Vampire Killer, Super Hero Savior

The name's "Blade." Can you guess why?

A friend sent me an e-mail all geeked after watching The Avengers trailer and he was stoked!   He wanted to know how superheroes became such a fundamental part of the summer movie madness.   My answer was it all started with a Black “hero” who proved there was money to be made in mining comic books for gold.

The superhero movie that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for kick-starting the superhero movie genre is Blade (1998).  Before it the last caped crusaders we had the bloated mess that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin (1997) that croaked the franchise until Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed life back into it minus the Arnold Schwarzenegger quips and nipples on the Bat-suit.

But Marvel was even more dead in the water.  Think about what kind of superhero movies they had cranked out.  The Punisher with a mumbling Dolph Lundgren?  Roger Corman’s made for ten cents version of The Fantastic Four?  Junk.

Then along came a little movie about a third-rate supporting character in the long canceled Tomb of Dracula comic book.   Nobody had any expectations from Blade, but it totally kicked ass with a tough performance from Wesley Snipes and surprisingly stylish direction from Stephen Norrington. It also had one of the coolest openings of any action flick (see below).  Blade kills men, women, guards.  He even kills the d.j. Man, Blade sure does hate techno music.

Blade didn’t make a ton of money (made for $45 million and grossed $75 million), but it did make enough money to show Hollywood there was a market for super hero movies that didn’t insult the intelligence of its audience.

Marvel picked up the lesson.  Next up were Bryan Singer’s X-Men (2000) and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) and that got the superhero movies off the mat and back into the business of being summer movie blockbusters.

Not until Batman Begins (2005) did DC get back in the game and though The Dark Knight Returns is the best superhero movie ever made, Marvel has been far more successful in diversifying their portfolio with multiple characters having lucrative launches while DC has so far failed to generate a similar character (Superman Returns, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern) to build franchises around.

But it all began with Blade and though it’s kind of been forgotten, it shouldn’t be.   The sequels Blade II is just as good as the original while Blade:Trinity is a hot mess that killed the franchise  deader than Batman & Robin.   Despite the 49-year-old Snipes’ problems with the IRS, Blade is a character that deserves to return even if the role has to be recast.

Superhero movies have gone from something Hollywood looked down its nose at to one of the most essential determining factors on whether it’s a profitable year or not.  Paramount and Warner Brothers have millions tied up in next year’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises,  but the expectation is both studios will rake in millions more.

Blade is not a great movie.  It’s not made on the ambitious scale of a Thor or Captain America: The First Avenger.   It’s a B-movie and it’s bloody, cynical and earns its “R” rating.  When Blade growls, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill” you don’t even care that it’s a badly written line that makes no sense.   Superheroes don’t say “mother fucker,” but then Blade is a vampire slayer, not a superhero.

If not for a vampire slayer who won’t pay his taxes we might not be stuck with superheroes up to our eyeballs..

The Summer of Too Many Superheroes

"In brightest day, in blackest night, no movie critic shall escape my sight..."

The early reviews are starting to come in for Green Lantern and they don’t look too promising. Okay, that’s too kind.  As Charles Barkley would say, “They’re turrible!”.   Currently GL is pulling in a wretched 19% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes with only six out of 31 reviewers liking it.  

Congratulations DC Comics and Warner Brothers.  That’s better than Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.  You must all be so proud. 

That doesn’t bode well for the film’s prospects.  As the rest of the reviews come in over the next few days, that might be enough to goose it up to 30 or finally 40 percent, but it the prevailing trend continues, Green Lantern is going to sink, not soar.

The complaints with the film are familiar to comic book movies.  Heavy on back story and exposition, but light on the action.   There was a lot of early uproar about how Green Lantern’s CGI-created costume looked, but that seems to have quieted down.   The worries about the limited range of  Ryan Reynolds as the lead character seem to have persisted despite DC Comics and Warner Brothers hopes Reynolds might be perfect to do for Green Lantern/Hal Jordan what Robert Downey Jr. did for Iron Man/Tony Stark (at least in the first Iron Man movie).

The film also seems to fall into the same trap other superhero flicks do; giving the good guy more than one bad guy to take down.   Thor threw down with Loki and the Destroyer and the Frost Giants while Spider-Man 3 loaded up with the Sandman, Venom and James Russo as Green Goblin Lite.   When I heard Green Lantern was squaring off against Hector Hammond and not Sinestro, his best worst enemy,  I thought, “Really?”  Hammond is a bottom feeder baddie in the comics (though Green Lantern  was never one of my favorite comics, I know like Iron Man, his rogue’s gallery is a pretty skimpy one).

Which drives home a point my brother made.  “Why doesn’t The Flash get a movie?”   Good question.  The Flash is a better character, has better villains, and super speed is a much cooler superpower than a ring that makes green guns.   The Flash is probably trapped in Development Hell somewhere.

With four movies opening in three months this is the summer of the super heroes and it’s overkill.   I know a few people who wanted to see Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern or Captain America: The First Avenger, but I don’t know anyone who wanted to see all of them.

Sinestro is GL’s top nemesis, but the filmmakers probably wanted to introduce him in the first flick and save him for the second.   If the movie is a success, that will be a smart decision.   If it’s this year’s Jonah Hex, there will never be a sequel and opportunity for GL and Sinestro to throw down will be lost (until the series gets rebooted in a decade like Superman Returns). 

I liked, but did not love Thor.  I enjoyed it enough to recommend it, but that I haven’t seen it a second time says once was enough.  Most super hero flicks are pretty much one-and-done.   I haven’t seen X-Men: First Class yet, but the solid reviews and “It’s a LOT better than X-Men: The Last Stand and Wolverine”  positive buzz do give me reason to invest at least an afternoon matinée on it (despite the blabbermouths at Spill blunting my interest with a major spoiler-ish reveal).

Thor was mighty, if not memorable.

I wasn’t excited about seeing Green Lantern as I’ve never liked the character much in the comics where his “cosmic cop on the beat” riff didn’t much appeal to me and I’ve never been a fan of Ryan Reynolds.   The disastrous first trailer was so poorly received there has been what seems like a half-dozen new ones downplaying the silly aspects (Reynolds trying too hard to ape Downey’s smart-ass take on Tony Stark) and playing up the action and the visuals of GL’s training on the planet Oa. 

I had the distinct feeling with four  flicks this summer and none of them named Spider-Man, Batman or Superman, there were too many second-tier heroes (GL, Thor and Captain America) and one or more would get squashed going up against The Hangover sequel, a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean, the third Transformers and the final Harry Potter entry.   

Somebody had to lose and I figured it would be X-Men: First Class or Green LanternFirst Class shed 59 percent of its audience following its opening week, but that’s better than the last two entries which saw fall-offs in the mid 60 percent range after their debuts.  

Green Lantern will open big, probably knock off Super 8 and Jim Carrey’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins, (which looks like it might blow, but Carrey is a name brand and Reynolds, is not),. enjoy bragging rights for one week, and then sink like a stone without a trace in its second week.   I can see a $50 million first week and a fall-off in the 60 percent range the next.  Worst case scenario:  GL opens behind Mr. Popper and Super 8 and instanlty becomes one of the biggest losers of the summer.   

DC will be hoping Green Lantern is this year’s Iron Man, but the trashing it’s getting from critics will probably make it last year’s Jonah Hex.   Ryan Reynolds ain’t no Robert Downey Jr. but we knew this already.

Then it will be Captain America’s turn to get in the ring and slug it out with the other monsters of the multiplex in a summer where any movie can be Number 1 for a week or maybe two, but by week three, it’s outta there.

Staying power is not a power most super hero movies seem to posses.

"Okay, we're all here. Who are we supposed to beat up? "