COLUMN: April 7, 2016

THERE are too many super-hero films and they need to stop making them. This is a bold statement, and one which would disappoint the eight-year-old me, who would be eagerly awaiting Superman II while simultaneously watching The Incredible Hulk and wearing the Spider-Man outfit my Auntie Mary made me.

But that is the point. I recently went to see the film Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. I give it its full title, because if I had to sit through two and a half hours of that bloated nonsense, I am damned if I am not going to make you sit through the six words of that title.

I am aware that, as a man in his increasingly less early forties, I compromised my dignity going to see a film about Superman and Batman beating each other up, especially as I went alone. But I owed it to that eight-year-old version of myself, who would have sold his grandmother to ICI to see a film starring both Superman and Batman.

I sat on the back row, as I usually do, partly because it affords the best view, but mostly because it leaves an odd number of seats free, annoying any couples who might arrive late for the film.

Next to me were two men, one of whom could easily have been a finalist in the Mr Terrible Moviegoer pageant in any of the past 10 years, and his long-suffering friend, who must have been regretting that day in Freshers Week a couple of years ago when he expressed approval of his future cinema companion’s Nakatomi Corporation T-shirt.

Mr Terrible Moviegoer did two things noisily throughout the film. The first was to eat popcorn. One might imagine that it is difficult to eat popcorn noisily. Yes, there is often a bit of rustling, but the actual chewing of popcorn should be about as noisy as the chewing of candy floss. Yet this man managed it.

The second was to narrate the film to his companion as it went along, warning him about bits that were coming up and explaining references to the original comic text that the filmmakers had shoehorned in. Every illogical twist in the plot was telegraphed by Mr Terrible Moviegoer. The effect was to make this film, already an trial, unsurprisingly awful. It was like watching paint explode dry.

But across the aisle was somebody undergoing an even more dreadful ordeal. It was a mother with a group of children, all roughly about the same age as me when I was awaiting my second Superman film, all of whom had faces expressing the same amount of boredom, bewilderment, and fear as I had.

She had to keep hiding their faces or taking them to the toilet to avoid them seeing people being blown up and branded, or trafficked women, or a beaker of urine, or Clark Kent and Lois Lane having sex in a bath.

It was all her own fault, of course. She should have known that a film starring Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, and which had associated toys and Build-A-Bear outfits and children’s books, would not be suitable IN ANY WAY AT ALL for children.

And that is why super-hero films have to stop. There are so many of them now that the directors have to make them “distinctive” and self-consciously serious and artistic.

They have to start talking about “universal themes” and “mythology”.

That is why we end up with films in which Batman and Superman kill and maim criminals and innocent bystanders, instead of stopping people from killing and maiming criminals and innocent bystanders.

These filmmakers forget that people mostly like super-hero stories because they feature characters in silly bright costumes going about the place doing good and spreading hope.

They should learn a lesson from TV’s Russell T Davies. When he brought back Doctor Who a decade ago he produced something quite extraordinary.

He produced a programme for all age groups, that everybody could watch, that introduced some adult themes in a way that was suitable for children, that could make people laugh or cry, that was faithful to the spirit of old Doctor Who, and which felt new and exciting. And it became the biggest show on British television for years.

If the filmmakers followed his example, they might be able to make a Superman story that not even Mr Terrible Moviegoer 2016 could spoil for me. And one that I would allow my eight-year-old self to see.

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3 thoughts on “COLUMN: April 7, 2016

  1. And Sir, I would never DREAM of missing your Echo column every Sunday!
    This week’s was particularly lucid and robust. I’ve left a Tweet but there’s only so much one can condense into 120 keystrokes. I promise I’ll keep this brief!
    Comics are for READING. Films are one man’s INTERPRETATION of the writer’s work [usually the Producer].
    MC Carey, who has written countless stories for Marvel for many years, was in Liverpool last week to launch his new book, and the Meet & Greet evening [WriteBlend, Waterloo] was very enjoyable.
    If people stop reading (books, comics, etc) there will come a time when there is nothing being WRITTEN which the Film industry can usurp and bastardise to a pale shadow of the writer’s original intention!
    Just a thought, but then what do I know? I’m only one of the hack Wordsmiths trying to persuade people to buy MY books … 🙂
    Sincerely, Paul McDermott

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