Veteran showbiz writer Drew McWeeny rocked the world of superhero movies this week with his claim that he’s heard many times that humor is superhero films is being given the side eye at Warner Bros. :
Last week was about the fifth time I’ve heard that there is a mandate at Warner Bros. regarding any of the DC superhero films in development, and it’s very simple and direct and to the point.
It would seem like a crazy rule to set for an entire series of films. How can you know what the tone is for every story you’ll be telling in a series before you’ve even started telling it? The thing is, DC has taken a few stabs at establishing this larger universe on film, and they’ve gotten smacked down for everything that hasn’t had Batman in it. “Man Of Steel” made money, and I’m certainly not the only person to like the film. I may be one of its more ardent defenders, but I’m not alone. I think you’d have a far harder time finding someone to defend “Green Lantern,” the studio’s other big attempt at launching one of the core Justice League characters with a film franchise of his own.
It seems that the failure of Green Lantern is being blamed on the fact it tried to be funny. Apparently the fact that it had a weak plot, an unintentionally risible villain that looked like an angry space octopus, a journeyman director and a central conflict for the hero that was barely a conflict at all had NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH IT FLOPPING.
And the merry peals of laughter you can overhear from any screening of Guardians of the Galaxy are in spite of, not a source of, the film’s success.
Now, I can understand that being all grim and gritty is sort of a trademark for WB superhero movies, because Batman and grim and gritty and Batman is successful. Never mind that the Tim Burton Batman and the original Superman had lots of laughs. And that people like to laugh. People also like to wallow in suffering and have serious debates about saving the world. Being Terribly Solemn and Grim is also a handy way to distinguish DC superhero movies from Marvel superhero movies, which are full of banter and frivolity and Robert Downey Jr. picking on his robot friend.
If one were uncharitable, one could point out that being Very Very Serious is sometimes a mask to hide insecurity and uncertainty. One could also point out that Studio Executives say the darndest things, and years later people write books about this stuff and everyone is appalled that people making kazillions of dollars every year could say such silly things.
Personally, I’m not really looking forward to 17 movies set in a dark brooding world where laughter is forbidden. *cough*Man of Steel*cough* But I also think the human need to release through the healing power of laughter will sneak in here and there to this gritty landscape. Because that’s what humans do. Plus, Batman, it takes 43 muscles to frown and only 2 to smile! At some point that frown is going to turn upside down….I can feel it.
And hopefully, unlike with Green Lantern, the biggest laughs will be intentional and not at the expense of an angry space octopus.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.