Heroes in Costumes

I've been approached to adapt a superhero comicbook so I've been catching up on a lot of superhero movies lately. I went to see a noon show of WATCHMEN this week and I was the only person in the theatre for the entire 27 1/2 hour running time. That should have told me something. 

I've never read the graphic novel, so I came into this cold, without any expectations or preconceptions. Bottom line: I thought it was a bloated, dreary, cliche-ridden, self-important mess. The only thing I enjoyed was the main title sequence. I hated everything else about it.

The truth is, I have grown weary of these dark, dismal, and yet ultimately simplistic superhero movies that substitute CGI-laden, over-the-top set-pieces for character and ingenuity. IRON MAN is my favorite of the bunch lately because at least it had a sense of humor and an unpredictable central character who wasn't wallowing in self-pity all the time. THE DARK KNIGHT was energized by Heath Ledger's brilliant performance as The Joker.

The only remotely interesting character in WATCHMEN was The Comedian, but, sadly, the movie wasn't really about him. It was about an all-too-obvious, supercilious James Bond bad guy and a glowing nude-guy with delusions of God-hood. Yawn. There wasn't a single character the audience could relate to…and the only "regular" people were either psychotic killers or innocent victims. It's hard to give a damn about a bunch of one-dimensional characters in silly costumes. And I thought the violence was gory simply for the sake of being gory…it added nothing to the movie. If anything, it detracted from it. The sex scenes were so clunky and awkward it was as if the actors, and the director, had never actually had sex before…but had simply read about it. The trailer for UP was more erotic.

WATCHMEN movie was preceded by a trailer for WOLVERINE, which also looks like another $150 million montage of CGI stunts (though it seems more entertaining than WATCHMEN). How many variations of superheroes tossing cars at each other can Hollywood churn out before the audience grows tired of it?

One of these days it would be nice to see just one superhero movie that doesn't revolve around morose people in ridiculous costumes tossing cars at one another and bemoaning their emotional isolation from an unappreciative populace. 

12 thoughts on “Heroes in Costumes”

  1. Hellboy was pretty good, too, although that’s not what you’d call a superhero movie, unless your idea of one is a demon who smokes cigars and has his horns cut off.
    The original Superman was pretty fun, too.

  2. I loved loved loved THE INCREDIBLES. I also enjoyed HANCOCK.
    SUPERMAN RETURNS was a snooze.
    Didn’t like either of the two HULK movies. Didn’t like the X-MEN movies or FANTASTIC FOUR movies much, either.
    I haven’t seen the HELLBOYS yet…though I have them here on my desk, waiting to be put in the DVD player…and have heard great things about them.

  3. Just FYI – I highly suggest reading the book if your major complaint is that the “heroes” in the movie are all one-dimensional costumed psychos.
    Partly because the characters in the book are more complex (though they every one of them is a mental case – that’s actually part of the point), but mostly because the movie cut out entire plot threads that have the real, human characters that you’re supposed to be able to empathize with and only left the costumed nutjobs. Probably because the real, human characters you’re supposed to be able to empathize with are all people who work for a living and don’t put on costumes to beat up other mental cases. Probably also because Snyder seemed to be more interested in making sure every “cool” moment in the book appeared on the screen, rather than figuring out what the book was trying to say first, and then figuring out how to make a movie around that.
    But Watchmen is probably the source of every dark and grim take on costumed heroes in movies today. Mostly because Watchmen affected every comic written after it as every writer saw what Moore did and took away all of the wrong lessons (as did Zack Snyder with the movie, IMO).

  4. You should really read the book. It’s complex, super artistic, and really really fantastic. I haven’t seen the movie but the book is one of my favorites of all time. It’s a BOOK and takes a long time to read.
    There is a method to the madness and I don’t think it can fit in a 3 hour movie. It’s 12 separate highly complicated comics. Six of which are origin stories. It’s way more Huck Finn, Beloved, Artistic Novel in graphic form than a movie type story. It’s really complex with layer after layer of intertwining text and pictures.
    I love your Monk books but Watchmen is like taking 4 of your Monk books and intertwining the stories (successfully) and using art to tell the story. Alan Moore is really a genius and should be up there with Mark Twain or Toni Morrison.
    You should really read it. It’s only like $11.00 on Amazon. It’s fantastic. But put aside some time to space it out like a regular novel because it’s that dense. You’ll love it.
    I love your Monk books too!

  5. I saw Watchmen and was surprised at how much I liked it. Though a bit too long for my taste,and I did not like the cartoonish Prez. Nixon, I found it othewise to be kind of fun to see the soap opera lives of superheros behind the scenes.
    As much as I enjoyed it however, I have no need to read the grahpic novel or see a sequel made from it (so from Hollywood Exec standards – it is a failure!).

  6. I don’t think any of these films has stood up to the hype. They’re fine, and some of them are a lot of fun to watch, but they’re operating in such a limited, simplistic realm that the filmmakers are handcuffed. Even the reborn Batman strikes me as entertaining, but hardly great filmmaking. The two films have been well done, but there’s just nothing special about them. It’s as if cartoon nihilism is now supposed to be profound. (I also thought Leger’s performance was vastly overrated. He was fine, but his performance wouldn’t have even been nominated, much less awarded, if he hadn’t taken a dirt nap.)

  7. I admit it, I’m biased. I’m the exact target audience for Watchmen. But- although you don’t say it, your comments suggest that you’re biased AGAINST this genre. That’s cool, though. I’m sick of anything in which doctors or police are the protagonists.
    The Superhero genre has certain conventions that audiences expect, just as the Western, Mystery, and Romance genres have.
    Watchmen is groundbreaking because it broke Superhero conventions and was a character-driven movie instead of being simply about catching the bad guy.

  8. Matthew,
    I am not biased against the superhero genre. I loved SUPERMAN 1 and 2…and I liked Tim Burton’s first BATMAN. IRONMAN was fun, too, though the climax didn’t live up to the promise of the rest of the movie. I am biased against cliches and dull story-telling.
    The WATCHMEN graphic novel may have been groundbreaking, no argument there, but the movie version certainly isn’t.

  9. Matthew — Like Lee, I love good superhero movies. But if the conventions of the genre are going to involve shitty storytelling, then the creators have got to up their game. I think you’re selling the genre (and its fans) short. Sure, crap superhero films may be popular, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold them to a higher standard.


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