Honestly, most comic book movies feel like most tie-in-videogames do. Those things get made to service the trademark. They aren’t very good games. There’s nothing amazing going on in innovation or gameplay. They’re cool because you get to roleplay Batman kicking skulls in or the like. I’m sure they’re entertaining enough, but they’re not memorable above and beyond that.
—Strangeways writer (and Robot 6 veteran) Matt Maxwell, with a comparison that really clarified a lot of things for me about the pleasures and disappointments of superhero movies. Fatherhood has done to my movie-going time what I do to about 20 diapers a day and thrown it right in the garbage, but I’ve looked forward to and seen a lot of these flicks over the years, and on an alternate Earth I’d have seen two more already this summer in the form of Thor and X-Men: First Class, with another two, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger soon to join them. I’ve disliked many of them. I’ve liked some of them. I’ve liked a handful — the Marvel Studios suite of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2 — well enough to own them on DVD. But with the exception of the first Tim Burton Batman movie, I’ve never seen one that offers the never-seen-that-before sensation that superhero comics still regularly afford you, if you know where to look.
I enjoy the Iron Man films’ use of crackling banter as connective tissue. I’ve seen memorable action sequences in Incredible Hulk and X-Men and Spider-Man 2 and The Dark Knight, the latter of which also boasts a for-the-ages performance and villain. But only that first Burton Batman (the second took things too far into Burton’s self-indulgent Hot Topic bubble world) had a sense of style — an extra element, an x-factor, a weirdness, something that didn’t need to be there just to sell the characters to a wide demographic and deliver the basic popcorn-movie beats. (Ang Lee and Bryan Singer gave it a shot with the Hulk and Superman, but any idiosyncratic flair they might have brought to the material was crushed under the weight of leaden self-seriousness.) The comparison with superhero movie tie-in video games, where the selling point is generally just “hey, you can play as Captain Character!”, is dead-on. “Hey, it’s Captain Character up on the screen, surrounded by tens of millions of dollars in special effects and publicity and famous actors’ salaries!” That’s terrific, but I’ll tell you what: As soon as one of these things pushes the boundaries of even just popular English-language action-adventure filmmaking the way comparable efforts from George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, George Miller, James Cameron, John McTiernan, the Wachowski Brothers, and Peter Jackson have done, gimme a call.