First off, I’m not a huge fan of comic books or their live action counterparts. My favorite graphic novel is Watchmen, which is sort of like saying that your favorite book is the Lord of the Rings; it’s an easily defended choice, but also such a common answer that it almost doesn’t count. That being said, I have a strong feeling that movie critics and comic book fans have a lot to learn about each other if this trend of rehashing old comic story lines on the silver screen is going to continue. People don’t seem to get that…
Comics Are Dumb
As of this writing, Suicide Squad is about to be released and the early reviews are in: critics say that the movie is a mess of characters and silly plot lines that don’t make much sense. If you read that last sentence and you’re surprised, I suspect you don’t know much about comic books. They are, by and large, dumb male power fantasy romps through convoluted plot lines and borderline laughable character arcs. Suicide Squad, as far as I understand it, is the story of a motley crew of Batman villains that are forced to band together to defeat a greater evil. If you don’t know who these characters are, then this movie might not be for you, which I’m going to assume is the case for a majority of critics (especially considering the critical response that Warcraft received on release). Going into Suicide Squad without any prior knowledge with the assumption that you’ll know and care about each character individually makes almost as much as sense as walking into The Hobbit assuming you’ll remember each Hobbit’s name without having read the book. A director can only do so much, especially when adopting from source material with a long history of printing pulpy schlock.
The Dark Knight spoiled everything for comic book movies. Before TDK, super heroes were allowed to be silly popcorn flicks without making people think very far beyond hero good, villain bad. Heath Ledger’s joker and Nolan’s script helped elevate the storied Batman V. Joker plot line to a level that has still yet to be met by another comic flick. Now, movie studio executives are hiring directors to rehash old comic book stories to cash in on the hero trend without realizing that the reason The Dark Knight worked was that its story was simple. Batman lives by a strict moral code and the Joker represents his perfect foil. Toss in a few explosions and the performance of a lifetime and you have the best comic book movie ever made. Take a closer look at TDK’s story, however, and you’ll see the cracks start to form. None of it makes any fucking sense, and neither do any of the newer comic book movies that have attempted to match it. Look no further than The Dark Knight Rises (or was it Rising? Jesus that movie sucked…) to see what TDK could have looked like with a few more characters and a bit more plot. None of the Nolan Batman movies have anywhere near as complex a plot as Batman V. Superman or Avengers 2, despite them both attempting to reach the same kind of acclaim. The story between Batman and the crown prince of crime works so well because it is one of the most simple and well-explained story lines in Western media. Any other comic book plot will sound like complete fandom gibberish to average movie goers, but that shouldn’t be a mark against those kinds of movies. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that The Dark Knight was the best comic book movie primarily because it was the least like a comic book.
Their Dumb Is Not As Dumb As Your Dumb
As dumb as comic books are, I honestly think that some of them are too smart for the average movie-going audience (or at least that the kind of dumb that comic books are differs in all but name to that of a stereotypical “dumb action movie”). A dumb popcorn flick usually has a small cast, a simple plot, and a focus on the action, feelings, and sets. A dumb comic book story, on the other hand, consists of hundreds of characters, ridiculously complex story lines, and nonsensical outcomes that appeal to their grand scale more than a satisfying conclusion.
Dredd was a (great) dumb action movie where Judge Dredd raided a futuristic housing block alongside his rookie companion. That’s three characters, counting the villain. Count em’. In contrast, Injustice (one of the only super hero comics I’ve read recently) revolves around an alternate timeline where Superman kills the Joker and turns into a tyrannical dictator, forcing the rest of the Justice League to fight alongside their alternate reality selves to defeat the last son of krypton and his army of meta humans. If none of that last part made sense to you, that’s because comics are dumb, but just not the kind of dumb you’re used to.
Dumb is Good!
I’m not trying to apologize for bad movies. In fact, I often find that I enjoy a lot of bad movies unironically, knowing full-well just how bad they actually are. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy them for their blatant stupidity, does it? Hell no! That does, however, mean that a lot of people won’t agree with me. The question becomes whether movie executives want to appeal to the greatest audience possible or want to keep drawing on classic comic book plot lines. It’s starting to look like the more comic book-y a movie is, the less Joe Schmo is going to like it, and conversely, the less comic book-y a movie is, the more upset comic book fans will be about it. Both audience enjoy dumb shit, but one likes things dumb and simple, while the other prefers things dumb and complex. Both are equally valid, but the same can not be said for the dull gray blob that’s created when comic book movies try to have their cake and eat it too.