back to the beginning…

This title could refer to two things: either this blog, which is an on-again off-again project of mine, or the current state of pop culture. On the former, life has gotten in the way and I’ve let it gather dust, and on the latter we’re talking about the current Hollywood strip-mining of comic book culture and characters. Of course, this is to be expected – despite the fact that communities have built up around them, at the end of the day these are commerical properties to be exploited mercilessly by their owners, but the question before is why they aren’t exploited more imaginitively and excitingly… at least in the cinematic arena.

I’m going to give Marvel a bye on this – the reason for their success is that perhaps they haven’t done this quite as much, and after the initial “realistic, gritty” Iron Man they’ve gone off fully into the world of the comics and embraced all the stuff that in earlier decades producers dismissed because they wanted to keep their franchises “grounded” (sorry Bryan Singer, but a guy shooting energy beams out of his eyes? Not grounded. Ever.) and were afraid that they would lose the mainstream audience by introducing the time travel and the giant robots, although after Robert Downey Jr. screamed through Manhattan chased by a fleet of CGI aliens on bikes and the world responded by shelling out heaps of money, that’s become a little less of a risk. Hence the X-Men franchise feeling free to cut loose with Sentinels, time-travel and Apocalypse.

But those honorable exceptions aside… I think things are beginning to get a little stale, and this is beginning to produce bad comic book movies that just don’t work properly. Witness The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or as I call it The Amazing Spin-off Set-up. ASM2 wasn’t a very good film as rather than just telling a good story as the far superior second film in the Raimi franchise did, it was all about hinting at the origins of future villains. We know the origins of Peter Parker very, very well by now (it’s been told twice) but rather than taking that and having fun with it, instead it was jam-packed with “hints” about future villains for the sole purpose of creating films about them that will be amazingly (ha-ha!) derivative as Sony tries desperately to create its own universe to compete with Marvel’s. I don’t really have a huge amount of interest in a Sinister Six film, or a Venom film… can’t I just have a series of good Spider-Man films that use these characters well? Sony are, of course, constrained by not owning the other Avengers but seemed to do fine with Raimi’s films… why not continue down that path?

And then there’s DC. Oy… I don’t even know where to start there. I find that kind of sad really, as DC has exploited the Batman franchise incredibly well in the world of video games, with the incredible Arkkam series (Origins a sad exception due to being horrendously buggy), a franchise that actually treats the character with proper respect and gives us what we all want at the end of the day: in it, you play the Batman at the height of his powers, fighting supervillains and doing really cool stuff. It seems obvious, but it’s possibly the only thing DC have got right recently. Everything else is just… well, meh. It’s now all prequels and reboots, as if there’d never been a Batman or Superman movie before. It’s all “back to the beginning” and “legends are born” and I just wonder: why? Why can’t we have cool adventures with these characters after “the beginning” rather than retreading the same old stories over and over again?

Take Gotham, for instance. I can’t help but just feel unenthusiastic about it:

It’s taking out the first hour of Batman Begins and stretching it out to god knows how many years, telling us “how the legend came to be”, and yet it’s already been told very well by the 90s animated series, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s films and also very succintly and possibly most touchingly in the first Arkham game:

We know that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by Joe Chill (although Tim Burton’s effort recast the killer as the Joker in an attempt to save time), and that Bruce Wayne then became Batman. However, I’m more interested in Batman than in “Bruce Wayne’s journey to become Batman”. Gotham will no doubt contain lots of “foreshadowing” of and allusions to famous comic storylines, but will effectively then cut out at the point we all really want to see. Why not give us a film of The Killing Joke or Prey? I’d like to see those instead of yet another long, tiresome explanation of where Batman came from. I know… I’ve been told it umpteen times!

Perhaps one day, Hollywood will get over its fascination with “the origins” of characters and just get on with making cool films about them with them already having gone through the trials and tribulations that made them the heroes they are, and instead focused on exploring the nooks and crannies of what makes the characters tick in other ways. There’s definitely enough of a Bat-universe in there to explore besides Bruce Wayne’s head too – I’m hoping the Bat-affleck films may do this rather than giving us more “origins”, but I’m not holding out hope.

I could rant on further about this. I could write millions of lines… but basically I’d just like to say: fuck reboots, give us good stories. I’m also going to make a prediction: the film that finally kills the comic book golden goose will be a massive flop with the subtitle Origins as it tries to squeeze more juice out of yet another character’s story that’s already been done to death.

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