That Constantine movie was actually pretty hot.

Mind you, I’ve never read a Hellblazer comic in my life, so I remain blissfully ignorant to any questions of accuracy, but I definitely enjoyed it far more than I expected to. Saw it Friday night, and spent a lot of Saturday thinking about the specific scenes, tiny flourishes, and cool effects that brought the entire thing together for me, which is always a good sign. There was of course the Keanu factor, but even he doesn’t manage to cripple the narrative or the strong visuals that form the movie’s foundation, ultimately allowing Constantine to function as a moderately intelligent horror/science fiction/action piece. What little it lacks in execution, it delivers in atmosphere, extending beyond the special effects (which are excellent) and creeping into the set design and the costuming, which in tandem effectively set the tone. A story dealing with Heaven, Hell, angels, and demons has to strike a certain visual aesthetic, and director Francis Lawrence definitely succeeds at every turn, making his feature debut incredibly easy to look at.

The story is pretty standard good versus evil fare, and that’s not an insult by any means, because the script layers the central conflict squarely on the shoulders of John Constantine, becoming more complex and more engaging with each scene, until the excellent final confrontation. John’s plight is as relatable, as it is distancing, and the hollow, brooding title character plays well to Reeves’ strengths, in the same way that Neo did in the Matrix movies. An incredible depth of emotion isn’t required, only a cool or bewildered detachment, and an excellent supporting cast, which the movie has in Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, and Djimon Hounsou. The haunted Weisz is particularly impressive, serving as the POV character, as we’re gradually drawn into the story, which is as much hers as Constantine’s.

It’s drawing a lot of criticism, both from within the comics industry, and from the so-called “critics,” but I dug it a lot. Maybe it’s impossible for fans of the comic to enjoy, but the opening figures seem to suggest that it was somewhat enticing to people, which is always a good thing, and brings along the next bit of business for this week…the possibility that the comic based movie is going the way of the dodo. That the law of diminishing returns is starting to take hold, in the wake of lackluster performances by a couple of anticipated blockbusters. That we’re all in danger of being replaced by focus group superheroes, conjured up by Hollywood executives. That we’re speeding toward a day when Hollywood isn’t camped out on the stoop, waiting to take hold of the next big property.

Yeah, yeah, I know…it sounds completely ridiculous to me too.

Comic based properties will continue to remain a valuable commodity to their Hollywood licensors, due to their pre-established audiences, and the ungodly amounts of money that a lot of them are making. We’re not talking about the ones that didn’t hit it big, and you all know who you are, but to use them as a litmus misses more than a few points. The relative “soft” response to movies like Catwoman or Elektra have little or no bearing on the moneymaking potential of things like Batman Begins, or X-Men 3, and to compare them, as if all constructed from the same cloth, makes the same mistake that the “mainstream” is often guilty of. Approaching all comic properties like they’re the same thing, or should be the same thing, is a train of thought far more dangerous than Halle’s Catwoman costume.

Similar rules of logic apply to both comics and movies, and finding a significant audience for something is a formula that begins, and unfortunately ends, with brand recognition. If the audience for any project isn’t already pre-existing, than you have to roll up your sleeves and build the thing from scratch. I don’t care how many comic based films gross less than 50 million, there is no stopping your Spider-Man, X-Men, Batman, and Superman flicks. These are characters that are ingrained into the pop culture consciousness, that are so insanely recognizable, that their logos are recognizable. People will never lose the desire to see their favorite characters brought to widescreen life, as long as the finished product is of noticeable quality.

The notion that fans will not reflexively flock to the multiplex, and plop down hard earned money on characters they’ve never even heard of, is quite obvious and is the larger concern. Studios can’t put out features based around characters that barely have successful comics, and hope they’ll inexplicably strike gold. They have to realize that odds are stacked against them, and do everything in their power to identify and then market something attractive to an audience that would just as easily not care. Whether it’s a visual scheme, or an A-list actor serving as a headliner, if it doesn’t look cool, it has no chance. And yes, I realize the description “cool” is somewhat hollow and indefinable, but you all know what happens when you see or experience something “cool.” There’s a visceral, knee-jerk reaction that you instinctively recognize, and drives you from one form of entertainment to the next.

I went to see Constantine, because the trailers made it look like a cool, atmospheric thriller, and I ignored Catwoman because the trailers made it look like an awful mess. If you’ve got two hours worth of movie, and can’t find at least two minutes of it to string together into something that looks moderately enjoyable, than there’s a problem that extends far past something being labeled a “comic book movie.” It’s very difficult for bad movies to make money, because of a culture that’s grown to disseminate information at a blindingly fast rate, and has given voice to everyone with an IM handle.

It’s not that people are somehow becoming “tired” of comic based films, it’s just the same as everything else, a concept that people want to ignore until it bites them in the face…it has to be a decent story. The script has to be good, the characters well defined and relatable. If these scripts weren’t cobbled together nonsense, and written by committee, people would go to see these movies. Simple and plain.

Something else being theorized is that Hollywood will eventually reach the point where they are constructing their own superheroes, leaving our bountiful intellectual worth on the curb, in the hopes of bypassing a licensing fee. Why? Because The Incredibles, which is in essence, a retooled version of the Fantastic Four, made money? Now, I loved that movie to death, and am fully aware that if I were 10 years old again, the thing would’ve blown me completely away, but let’s get real. Hollywood is going to crank open the assembly line, and start creating superheroes at will, that can compete with the likes of Spider-Man or Batman? Come on, dawg…

We can barely get a romantic comedy worth anything, or an action movie that makes a lick of sense, and you expect me to swallow that New Line Cinema is going to start doing what we do? Only better? Have you completely lost your mind? Seriously, how many movies, out of the dozens that see release every year, are legitimately good? I’m not talking that “Oh, well I was entertained” excuse that everyone’s used at some point. I’m talking some, “I was completely engrossed in this world and these characters for two whole hours, and completely forgot everything about my life that ain’t quite working out.” That kind of good, that inspired you or changed the way you look at things. Bet you can count them on two hands, with a few fingers left over.

But some movie studio is coming to create the next big thing in superheroes?

It’s no question who handles superheroes better than anybody else. For all our whining and disappointment in the way things are, comic books will always have the advantage in chronicling the trials and tribulations of the caped hero, the masked avenger. Simply because the entire concept is founded on imagination, and powered by the impossible. And that my friends, knows no budget constraints, doesn’t need a team of 40 people to render a visual effect, and will not require using some other source as a road map. We have got the goods, and they can talk all they want, but ultimately they’ll fail and return to pay us our money. And here’s the secret of it all, why there’s no absolutely no cause for alarm…

…people are lazy and do not like the idea of having to create new things.

Look at all the movies out there, based on comics, or novels, or old television shows, or something else that someone else made years earlier. Other branches of entertainment also suffer from severe allergic reactions to original material, but even some of the films considered by many to be classics, or indispensable, didn’t begin their life as movies.

Conjuring scripts the old fashioned way incurs a certain degree of risk, because more often than not, people aren’t looking for that. Anytime we can get something original in circulation for longer than six months, it’s considered a victory for mankind, because it’s incredibly difficult. It’s part talent, part presentation, part timing, part luck, and not everyone has the attention span for all that. You think Fox wouldn’t like to be able to channel a team of characters that would tap into the same magic that the X-Men do? ‘Course they would, but it’s easier to option the real thing from Marvel, and start pressing the reels. And as long as that is a reality, there will continue to be comic based movies.

Not every comic is fit for the movie treatment, but the ones that are successful owe it to the strength of their scripts and visuals. Yes, my friends, rocket science, movies with stories that are well developed, and are easy to look at tend to draw crowds. So please, no more of this “sky is falling” stuff, Hollywood knows what’s up. Best there is at what we do, and we need to start acting like it, instead of breaking out into cold sweats, whenever it looks like the movie studios are going to stop playing with our toys.

Because they’re lucky we’re even allowing it in the first place…

 


Before ducking out for two weeks, I’d like to remind everybody that Shatterstar hits on Wednesday, and there’s a nice interview about it and a few other things over on ComiX-Fan. Just scroll down when you hit the front page. Also wanted to show everyone the cover to Marvel Adventures #3, which I’ve been grinning about for the last couple weeks. Really nice piece of artwork there.

Back soon.

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