Saturday, October 3, 2015

The great superhero reboot debate

It's hard to believe Batman is about to be on his third onscreen incarnation since 1989. (Four, if you differentiate the Tim Burton films from Joel Schumacher's, which I do for the sake of this op-ed. For my thoughts on my Ben Affleck's Batman — aka Batfleck — and Bruce Wayne will be quite different than anything we've seen before, go here.)

Counting the late Christopher Reeve's movies, Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns" and now Henry Cavill, the world's first superhero is on the third film version. Spider-Man will be on his third incarnation.

But which version reigns supreme?

Don't worry, Cary's Comics Craze will break it down for you.


"Batman," "Batman Returns":
Michael Keaton brings a certain amount of menace to the Caped Crusader (something pop culture hadn't seen before in any onscreen versions), but his Bruce Wayne lacks the same intensity on a regular basis. Burton added gravitas to Batman and each of his films made "moody," "angst" and "dark" the go-to key words and tone for the tone of the Dark Knight films and his comic-book world for years to come. The 1989 film reintroduced pop culture to Batmania.

"Batman Forever," "Batman & Robin":
Schumacher's films added brightness and fun to the dreary Burtonverse -- and unfortunately, the infamous Bat-nipples on the Batsuit.

Each movie has ridiculous plot lines and borderline cheesy special effects, but they also has a killer roster of A-list cast members and addressed themes from the other installments. Unfortunately, the casting of Batman and his villains often overshadowed and took precedent over quality storytelling and great scripts.

"Batman & Robin" reaks of being a rush job and toy-marketing whore (which Schumacher admitted later) -- not to mention some of the worst/overdone acting by "Ah-nuld" (and that's saying something!).

"The Dark Knight Trilogy":
Director/writer Christopher Nolan gets us to care about the man behind the cowl, making Batman as complicated and tormented as we've ever seen.

The Nolanverse delivers what I've named "the multi-villian syndrome" (something the Burton-Schumacher films did to much less success, given the lack of logical motives for the two baddies to collaborate), but none of these associations feel forced. Actually, seeing the trilogy as a whole, one can see why Nolan chose to use the villains and mobsters he did. Ultimately, Gotham City and Batman/Wayne are persecuted by Ra's al Ghul (even after his death) and his League of Shadows.

The three-film story arc delivers an intense Wayne by Christian Bale (who IMHO remains "a cape and cowl above" his Batman acting predecessors) who protects his city as a sacrificial Batman who yearns to pass on his mantle and live the rest of his life quietly and happily with the only woman up to the task of handling him.

Verdict: "The Dark Knight Trilogy"


The Sam Raimi trilogy:
Thanks to "Spider-Man" capitalizing on the success of Bryan Singer's "X-Men," the era of the superhero film kicked into high gear and still is going strong.

Raimi's trilogy is nothing but fun, yet never strays far from Spidey's comics roots. Tobey Maguire delivers a very human Peter Parker, a man who knows and lives by the wisdom he got from his Uncle Ben -- that with great power comes great responsibility. Parker might not always get it right, but you can't help root for Marvel Comics' ultimate everyman.

Fans and critics enjoy ripping on the third film, but give Team Raimi credit that from beginning to end, the saga ultimately is about the most important people in Parker's life -- Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborne,

"Amazing Spider-Man" films:
Here, the focus is on the tumultuous relationship between a very nerdy and awkward Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (the sultry Emma Stone, doing her best girl-next-door thing). There's also an unfulfilling subplot of Parker obsessing over his late father's work at OsCorp.

Garfield's Spider-Man is mouthier than Maguire's. The first film is surprisingly good, and while it slightly tweaks Uncle Ben's murder, "Amazing Spider-Man" generally stays true to the spirit of ol' Webhead (a very different costume, notwithstanding).

The sequel, while not terrible by any means, is overwhelmed with trying to develop too much, introducing too many characters and the Burton/Schumacher-esque odd pairing of the Green Goblin and Electro -- complete with overdone acting and scene-chewing.

Verdict: The Sam Raimi trilogy


The Christopher Reeve films:

The late Reeve put such an iconic and spot-on stamp on Superman, even subsequent comic-book incarnations have paled in comparison. There's a reason he's one of the legendary superhero casting coups of all time.

With "Superman: The Movie," director Richard Donner unknowingly created a template that set the standard for future superhero films and TV series -- let the audience empathize and get to know the main character, include fleshed-out and memorable supporting characters, cast a few big names, make an unknown actor your star and then have the hero face dire circumstances and nearly impossible odds for the finale.

The fourth film is an embarrassment best left forgotten.  "Superman III" has been dogged for including too much comedy, but let's be honest: the Clark Kent vs. Superman showdown is fantastic. But it's the first two films that remain cinematic classics and are nothing short of masterpieces.

"Superman Returns":
Donner's two films made such an impact that when offered the chance to reintroduce Supes to the big screen, Singer jumped ship from the "X-Men" franchise and used the consequence of Lois Lane sleeping with the Man of Steel in "Superman II" as the springboard for his film.

Brandon Routh does a fine job or portraying the still socially inept Kent and the heroic Superman, although critics argued that Routh simply was aping Reeve.

The "Returns" script does a disservice to Superman's world by putting too much emotional distance and baggage on and between the hero and Lane (a sadly ill-cast Kate Bosworth), whose chemistry with Routh is virtually non-existent.

The jetliner rescue and Kryptonian island toss are great sequences, but overall, Superman fans left theaters unfulfilled. The subsequent critical beating that the moody "Superman Returns" took meant there would be no sequel and left Supes' cinematic future -- not to mention the character's relevance -- in question.

"Man of Steel":
After "Superman Returns" failed to satisfy much of anyone, fans clamored for the big guy "to just hit something."

Fans got more than they expected -- and in some ways, just what they wanted -- as Supes battles three Kryptonians who were banished to the Phantom Zone. Ironically, the biggest dig against "Man of Steel" is the mass destruction and loss of lives caused by Superman's no-pulled-punches battle with General Zod -- an unfortunate consequence of fans wanting more action and realism in a post-9-11 world.

The biggest plot twist here is Lane knows Kent is Superman. How their characters and relationship will develop in "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" and beyond is anybody's guess.

Verdict: The Christopher Reeve films

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