The next big comic book movie? Boo!
A pristine bootleg of the Thor Comic-Con teaser trailer hit the web last week a few minutes shy of the San Diego Convention Center doors locking tight for another year. It lingered around just long enough for every soul on the planet to get a taste. It wasn't pulled away through cease and desist until people started screaming, "Oh, my God! Look at that! A dead dumpster baby!"
The whole set-up smells like a studio plant, used to gauge interest in the Technicolor blister Kenneth Branagh is preparing to unleash on the world next summer. In the coveted Iron Man 2 opening slot. May 6th, 2011. It will be followed two short months later by Captain America: The First Avenger. Why did they want the rest of us average citizens to see it? Because Hall H can be a hard place to judge interest and true fan anticipation.
The people seated inside are gristle warriors. Hardwood fans that've camped out all night on a cold slab of cement (the San Diego Bay Front was particularly chilly this year), waiting (sometimes) patiently to see three short minutes of footage. They have to wade through a swamp of greasy, pustulating skin and hair. They have to contend with smells worse than the beast that destroyed Jerry's BMW. They are only going to have three responses. One: They will hate, hate, hate it just because they're tired and bored. Two: They will love, love, love it because of the applause and euphoria that comes from being in that giant, bland room with twenty-thousand screaming fans. Or, Three: They will simply stab someone in the eye and calmly waltz out of the room in handcuffs (and in a Harry Potter T-Shirt, no less).
This all leaves the tastemakers scratching their heads in unison. The Thor footage wasn't well received. But, hey! Neither was the Avatar footage that screened last year, and that went onto become the highest grossing film of all time (sort of). Now that you are at home or at work, itching to get away from whatever choir you're being forced to do, maybe you'll have a truer response. You're relaxed. Perhaps you'll dig this new footage constructed solely for your eyes: The ticket buying public.
So, the studio sneaks the same footage into the stratosphere under the guise that its been bootlegged. They net a few million responses through Twitter and talk back boards, then they pull all of that digital information back into their secret hidden Hoth planet outpost to study it. Too bad for Paramount, the general reaction from those who didn't attend Comic-Con, or those who weren't able to get into Hall H on Saturday, was still, "Yuck."
Why, though? Is it super hero fatigue, as the officially mandated cultural entertainment pundits have recently pointed out? Or is the footage simply that unappealing as to be quickly labeled dumpster pabulum? Captain America: The First Avenger garnered a stronger fan response from the crowd in Hall H, with its slim silhouette of Chris Evans throwing that iconic shield at the camera lens. But we still didn't hear a roar about it. That teaser was like showing a side nipple shot to a room full of horny fourteen year old boys that've never seen a naked woman before. There were no scenes from the actual film itself, as it had just begun shooting five days prior to the Con. Thor, on the other hand, offered up a very long stretch of itself. And it looks bad.
Not Elektra bad. Or even Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer bad. It just looked dry and tiresome. There's a lot of sand. Frankly, it looks just like Louis Leterrier's Clash of the Titans remake. Except that Perseus has let his hair grow out to Phish lengths, and he's been abolished from the gates of heaven and imprisoned within the borders of modern day America as opposed to ancient Greece. The comic simply doesn't seem to be translating well from painted page to flesh and bone. Its goofy looking. That giant hammer is an obtuse instrument. The 3D conversion still makes everything seem as though we're seeing it through a side view mirror on a beat-up Pinto. Worst of all, it looks and feels just like a Kenneth Branagh film. Meaning: It hums low. All of the fun and joy appears to have been sucked directly out of the material. This shit isn't William Shakespeare. It's a Marvel Comic Book.
Sure. There are obvious overtones, and every good geek likes a bit of seriousness served with his pulp graphics. Thor, though, needs to buzz with an eye-popping electricity that is currently missing from this spool of limp footage (maybe they can fix it in post). We could staple together a better looking Thor trailer from The Incredible Hulk Returns, which has Eric Allan Kramer playing a more believable version of the Norse God (not surprisingly, Eric also has a cameo in this new incarnation}. When all is said and done, people will look at Thor and blame its less than stellar box office on its director. Marvel Studios didn't learn their lesson from hiring Ang Lee to direct the Hulk? Like Lee, Kenneth Branagh is a serious minded filmmaker. He is an auteur. He has a vision, and its serious business. He is a true artiest. His films, like Lee's, are missing one important element: Fun, with a capital F.
You can't honestly tell me you've ever walked into a Kenneth Branagh movie and had fun. Why should that matter? Because, God damn it, this is a Comic Book! Whether you like it or not! We need someone that is flying high on the fumes left wavering in the wind by Steven Spielberg. That's what makes Jon Favreau the perfect Marvel director. He understands summer excitement. He gets the nuances of slamming reality based human characters together with fantasy elements. He knows how to balances that off-sort of playfulness with a compelling storyline. When he comes to San Diego to show off footage from his latest movie, he takes his kids to Sea World and Lego Land. He'll unabashedly partake in a bite of fast food for lunch, then engage in a five star meal for dinner. Thing is, he always goes in for desert. Kenneth Branagh, on the other hand, is sitting in his hotel room, wrapped in a velvet robe, huffing fumes out of a Brandy snifter. Yet never putting his tongue directly on the liquor itself. Favreau is enjoying beer straight out of the can, watching fireworks explode off the bay front. Branagh is reading Henry V for the umpteenth time and then going to bed early.
Whose movie are you going to see?
No wonder people groaned when Thor showed off his better side in celluloid. It played like a trip to the dentist. That said, the officially mandated cultural entertainment pundits may be onto something when they site Super Hero fatigue as a resounding reason why the Thor footage was met with less than thunderous applause. There's too much all at once, and Iron Man 2, an entertaining film that would've been heralded as one of the best in the bunch had it come out in the mid-Aughts, couldn't even muster up enough fan energy to make the general public remember it'd been released two weeks after it came out.
There was some promising noise from Marvel Studios. They claimed its upcoming slate of super hero collaborations would truly rock the foundation of Comic Book movies as we've come to know it. But that's not really looking like a true fact. Actually, it's all looking a lot like X-Men Origins: Wolverine. We didn't even get out of the decade before Sony decided to remake fucking Spider-Man.
Then we have DC's Green Lantern, which, surprisingly, isn't getting itself confused with Sony's The Green Hornet. Though both are registering as a blah blip on the human consciousness. DC struck out earlier this year with its odd-duck supernatural Western Jonah Hex, yet they still insist on continuing to plow through their catalogue of lesser-known characters. Who cares if each one has about three fans in the real world? On top of that, we're seeing this weird offshoot of the genre that has real men and women dressing up and pretending to be super heroes even though they don't have any super powers. This isn't a new set of Rhode Island dressing. Its as old as John Ritter's 1980 comedy Hero at Large, which is basically Kick-Ass without the cute little, smart-mouthed girl. 1981 also saw the release of Condorman, which strove for similar laughs. What we're seeing now is just another rehash of charming years past.
James Gunn's Super is coming on like a long-winded punch in the gut. Its irritating to look at Rainn Wilson in that red plastic super suit. It feels like we've been there, done that one too many times in recent months. It makes me want to claw my eyes out. I could have sworn Gunn summed up his thoughts on super heroes with The Specials. Does he really have more to say? All we can hope is that Super is to Defendor what The Specials was to X-Men. Right now, I don't care either way. It could be the grandest action comedy of all time. But I don't want to look at it, because I'm exhausted.
I think we all are. Our biggest films of 2011 are mostly comic book adaptations. After this particular jaunt, Hollywood should stomp on the brakes of this out-of-control genre. Its necessary. Because Thor doesn't just look bad. It's wearing us down like a pink Mead eraser. Its box office is going to low-ball the summer. Mark my words.
I'm not sure who said it first, but if Captain America: The First Avenger doesn't shape itself into something new and different, they're definitely going to have to turn The Avengers into Iron Man 3: The Avengers just to turn a decent profit and get us out of this crumbling hole. It's the only option that makes any real sense anyhow.
Eat food! Kill Grandma! Thor? Boo!