Over the last decade or so comic book movies have become the (almost) guaranteed money maker on the big screen. A nice ensemble cast, a myriad of colours, amazing special effects and an exciting story all come together for a couple of hours of great entertainment.
Then comes the inevitable sequel. The first one made a whole heap of money, and the story of the first was left open in such a way as to suggest (often without any hint of subtlety), or even demand a sequel. As a viewer, and a long time fan of comic book heroes and villains, I look forward to sequels and at the same time gain a foreboding sense of dread.
Too often it seems that the sequel is just a nail in the coffin of a series. Lets look at Spiderman 3 and X-Men: The Last Stand for example. Both franchises started well, and made decent and well put together part two’s. Yet in both part three’s the makers, be it producers/writers/studios/directors etc, lost the plot altogether. Too many characters, scripts full of holes, just a general sense of weakness throughout. It was as if they knew we would pay for it, so it didn’t matter what they made. For both of these franchises a reboot, or completely different direction was the eventual result. Spiderman is being restarted with Andrew Garfield in the lead as The Amazing Spiderman and X-Men went back to the beginning with X-Men: First Class.
But it’s not just the Marvel stories that suffer, it’s also DC. A few years ago we were treated to a Superman sequel in Superman Returns. A movie not without it’s enjoyable moments, but which was overall a mess. It had no great connection to the audience and felt completely cut off from the comic books. The magic conjured by Richard Donner and Christopher Reeve lay in tatters at the feet of a super-child. So we get another reboot, Man Of Steel, this one led by Zack Snyder (I’m not a fan of this choice, Watchmen was awful on more levels than can be listed) and starring Henry Cavill (who I was concerned about at first, but he definitely has the look). And it’s another origin story, back to the beginning apparently, because it worked so well for Christopher Nolan and Batman.
Speaking of Batman, lets think about Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Progressively they got worse, that’s not something I think many people would disagree with. They added more villains to every movie, and then they brought us more heroes, and while I’m at it lets not forget the rubber nipples. The first movie brought us a surprisingly good Batman in the shape of Michael Keaton, and a phenomenal Joker from Jack Nicholson. Both delivered darkness and intensity to characters that live in the night time, outside of the reach of colour and fanfare. And then it went downhill. Fast. Until the reboot. And probably two of the greatest comic book movies ever made. Christopher Nolan, how are you doing this? The third, and final, movie under his leadership, The Dark Knight Rises, is coming, and I expect great things. But then what? There are rumours and stories that instead of continuing the tale with this image of Batman the studio wants to go back to the beginning and tell a new story from scratch. I don’t know if it’s a bad idea or not, but considering how most sequels subscribe to the law of diminishing returns then maybe it might be the best thing all round.
I like sequels. I like the familiarity with the characters and I’m interested to see how they fare in situations ever more dire and difficult to escape. I like the excitement and spectacle of a comic book movie. But I’m tired of revisiting the same old ground over and over again. Of failed sequels followed by reboots chased by dull second parts. I want more of what Christopher Nolan delivers. More of Jon Favreau’s style of sequel (I left Iron Man untouched here. The first was enjoyable, and the second nearly as much so, just more of the same).
Maybe it’s too much to ask, but every time I see a hero or villain I’ve read about, cared about, loved and hated for more than two decades become a shambles “for my viewing pleasure” I just feel like giving up on the genre.