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April 24 2010

Can the Superhero Film Be Saved? Wall Street Journal makes a case on their blog for why Joss's approach to storytelling may be exactly what the genre and the Avengers need.

"The Avengers is a weird project but it might be weird in the right ways... in the wrong hands just fuel for a few gags but in the right hands itís a story in itself."

What a honest and sincere article. Grossman flows with genuine appreciation of how he would like a superhero movie to be. l am pulling for Joss to do one. lt's refreshing to see one believe in his credentials as a director.
I really agreed with this article. Except I see the same merit in Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse as I saw in Buffy, but to each his own, I guess.
At least he admits that he doesn't understand Angel, Firefly, Serenity, and Dollhouse.

The article seemed to start quite well, obviously he's at least somewhat familiar with The Avengers and Buffy, but it took quite a turn for the worse when he so quickly dismissed most of Whedon's other works.
I agree with zee. I found the article sincere and thoughtful. I read it as a definite endorsement of Joss and I don't require every reviewer/critic to 'get' or 'lurve' everything that flows from Mr. Whedon's mind. I certainly don't (cough/Dollhouse/cough) but that doesn't dim my appreciation of what I consider the truly shiny ones (Firefly, Buffy). I would only suggest that Grossman might give Firefly another look, as it really jibes with the tone of the superhero movie (what is truly interesting is that they are flawed and very multidimensional) he wants to see.
Grossman wrote the wonderful "Soon I will be Invincible" - a supervillain origin story in novel form that was brought up a lot when Dr. Horrible came out.
It is interesting that it wasn't mentioned at all. I'd have liked to know whether Grossman liked it or not.
Back when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were supposedly "saving baseball", I always thought "didn't Cal Ripken already do that?". Here Grossman laments a bunch of movies but he neglects to mention Christopher Nolan's work. I think Joss' Avengers will be great, but the saving leap in superhero storytelling on film has already been taken, in my opinion. There's no burden/expectation on Joss to save or reinvent the format.
This article boggles my mind.

First off, it describes a film that starts out ambitious and then degrades into a cheesy and predictable fight. First thing I thought was, "I haven't seen that very often, but holy shit, that describes Iron Man to a T." Annnnd then the dude goes on to use Iron Man as an exception to that rule. Huh?

Then, the writer perfectly describes the role the Avengers play in uniting the Marvel universe. Then, the writer gives a good explanation of BtVS. Annnnd then goes on to say that he doesn't get Angel (every bit as good as Buffy, and, yes, even set in the same universe which was one of the strengths he described in Buffy) and Firefly... partly because of the *dialogue*?


And, just from the whole "having gone to college thing," isn't it a big weird to mention how you like *one* of Joss's works, go on to describe how nothing else he's done has connected with you, and then say this: "But there is a central truth about superhero films, that Whedon obviously gets" with no transition.

So because everything that Joss has recently done doesn't work for this writer, he thinks that this will. That makes the most amount of sense. Except not.

I love cheddar. I hate American cheese, I have provalone, I hate swiss, I hate mozarella, and hey, I thought I'd like cheddar jack because of my love of cheddar, but you know, nope! But, oh, I LOVE CHEESE AS A WHOLE.

Annnnd then the writer goes on to make me nod along by being one of the only folks who mentioned X-Men 2 as closer in quality to 3 than 1.

But one has to wonder. Has this dude seen Christopher Nolan's work? On a more recent note, has he seen Kick Ass? Does he plan on seeing Scott Pilgrim? Did he ignore the first two Spider-Man films? And many many more examples follow, because as much as I love Joss, and as much as I'm super excited for "The Avengers," the superhero genre doesn't need saving. It's stronger now than it's ever been.
Here Grossman laments a bunch of movies but he neglects to mention Christopher Nolan's work.

Maybe he did mention it: "No matter how terrific they start out, the third act degenerates into two people diving away from a giant green explosion, and bloated speeches that make me feel sorry for a talented and honorable actor."

That could be a reference to The Dark Knight. I loved every minute of it, but not everyone did. One consistent complaint I've heard is about the speeches towards the end.
Interesting comment here saying that Scarlet Johansson's Iron Man contract includes the option for her to appear in an Avengers movie.
Batman Begins is better than The Dark Knight, hands down, but they're both boring and don't compare to Burton's Batman. Yeah I said it. And Iron Man is overrated and completely dies in the third act.

I don't really understand what the author is saying about Angel and Firefly, he lost me there. But I agree completely with what he says about Dollhouse.

Oh and though I don't really know superhero comics--never even heard of ones like Ant-man or Wasp until two weeks ago--and I know Joss tackles most things with pain and suffering, but if all the Avenger's turn out to be emotionally "f-ed up" like this author suggests... well it's not something where I'll be buying the DVD.

Call me crazy, but I am seriously getting tired of dark movies/heroes. Not every character has to be emotionally bankrupt to be compelling or 'believable'.
Agreed, patxshand. I have no trouble if someone doesn't like most of Joss' work - in fact, I can even sort of see his point on why the Jossian dialogue would work for him in Buffy, when spouted by teenagers, but not in Angel or Firefly (even if I do disagree with him) - but it does make one wonder why he feels he will like the next project Whedon does; especially given that he doesn't like anything since 'Buffy'. Still though, I'll grant him that just on the strength of Buffy, he'd have faith in the man who made that.

But then there's the other mind boggling things. Like - yes - the inclusion of Iron Man as an exception to his general rule (which it really isn't, even if it is a fun superhero movie), the fact that he doesn't mention Spider-Man 2 (which is still my favorite Marvel superhero movie and which is - in fact - all about the character) and that he seems to think 'X-Men 2' belongs in one breath with part 3 and 'Elektra'.

And then there's the fact that he doesn't mention either 'Batman Begins' or 'The Dark Knight' by name - while the latter is certainly the best comic book movie I've ever seen. But then I think dispatch is right in that his quote there is probably meant as a dig at TDK (which my mind skipped as a possibility, because it doesn't equate TDK to being symptomatic of what's wrong with superhero movies; we have stuff like 'Daredevil', 'Elektra' and 'Fantastic Four' for that).

All in all I did like this article, but when given a bit of thought I find too much to disagree with and/or things that just don't make sense, even if I do agree with his central conclusion that the Avengers movie has to overcome huge tonal difficulties and that Whedon is the right man for that job.

[ edited by GVH on 2010-04-25 17:54 ]
To be fair, he gives a reason why Iron Man works for him, and that's that the movie continues to focus on Robert Downey, Jr.'s face, not that the movie doesn't end with a knock-em-out. And it does--because Downey still gets close-ups throughout.
Unfortunately the thing MISSING from this article is any proof that the original premise is valid. Save superhero films? From what? Making money? I get that the author doesn't like superhero films, but I don't particularly like Country and Western music. That doesn't mean it needs to be fixed.

Like it or not, this is where we are now. For decades, we were lucky to get a superhero film every 2 to three years. Now we're getting them 2 to 3 per year. The genere's not defunct, it's saturated. Like horror movies and period dramas, we have both good and bad. And the genere has gotten so expansive that it now has multiple subcategories.

I don't know what what to term them, but Iron-Man and the Spider-Man series seem to be truest to early comic books without being overly referential. They don't heavily mix in adult overtones, because like those early comic books, kids were the target although others enjoyed them as well. Then you have the Sin City, 300, Watchmen graphic novel extraveganzas. And finally, I think Christopher Nolan didn't SAVE anything, but he did create a new cinema style for the superhero film by essentially grafting the superhero into a grown-up thriller. The reason I don't call one better than the other is the same reason that I don't compare operas to musicals to plays. They're just too different.

To be fair, I don't think you can mention Raimi's Spider-man series because for better or worse I feel that those were the films that started this recent trend. Yes, there were movies before this, but Burton's Batman did not open the superhero floodgates.

[ edited by azzers on 2010-04-25 19:19 ]
I wasn't aware that superhero films needed to be saved.
Superhero films don't need saving. Hollywood just makes way too many per year.
The writer really lost me when he mentioned the reasons he doesn't like "Angel" and "Firefly." "Dollhouse" I completely understand since I'm probably one of the few Whedon fans who didn't really like or care for it.

But his message is mixed. There's a dig at "Spider-Man 2" and "The Dark Knight" (which do use a lot of speeches near the end of their respective films), but to me that emphasizes the characters' willingness to open up to each other. That's not a flaw, it's a good bit of character development.

I think the problem he's trying to get at is that there are too many superhero films that don't make the cut. And that maybe the studios need to refocus their approach to making the superhero films stand out and be noticed.
Am I the only one who liked The Incredible Hulk? But then I also liked Daredevil, and I know, I'm alone there. :)
'Am I the only one who liked The Incredible Hulk? But then I also liked Daredevil, and I know, I'm alone there. :)'

Not alone on either. Whenever I see someone mention how Daredevil sucked, I wonder if they know that the director himself agrees and/or have seen the vastly superior Director's Cut.

And superhero movies are largely doing just fine. That article started fine, then it derailed into things that I disagreed with way too strongly. I mean, the Iron Man thing? X2 as bad as X3? Attacking everything Joss has done apart from Buffy? Sorry, but no.
Am I the only one who liked The Incredible Hulk? But then I also liked Daredevil, and I know, I'm alone there. :)

I liked Daredevil (The director's cut). And I didn't much like The Dark Knight.

My favourite Superhero movie is Unbreakable.
Break_Atmo, to be fair, I haven't seen the director's cut of 'Daredevil', though I do know it exists. Whenever people say the movie sucked, I imagine most of them are referring to the theatrical release (which did suck a whole heap :)).

As for 'The Incredible Hulk': I actually quite liked that one too, Shey. I felt it was a vast improvement over Ang Lee's version.
Isn't the premise of the article basically bogus? By what measure are superhero films in need of "saving" at the moment? The Batman status has been turned from a joke into something that wouldn't look out of place on AFI lists. Marvel's entry into production turned Iron Man into a real favorite, gave "Hulk" its credibility back, and set up an expandable movie universe for all its properties other than those unfortunately entangled with other studios. Spider-Man hit a bump with Spider-Man 3, but is there any question that a restart will still print money? Superman Returns is the only thing with any kind of ambiguity as to its success, but it's profitability was hampered not at the box office but by more than a decade of wasted cash.

So from what, precisely, is this guy trying to convince me that the superhero movie needs saved from? This would be a very intriguing question... in 1997.

All that to point out that the guy's only point in writing the article is to set up a strawman argument about superhero movies as a way to say that he's glad Joss is making "Avengers". I'm merely cautiously optimistic. I'm worried that Joss' notion of heroism has fundamentally shifted away from that which is (or should be) relatable to the target audience who wants to see Thor and Cap and Hulk and Tony and Hawkeye and whoever else save the world. If any other masked character he's been writing recently is a model for how he thinks hero types should act, "Avengers" would be... sorta doomed, actually. My sincere hope is that Joss just sort of let's the comic geek energy flow through and realizes the Avengers. Fidelity to the source material has been the renaissance of comic films.
'Break_Atmo, to be fair, I haven't seen the director's cut of 'Daredevil', though I do know it exists. Whenever people say the movie sucked, I imagine most of them are referring to the theatrical release (which did suck a whole heap :)).'

I seriously recommend the DC then. It removes the sex scene (Daredevil goes to help the screaming victim rather than stay with Electra, thus the entire romantic element of their interaction is thankfully gone), the confession scenes are removed, and there's an additional 30 minutes of material, including things like a whole additional subplot about Matt and his partner taking on a case which ties into the ending and helps it make more sense. There's also small bits like the Kingpin brutally killing one of his own henchmen when we first see him - definitely makes him more fearsome. Overall it's just mach better - as I said, the director himself hated the TC, which was a result of Executive Meddling.

'As for 'The Incredible Hulk': I actually quite liked that one too, Shey. I felt it was a vast improvement over Ang Lee's version.'

I actually like both movies - Ang's was more character-based and I felt it had more depth to it, whereas the new one is more of a fun popcorn movie and more like the comics ("HULK SMASH!!!", anyone?). Plus, better CGI given that it was made 5 years later.

[ edited by Break_Atmo on 2010-04-26 15:02 ]
I must admit that my favorite superhero movie thus far is "The Incredibles." Although... I do have a fondness for the first "Batman." At that point in time, no one was really doing superhero movies. We were in fact, trying really hard to believe that those last two Superman's didn't exist at all. Tim Burton blew us all away. We hadn't seen anything like it before. "Batman" was fun, stylish, creepy, and a fabulous ride. (It didn't hurt that I got to see it first run at the drive-in. That screen was HUGE!)

I thought "Iron Man" was really well done...up until the end, which I thought was a cliched letdown that felt like it was mashed in from another film.

"Saved" is such a nice provocative word--it really gets the blood going. A more accurate word would probably be "renewed." The answer of course is yes. (Or should I say, "Duh!")Until the superhero storyline no longer speaks to us, there's always room for reinterpretation. After all, at its heart the superhero is about the fantasy of having more power. Who doesn't at times feel powerless in the world? I don't think its going to lose its potential anytime soon. People have been telling stories about superheros since before the Greeks regaled each other with the exploits of Hercules. If it hasn't been killed off in over two thousand years, I don't think a few lousy films will manage it either.

The question of whether the storytellers among us can adapt the genre quickly enough to be always relevant in the face of our fast moving culture is another thing.
My favourite superhero films, in no particular order, are The Incredibles, Unbreakable, both Hellboy flicks, and The Crow. I don't feel that the genre is in need of saving above and beyond most mainstream media, but I still look forward to Joss' offerings.

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