Super Size Me

I never liked superhero comics as a kid. When I was eight a family friend gave me his entire comic book collection, a couple of boxes worth, a true treasure trove. I dug through the pile, separating the Archies, Richie Riches, Casper the Friendly Ghosts and Scrooge McDucks of the collection, separating them from the masked avengers, caped crusaders and their dark-panelled ilk.

I then sold all the heroes.

Their grim worlds just couldn’t compete with the bright fantasies of the poor little rich boy or the thoughts of diving through a bank vault full of coins. I wasn’t ready for their dystopian visions yet, or maybe I just liked the idea of all of that conspicuous wealth. Things sure have changed.

I later came to appreciate the heroes through cartoons, TV and movies. I watched the original Spider-Man with its jerky animation and endless scenes of web slinging off of empty flagpoles. I followed the Super Friends and still snicker at the phrase “Wonder Twins power, activate!” Campy as it was, I still enjoy the old Batman and love the fact that Adam West has pulled a Shatner-esque career revival. Watching the Incredible Hulk was a weekly ritual (he was like The Littlest Hobo, except angry, and I liked him when he got angry.) And Christopher Reeve was Superman, even if he fought Richard Pryor.

So when the comic book movies trend began in the late ‘80s, I understood where they were coming from, at least in a diluted form. I loved Tim Burton’s Batman (even though I thought Val Kilmer was a better choice than Michael Keaton) and I appreciated that Batman Begins toned down the supervillains and grounded the series. Ang Lee did an impression of placing a camera over top of a comic book and yelling action, and his Hulk failed. Whereas Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City succeeded when he filmed a comic book from the inside out, sans animation.

But the series that have captured the spirit, at least as I understand it, are Spider-Man and X-Men. Both tied emotional depth, gravitas and angst to cutting-edge special effects and making things blow up real good. Much like anyone who attempts a dinosaur movie will be compared to Jurassic Park, they have set the bar high for all those who follow.

Which brings me to X-Men: The Last Stand. With original director Bryan Singer off to helm Superman Returns (the most milquetoast of heroes), the reins fell to Brett Ratner, who appears to understand the basics, but has few tricks of his own. It’s as it he decided that everyone knows the characters already, so let’s just get on to the fighting. Which, I admit, looks fantastic. It raked in over $100 million over the weekend, so people obviously agreed, but I hope some of the newcomers go back and watch the first two films to see what they missed. There is little depth or emotional resonance and you need some of both to care. A major character is killed off early in the film and I felt nothing.

During the credits the fanboys sitting behind me in the theatre said, “I bet (Ratner’s) never even read an X-Men comic. Somebody probably just told him who they are.” I haven’t read one either, despite it’s 40 plus years of existence, but even I know this series deserves better than treading water.

3 comments:

  1. Thats a great post!

    Did you have that X-men comic? If you did, and you gave it away, I bet you are kicking yourself. It's worth $$$.

    I didn't get into comics until I was about 15! Before that I watched the same shows you wrote about in this post.

    This makes me think of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. Back down memory lane!

    Thanx

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  2. interesting thoughts...

    i found this one more enjoyable to watch then the 1st...although the 2nd x-men was absolutly amazing!!

    --RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

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  3. Thanks Charles -- I have no idea what I gave away in that box. I think it's better I don't know.

    And RC, I think I always come across much harsher than I feel when I write. The medium just lends itself to hyperbole.

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