There was this man in the theater today. He was sitting behind me slurping on a Jolly Rancher or mint or some plastic wrapped, long lasting, saliva inducing candy of that sort. For the most part, I was trying my best to pay attention to Ed Norton, who seemed to be with a constant look of panic on his face, but it was almost impossible. Inside my head I could only hear the stranger’s slurp echoing against my brain. Every three seconds, without fail, he would illicit the painfully annoying noise and I would be ultimately snapped out of the film. Even the busy, boring fight scene towards the end of the movie couldn’t absorb my mind over the slick, wet noise of this man and his apparently succulent treat.
To be honest I wasn’t to interested in the first place. I don’t think the Hulk as a character has been written correctly save for two or three times. He is a hard cookie to crack and usually used as nothing more than heavy handed metaphor for holding your temper. For the first few minutes of film I was on the edge of my seat, absorbed in the escalating, overwhelming feeling of anxiety. But after the first Hulk attack, amongst a cluttered, dim lit Brazilian soda factory the anxiety began to stall out and become a little stale. Instead of looking forward to the next twist and turn in the awfully generic plot, I began to wonder when Tony Stark would finally appear, and the credits would roll.
Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the movie. There are a few “hell yeah” inducing, Hulk smash scenes, including a Tim Roth ass kicking that gave me a shutter, but the movie wasn’t overly engaging on the whole. Perhaps, due to a the lack of sleep and endorphins charging my body, I couldn’t properly get my juices flowing for optimal enjoyment. Maybe the obnoxious man behind me was the perfect, subconscious distraction, hitting that unknown wave of annoyance that will completely hijack a brain. Even the freezing temperature of the theater could have been a slight deterrent from a wholly satisfying experience. Overall though, I have a theory. What I believe it was, a feeling that haunted me in Iron Man and slowly came to live during Batman Begins, is being burnt out and over informed on the superhero genre all together.
Sure, I saw the original Spider-Man thirteen times in its original run. I’ll admit to a jaw drop or two during the second X-Men. Hellboy was mildly fantastic, but I still managed to fall asleep towards the end for a few minutes. Most presently Iron Man had me wowing, but didn’t really hit my gut. This list keeps growing and with each new notch in the super-cinema belt, I become less and less interested and feel like my excitement is sadly being phoned in.
In the comic medium (the actual paper and ink format) you get constant shifts in character and status quo. People die, friendships crack, crisises happen (and happen, and happen), and then things return to status quo just in time for or in the midst of another universal shattering event. On and on it goes and thats the way it is. And in the comic universes you have multiple view points and various lives to live vicariously through each week. A sense of the familiar begins to grow and gives the illusion of an organic world where the changes will happen, but everything will be the same. It’s almost like TV.
In the comic movie worlds there are some obstacles that stand in the way and ultimately are the films unstoppable, and destined demises that taint their viewing experiences. Superhero comics are long winded evolutions of the hero’s journey archetype expounded and dissected and put back together a thousand times, over hundreds of issues, month after month. Each character, at one point or another, under the tutelage of this writer or that one, come to tread the same paths and ask the same questions at one time or another. Each goes their own way and answering their questions thusly and provides an overall enjoyable read. Once in a while there are the classic surprises and genuine tales of interest (the death of Steve Rogers, Secret Invasion, and All-Star Superman come to mind as current examples) that become historical turning points for characters and these are the moments we comic geeks live for. Soon these changes are absorbed, debated, and come to be known as the norm and then drastically reversed or forced in a bold new direction to either praise or the more likely bitter critique. In a month to month format this provides the necessary, pop driven means of a pulpy, entertaining, and welcomed weekly escape.
A comic film is nothing but a condensed version of these beloved stories and earth shattering revelations shoehorned into two hours of over thought, and highly stylized action pieces. The super hero is created. He slowly begins his rise. A nemesis takes form. The love interest finds herself compromised. The battle is waged. The hero is victorious. Along the way, increasingly annoying nods to the comic worlds are made known in the form of a Stan Lee cameo or an obscure character name drop. Then the credits roll and its back out into our world, waiting for two years to go by, in which the sequel comes out, the action is more prominent, the characters are more abundant, and the formula more predictable. Its the fate we have suffered since Spider-man was first released.
Where comics have years and years of history folding and unfolding, a superhero film is cursed to a 2 hour restriction and ultimately a physical embodiment of a story that has already been told. We aren’t in the seats with our eyes glued to the screen for any reason, but the illusion that our fantasies are that much more real. It’s not the story, whose twists and turns we all see from a mile a way, that we want at all. We’re there for the visual gratification that comes with our heroes coming to life and the luster is starting to wear off.
So maybe that guy behind me, who seemed to be constantly on the verge of swallowing his own tongue, wasn’t to blame for the lack luster viewing experience. Perhaps it wasn’t the content either. Maybe it was just mental saturation in a genre that is being over thought. Maybe the unsettlingly bleak environment has drained my hope for heroes leaving me jaded and cynical. I’m still giving the benefit of the doubt, awaiting a brave and earth shattering interpretation of the source material. I’m still waiting for the one I’ll be talking about when I’m older and gray.
I’m just burnt out on the formula that is becoming so easy to see and even Robert Downey Jr. popping in with a quip or Samuel Sterns himself can’t get me giddy again.
(The rant solely refers to the superhero comic community and the films of that ilk. It doesn’t include the alternate offerings of Ghost World, Sin City, American Splendor, etc. It’s merely my frustration with the flights and tights. Tomorrow morning I’m seeing THE HAPPENING and couldn’t be more excited. I need a good laugh.)