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How to make a great superhero movie
Superhero movies are the latest hot fad in Hollywood, and they don't show signs of going away anytime soon. If anything, the number of comic book adaptation will likely increase as a result of steadily huge box-office earnings for movies of this genre. For the benefit of anyone who may ever intend to make such an adaptation, I offer a few guidelines.
"But, Kyle, you have no experience in filmmaking. What makes you think you know more than a Hollywood producer?"
Quiet, you. This is my blog and I can do what I want. If you want to make a great superhero movie, you must do all of the following:
1) Hire a good director. When it was announced that Christopher Nolan would direct Batman Begins, all the fans flipped out and predicted that this would be the best Batman movie ever. And it was. Simply put, good directors make good movies. Period.
2) Create complex super-villains. Only in the world of James Bond and the mind of George W. Bush are there evil people who dedicate their lives to the destruction of the world for no reason. Real people are driven by real motives, so believable villains need to be, as well. In Spiderman 2, Otto Octavius actually has good intentions of developing a useful new invention into the world, but an accident leaves him twisted and out of control. In Batman Begins, Liam Neeson's character genuinely believes his actions are bringing about a more peaceful world. The same goes for Magneto. These villains are driven by genuine motives, often similar to the heroes they fight--they're just either misguided, warped, or tyrannical. Notice also that each of these villains is played by an outstanding actor. This is key. If you're going to have a morally complex and believable villain, you need a great actor to pull it off.
3) Focus the movie around the hero's internal conflicts. Comic book writers figured out long ago that the old hero-meets-evil-villain,-hero-beats villain-up plot formula gets old very quickly. The best superhero stories have always put the hero's personal conflicts in the foreground, with the action almost becoming a backdrop. Again, Spiderman is a great example, and Sam Raimi represented this aspect of the comics perfectly on screen. The audience doesn't care about Doctor Octopus threatening to blow up the city nearly as much as they care about the relationships Peter Parker has with Octavius, Mary Jane, Aunt May, and Harry Osborn.
4) Stay true to the character, but don't be afraid to break new ground. Batman and Spiderman haven't remained popular for 40 and 70 years, respectively, by telling the same stories about the same characters. Good comic book writers explore new dimensions to the characters and their personalities. Batman Begins reinvents its hero's origin and introduces new twists to his story, while staying true to the essential qualities that have always made him Batman.
There you have it: essential instructions for creating any good superhero movie, free of charge. Of course, doing these things doesn't necessarily guarantee that your movie will be good. There are plenty of other ways to screw it up, which I intend to explore in the future.
How about retaining the visual aesthetic of the comic? You mentioned retaining the characteristics of the hero, but I think it is equally important to stay true to the style. That is why Sin City, Batman (original Tim Burton version), Spider-Man and X-Men all work, and why the Schumacher Batman films don’t.
That’s a good point. I’d argue, though, that it’s all a part of remaining faithful to the original work. The visual style, both in comics and in movies, is a way of expressing the nature of the character and the story.