The Problem with Youth
By Ian Wilson
26 February 2007 — Like comics, action films are marketed heavily at young people and it makes sense that any comic book movie is made as accessible to its audience as possible to reap the maximum profit. However, pitching a film as an OC clone in tights is a horrible idea. I can thank the WGA strike for helping to put the proposed JLA film on ice, but there are so many reasons why films created with the sole intention of appealing to teenagers are often dead in the water.
I had half-written a vitriolic column on the proposed Justice League of America film, but then my workload got on top of me and by the time I was ready to resume it, Warner Bros. announced that the film was on an indefinite hold. Even though I was jumping for joy, I now had no column. So I decided to salvage this project by tackling my main bugbear with the film; the one that wasn't, "There are already two fledgling franchises featuring Batman and Superman that need your support, you bloody idiots!"
That problem would be the cast. Now I recognize that artistic vision has to be married up with commercial sensibilities, otherwise the film isn't going to happen. I recognize, too, that the majority of moviegoers are young people like me, who eat ice cream and skip down streets. Then again, comic book movies lend themselves particularly well to action vehicles as superheroes tend to, y'know, fight quite a bit. And I happen to know that Hollywood loves it some action movies, mainly because people keep hiring cretins like Michael Bay. But CBMs have the potential to go deeper than, say, Jumper on the grounds that the characters involved have years, maybe decades of source material with which to knock out a very good story. X2, for example, tweaked the God Loves, Man Kills story and made one of the best films of the genre. So I put it to you, what is the point of Jessica Alba?
As a rule, I have little time for E! or Access Hollywood or America's Next Top Mortician, mainly because the people being celebrated in such media outlets are more famous than they are talented. Alba, bless her, is no Sue Storm. She's bootylicious instead of maternal, and if we must use the race card, it makes little sense to have a Hispanic sister to a completely Caucasian brother; any opportunities they've had to define this in the recent films have been missed — probably for an added gratuitous body shot. Add to the fact that she's often billed over the franchise's more established actors, such Ioan Gruffud and Julian McMahon, and you can basically imagine why Alba was hired. She's a woman many men lust after, and, therefore, will pay money to go and see clad in Lycra.
But if you think I bought Alba's name up just to trash her (c'mon, she is sexy) you'd be wrong. I more wanted to contrast the role of Susan Storm with that of Nancy Callaghan, the target of a well-connected pedophile in one of the main storylines of Sin City. Playing the adult version of Nancy, Alba again got a lot of attention — as Callaghan's job is that of a stripper... although she refused to appear nude at any point in the film. Whether she was naked or a stripper or a guest star, it matters little; whilst she was used as a selling point of the movie, she was not used as the selling point of the movie, which featured an ensemble cast of cult-cool actors. Of course, Sin City had the advantage of not being made explicitly for teenagers by a random room of producers, but was made lovingly by Robert Rodriguez faithfully transitioning Frank Miller's title onto the big screen. The comic series was lapped up by the youth market, so business sense would say that the film version would be similarly successful, which it was.
So why hire a boy to do a man's job when Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke are still box office draws? It may well be an inherent Hollywood bias towards the young starlets of the day. Pop stars get their own movies and movie stars get their own pop careers. Now, I don't think that means Paris Hilton is ever in danger of being cast as Emma Frost, per se, but with the success of ventures like Smallville, don't be too surprised if projects similar to JLA seep into the CBM genre. I mean, if Tom Welling can have his own Justice League, why can't something similar be projected onto celluloid?
The sticking point is what already exists. Batman Begins showed that any hero can be done right if it's been given due care and consideration. JLA was never going to be that from the start, as it was a rushed, sloppy affair, seeking only to spin some money out of gormless adolescents. This would strike me as odd, given that the Warner Bros. is already releasing animated versions of its properties. Then I remembered that this is the same company that wouldn't allow Bat-villains into the final few seasons of Justice League Unlimited for fear that they might clash with a live action film — never mind the completely different stylistic take on them in the DCAU. If we honestly have Hollywood producers that think children are going to be confused by three different takes on Scarecrow, then there's little wonder that the general viewing public should be viewed as being so stultifyingly simple and standard in our tastes that such formulaic dross is regularly churned out of the movie machine. And worst of all, their fears are confirmed by the fact that people do indeed watch things like Epic Movie — a film that was recommended to me by my 12 year old cousin. I can only sigh, really.
The tone of this column may sound aloof and snobbish, but I am aloof and snobbish, so I'm not surprised how that comes across. The point is this: I don't mind young actors appearing in CBMs, as my column on Tobey Maguire will show. But I don't like major roles in adaptations of comic books being given to the flavor of the month. I dislike Jessica Alba as Sue Storm as much as I dislike Ben Affleck as Daredevil or Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. So now that DC and Warner Bros. have finally got their main comic franchises off the ground, I want them to stay the course, rather than employ some dozy luvvies who are my age to make Batman and Superman more quirky — complete with iPods and Adidas shoes. And if JLA really isn't going to happen, even as Warner Bros. are trying to reanimate the idea, could I suggest that they reconsider kicking off the franchises of such JLA heroes as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and the Flash? I mean, if a film about Namor is in development, surely one could be made regarding Aquaman, couldn't it?
The fact of the matter is that until all kids shun movie theatres for illegal Internet downloading, all genres of film will predominantly cater to a youth audience for a quick buck. God forbid a 22 year old like me could enjoy an intelligent CBM like Batman Begins, but it does happen, as that film did gross a cool $205 million in America alone. Whilst all genres of film are being steadily dumbed down with pimply superheroes, we need to support filmmakers like Nolan who will use DC characters better than Warner Bros. wants them to. The Dark Knight might fail to live up to the hype, that's true, but the fact remains that Nolan has reenergized the fortunes of the Batman franchise so much that Warner Bros. shouldn't be pissing all that money away by trading Christian Bale for Armie Hammer.
Who is Armie Hammer?