Sunday, September 18, 2011

X-Men First Class And My Issues With Comic Book Movies

I just saw X-Men First Class. I liked it. It was well-directed, stylish, and some truly excellent performances. But I would never watch it again.

A great review of a movie explains perfectly why the critic did or didn't like said movie. For example, Roger Ebert's review of Dark City made me go back and watch it again, and it is now one of my favorite sci-fi's. My partner, Danielle, ruined the movie Aladdin for me by asking where the hell the narrator/salesman from the beginning of the film went.

Likewise, a great review, by whom I've forgotten, for the first X-Men ruined the film for me and further drove home the importance of keeping comic book worlds and the real world separated. Basically, the whole use of mutation as an analogy for racial undertones and bigotry is just amazingly stupid. Fear and hatred of black or Asian people is wrong because they're just people, they just look slightly different. Fear and hatred of someone who can level whole cities with their mind is very, very legitimate. Even mutants should be terrified of other mutants.

As it is with X-Men First Class. They place the movie during the early 1960's and have the X-Men stop World War III by being the actual reason the Cuban Missile Crisis didn't come to guns. First problem, this opens up a metric-crap-ton of historical inconsistencies, but disregarding those, there are issues on the story's own terms.

For example, people don't know about mutants? How did WWII even happen? You're telling me that not ONE of the people that the Nazi's massacred wasn't a mature mutant? There are just now, spontaneously, millions of mutants? And ALL of them are in hiding? No. I'm sorry. Some of them would turn into superheroes and some into supervillains. And that logical requirement works just fine in comic books, because that's what comic books are: heroes and villains.

It is impossible to shoehorn in comic book logic (I refer to as a cause-&-effect system) into real-world logic. It was the reason why I found both new Batman films insufferable. Batman Begins took itself gravely seriously, and its climax centered around a microwave gun that magically doesn't effect the 80% of the human body that is water. It was stupid.

First Class isn't that stupid, but every second of the movie has logical issues with its setup, logical issues that I just couldn't get past to fully enjoy the film.

I think the reason why my favorite recent comic book film is Iron Man is that the director, Jon Favreau, understands the nature of comic book movies perfectly. When interviewed about the upcoming Avengers film, he said he didn't envy the producers of that film since they had to try to merge the technological world of Iron Man with the magical world of Thor. He said that comic book movies have to operate in their own worlds, disconnected from others, for them to work. Why so few directors understand this is beyond me.

It's not just comic book films, though. It's all of Hollywood. When critics refer to jarring shifts in tone, usually in a derogatory sense, they're frequently referring to shifts in cause & effect. For example, a movie that was borderline unwatchable for me at times was the 2008 film Hamlet 2. There were scenes of slapstick C&E, scenes of real-world C&E, scenes of uplifting teen drama, Saturday Night Live, and genuine attempts at pathos. None of these can live together in a film.

As a filmmaker, you must know precisely in which universe of cause & effect your movie is going to live. All characters must then follow that system. You can't decide that you want some drama, and suddenly have everything shift to a dramatic system in hopes of wringing out a tear or two. You'll end up like Family Guy, which, regardless of its quite genuine humor and inventiveness, is horribly written.

As a writer, this is difficult, which is probably why so few do it. You must think out the complex network of effects that any event in your story would have within the world that you've chosen. This is the reason why so many super-dramas are very tightly scripted. They only write a few characters, and what they do, who they are, and where they live is highly limited. It allows the writer freedom to concentrate on the characters about which they actually care, and not have to worry about potential inconsistencies and plot holes involving hypothetical outside variables.

Unfortunately for those lazy writers that don't want to do go through the trouble, this is what makes good writing. Without it, you may as well not bother. Stop clogging up the gears of movie production with your shitty scripts and make room for story tellers who have something worthwhile to say.

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