I’ve never been a movie producer, nor do I play one on TV. But, I do watch a lot of movies (and TV shows), especially in the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres. (Big surprise, right?) I am also a huge comic book fan. (Another non-revelation.) The superhero (sub)genre in particular is a great amalgam of the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres. I feel very fortunate to be around when the technology has finally advanced enough to give us superhero-based movies where the audience can truly “believe that a man can fly”… or throw a Buick… or stick to walls… or shoot concussive blasts from his eyes… or shrug off bullets as mere annoyances.
But, as excited and appreciative as I have been of the efforts expended in creating the many superhero films of the last 15 years (and, yes, even a few before that), I can’t help but also be somewhat disappointed — to varying degrees — with certain aspects of those films. As I have said before, I realize that some things “need” to be tweaked to bring the setting and dialogue up to date or to make the pacing more conducive to the medium or some such thing. On the other hand, those who make these movies — even those who are huge fans themselves — make a lot of changes, big and small, that don’t really seem completely necessary. They also squeeze a whole lotta stuff into a 2 hour movie (give or take) that doesn’t need to be there, while other things get left out that really need more explanation. (For example, when & how did Captain America become a master strategist/tactician? When & how did he learn to fight so skillfully? Those things don’t automatically come with big muscles. We should have seen him studying masters like Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and learning military history both before and after his transformation. Between his appearances on stage, we should have seen him in intense martial arts training with a sensei or sifu.)
Sure, the studio, producers, and directors probably all feel pressured to put out the next “action-packed blockbuster” film-of-the-year. And, that’s fine. But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of a coherent story or believable characters, particularly when it comes to respecting the source material. So, here is what I would tell a studio exec who (for some odd reason) asked my advice about what elements — besides good acting, directing, etc. — would make a successful superhero movie franchise:
1) Be faithful to the source material. This includes origins, physical appearances, and personalities. In what we have seen so far, this has been hit-or-miss. Non-comic fans probably don’t care much, but most loyal comic fans do. And we are why you are making these movies, so you need to please us first! Yes, we understand that the film versions aren’t going to be exact replicas, especially the further back in time the original stories were. But, that’s no excuse for throwing out the bulk of the original content. For example, if another Hulk origin story is ever filmed, I can definitely see a “new type of gamma bomb” being developed and tested, so that the original scene (including Rick Jones) can be replicated, even if the bomb itself doesn’t look quite like what Jack Kirby drew. But, please, cast people who actually look similar to the characters. For example, part of what makes Bruce Banner who he is is being a slightly-built science nerd. None of the actors who have played him in movies, so far, fits the bill. (Eric Bana in particular was too tall and buff to play the wimpy scientist (see image above).) And don’t totally change their personalities, either! (Did I miss a Freaky Friday remake where Clint Barton and Tony Stark’s minds switched bodies?!)
Also, if any producer, writer, or director starts talking about “re-imagining” a particular character or team (e.g., making Dr. Doom a hacker anarchist, or Felicia Hardy becoming “The Vulturess” instead of Black Cat), show ’em the door! We don’t want their “awesome ideas”. We want the characters we’ve been reading about for years (decades, even) to come to life!
2) Stick to the classic costume(s) without much variation — at least, to start. This is really a part of #1, but I thought it needed to be singled out. Sure, most heroes and villains go through an evolution in their costumes and gear. But, there is usually a specific costume (or, at least, a style and color-scheme) that stands out, probably from the 1980s to early 2000s. That is what the die-hard fans want to see! Unless it looks totally hokey in “live action” — I mean, we are talking costumed crimefighters & supervillains, here –, please stick as close as possible to the most common, most recognized version of each character’s costume. And don’t change it for every sequel just for the sake of changing it. (*CoughBatmanCough!*) Let there be a good reason for certain modifications that come organically out of the character’s experiences. (For example, almost dying because your cape keeps getting caught on stuff or used to trip or strangle you? It might be time to phase it out.) You can have fun with it and still be faithful to the comics.
3) Don’t try to cram too much in! It seems to be the tendency of the writers of these movies to want to include characters and relationships and plots from several decades’ worth of material all in one movie! I know there is a lot of great material to draw from, but please control yourselves. Some of that material really needs to be developed and phased in over time. Be patient and don’t rush it. If the writing is good and the franchise continues, there will be time later on to explore that stuff. Yeah, I know. You might not be working on the later movies and might not get to tell it the way you want to. Well, tough! It’s not about you, Mr. Screenwriter. It’s about telling good stories about established characters and allowing them to grow naturally.
4) Don’t overdo the villains! This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. There are a lot of great supervillains out there to pull from. We all have our favorites that we want to see on-screen. But, there is no need to put three major villains in one movie! Worse, by having so many colorful characters, each with their own motivations and eccentricities, it’s difficult to let any of them really shine. Schumacher’s Batman films suffered from this (among other things), with Riddler & Two-Face (and Sugar & Spice) in one and Mr. Freeze & Poison Ivy (and an out-of-character, dim-witted Bane) in the second. Spider-Man 3 (2007) is infamous for this, as well, what with Sandman, Venom, and the new Goblin competing for attention. So, please, try to stick to one major supervillain, supplemented by henchmen and other non-powered/armored criminals. The exception would be something like Sinister Six or Suicide Squad, where the team of baddies is the focus — even better if some or all of them have already been introduced in other films.
5) Don’t make every movie about a doomsday plot of some sort, where a city, nation, or the planet are about to be destroyed! Really. Cut it out. When you keep doing this, you have to keep topping yourself (and the other studios) to have more and more devastation. It gets old. But, if you’d just ease up a bit, you can have great stories — whether adapted from the comics or, here’s a thought, totally original — that involve heists, serial killers, rogue intelligence operatives, mob wars, etc. That brings me to my last suggestion….
6) Give us a solid story & script. This might seem obvious, or maybe not. We fanboys/girls are not stupid. Don’t rely too much on action scenes and special F/X. Those are really cool, but anyone over 12 — and most of us are, remember — needs more than that. We want good stories about real people, not just one-dimensional cutouts. (I’m sure the actors appreciate this, too.) A nice dose of humor when and where appropriate to the characters and story is also appreciated. If you don’t let the action and F/X overshadow the story and acting, you might get more respect at the Oscars, too. Just sayin’….