Is It Time For a Pause on Superhero Comic Film Adaptations?

 

The Fort Smith Times-Record published a puff piece about upcoming comics-based movies and other sci-fi fare, and the first one cited is Birds of Prey, starring villainess Harley Quinn:

 

Harleen Quinzel is definitely having a moment. Currently she’s starring in “Harleen,” an upscale series published by DC Comics’ mature-readers-only Black Label. She’s also headlining the hilariously filthy, animated “Harley Quinn” on DCUniverse.com, where she’s voiced by no less than Kaley Cuoco (“Big Bang Theory”).

And now the character, as played by Margot Robbie in “Suicide Squad” (2016), has graduated to starring in her own movie where, as the title implies, she is no longer playing second fiddle to Jared Leto’s Joker. Harley is backed up by a host of seriously dangerous gals like Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Cassandra Cain (aka Batgirl, aka Orphan, played by Ella Jay Basco). The villain is Batman bad guy Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor, an actor of whom you may have heard.

Yes, there is a Birds of Prey team, and often a series of the same name, and all of these gals, featured in various DC comics. But don’t worry about that; this group is similar in name only. Instead, expect the sort of gleeful, over-the-top, comically-large-hammer mayhem seen in “Harley Quinn,” only in live action, as presented by one of the best actresses in our generation, and a lot of her talented friends, in a $120 million movie.

 

If it’s identical in name only, surely that’s the problem. You have the overpromoted villainess leading the line, a race-swapped Black Canary, and I won’t be shocked if, in perfect match with Greg Rucka’s abrupt retcon from 2002, Renee Montoya is lesbian. And it’s all done in accordance with a politically correct view on sex, as previous news items revealed. A far cry from Chuck Dixon’s original setup, which worked far better, and sounds more like it draws from almost everything HQ-related than anything related to Black Canary and the former Batgirl-turned-Oracle. Next is Black Widow:

 

Did I mention talented actresses? First on anybody’s “talented actress” list is usually Scarlett Johansson, who has played Natasha Romanoff in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since “Iron Man 2″ in 2010, and is back for more. The character is currently dead, but the movie is set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” long before her tragic end in “Avengers: Endgame,” where we’re going to learn a lot about how the deadliest Avenger got that way. And just like “Birds of Prey,” that involves a lot the character’s friends (and frenemies), as portrayed by another host of talented actors, including David Harbour, William Hurt, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz.

Advance word is that “Widow” is going to explore the Red Room, the Soviet program that trains Black Widows — and yes, the plural is deliberate. Remember the deadly Russian agent in “Agent Carter”? Yep, she was one, too. And so are Pugh and Weisz, with Harbour (“Stranger Things”) playing Red Guardian, who was Natasha’s cosmonaut husband in the comics, transformed into the USSR’s answer to Captain America.

But again, don’t worry about that. Just like “Birds of Prey,” you don’t need to read anything to know what’s going on. Just go have a good time with Natasha … for what will likely be the last time. Sniff!

 

Here, it sounds like a premise diminishing Natasha’s uniqueness, since BW was her own codename, and easily a nickname. And some prior news strongly suggested this’ll be full of social justice themes to boot, not unlike the Captain Marvel film. And while we may not need to read any of the comics to understand the movie proper, I still see that comment implying we shouldn’t bother about the comics proper, even though there was a time when some impressive stories were published, including BW’s teamings with Daredevil in the 70s and 80s. Next is a film based on Bloodshot:

 

You may be wondering who Bloodshot is. Well, so is he.

Bloodshot is a character at tiny Valiant Comics, a publisher which has always managed to present a raft of interesting, unique characters by a mix of solid pros and talented up-and-comers. Bloodshot is no different, created in 1992 by then-newcomer Kevin VanHook, and veterans Don Perlin and Bob Layton.

Bloodshot is like Wolverine on steroids. He has been pumped full of nanotechnology that heals any wound virtually instantly, and gives him enhanced speed, strength and reflexes. But those technobugs also give his handlers the ability to rewrite his memories — so “Ray Garrison,” as played by Vin Diesel, has no idea who he was before becoming the ultimate soldier, and can’t trust anybody around him to tell him the truth. But he intends to find out who he is — no matter who’s in the way.

 

If anything, this strongly suggests the neo-Valiant line was launched just for the sake of providing Hollywood with what to adapt. Honestly, what’s the use of constantly going for adaptations, instead of just thinking up something similar but unrelated? Then, there’s a film based on the Eternals:

 

The second and last of Marvel’s movies for 2020 features one of Jack “The King” Kirby’s lesser creations. After Kirby had co-created Thor at Marvel and created New Gods at DC, “The Eternals” was The King’s third go-round with pseudo-divine figures, this time with names like Thena and Zuras. Sound familiar? Yeah, it was.

But that was 1976, and this is now. In between, Ikarus and the gang were spruced up by Peter B. Gillis (1985) and Neil Gaiman (2006). And Marvel maestro Kevin Feige is excited about “Eternals,” so maybe we should be, too.

The movie is supposed to be heavily influenced by Kirby designs, and the last movie with that distinction, “Black Panther,” did pretty well. And it takes place over 7,000 years, promising the history of the Marvel Universe as well as The Celestials, those mysterious super-gods other movies (notably “Guardians of the Galaxy”) keep mentioning.

 

What if it ends up more influenced by Feige’s PC visions than Kirby’s? I honestly don’t see why we should continue to watch these films, since TPTB care about them far more than the comics proper, allowing the latter to sink into horrible decay for over 2 decades now. If Feige’s excited, that’s decidedly a suggestion we shouldn’t be. There’s also a film coming out based on Morbius, the Living Vampire:

 

People keep hoping that Spider-Man will somehow find his way back to the MCU permanently, but why should Sony let go when it can keep mining the wall-crawler’s vast web of supporting characters, anti-heroes and villains for movies like this?

Michael Morbius, who first appeared in “Amazing Spider-Man” in 1971, is always referred to as “The Living Vampire” in Marvel comics, because he isn’t undead — he’s a scientist who tried to cure himself of a rare blood disease, but instead gave himself vampire-like super-powers, and an insatiable need for human blood. He tries not to drink blood, of course, but there wouldn’t be much of a movie if he behaved himself.

 

Somehow, I doubt there’ll be much of a movie if phonies like Feige are involved. Then, there’s come a brief about the New Mutants adaptation:

 

After two years of this movie suffering through one re-scheduling after another, it’s hard to believe it’s actually going to arrive. Especially since its studio, Fox, was sold to Marvel, and the X-Men franchise of which it was a part has evaporated. But it seems this group of young Hollywood royalty (Anya Taylor-Joy, Maisie Williams, Charlie Heaton) will soldier on — not as the “New Mutants” of Marvel Comics, but simply as a group of paranormally-powered teens trapped in a horror movie (who will probably avoid mentioning the X-Men).

 

Fox was sold to Disney, just as Marvel was sold [out] to them over a decade ago. And what’s this, they plan to make this a horror-thriller? I don’t recall the original 1983-91 series adhering to that genre by any stretch, no matter the angle. If the X-franchise under the original Fox dissolved, it’s possible the failure of the Phoenix-centered movie led to that. Also cited in this puff piece is a sequel to Venom:

 

Tom Hardy returns as the conflicted host to an alien symbiote. Yes, it’s another Sony movie milking the Spider-Man franchise, this time adding Woody Harrelson as a character named Kletus Casady. That should send chills through Venom fans, because in the comics Kasady — a gleeful, psychopathic killer — bonds with another alien symbiote of like “mind” to become Carnage. I think we can safely predict this will happen in the movie, and that Carnage and Venom will not get along.

 

I’m honestly getting tired of how Spider-Man’s world is being sucked dry. All for the sake of pitting Venom against Carnage, it seems. Last is the Wonder Woman sequel:

 

Warner Bros. isn’t telling us much about this one, except that it will take advantage of the ’80s milieu. Also, that Chris Pine will return as Steve Trevor (despite being dead) and Kristen Wiig will star as the villainous Cheetah, one of the Amazing Amazon’s longest-running foes (and one of my least favorites).

But, hey, after the thrilling surprise that was “Wonder Woman” in 2017, I am not going to second-guess anything that director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot do.

 

And I just don’t care. I don’t think it was a good idea to make use of Max Lord as the likely villain, even though there’s plenty of crooked businessmen in the DCU, and it doesn’t have to be just Lex Luthor as he was reworked in 1986. Economy choices in casting do not a great screenplay make.

And lest we forget, filmmaker Terry Gilliam said it right when he argued these tentpole superhero movies are taking up too much room and led to a situation where creativity’s been crippled badly at the film theaters.

 

How do you feel about the glut of upcoming superhero film projects?

 

Originally published here.

Avi Green

Avi Green

Avi Green was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. He enjoyed reading comics when he was young, the first being Fantastic Four. He maintains a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy of facts. He considers himself a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. Follow him on his blog at Four Color Media Monitor or on Twitter at @avigreen1

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