Monday, April 27, 2015

Ask JKM a Question: Favorite Superhero Franchise?

A reader named Jason writes:

"Summer's just around the corner, which makes it the perfect time to ask: What is your favorite superhero franchise?"

Jason, that's a great question.  

We are definitely living in the age of Superheroes Triumphant, and superhero films are more popular now than at any time in cinematic history.

My tastes are pretty out-of-step with the vast majority of fans, I suspect. 

I hope I won't sound (or read...) like a curmudgeon when I note that two of my favorite superhero franchises are defunct in the format/approach that I appreciated them most.  

I loved the original Superman film franchise of the 1970s and 1980s, particularly Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1981). 

I respect, too, what Bryan Singer attempted to accomplish with Superman Returns (2006). For the old timers like me, that film was a nice send-off in tone and style to the hero of the 1970s and 1980s as we loved him.

But I deeply disliked Man of Steel (2014).  

Still, I look forward to the Batman/Superman smack-down in 2016. I have no doubt that Henry Cavill can be great in the role of Superman, so I'm still very open to seeing how the franchise plays out.

I was also incredibly fond of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man franchise, particularly Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004), and -- mea culpa -- I have not watched the recent re-boots.  

If ever the meme "too soon" seemed apt, it was in the case of that superhero series going back to the beginning just a decade after Raimi's extraordinary origin tale and fantastic follow-up. I saw absolutely no creative or artistic reason for one middling movie (Spider-Man 3) to scuttle the whole universe Raimi and Tobey Maguire constructed so lovingly.

My other favorite superhero is Captain America, and I have very much enjoyed Captain America (2011), and Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014).  Looking forward to Civil War tremendously.  
Also, I feel very enthusiastic about the possibilities of The Fantastic Four (2015), not only because I have always loved that property in comic-book form, but because Josh Trank, the talent behind Chronicle (2012), is directing.  

I suspect his creative vision is going to be dangerous and different, and with so many superhero movies hitting theaters in the coming months, dangerous and different might be just what the doctor (Doom?) ordered.

Going down the line, I loved the original Iron Man (2008) ,but have found the follow-ups, the Hulk and Thor movies -- and even The Avengers (2012) and Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) -- to be largely over-praised.

I realize that my viewpoint offends the sensibilities of many, many film fans who love the Marvel Film Universe. That is not my intent.

I keep watching these movies, note-pad eagerly in hand, and keep coming out of them with nothing of real substance to write about. The big set-pieces feel interchangeable, and somehow oppressive in their utter sameness. 

And the meaningful ideas underlining the action are so basic and simple they can be categorized in a simple sound-byte or catchphrase. Unfortunately, the films last for three hours in many cases. The ideas in them, frankly, tend to be thin. 

What would make these superhero films great, in my opinion?  

Cut their budgets by fifty percent, and force the filmmakers to tell a story about the characters as flawed, feeling people, instead of creating these too-big-too-fail, industrially-extruded "event" films with obligatory, world-shattering action scenes. 

I'm not sure how, but Marvel has managed to escape this fate in some cases, particularly with the Captain America films. So far, they feel individual and human to me in a way the other movies simply don't.  They don't look or feel like film-making by committee and focus groups.

The Nolan movies aren't my favorite interpretation of the Batman mythos, but I could never draw the same conclusions about those films: there's a lot to critique and discuss there, culturally and aesthetically-speaking, even if they doesn't suit my personal preference in superhero movies. I liked Batman Begins (2005) quite a bit.

Right now, I must admit, I am tremendously enjoying the Arrow TV series. I feel that it has balanced character, action and narrative in nearly perfect fashion, and without growing tiresome or stale.

Don't forget to ask me your questions at


  1. I entirely agree with you about "Arrow," and have heard good things about "The Flash" and the new "Daredevil" series as well. So here's what I think. I believe that because comic books and television series are both SERIAL forms, they are (or at least can be) perfectly well-matched to each other. Big-budget Hollywood movies, despite the opportunities they present for spectacle, are nowhere near as apt a fit for good superhero content, with the result that, as you say, many of the movies are ridiculously thin. We get origin stories, and more origin stories, and then we get rebooted franchises that have to start again with - of course - another origin story. It is tedious.

    Now, of course it is not beyond the abilities of big-studio screenwriters to write a decent superhero movie script; they just don't do it much, presumably because they are not encouraged to. Why is it, one darkly wonders, that the animated "Superman vs. the Elite" (2012) has a script so much better than "Man of Steel," so PHILOSOPHICAL, in fact? What is up with that? (Check that straight-to-video animated feature out, if you have the time; it's pretty darn good, and I'd love to read your review.)

    The Marvel movie (or series) I would love to see would be Kurt Busiek's and Alex Ross's 1994 masterpiece "Marvels." It has practically every Marvel hero in it (which would make it a very expensive project to undertake with live actors), and it is thoughtful and downbeat (which in the minds of studio executives, and possibly in reality as well, adds up to "unprofitable"). "Marvels" would, I'm convinced, make an absolutely smashing film if done right. Maybe it could be done as an animation, or as a series on the small screen. I'm not holding my breath, though.

    Very interested in your thoughts on these points!

    1. Hi Patrick,

      I always look forward to your comments. I think you are 100% correct. For me the superhero genre works much better on television, where there is a chance in the serialized format, to really explore characters and their humanity. It had its pitfalls, but I loved Smallville for this very reason. Very few superhero movies can approach that same depth. I have also heard good things about Flash and Daredevil and am curious to check them out, because as TV series (and modern ones at that...) they have the opportunity to try new things, and even fail. Artists need that room to fail, to push the boundaries of the form. There will be no boundary pushing, I'm certain, in Age of Ultron...

  2. John I am an old-timer too when it comes to these films and I agree with all your thoughts here. Superman:The Movie and Superman II are great films. Man Of Steel felt and was intentionally too dark. As a matter of fact this person brought the color back to Man Of Steel to look like Superman:The Movie! :

    Up,up and away,


  3. Enjoyed this. Agree with you for the most part. I definitely enjoyed Superman a bit more than you and I'm glad to here you like Henry. I think he's a good Superman choice.

    Not a fan of the superhero franchises at all.

    I like the Captain America films. Again, Evans was a good casting choice.

    You didn't mention the X-Men films. To be honest, they are all good or fair.
    I think I liked First Class and X2 best, but even the recent Days Of Future Past, which I finally watched the other day was another overpraised, as you put it, affair. It was okay but largely forgettable.

    Take care.

  4. Oh and I think I actually prefer the Wolverine films over the X-Men films for whatever reason. I do like Jackman in the role.

  5. I too was curious about your opinions about the current superhero explosion.

    "Superman II" remains my all time favorite comic book movie of all time. It is simply movie magic. I actually have it ranked ahead of "Raiders" on my 1981 ten best list.

    Nolan's "Batman" trilogy comes in second with way too much going on there to discuss here. Next would be the Captain America films.

    I actually do like "Man of Steel" a lot, but those positive feelings are based on the performances of Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Dianne Lane, and Henry Cavill. Also loved liked the Krypton stuff with Russel Crowe. But I really hated that film's take on General Zod as a non-stop screamer and the tiresome, repetitive fight scenes of the same wall being crushed over and over and over in ear-splitting digital sound.

    Right on about Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man"! That film was used as an example of great genre writing when I was in a screen-writing class at the time. The current "The Flash" series really reminds me of those movies in tone and emotion.

    Oh, yes! Really enjoy "Arrow" too. So entertaining and addictive in soap opera kind of way.