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Obsession Perception #3: Respecting the Source Material

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It’s clear that you can’t click on a comics news site without seeing the internet losing their collective minds over casting news in comic book movies, most recently the news of Jesse Eisenberg’s casting as Lex Luthor in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel sequel has opened up a new can of (rather grumpy) worms. So this week I think I will offer my hopefully non-redundant view of comic book movie news and how they relate to the source material in the age of the raging fanboy. So let’s get to it.

To get it out of the way right out the gate I’ll bring up the biggest nugget of news, Jesse Eisenberg. I’ll be honest, my first reaction to the news of his casting as Lex Luthor was something along the lines of “Really?! Now nerds can calm down about Ben Affleck as Batman.” I was in utter disbelief and immediately was upset to hear it wasn’t going to be Bryan Cranston taking the part of the diabolical, genius foe of Superman. I admittedly, am a huge fan of Breaking Bad and was immediately intrigued and hopeful for the possibility of Lex “Heisenberg” Luthor. After hearing the news and thinking about Eisenberg’s casting I came to the realization that a big part of my initial disdain was mostly a part of the fact that a great percentage of us hoped so hard for Cranston to be cast that in our collective minds it almost felt true. If Breaking Bad didn’t recently wrap up in the amazing way it did and the rumor of Mr. Cranston possibly being cast didn’t happen I feel like the casting news wouldn’t have resulted in the enormous gasp and immediate anger it spawned. When you break it down on paper Jesse Eisenberg is a fine actor, whether he’s playing an awkward, neurotic 20-something protagonist (i.e. Adventureland and Zombieland) or if he’s portraying a young, multi-billionaire, snarky, mogul (i.e. his Mark Zukerberg in The Social Network) Eisenberg is likable enough and has the chops to pull off a part like Lex Luthor. The only outlying reservation I have about Snyder’s sequel is that perhaps they’re trying to do too much or rush things to aim for the type of shared super hero universe Marvel has pegged down in the past five or six years. I still have high enough hopes for the film to park my rear in a seat on opening night and hope that David Goyer and Zack Snyder have given proper respect to the rich history that DC has built for these characters over 75 years. There are plenty of stories and events to pull inspiration from and make an incredible movie that is not only entertaining to the masses but gives a nod to the fans of the comics that spent years reading about and connecting with these heroes and villains. Casting for Man of Steel 2 aside, I think the focus of the film should be the writing and Goyer and company have a decent track record. I know some opinions of Man of Steel varied from great to worse but let’s be honest, it could have been a debacle of Ghost Rider or X-Men: Origins-like proportions. We’ll see how things unfold in a couple of summers.

Way before we get to see how Man of Steel 2 comes out we get to see one of the other most popular and significant superheroes on the big screen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the Marc Webb directed sequel to 2012’s Spidey reboot. We have had a chance to see some footage by way of the several trailers that have been released leading up to the film’s theatrical debut, and the web is buzzing with anticipation and opinions. I am one of a handful on the positive side of the spectrum as I thoroughly enjoyed the first film. I feel Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Peter Parker although a bit modernized is sincere and respectful of the Steve Ditko and Stan Lee created hero. That’s the most important thing to me in comic films. The rich history and origins of these heroes we love must be respected and paid homage to, not necessarily duplicated. Times have changed and with that the minor details for the sake of the general population of people who may not be wholly familiar with the way it was originally written, thus a more modern, contemporary take makes sense. There are several reasons these tweaks occur, realism, believability, modernization, or even the limitations of film that can’t quite duplicate what was written and drawn into the comics. In The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker was still a bit of an outcast, a pushover, and a brilliant teenage science student, and a photographer, all true to what was written in Amazing Fantasy #15 all those years ago that made up the core of the character. This held true to the source material, however, there was still a bit of backlash because he happened to skateboard, and had a somewhat trendy haircut and style of dress. I understand that fans, myself included, love “our” Peter Parker that we grew up reading about, but is it really so hard to believe that in the year 2012 when the movie came out that he might dress like and participate in the common activities of a teenage male this day and age? The most important message was delivered clearly, being, “With great power, comes great responsibility” and captured the parts involving Pete suited up and web-slinging looked better and felt far more like our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man than any of its big screen predecessors. Minor plot-holes aside, I call the film a success, which is why I’m very excited to see its sequel.

Of all the upcoming comic book movies we know about, my biggest concern for disrespect of the source material lies with Josh Trank’s (Chronicle fame) upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. First and foremost, I’m not one bit upset or bothered by the possible casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm. The color of the Johnny’s skin plays no major part of how and why he became The Human Torch, and is completely irrelevant to the core of the Fantastic Four and what they represents. Jordan was great in Chronicle and has more than enough acting chops and screen presence to pull it off. My major concern with this film is the big rumors surrounding the plot of the origin of Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben. To be fair, these are just rumors and rumors are nothing but here say and could have only surfaced because of previous controversy surrounding the film. Regardless, changing everything from the ages, the origin, and the dynamic of the FF is a bit over the top and could end up badly. It would be a shame because for such a substantial, meaningful superhero team, who deserve a great film, we’ve already been given 2 sub-par movies.

We’ve gone without a major comic book movie failure for a few years now and it seems the technology and special effects in film making is catching up with the pencils and inks of comic artists and for the most part the same care is being taken with the characters by screen writers as it has been with comic writers for 75 years. Even with small qualms it’s pretty safe to say that the worst superhero films the past few years are head and shoulders above Batman and Robin and Bat-nipples.

So what do you think? Do we finally live in an age where our heroes are respected in film as well as comics? Is the age of the crappy, poorly handled, and disrespected properties over? Please discuss all of the above in the comments, as as always come back to www.all-comic.com next Friday for more Obsession Perception!

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  • Steve C

    The issue here is twofold.
    1), that TPTB often don’t understand that a superhero is a *character*. They are not a set of powers to be easily transferred to a transsexual hipster eskimo, A character is a unique individual with personality traits, flaws and recognizable characteristics.That’s the branding they are trying to cash in on, and they ignore that at their peril. The greatest example of this is Deadpool.

    2), that this branding can be eroded in the rush to differentiate a product (the “it ain’t broke, let’s fix it” approach). People do not think that the new Peter Parker is lame because of the skateboarding per se, it’s a one-buttocked attempt to differentiate their product from Raimi’s Spider Man, to the detriment of the nerdy foundation of the character. If you replace say, the ultimate paragon with a truck smashing, clothes stealing, neck snapping douche, your performance will suffer.

    In short, if you give fans the character they KNOW and want to see on screen, you’ll get The Avengers and the pile of money. If you want to piddle on posts, mark your territory and make a name for yourself with your Unique Take On The Character, you won’t reach the same heights.

  • Good point, I agree to an extent. I disagree about the skateboarding thing taking away from the nerdy aspect of Pete. I still think they captured the nerdy parts despite the skateboarding. You can definitely be a nerdy kid who also skateboards. Trust me I know 😉 I do agree that the Avengers is one shining case where the characters were completely nailed and the result is the best superhero movie of all time, but there are cases where the end result is good and the characters have been changed (i.e. The Dark Knight Rises’ Bane). There is a balance to shoot for if you aren’t going to exact duplication and Nolan as well as Webb hit a good balance in my opinion

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