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The tone of Comic Book movies…what should it be?

The Man of Steel movies has not done as well as WB had hoped, although it is still success and it is more successful than 2006’s Superman Returns. Does this mean that Superman doesn’t translate that well into being a more serious character? What should be the tone of a superhero comic book movie? Many sing the praises of the Nolan Batman trilogy for its gritty realism. Some do not like it at all. I am between those two extremes. While I do like the trilogy, with the first movie, Batman Begins, as the most enjoyable, I do think that there are times when these movies seem like something else rather that a superhero movie. So, what should a superhero movie look like?

There is not one answer to this question  but I do see a common denominator. To ironically quote the Joker from the movie The Dark Night..”Why so serious?”

That is they key element. At some level in the movie it needs to not take itself so seriously. After all these are stories where adults are dressing in costumes and fighting crime. If this were to happen in the real world such a person would be spending some time in a psychiatric center. I find many of the Marvel movies, specifically the first Iron Man movie, does strike the right tone. I also notice that there is a continuum of tone. As I mentioned that Iron Man strikes a good tone but can there also be a time when a more lighthearted approach can also work? I think so….and this is the heart of the issue; To balance seriousness with a lighthearted approach. For the next couple of paragraphs I will defend one of my favorite Batman movies, Batman Forever, and demonstrate how that movie does successfully balance the  seriousness with a lighthearted approach.

First of all, the set designs, costumes and cinematography all let the viewer know that this is indeed a fantasy and not the real world. Gotham is not realistic but it is a character all its own that adds to the verisimilitude of the movie. Direct Joel Schumacher used brighter colors than the previous director, Tim Burton, but it still kept Gotham as a foreboding gritty crime filled city. The setting does establish the tome of the movie that it will be serious but lighthearted. The over-the-top portrayal of the villains, Two-Face and the Riddler, played wonderfully by Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carey, also lets us know that this movie is to entertain and to not take it so seriously.

Yet, the movie does have some serious themes. It shows Bruce Wayne/Batman, played greatly but Val Kilmer, struggling with his identity and the guilt over his parents death. We see Dick Grayson/Robin, played brilliantly by Chris O’Donnell, struggling with grief, the murder of his family and the desire for revenge. Although this movie does have camp like the 1960s version of Batman, this movie does not show that the relationship between Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin was anything but smooth and it took them time to form a partnership. For myself this is the strength of the movie and watching them come together is what makes it so enjoyable for me.

Batman Forever is on the more campier side of the verisimilitude of comic book movies, much more so than Iron man, but it does demonstrate that there is a continuum within the less realistic approach of the recent Nolan Batman and Superman movies. The sequel to Batman Forver, Batman and Robin, although a guilty pleasure, did cross the line in the other direction and demonstrates that going too campy can also cause a problem. So for myself with Batman Forever on the campier end of the spectrum and the first Iron Man being the more serious end of the spectrum gives comic book movies a great deal of space to work with to find that perfect tone for these types of movies.

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Man of Steel: My Expectations

The other day I wrote my expectations for the new Godzilla movie. Next up are my expectations for the next Superman movie, Man of Steel, and then next week will be my expectations for Star Trek Into Darkness. I think this will be a new theme. It will be interesting to write of my expectations prior to a movie’s release and then compare that with my actual review.

I am a big Superman fan and I own all of the Donner films on DVD, the animated series, the George Reeves 50s TV show and Lois & Clark. I even liked Superman Returns. Ok, I agree it needed more action but all-in-all it wasn’t too bad. Superman saving the airplane was the best part of the movie.

I actually wanted Brandon Routh to be Superman once again. However, once I learned they had cast Henry Cavill as Superman I was happy with the choice. I think this is the first buff Superman we will be getting. No offense to the other actors playing the role but people like Christopher Reeve and the aforementioned Brandon Routh were way too skinny. I actually was happy that this movie would be a fresh start and not connected to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies.

Well, I had mixed feelings actually. I didn’t mind saying goodbye to those movie and that specific continuity. Even though I own Superman III & IV I will admit they aren’t that good. What I had mixed feelings about was having another origin movie. Sure, Superman’s origins had not been told on the big screen in over 30 years but that wasn’t the problem. We have had so many origin movies over the last few years. Batman, Green Lantern, Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, 2 Spider-Man origins, Captain America and on and on. I just didn’t want to sit through another origin story!! However, from all the trailers I have seen it looks like it will actually be a very good origin story. I hope we see a lot of Superman and don’t have to wait more than half the movie before we see the man in the blue suit.

Speaking of the new Superman suit..I freaking love it!! I think it is a brilliant design. I know that there are some fans that do not like it, but I think it looks great. Best suit ever. Many complain about the colors, a very deep blue rather than the a more light sky-blue color of Reeve’s suit. The biggest complaint has been the lack of the outer-underwear from previous incarnations of the suit. However many new designs, Batman for instance, have been going in that direction and I think this design looks fine without them. I love the deep rich colors and the extra-large cape. The only thing I do not like is the yellow in the “S” on his chest, it looks dull and dirty.

My only concern was with the involvement of Christopher Nolan. Now I do not mind a more realistic take on the Man of Steel, I just don’t want them to go as dark and gritty as his Batman trilogy. Superman is a bright character. Some have complained that he is a Super Boy Scout. To some degree he is. Superman Returns depicted him as a Christ-like figure. However, from the trailer I think we will get the best of both worlds. We will see a young Clark Kent struggling with who he is, but I think we will also get a movie with a lot of action an adventure.

I am also glad we have the return of General Zod, first scene in Superman II. It would have been so easy for them to use Lex Luthor once again as the villain but I think he has been used way too often. If this movie is to be a reboot and a fresh start then I am glad they have gone a different route in this aspect. I have not really cared for the depiction of Lois Lane on film so far. Kate Bosworth was pretty good in Superman Returns. She was a cute and spunky and feisty Lois. I also liked Erica Durance as Lois in the long running TV series Smallville. I am very intrigued with Amy Adams as Lois. I think she is pretty and a fine actress and I look forward to her portrayal. For those that complain Amy Adams has strawberry blond hair in this movie may have forgotten that in the 1950s Adventure of Superman TV series Noel Neill also had red hair.

In closing I have high expectations on this movie. From what I have seen from the trailers I think we are going to get an excellent Superman movie!