Trailers for both “Man of Steel” and “Thor: The Dark World” have debuted in the past week, and we’re a little over a week away from the release of “Iron Man 3.” The summer movie season is officially upon us, and with “Thor 2” set to come out in November, comic book movie season is stretching well past the summer months. It’s gonna be a long one this year, everybody. Are you ready… to be civil?
Comic book movies make me more anxious than most anything else in this corner of pop culture. Maybe it’s because I know I’m going to be talking about these movies with pretty much every human being I know all summer long, because every human being sees these movies now. Everyone is going to have an opinion, and everyone is going to express their opinion. That’s how brains and conversations work. I just get miffed hearing the exact same complaints from people about superhero movies, as if they expected this one superhero film to be the one that changes everything.
To put it this way, my boyfriend loves opera. I have therefore seen a handful of operas. After the first few, I kept complaining about how implausible all of the love-at-first-sight plots were, and how annoying they were. I then learned that that’s just a storytelling technique that is inherent to most operas, and if I’m always going to get hung up on it, I’m never going to like it. So the options are then to either get over my hatred of that element or accept it as an inevitability, or to stop seeing operas. I chose the former and have gladly let that consistent quibble go.
There are similar issues with comic book movies that seem to consistently trip people up even though they are consistent parts of modern superhero films. I’ve come up with a list of five such issues, issues that I think everyone would benefit from moving past. Here they are, in the order I thought of them.
1. There will be plot holes
There are fans that want to see how Bruce Wayne got back to Gotham from the middle of nowhere in “The Dark Knight Rises,” and then there are fans that realize how much of a time waster a scene like that would be. Be the latter. Do not let trivial things get in the way of enjoying a movie, because there will be plenty of trivial things in every film this summer.
On some level, I can’t help but think that calling out plot holes is a viewer’s way of trying to one-up the filmmaker. “Oh, you think you’re soooo smart because you made a movie? Well, why did THIS happen? Huh?!” Why does it matter? I think that most plot holes come from the filmmaker’s desire to just make the movie. Any hero could plot-hole every villain plot to death, thus rendering it toothless. In what world does that make for powerful fiction? Do we want our heroes to stop villains using verbal logic traps? Conversely, do we not want to watch our heroes struggle? Do we want effortless victory? I’m not saying that plot holes are integral to storytelling, but I am saying that being able to forgive them is integral to not being a sourpuss.
This means that when someone you know strikes up a conversation with you about “Iron Man 3” in a few weeks because they know you love comics, don’t bombard them with plot hole talk if their opinion of the film swings more positively than yours. Who cares? Accept that there will be parts of the film that don’t line up, and instead focus on the performances and overall visual spectacle. If a few plot holes mean we get a dizzying, wonderful action sequence, then isn’t that worth it?
2. Robert Downey Jr. is Iron Man
And every actor is their character, as well. You may love Thor in the comics, but you’re getting Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in November. Heck, I even like Superman now, but I’m not getting Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s Superman; I’ll be getting Henry Cavill’s interpretation. I think this distinction is key. These are actors hired to act, hired to bring a two-dimensional continuity-stuffed icon to life. That’s a ridiculous task and one everyone should keep in mind when watching these performances.
Whatever your opinion of Tony Stark in the comics or Robert Downey Jr. in other films, it’s hard to deny that the man is giving it his all to create a fully realized character. But the Tony Stark in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is different from the one that debuted in “Tales of Suspense” decades ago. He has to be. And the work that Downey Jr. does on the big screen does not remove your beloved comics from existence, Iron Fan.
3. Movies will not be like the comics
Do not get bent out of shape if Guy Pearce doesn’t commit suicide in the first five minutes of “Iron Man 3” like his comic book counterpart does in “Extremis.” Not every plot point can match up exactly as it does in the comic, and it really shouldn’t. I personally think that the Marvel films great success is that they create totally new stories by cherry picking from fifty years of source material. The results could feel disjointed, but I don’t think they have yet.
And really, why would anyone want to go to a movie that they already know everything about? I don’t remember “Watchmen” being that well respected amongst comic book circles despite it’s strict adherence to the source material. But it’s kind of impossible to nail down one source material each for the acclaimed “The Dark Knight” and “Marvel’s the Avengers.” Just because “Iron Man 3” has bits of “Extremis” doesn’t mean it should be expected to adopt the whole plot. That’s not how these movies work.
4. Characters are going to look different, Part 1
You will never see Hawkeye’s purple mask on screen. Wolverine will never wear yellow spandex with blue shoulder pads. Black Widow will never have her suit unzipped to her navel (and that should also stop in the comics too, artists). I know there are fans that bemoan the Ultimate-izing of Marvel’s heroes and Superman ditching his red briefs. I’m actually with you on the latter point, too, but that’s not worth panning a movie over.
Take a step back and look at your favorite heroes. Be objective. Some of them look ridiculous. They look cool because a talented artist is drawing them, or they don’t look that bad because they’re standing next to someone dressed as impractically as Jim Lee-era Psylocke.
I know that die-hard Spider-Man fans can get past Jamie Foxx wearing a giant lightning bolt mask in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” but fans have to realize that people who do not read comics have no affection for the tradition and goofiness of that stuff. If comic book movies could be financially successful just catering to the hardcore comic book crowd, then things would be different. But comic books are barely financially successful catering to the hardcore comic book crowd. Changes have to be made. Electro will be blue. Thor won’t wear his giant-winged helmet. These alterations have to be expected and, at least, tolerated in order to enjoy these films.
5. Characters are going to look different, Part 2
Not only is Electro going to be blue, he’s going to be Jamie Foxx. And Perry White will be played by Laurence Fishburne. Jimmy Olsen is possibly going to be Jenny Olsen. Idris Elba still controls the Bifrost as Heimdall. I don’t really know what to say to people that have a problem with this. Comic books have a race/gender/sexual identity/literally-everything problem encoded into their very DNA, since they were all created at a time before anyone other than straight white men had a say in things. And every one of those characters I just mentioned were white men. And if they weren’t being played by diverse actors, the majority of this summer and next summer’s films would be nearly 100% white. The comic book characters created in the 1960s do not reflect the world of 2013. They have to change.
What about Perry White screams “this must be a white man”? The truth of the matter is, there are very few white characters that couldn’t be changed to another ethnicity. White characters are so prevalent that they’ve never had to have their whiteness so tied up into their identity.
That’s what makes white-washing so atrocious; there are so few minority characters that, in a lot of cases, their race and ethnicity is essential because white has been considered the default for the majority of the time comics have existed, and anything that deviates from that norm does so for a specific reason. Storm could by played by Charlize Theron because she is from Africa, but the unfortunate result of that choice would be erasing one of the most important black character’s story in favor of another yet white super hero. There’s no reason why Donald Glover couldn’t play Spider-Man. Dondald Glover has said himself that Spider-Man is a poor kid who lives in Queens with his aunt. As someone who lives a few train stops away from where Spider-Man grew up, I can tell that it’s likely he would not be white in 2013. He’d be Miles Morales.
If you can’t get past these five things, then maybe it’s time to realize that modern superhero films just aren’t for you. That’s fine. Just because you love something doesn’t mean you have to love all iterations of it. And yeah, I know it must suck to love Wolverine and not go see a movie starring Wolverine, but if you can’t get past those issues above, then that Wolverine isn’t going to be your Wolverine. You’re going to hate it. You’re going to get into arguments all summer with people that did like it, and no one likes that guy. Don’t waste time with things you hate; try harder to enjoy things this summer.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the comedy podcast Left Handed Radio. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).