitely knows his way around a superhero flick. Nonetheless, gossip from
the industry suggests that the director and his star, Sean Connery, didn't
see eye to eye on the film. Worse, LXG has apparently been Americanized for
general audiences and now includes a character not seen in the comics: Tom
The Incredible Hulk, another Marvel Comics property. This movie should
be the best of all, given the source material, but it won't be. Ang Lee, the
man that brought us Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
is directing with Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte in supporting roles, but
shit, has anybody seen what the Hulk looks like? The previews alone sink this
movie, at least for me. Rendered by C.G.I. (the bane of my existence as a
movie reviewer and comic book fan...), this big green guy looks about as real
Magilla Gorilla or Jabber Jaw. Come to think of it, if this were a movie about
Magilla Gorilla or Jabber Jaw, C.G.I. would do just fine; both creatures are
comedic creations, not really meant to be believable. But how can anybody
take seriously, let alone be fearful of, this ridiculous looking Hulk cartoon?
I don't care how good the rest of the movie is, if the Hulk looks like a walking,
talking Cartoon Channel reject, the film just will not work.
character is the crux of any Incredible Hulk movie and must be handled with
delicacy and care. Surely John Vulich, Vincent Guastini, Stan Winston, Rick
Baker or Rob Bottin could have been retained to prove a more believable "real
life" behemoth, rather than this ridiculous computer simulation. Here's
hoping that before the film's release in June, the special effects improve
actually proves my point about The Hulk. The movie works more often than not
because the actors do good work, investing their characters with humanity
and thereby provide audiences with a sense of identification, something a
computer model cannot yet achieve. Critics find the studied seriousness of
the movie a little silly, but fans have to put up with crap like Batman
and Robin and appreciate the efforts to foster believability.
I found the film somewhat less satisfying than my wife did, simply because
it seemed like such a lock-step remake of the Batman mythos. Of course, Frank
Miller wrote the Daredevil comic in the 1980s, revolutionizing comics and
adding many of the touches and notions that then became popular after his
Dark Knight Returns re-do of the Caped Crusader legend. So really,
it doesn't make any sense to argue that Daredevil is imitative of Batman,
since Batman appropriated some ideas from Daredevil in the first place.
As Bruce Wayne might say: "I made you? You made me!"
Ben Affleck-hating critics that have used the film as a platform to criticize
2002's "sexiest man alive," Daredevil is sincere, well-acted,
rousing entertainment. Everybody in the cast is quite good and only Connor
Farrell seems out of place with his bug-eyed, Looney Tunes interpretation
of the assassin Bullseye. Is Daredevil as good as Spider-Man?
Not really, but the sequel, hopefully like X2, might really be something
will be a test. Spider-Man and Daredevil have set the bar high.
Will The Incredible Hulk, X-2 and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
stumble or raise the bar ever higher? Around the corner, probably next year,
we'll see Spider-Man 2, Brett Ratner's "re-imagination" of
Superman and Christopher Nolan's Batman: The Frightening. If this summer's
high-flying, heroic fare sinks at the box office faster than a speeding bullet
or displeases the fans, then Bryan Singer, Ang Lee, and Stephen Norrington,
like Doc Ock, Lex Luthor or Scarecrow, will only make matters a lot tougher
for Raimi, Ratner and Nolan.
a job for Superman....