Comic Book Movies
by Michael Hutchison
Over a year ago, I'd hoped to do a monthly feature called "Casting Calls", wherein a photomanipulation artist would work with a columnist to cast a superhero movie each month. The Brothers Grinn whipped up a funny header graphic for it, but the column never happened. Since it would be awful to never show it to you, here's a comic book movie-related column.
"Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters and Marvels"
First off, I'd like to thank Creative Light Video for sending us a screener copy of "Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters and Marvels." This DVD contains an interview of Stan Lee conducted by moviemaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith. It takes place in a California comic shop where the two sit in chairs and talk for a couple hours about how Stan got into the business, where he came up with the ideas behind Spider-Man, The Hulk, the Fantastic Four and much more. Although mostly a talking heads piece, appropriate images from Marvel comics are occasionally overlayed to illustrate what Stan's discussing.
It's a very classy production, especially considering the mental images you may have generated when you read that it's shot in a comic shop. Actually, the shop is as good as any professional studio set; it's well-lit, tastefully decorated with Marvel comics and makes for a beautiful backdrop.
Kevin Smith...well, Kevin is very knowledgeable concerning Marvel history, Stan's background and New York life (which is often very relevant to the formation of Marvel's image). However...well, let me put it this way: Bob Costas he ain't. Too often, Kevin forgets that this interview is being recorded for the benefit of others and talks the way you and I talk in everyday conversation.
It goes like this --
To be honest...I don't know whether I just managed to tune this out or if he improved as the interview went on...but after a few minutes it's not that annoying.
Extras on the DVD include Stan reading a poem he wrote in the 1970s called "God Woke", behind the scenes interviews, some rare home movies of Stan Lee and an interview with Stan's wife.
All you "True Believers" out there will love this just for the chance to get close to Stan the Man, although there's probably little that hardcore devotees won't already know if they've heard him interviewed at conventions. The synopses of how he created the big Marvel characters may not be new information, but smaller moments are even more interesting. When Kevin asks him about his narration of "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" Stan comments that he doesn't even think of himself as having a distinctive voice!
But he does. And hearing that voice retelling the glory days of Marvel
is what makes this a DVD worth adding to the shelf.
You've all seen Spider-Man, or you coudn't care less...so either way, there's no need for me to do a review. But I just want to say something about it.
In my lifetime there have been four Superman films, four Batman films, a Wonder Woman movie, a Wonder Woman TV-show, a Birds of Prey TV Show, a Superboy TV show, a Steel movie and two Superman TV shows ("Lois and Clark" and "Smallville"). Aside from the big three franchises...the Flash TV show and the Human Target TV show with Rick Springfield are the only other DC Comics live action properties I can recall. (I won't count the JLA pilot that was never released.)
A few of them were good, in the sense of being entertaining and well-made. Some of them are excellent and I enjoy watching them. But none of them made me feel like they had simply taken the comic book and thrown the exact same property up onto the screen. Not even the first Batman movie.
With "Spider-Man," comic fans have the satisfaction of seeing actors who actually bear a strong resemblance to the characters in the comics, behaving the way they do in the comics, with storylines straight out of the comics...all by a creative team dedicated to bringing the book to life.
The weird thing is...isn't it amazing that such low expectations are rarely fulfilled by DC's comic book movies? That's all we want, and yet it's almost never delivered.
Look at the Batman movies. Just give us a Batman who uses his intellect, fighting skills and fearsome presence to combat a bizarre villain who has a brilliant scheme. Is that SO hard? The animated series manages to do it all the time, but instead we get showboating movie stars, mis-matched villain pairings, muddled plots composed of set pieces, an overemphasis on sexual dysfunction and an attitude of disdain for the source material.
"Comic Book Villains"
James Robinson, writer of "Starman," writes and directs this movie about two rival comic shops that find out about a deceased local man who leaves behind the Golden Collection. It's the find we all dream about: a guy who has collected every comic, kept it dry and pristine, and his mom has no idea of the value of it. One comic shop owner, Raymond, is the typical Comic Book Guy that we both respect and disdain. He truly loves comics and runs his shop out of a passion for the medium, but he's not a good businessman and he isn't a people person. The other shop is owned by Norman and Judy, who run it "for the money." They sell action figures and Magic cards and such, but they don't stand around conversing about having sex with superheroes.
There are some aspects of this movie that would make me decry the director as a know-nothing if I didn't know better. Raymond smokes a pipe in his shop, a collecting no-no. And saying that Norman and Judy are in it for the money is fine, except that we all know what the market has been like. It makes me wonder if Robinson was writing this back in 1993.
This is definitely a film to check out once, but the plot has some real problems. The movie seems to have a multiple-personality disorder where it doesn't know what it's trying to be. It starts out as a great character drama but wants to go the "dark comedy" route to become the next "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" or "Snatch." The problem is that this seems totally out of character for the people that we were getting to know over the course of the first half.
Raymond...I may not respect the way he runs his shop, but I like this guy at first. He is the only character in the movie with a real passion, and his lack of people skills...well, I'll say it: I saw a lot of myself in this guy. In one scene we see him trying to make the effort to dress professionally, rehearsing what he will say when he talks to Norman and Judy. And then, in the movie's best scene, he offers a compromise that will allow them a way out from the competition that they've been having, only to have it flung back in his face. From this point on, he's clearly embarked upon a career of villainy, and the rest of the movie seems detached from the first half.
I wish this film had had several more rewrites before shooting, because the rest seems as if it was taken from any caper movie.
Also, I should mention that comic fans won't necessarily like the portrayal of comic book lovers. The only character who comes off well is a tangential character who is moving away from comics. The message is unavoidable.
Just a little observation I had to make about "The Matrix."
I think this may be the ultimate comic book superhero movie. It has protagonists who use one-word codenames, who have normal identities but are able to become dark-clothed superpowered fighters in a battle of good and evil. And at the end, Keanu Reeves exits a phone booth and flies away.
is Editor-In-Chief of Fanzing.com. He is the world's biggest Elongated Man fan
and runs the only EM fan site.
He lives in Rochester, MN.
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This piece is © 2003 by Michael Hutchison
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