Super Heroes Aren’t Always Super
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In its never-ending quest for unoriginal movie material, Hollywood has, in recent years, overdosed on Super Heroes. This current trend seemed to start with the new Spider-man film (2002), and its post 911 reassurance that there were still heroes in the world. The movie earned mega-bucks, and powered as it is by cash (you didn’t really think it was creative sensibilities, did you?) Hollywood saw potential dollar signs jumping out of every comic book ever written. Since then its been a wild, roller coaster ride through the world of spandex and special powers – sometimes up and sometimes down.

The X-men (2000) franchise started in a somewhat modest fashion. Pre-Spidey, it almost snuck in under the radar, only really causing a stir with Internet-obsessed fan boys. Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) arrived with more of a bang, but took itself far too seriously and thus struggled to connect with the casual film fan. Then there was Daredevil (2003), but the less said about that, the better. And I won’t even begin to try and list what was wrong with its abysmal spin-off Elektra (2005). Catwoman (2004) plumbed similar depths of awfulness, but no doubt provided Halle Berry with a big enough pay cheque to add another wing to her mansion, and character-wise, Fantastic Four (2005) bore so little resemblance to its comic book roots, it was almost laughable.

In amongst all this rough, a couple of diamonds brought in enough cash to keep the Super Hero bandwagon rolling. X-men 2 delivered on what the first film had promised and brought a bit of depth to the universe of tight body suits, flowing capes and laser beam eyes. Best of the current crop of do-gooders though, has to be Spider-man 2. What set this film apart from all the others were the scenes that didn’t contain the web-slinger. It was actually just as watchable when Spidey wasn’t in it.

Batman Begins created a bit of a buzz and plenty of cash, so there’s already a sequel in the pipeline. But I thought it suffered from a Hulk complex – it took itself too seriously. The third X-men film sits nicely between the first two on the hero-meter. It’s light and fluffy with some weighty issues but also plenty of butt kicking.

That brings us almost up to date. Except for earlier this year the granddaddy of all Super Heroes made a return to a multiplex near you (queue John Williams’ immortal theme tune). I mentioned earlier that Spider-man 2 succeeded because of the scenes without any daring-do. This was a feat not achieved since Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder flew over Metropolis in Superman: The Movie and Superman 2. Superman Returns had a massive pair of bright red boots to fill. Unfortunately it didn’t, missing the target by a mile. But it did earn piles of greenbacks, so expect more of the same in about three years time.

Having watched all these movies, I find myself wondering why there’s such a wildly varying quality level. Casting has a lot to do with it. It takes more than a square jaw and a kiss-curl to make a convincing Super Hero. When there’s no flying or swinging or smashing stuff up, there’s still screen time that needs to be filled – this is where a coherent plot comes in. CGI can only go so far in making a movie work. A decent script helps, too, one that realises Super Heroes are big enough to be poked fun at. And if handled properly the clichés can be celebrated, not feared. When Christopher Reeve caught Margot Kidder in one hand, and a falling helicopter in the other, it was a scene straight off the comic book page. But it worked because it was what Superman was supposed to do.

So what does the future hold for this sort of film? Unfortunately there are probably going to be a lot more Elektras and Daredevils, but fewer and fewer Spider-mans. In a way though, that’s not a bad thing. Once the bottom has fallen out of the Super Hero market, we might start to see Hollywood turning out films created from original story ideas. Holy movie-going-mayhem Batman, is such a thing possible?! Yes, old chum, it just might be.

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