Pull on your under-wears, strap your utility belt, roll on your cape and prepare to fly. It is interesting how the number of films made on comic books have increased significantly over the past decade. Beginning with the 1978 Superman’s success, filmmakers have increasingly adapted a multitude of superheroes for the screen. The alternative graphic novels like Sin City, 300, From Hell, V for Vendetta and Road to Perdition are not far behind. Then there are unique films like American Splendor.
Superman was indeed the first true modern comic book movie adaptation, and holds a special place in the hearts of an entire generation of moviegoers. It prove to be more than a cult classic. It was a phenomenon. How can we forget Seinfeld and George Costanza discussing the superpowers of Superman in the coffee shop?
With changing standards of the technology, with new CG machines replacing the earlier ones, adapting one medium to another is not easy. The translation of comics aesthetics into films – and still meeting the expectations of audience is in itself a herculean task. While films made on comic books are the playground for CG engines, these films often prove to be more than superhero films. They connect with the audience as beautifully as a real life drama would. Remember Spiderman single-handedly stopping a runaway train? The beauty of the sequence lied not in action part but in what followed. Spiderman saved everyone on board, even at the cost of his mask – his identity. And instead of snapping pictures, the passengers – moved at the sight of a young boy risking his life under the mask of Spiderman – silently agreed to keep the secret to themselves.
Speaking of the superhero – one cannot help but admire the Dark Knight trilogy. While ‘Rises’ proved to be the biggest box office grosser, Dark Knight will live on as the consensus critical best. However, it is Batman Begins which changed the rules of the game. ‘Begins’ was the film that rewrote the rules for superhero movies.
Super villains are not far behind. Remember the role of joker played by Nicholson and more recently – Heath Ledger – the agent of chaos! These performances are no less than Hopkins’ performance of Hannibal Lecter or Perkins role as Norman Bates in Psycho.
The technical aspects of the graphic 300 and Sin City are also worthwhile – both made out of Frank Miller books. 300 will be remembered for its innovative use of digital backlot green screen technology to create a wholly new virtual landscape perfect for films based on such themes. Sin City on the other hand created a dark sinister neo-noir atmosphere. These technologies and styles are likely to prove much more influential in the genre over the next several years.
While Nolan’s Batman series made it’s mark because it didn’t play like a comic book superhero movie, The more recent Avengers ascended to the top because it played exactly like a comic book superhero movie should. It did not adapt anything. It did exactly what the source material said, and the audience in all it’s awe and admiration witnessed a soldier, a monster, a god, and a machine – all integrate into a single unbeatable unit. While most films in the comic book genre struggle with their final battle, The Avengers thrived in it, ending on such a high note – it left almost anyone with human DNA wanting for much more!
The ground for more and better superhero films is well set. The money film-makers make out of these films is maddening. The increasing number and budget of these comics based films pose a threat of these films loosing their aesthetics and slowly dissolving to mindless action flicks. That will be harmful to both – the audience and the filmmakers. With a director like Nolan slowly drifting to become the producer of future superhero films, there is a serious threat to cinema loosing on the brains which created masterpieces like Memento and Inception.
While The Amazing Spiderman is by all means more contemporary and better than the previous trilogy, it poses questions on the frequency at which such franchises are operating. We hear that the conception of a new batman series is already in progress – and we doubt it is for the sheer joy of making the film. We may be living through a time in cinema history which will be remembered like we remember the american noirs, the spaghetti westerns, the japanese jidaigekis. Super hero films is a relatively new genre and over-exploiting it will only lead to audience fatigue. Now that will be the ultimate super-villainous thing to do.