Comic Book Films Are Losing Their Edge Because Of Their Success

“We can't afford to just make cookie-cutter comic book movies”

Unless you’ve been avoiding movie theatres for the last, I don’t know, ten plus years, chances are you’re aware that comic book movies are having a (very long) moment.

For the most part, this has been a seriously enjoyable ride for nerdy superhero fans like yours truly. The industry has brought us epic productions like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther and Wonder Woman.

But it has also delivered some duds. Not naming any names (cough, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, cough).

Back in 2016, SYFY theorised that perhaps the colossal success of many comic films (even the not so great ones) was allowing for production houses to push out movie after movie, a little too fast and a little undercooked.

And at this year’s New York Comic-Con, this same theme appeared to pop up in a couple of panels.

During the ‘It’s the Big “Batman” 1989 Movie 30th Anniversary!’ panel, Michael Uslan – the originator and executive producer of the Batman movie franchise – pointed out that the success of the Tim Burton film was partly due to how different it was.

Bullseye, baby.
Credit: Warner Bros.

Prior to this dark representation of Gotham, Batman on-screen had only ever been a light, cheesy take on the comic. And although it took ten years to get his vision made into a film, Uslan stressed that it “was a game-changer” once it came out.

“We changed the world’s perception of comic books,” he said.

Uslan then went on to highlight that sometimes, the money-making machine that is the movie industry influences certain productions, hinting that this can take away from the authenticity of the film (though he didn’t point out specific examples).

“We can’t afford to just make cookie-cutter comic book movies,” he said.

“We need to have filmmakers with that passion and with the vision who are bold and daring and willing to push an envelope. Look what Marvel did with Deadpool. Look what they did with Guardians of the Galaxy. You’ve gotta take some chances and believe that the fans will be there to appreciate it if you’re coming from the heart, and if you really believe in all of this.”

“Hey, positive reviews.”
Credit: Disney

This sentiment was echoed during the Rotten Tomatoes panel, ‘Rotten Movies We Love’. Critic Monica Castillo highlighted that a lot of superhero films receive bad reviews on the website because, well… they’re unoriginal.

“I think when critics approach these kinds of movies they might be looking for something that’s a little bit more out of the box and sometimes these movies because they are, there’s such big-budget stuff now that studios tend to keep them like, kind of formula. They’re safe. They don’t usually colour outside the lines, or really include something that would break the norm. Like, I would love to see a Marvel movie that featured a queer character that was on screen for longer than two seconds.

“…it is very risk-averse. So then we as critics, we see you know 20, 30 of these and then we’re like, ‘Okay, so this is another origin story. We’ve seen this movie already”. So that’s why it’s really fun to see something like Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is exciting, this is something we haven’t seen before’.”

Taika’s take of Thor was electric, kids.
Credit: Disney

So, long story, short: The Comic film universe is responsible for some pretty incredible movies. They just need to be a little more careful about pushing out the same safe story and prioritize fresh takes (preferably involving Taika Waititi) instead.

There’s A Problem With The Way Films Depict Mental Illness In Women

Let's talk about the difference between Harley Quinn and the Joker, shall we?

When you think about Comic-Con, images of superheroes, fantasy film series and video games tend to come to mind. And while that is certainly what sits at the heart of the event, there’s actually a lot more depth to it than you might assume.

New York’s 2019 Comic-Con has held a number of panels discussing social issues and how the industry treats them within popular productions. One such topic is mental health and the manner in which it’s depicted within the world of sci-fi and fantasy (SFF).

For the panel ‘Putting It All Out There: SFF and Mental Health’, writers Shaun Hamill, Lauren Shippen and Stephen Graham Jones spoke with Assistant Editor of The Mary Sue, Princess Weekes, about the treatment of mental health within the genre. In the process, they highlighted an important point.

“The depictions of women with mental illness to me is always interesting because there’s this element of hyper-sexualisation with it,” Weekes started.

“…thinking of like, Basic Instinct, and thinking of even the idea that you have to ‘save a woman by killing her’ – rest in peace Daenerys Targaryen…

“how to you think that, or what would you think that gender plays into depictions of mental illness?”

The panel went on to discuss the all too common conflation of beauty or sex with mental illness for female characters, and the (fairly obvious) problems with that as a trend. If you look at examples like the Bunny Boiler, Harley Quinn (holding out for Birds of Prey) and Nina of Black Swan, they’re each connected with a prominent sexual theme. And the story doesn’t end too well for many of them…

Cases like Daenerys Targaryen and Dr Jean Grey (X-Men The Last Stand) differ slightly, but they remain beautiful women whose mental health stories are linked to their romantic interests. Both of these characters lose control, forcing the men they love to ‘save’ them from themselves.

Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Comparatively, men are more likely to be shown to be dark, tormented souls like, say, the Joker. He is not an alluring puzzle to be figured out… just a violent monster. Depictions of mental illness being synonymous with violence have traditionally been another problematic reoccurrence in the SFF world, I should point out. But that’s another discussion.

While this isn’t every film, and there are exceptions in Hollywood’s illustration of mental illness, it is clear that historically, certain tropes regularly pop up.   

Credit: Warner Bros.

Responding to Weekes’ comments at Comic-Con, Hamill added:

“I have seen the irresponsible depiction, Harley Quinn of course being the most iconic one for most of us in this room, probably. And you still see it – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl; I feel like that trope is tied up in there, as well.”

“…I don’t know if anybody remembers the TV show Six Feet Under, where there’s the brother and sister. …They’re both mentally ill but Brenda is this incredible sex pot and Billy is allowed to be this play for laughs… or joke, walking around the house in this Christmas sweater crying. Really ugly crying. And she doesn’t really get to do that. When she starts to break it’s sexy; she starts giving hand jobs to clients, or whatever… hopefully we’re moving away from that.”

He pointed out that truthful writing is the best way forward from here:

“Let it be ugly, let it be drab. Let it really feel like what it feels like. Let it weigh.”

Graham Jones added that he’d “be interested in a statistical analysis of whether men or women writers do this more often of rendering women with mental health issues…”.

“If it is more men, which I suspect is the case… then I guess it’s one of two things,” he continued.

“…the Pygmalion thing where, ‘this woman is clay, I can mould her into something useful.’ Or how do I make this woman interesting? They know that they shouldn’t have her raped, which is like, the go-to thing in fiction. And so, they give her a mental health issue. ”

In any case, while Hollywood’s relationship with mental health is far from perfect, it is improving. And discussions like this one at Comic-Con’s mental health panel are a great way to push forward.

If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, it’s always a good time to seek some support. beyondblue can offer you personalised support.

Sweet Trash: The Very Best Worst Films As Critiqued By Rotten Tomatoes

Be prepared to get angry.

There are few topics of conversation that rouse passionate reactions like film talk can.

Don’t even TRY and criticise Batman 1989 in front of me
Credit: Disney

A beloved movie – especially the ones we share nostalgic connections with – is something most folks are willing to fight ’til the death for. So, when you learn one of your favourite movies has been poorly received by industry critics, it hurts.

The team at Rotten Tomatoes know this – they’ve written an entire book about it. ‘Rotten Movies We Love’ is made up of a collection of essays about well-loved films that got a bad rap on the Tomatometer (i.e. less than 60 per cent). For the book, Rotten Tomatoes editors and film critics banded together in defence of a collection of ‘rotten’ films to dissect why they received poor reviews and to highlight how brilliant they really are.

While at New York Comic-Con this week, Rotten Tomatoes staff Joel Meares (Editor-in-Chief) and Jacqueline Coley (Editor) spoke with critics Monica Castillo, Eric Kohn and Mark Ellis about the ‘bad’ films they love so dearly.

“Can any of you believe that Step Brothers is a rotten movie on the Tomatometer?” Meares said when asked what inspired the book.  

“… We’re often as surprised as you are to learn that certain films are rotten,” he continued.

“So, we decided to run with the idea. We put together this book of 101 movies that are rotten on the Tomatometer but very, very fresh in our hearts and it ranges from everything from Step Brothers to Space Jam – which I think is somewhere in the 20 per cent – to I Know What You Did Last Summer…”

On hearing that some of my very favourite movies tanked according to critics, I quickly decided I needed to check out this book and the reasoning behind the *offensively* low ratings for these films.

Here’s what I learnt:

Critics hated some of the best-ever Christmas films: 

Do you spend every Christmas afternoon slumped on the couch watching Home Alone 2 and The Holiday with a glass of wine in hand? You should. They’re two of the most delightful holiday films of all time.

It seems certain critics would like to crush our Christmas spirit, however, as they rated the movies 32 and 48 per cent on the Tomatometer, respectively.

On Home Alone 2, critics said it was “a less inspired facsimile of its predecessor”. According to Rotten Tomatoes, though, the film “absolutely nails the elements that it carbon-copies from the original”, calling it “sweetly moving” and funny.

Critics thought The Holiday was “so thoroughly predictable that audiences may end up opting for an early check-out time”. However, Rotten Tomatoes rightly argues there’s genuine heart behind the relationship Iris (Kate Winslet) shares with her screenwriter neighbour Arthur Abbott (Eli Wallach).   

My face after seeing Home Alone 2 in this list
Credit: 20th Century Fox

If you’re a nineties kid, critics did not enjoy your childhood faves: 

Hocus Pocus was given 33 per cent by critics who thought it was “harmlessly hokey, yet never much more than mediocre”.

Bad Boys scored 42 per cent and was attacked for its lack of story, despite Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s “enjoyable chemistry”.

Didn’t rate Bad Boys? Get outta here.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Space Jam came in at just 43 per cent with critics stating adult audiences “may be more annoyed than entertained”.

The Craft is very nearly considered a “fresh” film at 57 per cent, but alas, it’s yet to tick over to side we all know it deserves to sit on. In her Rotten Tomatoes essay, Terri White writes that this cult classic “upended cinematic teen tropes” of the ’90s. Whereas critics initially complained the film’s “campy magic often overrides the feminist message”.

Another witchy classic, Practical Magic (21%), was slammed for “jarring tonal shifts” and an “offbeat story”. Rotten Tomatoes instead points to “young women’s need for depictions of more positive relationships between sisters, aunts, and daughters” – specifically in the form of midnight margaritas.

Some arguably ‘cool’ films made the rotten list:

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou scored 56 per cent. Blade came in at only 54 per cent, and Die Hard: With a Vengeance landed 52 per cent.

Feeling frustrated? Don’t worry, so do I. You can find solace in the fact that there’s an entire book dedicated to this very emotion you’re experiencing. Until then, though, #JusticeForTheCraft.

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