Depending on what is being read, the comic book movie genre is often regarded as something of a phenomenon. That title suggests a level of ‘newness’ that isn’t quite accurate. One could argue that the genre itself has existed for a very long time, and that its current bankability is what’s new. Screenplays get adapted all of the time, and all that really means is that the original story comes from a source that isn’t intrinsically linked to a film. Comic books go back a long way, meaning that there is plenty of source material from comics to adapt screenplays from throughout the history of cinema. One of the biggest shames in comics is the wrong assumption that comic books equal superheroes. In truth, superheroes weren’t the first subjects of comic books and up until the early 1950’s shared the stage equally with the likes of Archie, western tales, crime & punishment, horror and good old fashioned American misogyny.
Tom Hank’s Road to Perdition might just be the best comic book film ever made, too bad Jude Law’s laser vision must have been on the fritz during filming. The important reason more people don’t put the graphic novel turned film in with the Batman franchises of the movie world is simple. When they marketed the film, touting it as a comic book turned film would have reduced interest, not garnered more intrigue. The legitimacy of the genre is represented in extremely literal terms. If Road to Perdition was coming out next summer, you could likely bet smart odds that ‘based on the graphic novel’ would be more than a bit of trivia tied to the film. The following 5 events are some of the bigger sign posts that showed a change in our assumptions about what films based on comics could achieve.
5. The cast of the Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, Tim Blake Nelson and Ty Burrell. Based on just that list as a cast, name 5 movie genres this group couldn’t do. Okay, now throw in Don Cheadle. I’m guessing I just knocked off 90% of whatever list you made. None of those actors create the kneejerk reaction of, ‘action movie, of course’, with that list you could do a rom com, a drama, horror, you name it. I love Renner, Evans and Hemsworth as much as the next guy, but it’s a given that in 90% of their films they will be seen punching someone/thing in the face. Putting the cast of Incredible Hulk together, to actually do Incredible Hulk and not the next labor of love from Quinten Tarantino is amazing. The fact that it’s not mentioned as one of the perennial Marvel favorites is even more telling of the genre’s strength. It makes it obvious that there is no reason to assume any comic book film is too ‘comic booky’ for an actor to be involved. I know, I could have just said Glen Close was in Guardians in a somewhat minor role, but I needed more than one sentence.
4. The rise, fall, and rise of Ryan Reynolds
There was a time when I felt like the only Ryan Reynolds fan to dare show his face on social media. The blogosphere can be fickle, and in this day and age all it takes are a few movies that had the audacity to simply not suck and suddenly you’re Nicholas Cage (it took Cage years to be… Cage(?)). What hurt Reynolds? He agreed to take on a role he had limited control over, you know, his job. Unfortunately he did his job without realizing that everyone around him apparently phoned it in, but somehow it was all his fault. Even Denzel couldn’t save him (I get to call him Denzel because we’re both Black, YOU call him Mr. Washington) in a pretty good Safe House movie (I feel like it should have been called Unsafe House though). Why? Is it because Reynolds somehow wasn’t an awesome actor anymore? No, it’s because we're a bunch of assholes. X-Men Origins Wolverine and Green Lantern are apparently movies written, directed, and produced by Ryan Reynolds who also acts out every part 'Eddie Murphy in Coming to America' style. Thankfully, when he did have actual creative input, was actually a driving force behind the creation of a film he helped bring Deadpool to theaters. It’s all love now, until Deadpool 3 is panned for being a bloated farce with way too many bad guys for its own good. The point is three comic movies nearly flatlined and revitalized a promising career that absolutely never needed a comic book movie on its resume in the first place. He was Van Wilder yo… ok he kinda needed Deadpool.
3. Chris Evans is a Victim of Highly Lucrative Typecasting
Some of the saddest 'behind the scenes' stories from Hollywood are about actors who got the role of their life only to have that be the worst thing to ever happen to them in the end. Shakespearian actors who couldn’t fine work because they were just a lovable country bumpkin to most of America, caped heroes who couldn’t find capeless work. One of the strangest accidental benefits to the self-imposed, unrelenting, public scrutiny we entertain ourselves with called social media is that it actually combats typecasting. When we remove the veil of anonymity (you know, signing up to receive text messages from Snoop Dogg and The President through the same service), it’s easier for fans to recognize the actor separately from their favorite character (especially if there are plenty of mug shots involved). Which is why Chris Evans seems to exist in this weird bizarro universe where keeping your nose clean and being the peoples champ is a bad thing. Evans has said in the past that as much as he loves being Cap, it’s time for him to grow as an artist. His examples where two movies he delivered over the years that were critically acclaimed but otherwise not really acclaimed in dollars. Chris Evans has somehow managed to be typecast in a way that shouldn’t be possible any longer, seriously what does it say about us when what Chris Evans really needs to get out of Cap’s shadow is a DUI? However, he isn’t typecast by Hollywood, just its fans. He’s part of a hugely bankable franchise, not anchored to a cheesy character that’s stuck in our heads. We love Chris Evans too much, because he’s Captain America. Not despite that.
2. Television has new life thanks to Comic Books
I was a big fan of Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman growing up, it’s why I still want to marry Teri Hatcher. Seriously, she could push my mom down a flight of stairs. However, that show is very much an exception to the super hero TV genre rule of not expecting much from those kinds of shows. To define the genre as campy is being nice, super hero TV shows were kinda bad as a form of entertainment all by themselves. If a super hero show asked to be taken seriously, the response was reminiscent of an 11 year old comic book reader asking the same question to the football team with similar results. Even as late as the mid 2000’s shows like Heroes still ultimately missed the mark. It wasn’t until Disney and Marvel changed the game in theaters did DC Comics capitalize on that success on the small screen. Even Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looked like it might not get out of its first season while Arrow built a head of steam on the CW network (see syndication, lower risk and higher reward). Now look at the TV landscape a short time later. Netflix, CBS, NBC, The CW and FOX are all making hay with superhero themed properties, even an upcoming Office-style comedy about an insurance agency that exists in the DC Universe. The relationship between Television and Film as existed since their beginnings, the comic book genre falling right into that relationship in seamless fashion is a very telling sign.
1. If Some is Good, More Seems to be Way Better
Captain America: Civil War (or Captain America 3: We’re not going to ruin this because we all want to be here still) will be the 13th movie that is considered part of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) since Iron Man in 2008. Usually when a series of films all share a core narrative and every installment moves along a general plot it’s called a franchise. The James Bond franchise, for example, has 25 movies spanning 54 years while Marvel has already churned out half that number in just 8 years. Add to that Fox and Sony’s franchises and that’s an incredible amount of movies in a very small amount of time. Yes, these days there are some that attempt to make the amount of output ‘a thing’. But, what ultimately ends up happening is every new installment is anointed as the savior of the genre, mostly because it’s good despite the fact that other movies like it exist in recent memory (?) [Seriously, that’s what Deadpool amounted to in certain ‘highbrow’ nerd areas of the web]. Fishing for issues to complain about resulting in a bump of praise instead is a sign that expectations for the films remain high. With high expectations, serious financial backing and a viewing public larger than the core audience all signs point to the comic book movie genre vying to be the backbone of the film industry for years to come.