It has been a hell of a millennium so far for Superhero movies after a less than impressive 1990s and, quite frankly, a downright embarrassing 1980s. Should we even mention the 70s or 60s? We as a species have finally figured out how to make awesome movies with super-powered heroes and villains. Thanks be to Galactus. These were the stories that defined my childhood. I wasn't running around my house pretending to be John Wayne or a fireman or an astronaut. I was pretending to be the Incredible Hulk. So to see the ongoing crapfest during my childhood that was visiting the cinema each year, particularly with my favorite brand (Marvel), was in a word ... heartbreaking. There were baby steps along the way, small moments of brilliance amid a desolate wasteland of fetid turds. Hits such as Superman (1978), of course The Incredible Hulk serial (1978-82), Batman (1989), and Blade (1998). At last, after years and years of waiting, the genre exploded with the genre defining X-Men (2000). Woo Hoo! I was already 24 years old. Damn. Since then Marvel and DC have rattled off movie after movie each year. In 2011 alone, we saw Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The First Avenger and 2012 looks to be even bigger (Ghost Rider 2, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight Rises). Lots and lots of super-movies. So many in fact, that you'd think that Hollywood would have a basic understanding of the rules of making a superhero movie. And yet, somehow ... they don't. But never fear, business executives masquerading as studio producers, I am here to save the day. Here are the 10 Rules of Superhero Movies.
10. Respect the Source
Yes, this is a comic book. And yes, the hero is most likely wearing multi-colored spandex with his underoos on the outside (or magically re-sizing ripped, purple pants). The story in which the hero came about finding his superpowers is probably about as thin as a Republican budget surplus. Yes, yes. I understand all of that. I can see how it would be easy to dismiss the source as juvenile fancy and tailor the entire production behind that faulty premise (see GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra). And yet I don't care. The same rule applies here as to all other areas of entertainment. If you are going to serve up shit, then your audience is going let it fall straight into the toilet. Yeah, you'll get the little kids dumped in the theater for two hours while their parents dance the horizontal mambo, but you'll never get the hardcore fan. In the comic book world, the hardcore fan is the uber-nerd. And as we all know uber-nerds own the Internet. That's why Bryan Singer as a director was so revolutionary. He looked at a Hogwarts of teenage super-powered mutants and didn't think comic book first. He thought characters, plot, pacing, action, theme, credibility. Singer embraced his inner geek. He raised the bar and set out to make a great movie. He did and $300,000,000 later, the superhero era was in its prime. That's why the failures of certain directors since X-Men now seem even more glaring. The Super-Bible has been written, yet somehow these film makers pissed theirs pants despite. Hey, I'm a nice guy. I'm not in the business of pointing fingers at anyone in particular to highlight their failure (cough, cough ... Ang Lee). As you've probably guessed, Hulk (2003) was the movie I was waiting for my entire life. I was tempted to come to the theater in costume and covered with Army camo paint. Hulk Smash, bitches! My girlfriend (and now my wife) talked some sense into me by reminding me of the virtues of abstinence should such behavior occur. Damn her. Regardless, I was as excited to see this movie as any in my life time. Imagine then my disappointment, when I got a rambling, emotional exploration of the moronically simplified father-son relationship, culminating with both of them tied to chairs and crying about their feelings ... just before one of them bites into power cord. God help me, I watched the last act of the movie sobbing over Bill Bixby at the foot of the screen until a group of ushers carried me out. Just a clue, Mr. Anonymous Director (ahem ... Mr. ANG LEE from Pingtung, Taiwan): if your scene transitions involve comic book frames or the flipping of pages, then you don't understand the genre and should just stay away. This is not a cute, comic book movie. Makes me so angry. You know what, Ang? Why don't you do a movie about my grandmother and ruin the only other good part of my childhood. Bastard. ... I'm better now.
Robert Curtis is a columnist, podcaster, screenwriter, and WhatCulture.com MMA editor. He's an American abroad in Australia, living vicariously through his PlayStation 3. He's too old to be cool, but too young to be wise.