Apr 03 2016
We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations:
- R movies are making up the quality gap with PG-13 movies.
Apr 03 2016
We’re up to 62 superhero movies since 2000. You can download the full data here. Some observations:
Jul 19 2015
My expectations for the Ant-Man movie were exceedingly low — mainly based on concerns about the source material (no memorable villains, not much interesting personality, not conventionally useful superpowers, etc). In actuality, it’s a consistently funny movie with reasonably good fight scenes. Right now it’s averaging 79% on RT and I think that’s about right. Some observations:
–The main villain is a one-dimensionally psychotic businessman. His lack of style and depth is probably my biggest knock against the movie. At the very least, if you absolutely need a psychotic businessman (which has already been used quite heavily in superhero movies), other movies have blazed this path better. E.g. generally Spider-Man 1’s Harry Osborne and Incredibles’ Syndrome felt like they could be real people with major mental issues. Not so much here. That said, I really liked the scene where the villain asked his mentor Dr. Pym why he kept the villain at such a distance. At the very least, the villain did give a really good opportunity to develop a side-protagonist’s personality.
–Using reformed sort-of-criminal* Scott Lang rather than generically brilliant scientist Dr. Pym as the main protagonist was an excellent choice. I think we’re overstocked on brilliant scientists at this point.
*He committed one theft, a Robin Hood-style crime where he returned the money to people that a company had overcharged them. The filmmakers softened the edges on his criminal work so much that it didn’t look like they were completely convinced that a criminal-turned-superhero could work. For PG-13 movies, I prefer the Guardians of the Galaxy mold (where protagonists have more latitude to at least talk about committing selfish crimes**, even if most of the things they actually do aren’t).
**Even removing someone’s spine, which is actually murder, and also illegal.
–In the comics, Scott Lang gets back into crime to help his sick daughter. Boohoohoo. In this case, it was to make child support payments (after a hilarious failure at Baskin Robbins), which felt a lot less cheesy/generic than the comic version.
–The side-cast in this movie and the (somewhat outre) comedy were much better than anyone had any right to expect. E.g. I believe comedic side-character Luis was created for the movie, which must have been a series of leaps of creative faith. “I know this guy, Michael Pena. Well, my cousin was at this PTA meeting, you know, and…”
–Falcon’s cameo is probably the closest he’s come to being interesting, especially when Luis goes into storytelling mode for the second time. This is also the most interesting SHIELD/Avengers cameo in any of the Marvel movies so far. Doing it with Falcon (who doesn’t have a personality independent of Captain America yet*) is just plain impressive.
*E.g. “I do what he (Captain America) does, just slower.” I believe the most charitable interpretation for Falcon is that his main purpose is to replace Captain America if/when Captain America’s actor Chris Evans stops making CA movies. He’s essentially a slow-rolling reboot.
Jan 14 2013
Will Beall, the screenwriter for the upcoming Justice League movie, just had his first movie (Gangster Squad) out. It averaged 33% on Rotten Tomatoes (thanks to “lackluster writing and underdeveloped characters”) and disappointed at the box office. I think this bodes poorly for the JL movie.
I’m lowering my Rotten Tomatoes prediction for Justice League from 30-45% to 25-35%.
PS: Speaking of box office results this week, the three top-performing theaters for Zero Dark Thirty (a movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden) were within 5 miles of the CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.
Dec 29 2012
He’ll be fine after the publicity stunt passes. The only thing that can actually kill a superhero is bad sales.
Jul 29 2012
Guyism has a list of the 16 creepiest comic book scenes. Some of them are okay in context–e.g. in Daredevil 209, Daredevil pushes a girl down an elevator, but he knows that she’s a robot assassin. Some of the other ones are just plain creepy.
Jul 16 2012
(Please see the movie before reading this review).
1. The two minutes of voiceover/narration should have been cut. First, do we really need to start the story with the backstory of the Green Lantern Corps? It would probably have been more natural (and less pretentious) to cover this in a conversation with Hal Jordan (probably when he meets up with the Corps on Oa). As it is, I think this information is a distraction from Hal, contributes to a disjoint between what the aliens are doing and what Hal is doing over the first 30 minutes, and is redundant with the two other scenes recapping the purpose and history of the GL Corps.
1.1. When you’re introducing a character and/or organization to readers, I think it’d be more effective to show them in their element rather than through lengthy exposition. We’re later told Abin Sur is a “great light” of the Lanterns, but we never actually see him do anything impressive. Similarly, rather than introduce the GL Corps with a speech, I’d much rather see them doing a typical-but-interesting job (the GL equivalent of a hostage situation or a high-stakes bank robbery). Since the defining characteristic of the GL is supposed to be fearlessness, it’d be better to have them do something memorably courageous than to show them panicking as they face Parallax. Fleeing isn’t the most intuitive way to establish a corps founded on bravery. Moreover, we don’t actually see much fearlessness from the Lanterns over the course of the movie.
2. The relationship between Hal and his father was one-dimensional and did not help develop Hal or the plot. This felt like a very forced way to work courage vs. cowardice into the plot. “You’re not scared, are you, Dad?” “Let’s just say it’s my job not to be.” Ick. Here are some more effective examples of family cameos.
3. Main character Hal Jordan makes his first appearance 6 minutes into the movie. While I think it’s generally interesting to try scenes without the main characters (e.g. Dark Knight’s ferry scene), focusing on minor characters to the exclusion of the core of the story is probably unsound. I can’t think of any reason to start with the aliens here rather than either 1) starting with Hal and covering the information about the aliens later, probably when Hal meets the aliens or 2) starting with the aliens doing something which directly involves Hal. For example, it might make sense to start with Abin Sur as he’s looking for a Green Lantern—this would help develop what was so impressive about Hal that he caught Abin Sur’s eye.
Jul 10 2012
As always, please see the movie before reading this review.
1. The conflicts within the team and between the teammates and Fury/SHIELD were impeccable. One aspect which lends depth to the conflicts is that most of the character have intelligent reasons to disagree and the writers don’t push viewers to side with one protagonist or another. In contrast, the Fantastic Four’s squabbles are usually driven by someone (or everyone) being an idiot, which mainly leaves me wanting to punch everyone. The scene where the Avengers confront Nick Fury over what he’s been holding back from them is vastly superior to anything in the FF movies.
2. The writing was very fresh and clever. The arc where Loki allows himself to be taken prisoner in an attempt to provoke Bruce Banner into going crazy is a nice play on the (sort-of-tired) trope where a supervillain breaks out of captivity. Additionally, the scene where SHIELD tries to contact Black Widow (who is being interrogated by Russian smugglers) is hilarious.
3. I believe the main weak point of the movie was the selection of Loki as the main villain—he wasn’t as cost-effective as more limited, terrestrial villains like the Joker, Green Goblin or Obediah Stane. He got better characterization than, say, the alien antagonists in Green Lantern or FF: Silver Surfer, but I don’t believe the movie would have been much worse if all of his lines of dialogue had been cut out. In particular, a character that is based on deception and trickery should develop the plot and characters more with his dialogue than he actually did.
Jul 07 2012
(As always, please see the movie before reading this).
1. To the extent that you cover a superhero origin story, I’d recommend focusing on things and approaches we haven’t seen much of before. I think it would have helped to either spend less time covering the origin story or make it more different than Spider-Man 1. That said, I thought ASM’s approach to the death of Uncle Ben was smoother and more thematically effective–when Peter has the opportunity to stop the robber, there’s a plausible and immediate threat to bystanders. Peter declines and Ben gets killed seconds thereafter. This makes Peter’s motivation for a life-changing decision (becoming a superhero) more plausible. In contrast, in Spider-Man 1, Peter gets torn up because he doesn’t get involved in a relatively minor situation with a police officer present, with only a faint connection between Peter Parker letting the robber go and the robber killing a civilian.
1.1. Peter plays a more active role acquiring superpowers. He was only in the laboratory because he stole an ID and figured out how to thwart a keypad. I think the scene develops him more than just getting lucky at the science fair in Spider-Man 1. (Likewise, he makes his own webslingers instead of getting them from the spider-bite).
2. Beware the idiot ball–make sure there are believable consequences to actions. Peter Parker displayed his superpowers in public so many times that I think his classmates would have to be idiots not to notice something was amiss. (For example, the NBA-caliber dunk? Or breaking a goalpost with a football? Or lifting enormous Flash Thompson by the neck?) When characters make decisions, there should be consequences. For example, if the character is reckless with his powers, maybe other characters come closer to figuring out what’s going on. Or at least start asking difficult questions.
3. Speaking of consequences, I thought the crane scene was kind of cute. (Peter saves a construction worker’s kid and the construction worker later pulls in favors at the climax to help Spider-Man). It helps build a contrast between Spider-Man’s decidedly limited means and, say, the lavishly-funded Avengers or X-Men. I think it’s also a more subtle and effective way of showing he’s more of an everyman hero than we saw in previous Spider-Man movies (e.g. subway passengers throwing themselves between Dr. Octopus and a crippled Spidey felt sort of hokey to me).
4. I thought it was a bit contrived that Peter Parker just happens to find the love interest working for the villain he’s trying to find. One way to clear out this contrivance would have been to make the two more causally connected. For example, maybe Peter Parker’s trying to figure out how to get to the villain, so he introduces himself to the assistant in the hopes that she’d eventually bring him to work. (This would make the relationship seem a bit more manipulative at the beginning, but he could probably come clean sooner rather than later. I think it’d help that he reveals his secret identity to her relatively quickly–he’s more upfront than most superheroes are).
Jul 06 2012
(Please see the movie before reading this review).
1. The conflicts really help make the relationships memorable. One element which worked out unusually well was the depth provided by protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts (e.g. Gordon conflicting with Dent over who blew a case, Dent respecting Batman but hating Bruce Wayne, Lucius vs. Batman over libertarian issues, cops pressuring Dent to surrender Batman to Joker, Batman vs. Dent over threatening to kill a deranged patient, Dent angry that Batman saved him rather than his girlfriend, Batman vs. a misled SWAT team, Gordon suspecting most of his own unit of possible corruption, etc). The plot has a lot of angles, but each of these conflicts is very easy to follow and is consistent with the character development. I think that the protagonist-vs-protagonist conflicts help give all of the characters something to contribute to the plot. In contrast, if (say) the Thing were cut out of the Fantastic Four movies or Violet were cut from The Incredibles, I don’t think the plot would change much.
1.1. Few, if any, superhero movies have accomplished as much with antagonist-vs-antagonist conflict. For example, Joker orders a hit on Coleman Reese, Joker fights with mob leaders, Joker turns on his own goons, and turns Dent into Two-Face (both physically and morally). One reason that the bank heist at the beginning of the movie is so memorable is because all of the antagonists involved are criminals—in contrast, many superhero movies have the superheroes warm up by taking down faceless bank robbers who receive no development.
2. The characters generally have complex motivations. Probably the most notable example here was Joker trying to prove that everybody is fundamentally as crazy as he is (and that people are only as moral as conditions allow them to be). It made him much more interesting than just another villain trying to make a ton of money or accumulate power without any particular agenda in mind. I’d also recommend checking out how Batman and Gordon conceal Two-Face’s misdeeds to help keep hope and inspiration alive.
3. The use of side-characters is phenomenal. Except for maybe Avengers, I don’t think any other superhero movie comes close in terms of character/plot development or creating interesting scenes. Take, for example, the ferry scene. Batman isn’t directly involved and none of the characters on-screen actually have a name. How many series are there where minor characters could have a compelling scene which develops the plot and the villain? Some other interesting examples where Batman isn’t present:
Jun 05 2012
According to Yahoo News, Warner Bros. originally pushed for the Riddler as the villain in The Dark Knight Rises. “WB’s top executives said, according to [screenwriter] Goyer: ‘Obviously it’s gonna be The Riddler, and we want it to be Leonardo DiCaprio.'”
Sometimes I wonder about the decision-making process at Warner Bros. when it comes to DC adaptations. DC/WB’s non-Nolan movies have averaged 38.7% on Rotten Tomatoes since 2000 and 29.5% over the past 5 years (Green Lantern, Jonah Hex, Watchmen, and The Spirit). RED, the only DC property which was made by a different studio, succeeded both creatively (71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and financially (grossing $199 million against a production budget of $58 million). It has a sequel slated for next year, which will make it the only DC property since 2000 to survive to a sequel without Nolan’s involvement.
May 29 2012
A mother needed help convincing her four-year-old (who suffers from severe hearing loss) to wear a hearing aid. He thought it was decidedly unbadass. In response to a letter from the mother, Marvel Comics created a superhero who used a hearing aid to detect crime. This strikes me as a very thoughtful gesture (and, although it would probably cheapen the moment, very cost-effective public relations).
May 10 2012
Since 2000, movies with 2+ superheroes have averaged 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, whereas movies with a lone superhero have averaged 50%.
Average RT Rating
Average RT Rating
Below, I listed all of the superhero team movies and lone superhero movies which went into these ratings.
May 09 2012
Is there anything about The Avengers you would have done differently? If so, what? (I wouldn’t recommend reading the comments here until you’ve seen the movie–there will probably be many spoilers).
Apr 30 2012
My main reservation is that a large cast frequently leads to more generic characters used in a more rushed way, more storytelling-by-committee (e.g. the studio dictating what can be done with each of the characters or how the plot has to play out), and less time for each character that viewers find interesting. For example, if you like Iron Man much more than Thor OR if you like Thor much more than Iron Man, then having both in the movie will result in less time for the one you want to see.
This Wired article suggests that Whedon and his team are at least aware of these issues, which bodes well. On the other hand, I would have been more encouraged if Whedon had been more involved in the selection of the villain (the company selected Loki for him).
UPDATE: Initial reviews for the movie on Rotten Tomatoes (based on an early overseas release) are astronomically high, 94% so far. Among superhero movies, only The Incredibles (97%) has done better.
Dec 27 2011
My guest article about when it’s a good time to reboot a franchise just got posted at comicbooks.com. The editorial assistance was surprisingly good. The edited article has a slightly more casual voice than most of my content on SN, but I hope you’ll enjoy it anyway.
If you’d be interested in hosting one of my guest articles, please let me know at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com. I’d really appreciate if you would suggest an article topic (e.g. How to Write an Interesting Sidekick) or some general genre of articles (e.g. anything about characterization) you find interesting, but it’s not necessary.
Dec 02 2011
Here are some points I took away from this article on violence.
1. Very few people are actually prepared for a life-or-death, organ-stabbing fight. “Herein lies a crucial distinction between traditional martial arts and realistic self-defense: Most martial artists train for a ‘fight.’ Opponents assume ready stances, just out of each other’s range, and then practice various techniques or spar (engage in controlled fighting). This does not simulate real violence. It doesn’t prepare you to respond effectively to a sudden attack, in which you have been hit before you even knew you were threatened, and it doesn’t teach you to strike preemptively, without telegraphing your moves, once you have determined that an attack is imminent.”
2. All other things being equal, I would imagine someone that’s pretty mild-mannered and hasn’t been in many fights would probably have quite a learning curve as a superhero. Most violent criminals (e.g. supervillains!) are used to violence that most people could not fathom. In a savage fight, it is very possible that a superhero’s mental/moral hesitations and inhibitions and unfamiliarity with violence could be disastrous. Superhero organizations might want to have new recruits fight nonpowered criminals in relatively low-stakes cases until it looks like they might be mentally and physically hard enough to survive a psychotic killer like Mr. Freeze or a death camp survivor that mentally ripped a foe’s tooth out of his mouth… back when he was a protagonist. And, let’s be honest, it’s not likely that every would-be superhero can successfully make that transition. (If you’re writing a larger organization like the Justice League, what does the group do about heroes that are so ill-suited for combat they will probably get themselves killed? For example, maybe some get retrained as crime-solvers and partnered with ace combatants and maybe others get let go and maybe still more take on important support roles like medic or scientist or whatever that might involve some exposure to violence but aren’t as intense as actually being a combatant).
3. Although I think the author discounts the potential benefits of bravery, I agree it definitely has potential costs. I don’t think we see very much of that in most superhero stories. For example, violence for Spider-Man is sort of Disney-fied–virtually the only permanent costs of violence (Uncle Ben’s death) are caused by not being brave. For most superheroes, I think the violence is heavily romanticized. Being a superhero is more or less fun and games except when a (usually secondary) character dies and, let’s face it, he will probably come back anyway. On the other hand, I personally don’t enjoy deep-R violence and would feel uncomfortable including it in something primarily meant as entertainment. (For example, in Kickass, a gangster gets crushed in a car-compactor–it’s decidedly unpleasant and I’m sort of annoyed it was a laugh-line for the audience).
4. It might be dramatic to make a hero choose between his pride and other goals. For example, if 3+ muggers have guns drawn on Bruce Wayne, it’d be pretty banal for Wayne to flawlessly disarm the criminals and walk away completely unscathed–pretty much every superhero would do the same in that situation. It might be more interesting if the character allowed himself to be robbed, walked away and got his revenge later. How much is his pride worth? Alternately, if the character does decide that his pride is worth risking serious physical injury and/or revealing that he has superpowers, have him pay something for it. (For example, the first sign to Gary that something is not right about his coworker Dr. Mallow is that Gary witnesses several men rob Dr. Mallow, taking among other things a cherished personal memento. Over the next several weeks, all of the assailants end up in mysterious accidents and the good doctor has his memento back. Mallow could have just let it go, but trying to protect his property even after the fact bears a cost for him).
Sep 06 2011
If you’re interested in submitting a comic book, particularly to Image, I would really recommend checking out these answers from Erik Larsen.
Aug 18 2011
I found this Sporcle game’s mix of Shakespeare and Batman so dangerously amusing that I wanted to punch an English teacher in the face and throw him two or three stories onto the street. Then I realized that the closest English teacher was me and I thought better of it.
PS: If you’re a long-time fan of Batman, you might remember that Adam West hid the remote control for the entrance to the Batcave inside a bust of Shakespeare.
Aug 07 2011
*Never proven in a court of law, but Batman isn’t much into legal niceties (like verdicts). Double points if he does Roethlisberger with a Terrible Towel.
Jul 25 2011
I’d give Captain America 3 out of 4 stars. If you’re into superhero action, I’d highly recommend it.
Jul 14 2011
Novelist Jami Gold has two articles about learning from the Green Lantern movie: How Not to Write Characters and How Not to Plot a Story.
I’d also use Green Lantern to show why scenes should usually have some transition explaining why a character goes from doing A to doing B. One of the transitions between a scene of GL talking with his geek friend and a scene of GL talking with his love interest is the geek randomly asking “Hey, doesn’t a superhero always get the girl?” First, the line comes out of nowhere–they hadn’t been talking about romance or the lady until the geek tossed that line out. Second, the line probably doesn’t work well as a transition because it doesn’t create a good reason why GL would want to go talk with his love interest.
There are so many easy ways to switch a scene without anybody noticing the seams. For example, the protagonist-geek conversation could have been interrupted by a phone call or a text from the love interest. Then it would have made sense for the geek to start talking about romance and it would have given GL a good reason to talk with his love interest. Additionally, depending on what she said in the call/text, it could have added some urgency to the impending protagonist-love interest scene.
Jun 28 2011
The good news is that Warner Bros. is planning a GL sequel. The bad news is that the preliminary box-office returns look rough enough (so far) that I do not think the sequel will survive.
Jun 19 2011
Including the older movies, the average Rotten Tomato score was 47.3% for DC and 58% for Marvel. If we look only at movies since 2000, DC drops to 47.2% and Marvel inches up to 60%. DC’s movies have actually gotten slightly worse since 2000.
Jun 18 2011
Curses. I was a lot more excited about GL than the other superhero movies this year (X-Men: First Class, Thor and Captain America) because it’s a more ambitious story, more purely sci-fi than most other superhero stories. Unfortunately, the initial reviews have been, ahem, not favorable. (25% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 77% for Thor and 87% for X-Men: First Class).
Jun 04 2011
Jun 01 2011
Dec 25 2010
Tales from the Bully Pulpit was 84 pages of this. Teddy Roosevelt steals HG Wells’ time machine and meets up with Thomas Edison’s ghost to stop Argentinian Nazis from conquering Mars.
Nov 09 2010
Caveat: Both companies have thousands of characters, so obviously there will be exceptions to every generalization. That said, here are some general differences between the two.
1. Marvel characters are more likely to come from relatively ordinary backgrounds than DC characters. For example, Spider-Man, Captain America and most of the X-Men had largely unremarkable lives before developing superpowers. In contrast, the three most prominent DC characters are a billionaire playboy/ninja, an extraterrestrial, and an Amazon princess that may be a CEO.
2. DC usually uses more epic superpowers. For example, Superman doesn’t just have eye-beams or incredible strength or incredible speed or the ability to fly, but all of those and more. In contrast, a lot of Marvel characters get just one (think Cyclops, the Hulk, Quicksilver, Angel, etc). Most Marvel characters usually have somewhat more ordinary capabilities. (The Sentry is a notable exception for Marvel).
3. DC characters were usually created earlier. Most of Marvel’s main characters date to the 1960s and 1970s, whereas most of DC’s date back to the late 1930s and 1940s.
Sep 24 2010
FilmFodder wrote a comic book review, How Not to Write a Comic Book. Most of it is helpful–I agree that having too many team meetings or random fights can drive the plot to a screeching halt, as if the writer is trying to burn up time while he figures out where the plot is headed.
However, I’d like to offer a qualification for the following statement: “Here’s a hint to the writer and artist: if the writer has a person saying one thing, don’t show her doing the exact opposite.” Okay, it could be a problem if readers don’t understand why there would be a discrepancy. (I haven’t read the issue, but based on the review it sounds like there isn’t a good reason for the character to explain why she’s refusing to train as she is training). However, under some circumstances, having a character say one thing while doing another might be dramatically effective.
If readers don’t understand why there is a discrepancy between what a character says and what you’re showing the readers, readers will probably get confused.
Aug 27 2010
Most comic books and graphic novels letter the body text (dialogue and narration) in all-caps. Here are some of the best all-caps free fonts. If you’d like to download any of the fonts, please see the links below.