There has never been more “accepted by the mainstream” geek stuff in history, and there have never been more well produced live action superhero movies and tv shows. Combine this with the immense popularity of the Big Bang Theory and the Marvel movies, it appears to be a Golden Age of live action superheroes and geekdom in general. I agree with the latter and not so sure on the former. Allow me to explain.
First, I do not think this is the Golden Age of live action superheroes, but will say, with a caveat, that it’s is the Golden Age of live action “alternate” superheroes. And a Golden Age for geek stuff in general. I can remember when people used to hide the fact, or were embarrassed about reading comics etc. Now thanks to the Big Bang Theory and the Marvel movies, this is no longer the case.
Unlike Pulps, Bond novels (or other fantasy novels), comics are both WORDS and ART. The creators created this stuff and it is important to respect their creations and not change things just to make a mark (I’m talking to you organic web shooters). So when an artist, let’s say a genius like Jack Kirby or Will Eisner draw someone a certain way, it’s important to respect that overall vision, especially if the creator is no longer with us. Now if the creator is still alive, let’s say Erik Larsen, and someone wants to make the Savage Dragon Asian, and he doesn’t object, that’s fine. I may still hate it as a fan but the creator has final say. But when someone is no longer around, you must respect his intentions or, here’s a thought, MAKE YOUR OWN CREATIONS (talking to you Josh Trank on the so-called FF movie).
Now I will agree that back in the day, everyone made caucasian heroes and that’s shame. But it is what it is. But it’s more than just race, it’s about the core elements of the character too. For some, the visual elements don’t matter as much, for others it does. Yet whether it does or not, in my opinion, all things being equal, it’s always better when they look the part. And I said ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL. Not saying I’d rather have a terrible actor who looks the part over a great one who doesn’t look like he came off the page. So when and how should they decide? Here is my opinion on the matter and when it is the most important.
First thing is the basic part of who he or she is. If someone were to break down the character at his or her core, and the intents of his or her creation, would the visual be a part of who they are? For example, let’s discuss one of the most popular heroes ever, Batman. One of the key points of his creation is that he MADE himself this way, driving his physical and mental development to the peak of human ability. So to me, if he doesn’t look like a superb physical specimen, it’s a huge fail. Same with Captain America and the results of the super soldier serum. But Tony Stark and Iron Man, it doesn’t matter as much. While I’d personally prefer he looked like Timothy Dalton in the Rocketeer, and was more suave and sophisticated like he was portrayed in the comics, it’s not a fail that he is Robert Downey Jr and is more like the Ultimate version of him. But for Batman it matters. So for me, every live action Batman has been a fail, period. And Chris Evans has been a B, for reasons other than physical. Some other heroes who the visual matters for are as follows:
- Thor – should look like a Norse God, no exception
- Superman – Should look awe-inspiring
- Robin/Nightwing – should be a mini-Batman and a teen age girl’s dream
- Peter Parker – should look like a put upon nerd, thin and seemingly fragile
- Wonder Woman – the perfect woman physically. Tall, strong and beautiful
- and more.
Does it matter that Barry Allen is not blonde? No. Would it have been even cooler if both him and his costume looked more faithful? Yes. But not a fail. It would be more of fail if he wasn’t portrayed the right way as a shy, thoughtful scientist because that’s WHO HE IS.
So why does Chris Evans get a B and why don’t I like Helmsworth as Thor? Remember how I said comics are both art AND words? Well the visual is not the only thing that matters, the thematic elements are key as well. So while Chris Evans made a GREAT Steve Rogers (pre-serum) and is good physically, Captain America should inspire people by his presence and when he shouts a command, it should be spine-tingly. This could be the fault of how they direct the character but he hasn’t shown this core part yet. As for Helmsworth, he looks like a male model version of Thor. No charisma, no god-like awe, just a big strong blonde.
So is this the Golden Age of live action superheroes? Not for me. When I think of depictions, I think of Christopher Reeve as Superman, still the greatest live-action depiction of a superhero ever. When you saw him you saw Superman. When he said a line like “a friend”, he said it with no irony and true believability. He radiated goodness and trustworthiness. He was perfect! Runner-up to him as the best live action depiction would be Bruce Lee as Kato (and right behind him was Van Williams as the Green Hornet). There is nothing to complain about with him as Kato, looked right and bad ass.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best depictions (and why) and your opinions on the biggest fails.