Super-Failures

Posted on May 28, 2009

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My son just turned 4 last month and is starting to get into superheroes, which is a personal dream of mine. He already has a bunch of the action figures, gadgets, and play sets. Ironically, he has not watched any of the movies or TV shows. He is still too young for a lot of it and I am in no rush for him to grow up. So his primary form of information about the superhero world is through my storytelling- which is fine by me. He will soon come an age where he can enjoy the superhero genre as much as I have. What blows my mind is that he will grow up in a world of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight and Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Superman. When I was a child, I longed to see costumed heroes on screen. However, when they arrived, it was less than heroic.

The journey of the live action comic book hero has been a long and painful one. With a rare exception of Superman the movie in 1978, the superhero genre was nothing less than a joke. It was a stepping stone for lesser actors and directors until the ‘real’ opportunities arrived. There was no vision for the potential of superheroes except to entertain kids- which it even failed to do that. As a result we got Supergirl, Swamp Thing, and the TV version of a very lame Captain American and Spiderman. These were awful versions of the characters we had known and loved- geez, I could have done better with a Super 8 camera than these failures. 10 years passed and the superhero genre was almost dead until Tim Burton’s Batman resuscitated it back to life in 1989. Finally a superhero movie with potential! But like most things, it didn’t take long for Hollywood and the money making machine to ruin the franchise and send comic book movies back to the dark ages with the creation of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin. It would then be an additional 10 years later in 2000 that Bryan Singer’s X-Men would come to our rescue and usher in the new ‘Golden Age’ of comic book movies. There have been plenty of ups and downs since then but no doubt that this decade has yielded an amazing crop of heroic incarnations- some super and some not quite. We are concluding this decade with a movie like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, which is more than a fantastic superhero movie but a legitimate masterpiece.

What I have learned is this. You can’t have Dark Knight without Adam West’s Batman. You can’t get Sam Raimi’s Spiderman without Nicholas Hammond cheesy TV version.  You can’t get Bryan’s Singer’s Superman without the Salkind’s travesty of Superman III & IV. A great product comes with a price, and that price is failure. It might not be yours but somebody had to fail to give you the opportunity to succeed. Someone’s dreams had to die for yours to live. Anything of beauty, wonder, and awe comes at a high price and it only lasts for a moment. The unseen failures of past attempts are the fertile ground for success to take root. You may ask, what does this have to do with superhero movies? It’s just a challenge to appreciate superhero movies on a continuum. As critics, it’s easy to bash movies and hold others up as the Holy Grail. My desire with this rant is to remind us all to appreciate how far we have come and be excited for the future.

My son will never be able to appreciate the journey like I can because I lived it. I feel fortunate to have lived through the tumultuous 70s, 80s, & 90s. I may never be a kid again, but I can pass on the appreciation to the next generation, not to just make fans but to make super fans.

To read more of my movie thoughts, check out my “Babble-on 5′ movie review site.

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