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Friday, April 16, 2010

Is this the end of the fan-boy cycle of the comic book film?

It's been a nice run. But I think we're seeing the end of the fan-boy comic book (ok, yes, I know they're "Graphic Novels") films as we have known it; I'll say that the genesis for this cycle lies with Brian Singer's X-Men. 10 years is pretty good for a genre cycle. But there are several signs that this is it. First, the harbinger of the apocalypse for this genre cycle:

Kick Ass has proven divisive to critics, and most likely will do the same with audience reception. The film is a fan boy wet dream, though the general public a little troubled by a whole-sale celebration of troubling themes in less than nuanced ways.

And that's what Kick Ass is. The film has taken what comic books are, essentialized it, taken it to an extreme, and now we have a film of it, that can't quite go to those extremes (because Hollywood wouldn't release it), so instead even more typifies Hollywood's recent obsession with comic books. With its hyper-stylized violence, sexual frustration and accompanying Freudian death instinct, this film may prove to be the tipping point where the meeting of the comiccon fan boys and mainstream hollywood ends. Fan boys have been given the film they've always wanted; everyone else is left scratching their heads.

It's not that wholesale violence, and even violence involving teens and kids is a problem for audiences. I think that we're getting tired of the whole "costumed hero" thing. Watchmen, Batman, and now Kick Ass tread similar territory in very different ways. But eventually, when it comes down to it, what's with the tights? For every genre there is a peak and a point of no return. For this, it's Kick Ass.

Which brings me to #2: Sony giving up on The Green Hornet. Or at least calling it a failure. Why? Because it's too campy. See, fanboy's like their adaptations dark, even their comedy... especially their comedy. So, a campy film is out of the question. The central tenant of this cycle of the comic book film has been realism. The problem is that realism, or a serious approach, is a key element to Camp (per Sontag). It has to be done seriously, which means that you can make a Batman film with Killer Croc and make it realistic, but the end result will be, counter-intuitively, hideously silly. And does every adaptation have to be serious? Most genre cycles end because of parody; and parody is often applied to something that takes itself too seriously. These films have taken themselves seriously to the point that they are parodies of themselves, or that a film like Kick Ass can parody not by turning the genre tropes on their head, but by fully embracing them to absurd ends. That's not to say we have to return to the previous cycle, the post-modern camp cycle. Like all genre's, it's shifted one way, then another, and will change and adapt. What we may see, and I think it could be interesting, is the cycle of textual permeability, where characters appear in multiple films, not in self-contained films, like the Justice League, Avengers, etc.

Third, the studios have bought up the dregs of the comic book characters. Batman, Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man: these are the marquee draws for non-fan boy audiences. Good luck selling everyone else.

Fourth, I think we've come to a realization about medium specificity. Just because a graphic novel looks like the most awesome storyboard ever, just because its a graphic medium, doesn't mean it should be adapted to a film (cf. The Spirit). This was the limitation that Watchmen found, and even the ultimate director's cut or whatever he called it, doesn't work because film, unlike graphic novels, can't have things like appendices or footnotes. At least not a mainstream film. Connected to this is that Avatar, while it wasn't very original, was not an adaptation. It success was tied to its ability to be specifically conceived and utilize the specific elements of a very specific type of cinema.

I'm not saying that the comic book film is dead. It's just I think we're seeing the end of this particular cycle of them.

1 comment:

podmuishka said...

Oh, if only...