In the June 6th, 2008 issue of Entertainment Weekly, in stores now, writer Chris Nashawaty provides us with a page and a half diatribe on how he hates superhero movies. You can read the article on the EW website here.
Now, putting aside EW’s love/hate relationship with comics (they cover the San Diego Comic Con each year, with a bigger article each time, but liberally sprinkle “nerd” and “geek” in the text to keep comic fans in their place), this just appears to be one man’s personal feelings on the topic.
Mr. Nashawaty is entitled to his opinion. That doesn’t mean that his logic isn’t flawed. This post is going to act as an open letter to the author on that subject.
You see, I am a fan of comic book movies and I have an issue with several points of Mr. Nashawaty’s argument. Several issues that show his ignorance of the comic book movie genre. I’ll be providing a rebuttal here.
Mr. Nashawaty’s dismissive view of this year’s comic book films:
Mr. Nashawaty had this to say about this years spate of comic book movies:
“This year we’ve already been bludgeoned with Iron Man, a movie that actually asks the audience to root for a smug billionaire arms mogul. And hot on its tail are The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan is supertalented, but this is the sixth Batman movie in the past 20 years), Hellboy II (a sequel to a movie that grossed approximately $17), and, of course, The Incredible Hulk.”
Of course, this only goes to show that Mr. Nashawaty did not see Iron Man, because the movie really was about a smug billonaire arms mogul who sees the error of his ways and takes steps to atone for the death and destruction he has caused. Missed a bit of character development there.
He apparently has not seen Batman Begins either, because he would know that that movie, also by supertalented Christopher Nolan, was a from-the-ground-up rebooting of the franchise. It broke from the rubber nippled fetisharama of Joel Schumacher and rooted it in a realistic, French Connection-ish style.
But even if The Dark Knight was the fifth sequel to Tim Burton’s Batman, so what? If Mr. Nashawaty is saying that is somehow wrong, someone should call and shut down production on Quantum of Solace right now because that is the 7th James Bond movie in 20 years. And apparently, the limit is five per character per 20 year period.
As for Hellboy, I know he was exaggerating for comedic effect, but the film actually made $60 million domestically and another $100 overseas, more than doubling its budget. Doubling its budget means it’s a hit, hence, a sequel.
But his opinions on The Incredible Hulk leads to another talking point:
An Oscar nomination does not automatically ensure quality:
Mr. Nashawaty elaborates further on this film:
“Five years ago, Universal spent $137 million on Ang Lee‘s Hulk movie and it grossed $132 million. If I were a bean counter at Universal, I wouldn’t be bullish on that math. Not to mention that the first time around they had an Oscar nominee behind the camera; now they’ve got…the guy who directed The Transporter. Am I missing something? No one wanted to see the Hulk the first time around. And I’ll play Jimmy the Greek here and predict that no one will want to see this one, either, regardless of how much capital-A acting Edward Norton brings to it.”
First off, Universal is distributing the film for Marvel Studios. So, their being bullish on the math has nothing to do this film being made.
And, yes, you are missing something here. While Ang Lee did later win an Oscar, that doesn’t mean his work on Hulk was Oscar worthy. It was an ambitious, but flawed film, in my opinion, which was done in by the murky CGI fest that was the film’s final half hour. But even before that, Lee seemed more concerned with technique and less concerned with being true to what made the Hulk an interesting character–the cursed man who becomes an out-of control monster.
The Incredible Hulk seems to be all about that. Granted, Nashawaty might be right in assuming people won’t come out to see this ipso facto remake, but if they do make this film a hit, it will because the creators got the tone right, not because it’s directed by the guy who directed The Transporter.
My final word on an Oscar nomination or win not guaranteeing quality: Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Pick your targets carefully:
Nashawaty goes deeper to explain his comic movie hatred:
“If I seem angry, it’s only because I’ve been burned so many times by these things. I’ve sat through The Shadow, Judge Dredd, and Catwoman. I’ve even been trapped in coach with Elektra as the in-flight movie. “
In fairness, The Shadow, while adapted several times into comics, originated in the pre-comic pulp era. And Catwoman resembled its comic book counterpart as much as it did a good movie. And Judge Dredd had Sylvester Stallone AND Rob Schneider in it. ‘Nuff Said.
But if you go into any comic shop in the country and say these movies sucked, you will get little or no argument back. These are bad movies. But these are about as representative of the comic book movie genre as a whole as Ishtar and Gigli are of movie comedies. “What? Go see 40-Year Old Virgin? That’s a comedy, isn’t it? I saw a comedy once, Ernest Goes to Camp, and that sucked. No, no comedies for me.”
The whole “Ritalin-starved 14-year-old boy” thing:
“If you go back even further, say 25 years to the summer of 1983, it seems like a paradise lost. No one had heard of Comic-Con yet and there were movies for everyone, not just Ritalin-starved 14-year-old boys…”
Again, to nitpick, no one in mainstream heard of Comic-Con in 1983, but it did exist. I’m sure many comic fans wish that Hollywood still hadn’t heard of it today.
I’m not quite sure what he meant by that “Ritalin-starved 14-year-old boy” comment. Is he aping the whole “comics are for kids!” chestnut that has been outdated for over 20 years? Because the main demographic for comics nowadays is the 18 to 35 demographic heavily cherished by advertisers. Which is why Honda and the U.S. Army are major advertisers in the comics of today.
And comics are not exclusively a boys club. Go to a comics convention, Mr. Nashawaty, and you’ll find your fair share of women perusing the stacks of manga, graphic novels and comics.
Besides, the best selling comics sell in the neighborhood of 100,000 copies. Iron Man has made $276 million to date. There is quite a discrepancy there. Even if every comic book collector in the world went to see Iron Man twice, it wouldn’t add up to half of what its earned.
Or, was Nashawaty trying to make the point that the sound and the fury of the comic book movie appeals to the hyper kinetic, short-attention-span youth of today? Does this mean he thinks the films of yore he so fondly remembers–Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Independence Day–don’t? Because I don’t know a 14-year-old boy, Ritalin starved or not, who wouldn’t love a movie about killer robotic assassins from the future, dinosaurs on the rampage or aliens blowing up national monuments. Or is he saying that adults shouldn’t identify with the Spider-Man franchise’s theme of great power comes with great responsibility, the Batman franchise’s theme of grief and loss, or the X-Men franchise’s theme of dealing with persecution? The box office results beg to differ.
See, Nashawaty mourns the loss of the big, brainless Hollywood summer blockbuster but criticizes comic book movies for being aimed at an immature audience. You really can’t have it both ways, Chris.
And you’re wrong, too. Comic book movies are successful because they are movies parents can take the kids to and both can enjoy the film. There are the fights and explosions for the kiddies and plot and pathos for the adults. Just because you can’t see it, Chris, doesn’t mean they’re not there.
My advice to Mr. Nashawaty is to sit tight. Hollywood is cyclical and derivative. The reason comic book movies are so successful is because people keep going to see them. People like them, Chris, even though you don’t. And nothing sells in Hollywood like success. All you need to do is wait for a string of comic book movie bombs, movies that are critical and commercial failures, and the movie studios will move on to the next trend. Maybe you’d finally get to see that Antonini-esque masterpiece, Armageddon II: The Asteroid’s Back and It’s Pissed. Until then, try to find something in the 20 or so other movies put out each summer to take your mind off the three or so comic book movies that come out each year.