I hate comic book movies (d’you think it shows?)

This movie sucks (and so do you)

Whatever happened to scholarship, whatever happened to standards? Why are there no good, reliable movie critics these days?

Where have you gone, Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris? We miss you Manny Farber and James Agee.

What in Christ’s name are they showing in college and university courses in 2019 to inspire emerging film makers, “Citizen Kane” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”?

How did we get to the point where “directors” like JJ Abrams, Zack Snyder, James Cameron and Joss Whedon are held aloft as role models and auteurs, artistes worthy of veneration (and, God help us, emulation)?

No one, it seems, is speaking up on behalf of film aesthetics. Most contemporary reviewers, professional or amateur, wouldn’t know mise-en-scene from a bag of marshmallows. A significant number haven’t seen a motion picture made prior to 1970.

I have to ask, where do you go for movie reviews, who do you trust with your hard-earned money?

Please don’t say Rotten Tomatoes.

Really? Really?

 As far as I can tell, most of the so-called professional reviewers on RT are a pretty undistinguished lot. What quality of criticism are you likely to receive from freelancers who squeeze in the odd article or review to supplement their meager income, individuals whose only source of expertise is that, well, they like movies? Somehow they manage to land a gig at a radio or television station, or are assigned a column in the local free newspaper, and they’re off to the races. Their own personal bully pulpit, allowing them to champion the latest franchise film, assembled via committee, tailor made for mass audiences, just stupid and derivative enough to be comprehensible to them.

And the amateurs posting on RT—ay yi yi. Now we’re talking about dim-witted millennials (“Generation Moron”, as I call them), fan boys and girls with lots of energy and enthusiasm but, alas, completely lacking any exposure to film history or theory, even the basic fundamentals involved with creating moving pictures. Their comments and opinions are, predictably, juvenile; they don’t read anything more wordy than billboards or graffiti, and consider any offering that doesn’t boast a superhero a foreign movie.

“A cinematic masterpiece!”

“A thrill ride you never want to stop!”

“Best movie you’ll see all year!”

You read the blurbs but can you believe them? Do you trust someone from WXYZ Radio or monsterflix.com to deliver a fair, impartial, educated appraisal of the movie in question?

Truthfully, you won’t fare much better if you turn to more legitimate publications and platforms, reviewers who should have some cred to go along with their national profiles. I’ve been absolutely stupefied by the glowing reviews Rolling Stone and the New Yorker frequently lavish on spectacle pictures, idiotic blockbusters, films where the script was clearly an afterthought. Green-screened, computer-generated, audience-tested drivel framed around four or five extended action scenes over-loaded with CGI, accompanied by a thunderous, head-splitting soundtrack.

Here’s a review I wish they’d print:

Sphincterman vs. the Blue Meanies is so patently awful I wanted to scrub its memory from my eyeballs with fistfuls of steel wool. It is so brazenly unoriginal, imitative and predictable, the denouement is obvious right from the opening credits.

There are no less than five writers responsible for this abomination and each should have his/her fingers burnt off with a blow torch so they never touch a pen or keyboard again.

Director I.Q. Sixty, responsible for such doozies as Sexy Fox VI: Return of the Hotties and the upcoming cinematic reboot of Hogan’s Heroes, apparently apprenticed under Michael Bay or, perhaps, Ed Wood. He has no grasp of dramatic tension and the scenes featuring live actors are awkward, stilted, about as convincing as watching mannequins copulate.

Fred Baldwin as Sphincterman emotes like a turnip but fits the costume and has a terrific head of hair. His voice drops two octaves when he’s being serious and he once took an acting class, though had to give it up when he realized his teachers were cardboard cutouts. I’m not saying the kid comes across as wooden and untalented, I’m saying he’s even worse than that.

As with most of these silly comic book flicks, serious, legitimate actors have been grotesquely overpaid to take on supporting roles, greedy thespians who don’t mind damaging their artistic legacies as long as they’re well-compensated for it. Sir Patrick McKagan is allowed to chew the furniture and piss on the carpet to his heart’s content; as Oskar Angst, fanatical leader of the Blue Meanies, he makes us forget he was once considered the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation. This is a performance he could’ve faxed in.

And let us not spare the other A-Lister who was coerced into renting her considerable talents to this insult to the senses. Marlene Merrill, as Sheela, Queen of the Night People, seems to be channeling either the Statue of Liberty or perhaps a coat rack whenever she makes an infrequent appearance, reading her lines off conveniently placed cue cards, eyes shining with tears of shame. I shall pillory her no more.

There is absolutely nothing new here. As Yogi Berra would say, it’s déjà vu all over again: ordinary man granted extraordinary powers, tries to do good, gets beat up by bad guys, regains his faith in himself and wipes out the baddies in a tedious, violent finale lasting longer than a solar day on Pluto.

Buildings are toppled, elevated street cars plunge to the ground, half the city leveled but, goddamnit, our hero triumphs in the end, the stink of decaying bodies troubling no one as he strides forward to accept the thanks of the mayor and a smattering of traumatized, shell-shocked survivors.

It takes a whopping 143 minutes to get to that point and more climaxes than Hugh Hefner achieved during his long tenure at the Playboy mansion.

I felt genuinely abused by this picture, my brain treated like a public urinal in a New York City bus station. This is what you, as movie-goers, are looking for? Mental kitty litter?

In order to enjoy these puerile comic book adaptations it is essential that you possess the attention span of a trepanned lab rat and the reasoning skills of the Canadian Shield. It’s hard to believe the same species that produced a Michelangelo or Einstein could also be responsible for something as godawful as Sphincterman vs. the Blue Meanies.

In the name of ‘entertainment’ we disconnect our higher order thinking, lop off a quarter million years of evolution.

For the sake of ‘diversion’ we embrace dull banality and comforting familiarity.

We tell ourselves we retain the mindset of children, open to the enticements of wonder and magic…but even youngsters sense when someone’s trying to fool them and resent, above all else, the slightest hint of condescension.

They’d much rather be treated like grown-ups.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of us.

This essay is excerpted from Mouth: Routines & Rants (Black Dog Press), available as an e-book/Kindle; May, 2019

About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
This entry was posted in Cinema, classic cinema, comic book movie, film, film review, movie, movie review, superhero movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to I hate comic book movies (d’you think it shows?)

  1. robertday154 says:

    Don’t hold back – tell us what you really think.

  2. Paul L Hippensteel says:

    Hilarious! I agree with everything you said about comic book films. But you forgot to mention that the pretentious directors of these films feel OBLIGATED to make arbitrary changes to the comic books they supposedly adapt for the big screen. Like changing the costumes (why would Captain America’s costume have BROWN in it?), changing Batgirl to Alfred the Butler’s granddaughter instead of Commisioner Gordon’s daughter, making a new Batmobile for every film (gotta get those merchandising dollars). No, I’m not a purist fanboy, I stopped collecting comics in 1975!

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