Why Comic Book Movies Stink (According to Salon)

Why Comic Book Movies Stink (According to Salon) May 13, 2010

Salon’s Mott Zoller Seitz just wrote a fun piece deconstructing that most ubiquitous of modern cinematic offerings: the comic book movie.  He ain’t a fan.

Here’s what he has to say about the genre, currently exploding:

The aforementioned moments are just that: moments. Dazzling fragments of films that tend to be visually adept and dramatically inert or vice versa. Even at the peak of their creative powers, big-budget comic book films are usually more alike than different. And over time, they seem to blur into one endless, roiling mass of cackling villains, stalwart knights, tough/sexy dames, and pyrotechnic showdowns that invariably feature armored vehicles (or armor-encased men) bashing into each other. When such movies accumulate praise, it’s encrusted with implied asterisks: “The best superhero film ever made,” say, or “The best Batman film since Tim Burton’s original.” If the Hollywood studio assembly line is high school in a John Hughes movie, superhero films are the jocks — benighted beneficiaries of grade inflation and reflexive fan boosterism. (Critics who don’t like a particular superhero film — any superhero film — are apt to be simultaneously blasted in online comments threads as aesthetic turistas ill-equipped to judge the work’s true depth and snooty killjoys who expect too much and need to lighten the hell up. Neat trick.)

Bad as many of these movies may be, the hits keep coming:

Meanwhile, the assembly line keeps rolling along, siphoning $100 million to $200 million per film from Hollywood’s economy to fund all that CGI, spurring the creation of ancillary merchandise that’s ultimately the real reason for any superhero film’s existence, and generating advance publicity that’s instantly transformed into free advertising by buffs, who parse each new superhero casting announcement as if there were, in fact, a character to play. (Is Chris Hemsworth the right choice to play Thor? Let’s check the requirements: 1. Be blond. 2. Swing a hammer.)

Read the whole piece (I don’t appreciate some of the language).

I have some appreciation of various comic book movies.  Sherlock Holmes was fun, for example; Robert Downey, Jr. seems to have been specially created to infuse otherwise boring blockbuster films with insouciance and fun (though I’m sure he could do much more with his talent, as Seitz says).  Spider Man 2 was also nicely done.  There are a few others.

The grandeur and spectacle of many comic book movies is appealing to many for good reasons.  Big films can tackle big topics on a big scale.  They can also, of course, be bad in a big way.  It’s interesting to note that many of these films tackle spiritual themes from a variety of angles.  Clash of the Titans, for example, had some harsh words for Christianity.

Comic book movies are a strange phenomenon–pitched to an ever-young America (in its own mind, at least), often concerned with adolescent life issues, perhaps reflecting a native human interest in God-like figures and Bible-like drama.  Many of the movies are stupid; some are memorable; a few are excellent.  Alot, however, gross lots of money–and that, after all, is what really matters.

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  • Jethro

    Just one problem – Sherlock Holmes wasn’t a comic book character.

  • i’m a huge fan of comic movies, even some of the less stellar ones. i do think, though, that the genre is evolving a bit. “Batman Begins,” “Iron Man,” and “The Dark Knight” are better than most other action movies ever made, and i say this as someone whose favorite movies all time include “Citizen Kane,” “Casablanca,” “Big Fish,” and “A River Runs Through It.”

    yeah, so, at a basic level i don’t agree with article. i mean, “The Dark Knight” should have won best picture, hands down. i hope the genre just keeps getting better.

  • oh and is sherlock holmes a comic movie?

  • Only in a country as young as the United States are we allowed to create our own myths, but that is what comic book heroes are.

    Super hero movies rise and fall on one main topic: the credibility of their villain. When Batman battles the Joker (Tim Burton; Christopher Nolan), it forms a compelling story. When Hollywood begins to cobble together third-stringer’s from the Rogue’s Gallery (like 1997’s “Batman and Robin” and “Spiderman 3”) in an effort to squeeze in another sequel—well, set your phasers on “snooze.”

    And Sherlock Holmes may not fit a tight definition of a comic book hero, but he fits typologically. And his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, has served as the villain in Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”

  • @matthew,

    good points, but i’d hardly call Venom (in spiderman 3) a third stringer. he’s a long time fan favorite, very deep character, they just didn’t develop him.

    actually, riddler and two-face are hardly third stringers either (in batman and robin). hmmm, maybe you’re right about the villains makin’ the movie, but i don’t think the third stringer part is right, at least not with those 2 examples. only sandman is really a second tier villain (though still a longtime spidey foe).

  • @mike,

    Love the discussion. I’ll stand by my guns on villains, but nuance my point to say the villain needs to have broken into the public’s conscience. Obviously, fanboys (like us) would geek out if Cassandra Nova was in an X4 trailer, but for the public . . . not so much.

    Here’s why Green Lantern (one of DC’s best heroes) will never get a movie: who knows anything about Sinestro or Gorilla Grodd?

    You’re good with Lex Luthor, The Joker, Magneto, Dr. Doom, Doc Ock, . . . um, Red Skull . . . getting thin. Darkseid? Mister Mxyzptlk? Yikes.

    Thanks for the dialogue. I just subscribed to your blog.