Making a superhero movie can be a risky affair. As a studio, you stand to make a whole lot of money if everything goes right. But if things go wrong, things tend to continue to spiral out of control fast. Most recently, we saw 20th Century Fox’s Fantastic Four go the route of the latter option, showing us just how much can go wrong in an era where comic book films seem to almost always be a sure thing. It was a harrowing example that no studio is immune, even the one that successfully revived the X-Men franchise.
Fantastic Four checked in at 9% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the critical consensus dubbed it “a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great.” While the original two films weren’t exactly classics in and of themselves, even they managed to break into double digits for their Rotten Tomato ratings. When you create a joyless reboot of a classic comic book series, there are few critics (or audiences) who’ll find themselves even slightly entertained.
Hop on over to Warner’s lot for their upcoming DC film universe, and we see the storm clouds forming for a similar disaster. According to five confirmed sources culled by Hitfix, the studio is enforcing a strict “no jokes” policy for their DC movies, with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice acting as the proving ground for the rule. It’s a reaction to the decidedly humor-centric Green Lantern that today is held up as a paragon of terrible comic book movies, and it’s a 180 degree flip that could end up driving even more fans to the Marvel camp in coming months.
If Fantastic Four taught us one thing, it’s that sucking all the joy and happiness out of a superhero movie doesn’t serve the genre well. Comic books are derivative of a patently absurd universe, where people fly around with their underwear on the outside. They fight crime dressed like bats, birds, and spiders, something that would get you locked away in the loony bin in real life. The film and TV that indulges in the sheer ridiculousness of this concept is the kind that resonates most with audiences. Just look at CW’s The Flash, or Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s not hard to see that unless you’re Christopher Nolan, some semblance of humor is a prerequisite for success.
What we have hear is a clear case of Warner looking at one singular aspect of Green Lantern‘s failures, and seeing it as their cure-all for failure. But Green Lantern didn’t flop because the screenplay was laden with jokes. It flopped because it was an all-around bad movie. The special effects, the writing, the story, everything was terrible. Fantastic Four showed us what happens when you try to make an absurd concept too somber, and now Warner/DC is doing the exact same thing.
Marvel’s level of success isn’t simply because they infuse humor into their movies. It’s because they realize how insane the base concept of a vigilantes with superpowers in funny costumes is, and they translate that over into solidly written movies. DC needs to let Fantastic Four act as the canary in the coal mine: If you completely avoid humor, your comic book movies could very well join Green Lantern as the ghost of misguided superheroes past.
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