The past few days have been a good time to be what might affectionately be called a geek. Sunday saw the culmination of Comic Con 2015, surely the high point of ‘geekery.’ Of course, you didn’t even need to be there to share in the excitement at the new trailers and announcements that were revealed during the convention in San Diego. Thanks to the internet, exclusives and trailers soon reached the masses, leading to often frenzied reactions, some even bordering on hysteria, such as the reaction to the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens footage.
As a big DC fan, two trailers in particular caught my attention: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, both, for the uninitiated, based on characters published by DC Comics. Naturally, reaction to both has been swift ever since the footage debuted. David Ayer, the director of Suicide Squad, openly stated that one of their aims in making the film was to be true to the comic book canon, which reflects the importance that fans attach to the material. The reaction was further proof of this, and neatly illustrated the size of the task awaiting any filmmaker adapting a comic book title.
You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Not said in reference to comic book adaptations, of course, but it fits them perfectly. For every reaction of the “I can’t wait to see this” kind, there were a few negative responses to these two big Warner Brothers/DC films. As I said above, comic book fans (of which I’m one) have a sense of ownership over their characters, to the extent that, in some cases at least, they believe that their preferred version of their favourite characters are the true depiction of that character, and any film adaptation must adhere closely to that. If it doesn’t, then the message boards won’t know what hit them.
Witness the reaction to Ben Affleck’s casting as Batman/Bruce Wayne, or when one of his predecessors in the cape and cowl, Michael Keaton, was cast in Tim Burton’s Batman. Cue a backlash from some angry fans in both cases. Much the same, in fact, to the reaction in some quarters when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in The Dark Knight, or when Anne Hathaway was announced as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises.
There was a similar level of fan disquiet when Hugh Jackman was cast as Wolverine, with the complaint being that he’s too tall for the role, a gripe that still continues to this day, some fifteen years after the Australian was cast. Peyton Reed, director of Ant-Man, also experienced some negativity from fans when he was named as original helmer Edgar Wright’s replacement, when the Hot Fuzz director and fan favourite left the project.
Basically, comic book films are important, never more so than now. Even ignoring the box office that some of these films bring in, it’s hard to remember a time when comic book properties were so prevalent, on both the big and small screens. On TV there’s Gotham, set in a pre-Batman Gotham City, Arrow, The Flash, Marvel’s Agents of Shield, Agent Carter, with Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow (a sort of small screen Justice League with a collection of DC heroes) still to come.
Over on the silver screen, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad will be followed by solo outings for a number of DC’s big characters, including Wonder Woman, Batman, The Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern. Marvel will also continue their assault on the box office with debuts for Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange and Inhumans, while their X-Men stable at Fox will grow with 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and The New Mutants, with solo outings for other characters, including Wolverine and Deadpool.
Even the late nineties fads for disaster movies and teen comedies are dwarfed by this. All of this is good news if you’re a comic book fan, not so much if you’re not. As I said before, I’m a comic book fan, so I’m positively giddy with child-like excitement at the thought of it all. However, if I could inject a note of caution into the proceedings: with the sheer number of projects to come, there is a real danger of audience fatigue with all things superhero, as even some die hard comic book fans might agree.
A related risk is that, in an effort to stand out from an increasingly crowded field, filmmakers will take more and risks with the material. Surely a good thing? All of that depends on how it’s received by those hardcore fans. There is the fear that all it will take for the ‘superhero film bubble’ to burst is one or two high profile and costly failures. That’s the pessimistic view. On an optimistic note, comic book properties have such a built in and expectant fan base that there will always be a market for them. Arguably, these films are an integral part of the film calendar, especially the summer block buster movie season.
As much as some might object, it is hard to imagine a medium which allows for such variation, covering as many genres as comic book movies, while we only need to look at the varying ways in which Batman has been presented on film to see what a rich creative opportunity these characters represent for filmmakers.
All of which means that Batman, Superman, the Avengers and their other costumed ilk will be hanging around at the box office for a long time yet, delighting (and probably annoying some) comic book fans for many years to come.