Marvel’s The Interventionist: An Open Letter to Overzealous Comic Book Purists
The following remarks were delivered by Dingo Fontana, professional interventionist, to the Overzealous Comic Book Purists Club (OCBPC) during the group's annual convention earlier this year in Illinois. Reprinted with permission.
Everyone in the room, please take your seats. No, you can't finish watching "Big Bang Theory." TURN IT OFF! And put on a goddamn button-down shirt, clowns, this is a national meeting! Why are you walking around in plastic armor? You're not Iron Man. Leave Tony Stark to Robert Downey and Ghostface.
Whoawhoawhoa, you in the Catwoman outfit -- why you putting on that sweatshirt, girl? I was talking to those guys over there. You're good. You're real good. What's your name anyway, cutie? Paprika? You serious? Uh, nevermind.
Let's get down to business. There's something you all need to hear, and it requires your full, undivided attention. Ready?
This past week was a low point for your order. What should have been a celebratory atmosphere centered around the release of Iron Man 3 devolved into ugliness and deplorable statements after the lot of you decided to ejaculate your negative opinions all over the Internet's face without warning. First, this business with The Mandarin in Iron Man 3. Apparently this guy is a legendary Iron Man foe, and you waited six years to watch the formidable duo square off on a 90-foot movie screen. Only, that's not what happened. There was no insane showdown between the all-powerful Mandarin and Tony Stark. Instead, [spoilers] director Shane Black decided to do something deplorable - impart his own creative vision on the story. In Black's version, The Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) isn't the world-conquering, power-ring wielding uber-terrorist you remember. Rather, Kingsley's character is eventually revealed to be a shitty British theater actor hired by the real villain -- Aldrich Killian -- to divert attention from a larger (admittedly lame) endgame.
Of course, you all handled this change with typical aplomb and restraint.
Oooh, sorry the movie's villain wasn't an Asian caricature with mystical alien power rings that shoot lasers and queef lightning. That would have been far more poignant than sly social commentary on the nature of terrorism and celebrity in a post 9/11 world. The twist was rather clever. It worked on multiple levels. Reason and planning went into the decision. Unfortunately, it was lost on you simply because the string didn't play out exactly as it did in a comic.
OK, so that was annoying and pissed off some rational fans. No biggie. However, you followed the Iron Man 3 debacle by flipping shit over the rumor that Michael B. Jordan (/pours one out for Wallace) is under consideration for the role of Human Torch in Josh Trank's Fantastic Four reboot. Why the hand-wringing over Jordan? Is he a poor actor? Nope. Does he lack the skills to play a flying teenage superhero? Hard to make that case considering he already successfully played a flying teenage superhero in Chronicle, which was directed by the SAME F*CKING GUY HELMING THE NEW FANTASTIC FOUR! So what's the deal, geeks? Why the consternation? It can't possibly be because of his skin color, right?
It's because of his skin color.
This is just ...
I don't even ....
It's not enough for you that the comic personification of America is a flawless blond-haired, blue-eyed white man. Now a brother can't even play a character that's on fire 80 percent of the time without you zealots breaking out the bitchforks. Do you have any idea how much you've disappointed Brad Paisley and LL Cool J?
Setting aside the stunning Civil War-era racism on display, how is it not "realistic" that a black guy plays the Human Torch? Never mind, I forgot that comic books have a longstanding reputation for verisimilitude. These new-era superhero movies are basically documentaries -- Ken Burns' The Justice League premieres July 4, 2015! It's not like this is a genre built on mutants, aliens, humans with supernatural powers, invulnerable gods, monsters, and masked crime fighters. Every female I know weighs 102 pounds, has DD boobs, and can singlehandedly take out a battalion of trained male soldiers in 30 seconds. But yeah, casting a black actor in the role of "person who can spontaneously burst into flame and fly around with a 4,000-degree Kelvin core temperature" is a bridge too far.
I HEAR YOU MUTTERING "IT SAYS WHITE-HOT FLAME" BACK THERE, JETHRO! ANOTHER WORD AND YOU'RE GONE!
Why is he dressed like a ghost, anyway?
Sorry, where was I? Oh:
This isn't just limited to Marvel films. DC geeks are up in bingo-arms about a rumored change to Superman's mythology in Zach Snyder's upcoming Man of Steel. "ZOMG Gwen Stacey death" keeps Spider-Man sequel supporters (The Ama2ing 2pider-Man 2wo) up at night. And who knows what you'll find to critique about an eventual Justice League film or inescapable Batman reboot.
As the noted soothsayer Holden once said: "The Internet is a communication tool used the world over where people can come together to bitch about movies." We're not in uncharted territory here. These complaints don't amount to much in the grand scheme, and angry contingents are always more vocal that the satisfied. But each new petty grievance inevitably reinforces the unpleasant -- and mostly unfair -- stereotype that all comic book aficionados are ungrateful, whiny fanboys.
And really, can you blame anyone for taking that view? Comics are now an integral part of popular culture. Popular culture. It's no longer a refuge for middle-aged basement dwellers. The
Whale's Vagina San Diego Comic Con is arguably the most important week of the entertainment year for fans, press, studios, and celebrities. Hell, look where we're standing right now. Ten years ago, could you have imagined you'd be able to hold these national gatherings in the sub-basement of the Peoria Kiwanis Club? Of course not!
You won. We're in the middle of a comic entertainment renaissance. These properties have never been more critically or commercially adored. Three of the top 7 highest grossing films of all time are based on comic books, and there's a fair chance Iron Man 3 breaks into the top 10 by the end of its theatrical run. Of the five movies released this century to crack the all-time inflation-adjusted top 50, three (The Avengers, Spider-Man, and The Dark Knight) have comic origins.
Studio bean counters aren't the only ones benefiting from this resurgence. Fans are getting a pretty good deal, too. Check out the Rotten Tomatoes scores for some recent notable tentpole comic book adaptations:
Maybe the "unforgivable plot hole" concerning how Bruce Wayne got from Asia to Gotham isn't the movie cancer you think it is. That's a damn impressive run of quality filmmaking, especially for effects-heavy tentpoles. Instead of starting with FX and working out, studios actually opted to utilize talented directors1, casts, and screenwriters to craft engaging stories that function as films instead of home theater sizzle reels. Billions were spent bringing these heroes and villains to life, and studios will allocate billions more to sustain this push over the next decade and beyond. Star treatment isn't limited to prom kings like Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the Avengers, either. One of Marvel's upcoming films centers on a guy who can shrink to the size of an ant (Tom Cruise will likely topline to save on FX costs). Another stars a raccoon and a f*cking deciduous maple that knows kung-fu or something. When you get a $150 million movie about a talking mammal and a warrior tree fighting aliens, there's officially nothing left to grumble about.
Enjoy what you have, guys. You're not being asked to swallow sewage and pretend it's gourmet chili. These are fully realized franchise films with strong, competent hands on the tiller. Let directors and screenwriters explore their own creative paths, and remember that adaptation is not synonymous with cloning. Criticize decisions when they catastrophically harm the story or result in inferior products, not simply because the plot unfolded differently on the page. Nitpicking trivialities isn't highly skilled labor. Elevating spandex-clad superhumans to the height of mainstream popularity is. Remember that next time you miss the forest for the trees.
1Captain America: Winter Solider appears to have drawn the Marvel: Phase Two short straw. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo have two feature credits under their belts - the hideous You, Me and Dupree and the unmemorable Welcome to Collinwood. How they parlayed that into a tentpole directing gig is unclear, although it likely involves Kevin Feige, Furries, and hidden cameras.