Last week’s failed Fantastic Four reboot brings up the issue of the “do over” when it comes to superhero movies and TV.
No matter how badly a production botches a property, the odds are a new version will be attempted at some point. The built-in familiarity and fan appeal of superhero comics are too hard to resist to not attempt to make certain characters work on some screen. A do over is all but inevitable.
Many past failures are already in the early stages of a do over. A couple (Daredevil, The Flash) have even nailed it successfully. As more past failures attempt to turn their fortunes around, what are some of the things they can do to maximize their chances of nailing the do over?
Do Over: Wonder Woman
We’ve previously discussed the Wonder Woman movie problem. The stumbling block faced by recent attempts to launch a Wonder Woman movie or TV show is depressingly simple: a failure to trust the source material. Settings may change, but for nearly 75 years, the core concept of Wonder Woman has worked just fine in the comics. Any attempt to bring the Amazon warrior to the screen needs to follow one simple rule: stop trying to re-invent her. Happily, preview snippets of the forthcoming Dawn of Justice indicate that Warner Bros. has finally learned that lesson. The Batman v Superman mash-up should see a Wonder Woman familiar to comic books fans. That’s a good base for her solo movie which starts production soon. Wonder Woman ain’t broke, stop trying to fix her. Just write a decent script.
Do Over: Fantastic Four
This is a fresh failure, but it’s inevitable that another attempt at a Fantastic Four movie will come along. The biggest problem all attempts to make an FF movie have faced is a failure to match a decent script with the right tone. The most recent attempt mixed the not-especially-beloved Ultimate versions of the characters with a grim horror concept that never came together. But the answer to a Fantastic Four movie that works is simple: What would Spielberg do? No other filmmaker has so successfully captured the synthesis of adventure, scientific wonder, big emotional stakes and a sense of fun as has Spielberg in his best films. That’s what a Fantastic Four movie needs to be. Study Spielberg’s canon, absorb its lessons and apply them to Marvel’s first family. Studying what Pixar’s The Incredibles did right wouldn’t hurt either. And skip the origin story. Just plunge into the FF already powered up and established as adventurers so the focus can be on the group dynamic.
Do Over: Elektra and Punisher
These grim-n-gritty comic book staples appeared in some really bad movies in the last decade. Both characters’ outings have suffered from the same flaw: an inability to translate the complex stories that give context to the extreme violence that surrounds them. Instead, moviegoers got muddled, generic action stories drenched with violence that felt gratuitous instead of earned. Look no further than the Netflix Daredevil series to see how to translate the character drama necessary to make the more brutal aspects impactful and truthful. Both characters are slated to appear in long arcs in the second season of Daredevil. Assuming the writers do the same kind of insightful character work for Punisher and Elektra that they did for Daredevil and Kingpin in Season 1, both characters could be primed to carry their own Netflix spin-offs.
Do Over: Aquaman
A youthful version of Aquaman appeared on the long-running Superman prequel Smallville. He basically came off as Aqua-Fratty. The WB toyed with a spin-off called Mercy Point that would have focused on Arthur Curry as a collegiate environmental activist. The problem with trying to do an Aquaman prequel is that he doesn’t have the kind of iconic origin story that’s instantly familiar to a wide base of fans that will let them get the concept. Not like Smallville or the current Batman prequel Gotham. Those communicate an idea of what the shows were about. Mercy Point was basically an environmental adventure with dodgy ties to the familiar character. That it didn’t go to series wasn’t a shock. Like Wonder Woman, the early preview of Aquaman from Dawn of Justice suggest that Warner Bros. gets that Aquaman should be a fierce warrior king. Hiring edgy actor Jason Momoa should dispel any lingering notions of the airheaded Superfriends version of the King of Atlantis. An Aquaman movie should be an epic adventure, packed with the character’s constant sense of alienation (never fully at home either on land or under the sea) and Atlantean palace intrigue. The current comic book series is a perfect roadmap.
Do Over: Hulk
The first Hulk movie failed because, while based on an acclaimed run by writer Peter David, the focus on split personalities and father issues was alienating to a general audience looking for “Hulk smash!” Which was too bad, because Eric Bana was great as Bruce Banner. The second attempt at a Hulk movie was an improvement, but still felt oddly restrained. Joss Whedon finally nailed the right balance between Bruce Banner’s turmoil and the unbridled id of the Hulk in the first Avengers movie. That’s the direction any future solo Hulk movie needs to follow. There isn’t one on Marvel’s schedule any time in the next few years (solo movie rights for the character are unclear). But the conflict Whedon dramatized in the Avengers movies is exactly the way forward when next someone brings Hulk to the big screen. Mixed with Hulk gleefully smashing everything in sight.
Do Over: Catwoman
This one was also simple: the character in the Halle Berry vehicle was called Catwoman but had zero to do with the character fans have loved for decades. It tried to create a new mythology that made no sense. Gotham has done a much better job with its future Catwoman, pre-teen Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova). The prequel has captured the intelligence, resourcefulness and grit that will one day make Selina into Batman’s eternal foe/love interest. Presuming that Gotham stays on the air for a few years, it could position Bicondova for a spin-off focusing on the earliest days of the master thief, steeped in the world of Batman but going its own way. It could document of how Selina crawls off the streets and uses her skills and smarts to ascend to the glittering peaks of Gotham. A nice mix of action, heist capers and character drama.
Do Over: Blade
Blade is an interesting case, as the first two movies actually weren’t bad and made modest profits. After its unsuccessful third entry, it went dormant for a few years. An attempt to re-launch the character in a TV series didn’t quite work out. But that was a case where the impulse was correct, but the execution didn’t quite match it. Blade’s not a big gun for Marvel, so the fact that he had his own movie series is a miracle. Ultimately, the property is better suited for TV, but like other properties, needs freedom to both explore the complexities of the character and be able to present the concept’s more violent aspects without restrictions. If Blade gets another shot, he needs the Netflix treatment. Not just as a “monster of the week” action anthology. Marvel has a rich canon of supernatural characters. Placing Blade into that context could allow the MCU to build out an offbeat part of its world.
Do Over: Green Lantern
As noted before, the last attempt at a Green Lantern movie did more right than it gets credit for. Its biggest problems were: an inconsistent tone; a poor choice of villain; and lack of focus from trying to cram way too much into one movie. Indications are that the next attempt to bring Green Lantern to the big screen will focus on the Green Lantern Corps. That’s a smart move. The Corps is packed with colorful, fan favorite characters. Keep the action confined to space, don’t even go near Earth. Use one of DC’s many exotic alien villains as the foe. Focus on the dynamics of the Corps, represented by a handful of key Lanterns (who may or may not include Hal Jordan), and the Guardians of Oa. And don’t try to push the “emotional spectrum” or other bits of deep dive mythology. That’s a lot for non-comic book fans to absorb. Leave it for a later sequel and let fans get comfortable with the central concept of the Corps.
Do Over: Howard the Duck
Howard’s movie is one of the most notorious cinematic bombs in film history. And yet, the character’s surprise credits cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy was received rather warmly. Howard isn’t on Marvel’s movie radar, but a new comic book series has proven popular. The fact is, Howard the Duck isn’t built for a traditional movie structure. Trying to tell his origin onscreen is a losing proposition. It’s too weird, so don’t even go there. Just present Howard already established in his P.I. business. Drop him into sharply written vignettes, perfectly suited to television. If Marvel could find writers who not only understand but can actually nail the brutal pop culture satire that Howard represents, it could be a strong small screen property. Place Howard firmly in the MCU, but on the shabbier end. Craft a series of sharp, tight and self-contained episodes. It could work. Crazier things have happened.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on August 17, 2015.