Friday, June 17, 2011

Comic Book Adaptations: The Rom-Coms for… Nobody?

Romantic Comedies are often cited as one of the most formulaic film genres going. While that is probably true, they are not alone in being formulaic. The very concept of a genre demands a certain degree of formula, and a sign of a great genre piece is the way it plays with the formula to subvert expectations and cause reflection on the part of the audience.

As a sub-set of the sci-fi/fantasy movie genre, comic book adaptations suffer from the problem of a predictable formula more than most. This is not a problem inherent to comic book stories per se; so much as it is a problem of the story most often told in comic book movies: the origin story.

The origin story probably accounts for over 90% of the comic book movies out there. Even in the case of a third or fourth installment in a franchise, where the hero’s origin has already been told, the story tends to be about the origin of one of their enemies. This is unfortunate because comic book history is full of rich and thoughtful stories that could be told. It is a mystery why more comic book movies don’t go in a different direction. The most popular examples tend to be non-origin stories. Spiderman 2 does look at Doc Ock’s origin, but the main story is a non-origin look at Peter Parker’s struggle with balancing his personal life with his hero identity. In perhaps the best example to date, The Dark Knight explores the Batman character after his origin was told in the previous film and the main villain, the Joker, is left completely shrouded in mystery.

This mystery is actually appealing. Why would we want to start our story about an amazing world by demystifying the thing that makes it amazing? And, aren’t all origin stories ultimately the same thing in the end? Thus the formulaic aspect that has gotten so old.

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