(This is the second part of a two-part perspective the first part is here.)
Hearing many opinions on X-men: Apocalypse and the recent previews of the upcoming movie, it seems to me there is an increasingly popular notion that when making a comic book movie the goal is to bring the characters directly from the page onto the screen with very little interpretation. This to me seems an odd notion for a number of reasons. To be clear, I in no way think we should as fans lower our expectations for a quality product from the movie-verses. And I think that critical evaluations of works are an important part of the creative process. But I do think and here make my case that these expectations have become not only incredibly restrictive, they are giving comic book fans in general and X-fans in particular a horrible reputation for being intractable, unreasonable and overall a “collective voice” to be collectively ignored. Below I run down a list of responses to the most common topics I’ve seen discussed in fandom at large:
There is no one character — Let’s just get that out of the way: There is no “correct version” of a character. Lee and Kirby’s Cyclops vs. Claremont’s vs. (newer) Lee’s vs. Nicieza’s vs. Morrison’s vs. Bendis’s are all very different takes on the character. The same is true of the visuals for the character, the parade of artists through the years have all left their mark. Most people have their favorites. So which does a writer/director choose? Their favorite? A mix? Or do they create one of their own interpretation? Just because it’s a movie and not another comic book, does that mean the artist doesn’t have any creative input into shaping the characters or the story they want to tell? What if they want to tell a NEW story for these characters, show them in a different light?
The director is not a mindless slave to the vision of others. — Filmmakers became such to create movies, to tell stories, and to express their voice through their works. Actors like a paycheck, yes, but what makes a standout performance most of the time is the actor internalizing a character and really exploring the space in which this character exists. Costume and set designers excel when challenged to craft a mood or a striking design from their own creative talents. Imagine how frustrating it would be for an artist to see rich canvas of complex characters with these incredible powers that have been through these amazing adventures that represent these very human struggles……..and be expected to reproduce them and not stray from the known material or a particular visual interpretation. It wouldn’t just be frustrating, it would be impossible. There is no way for someone to translate something and not add their own voice. The expectation is anathema to many in the industry. We’re already seeing the weight of the expectation start to creep in with articles like this one.
New and different can be risky, but it can also be amazing. — I’m going to get in trouble here (if not already), so let me just say right now….I LIKE the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve got Captain America: The Winter Soldier on right now. But I don’t buy into the idea that they are ‘better’ because they are ‘truer’ to the comics. The formula is nice, though I would challenge that even here the adaptations aren’t as “true” as many would argue, they are simply cut into the mold of a more expected form. They are flashier and they do the action/adventure well. BUT I LIKE that the X-Men have chosen not just to tackle action adventure but also to address some pretty weighty themes and they aren’t afraid to do things differently. Different isn’t bad, in fact it can be good or even great.
In the animated world for example, the 90s animated show was good, and I loved watching it when it was on. But I’d been reading X-men for years and to me much of it was a watered down version of the books. I’d rather read the books. X-men: Evolution was different, it was REALLY different. Yes, it was a bit high school angsty, but they mixed up the characters and their dynamics and it WORKED. It was a fresh and exciting take on a classic. And from it rose X-23, one of the most popular characters in the X-comics now. Sometimes throwing out the old rulebook and forgetting what you know can produce something fantastic. But I worry that resistance to differences in the movies is so visceral that there is little chance of the movies being afforded the opportunity to bring something positive to the X-verse at large.
The movies don’t owe comic book readers anything. There, I said it. The comic books are for the comics book readers. We’ve got those and we’re always going to have them. The movies are a different medium. Things that look beautiful in a comic book won’t always work in a movie (well, maybe an animated movie, even then it’s very different). And in the end, the audience is different, movie goers outnumber comic book readers by at least 10 to 1. The demographics are different, and the general audience has different expectations. The mechanics are different. They don’t have 40 years to build up a character, they have 90-120 minutes per movie. The movie makers have an obligation to the movie-goers, a subset of which is made up of comic book readers. If X-Men hadn’t been a success, there wouldn’t have been a second one, let alone seven or so. And considering that much of the time the movies are successes despite a general cry of outrage, it’s no wonder objections are largely ignored.
So here we are again. The same place we were before Day of Future Past ridiculing Quicksilver’s ‘ridiculous’ look (i admit it, I took a few shots. I still think he needs a haircut!) I don’t know whether Apocalypse is going to work on the big screen. He may look amazing, he may look like the silliest thing ever. He may keep the previewed look for 5 minutes or the whole movie. There may or may not be enhancements. He might have sparkles and rainbows floating around him. But people aren’t waiting to see the finished product, memes are flying around about how stupid it’s going to look. Clamoring for a carbon-copy comic book Apocalypse is clogging blog pages and accounts all across social media. And we have no context so we just don’t know. And we aren’t giving any credit to anyone with the hubris to put their own interpretation into something.
Remember when we used to say “when are comics going to be taken seriously?” That time is NOW. Comics are taken seriously as a genre and as a medium. But what about the fans? It seems of late that expressing outrage over a movie before it’s even been released isn’t just possible, it’s expected. And it troubles me. Tearing down is easy, it fosters a false sense of superiority to seek out perceived flaws and proclaim a product inadequate from afar. Creating and implementing something new and exciting is hard, otherwise we’d all be doing it. Every time we cry out en masse about how terrible something is going to be before we even see it and it becomes a success despite us (even among the decriers — see Iron Man again) that’s just one more erosion of any real voice or credibility that we’re given as a community. Even in the comics, writers and artists are beginning to view our perpetual disgruntled state as a given rather than a cause for concern. ‘Fan outrage’ reduces our community to its worst sort of stereotype. We split into camps with accusations flying of “true fans” and “original concepts.” It makes us look desperate, clinging to childhood visions, intractably clamoring to one single notion of how a character is, was, and can ever be. It limits us, it divides us, it makes us look like fools. It needs to stop. It needs to be fun again. We need to be fans again.
Now you may say “well aren’t you just perpetuating the complaining by complaining about fans?” No, that is not my goal. Nor do I think fans should blindly accept any product thrown their way with an X-label. What I want is this to be a rallying cry to view the movies as a chance to do something in a different direction. For them to be a body of work existing in the X-world to be evaluated on its own merits and by not how well it mirrors the picture-perfect image we’ve formed in our minds of a story that’s already been told.