If you take nothing else away from this blog post today, take this one thing. Lockjaw & The Pet Avengers was just released in a digest form collecting the original mini-series, the follow-up one-shot comic, and the official Marvel Pets Handbook. I know I tend to give comic books a hard time, so let’s just say that this is a great all-ages superhero adventure book. Buy it. Enjoy it. Thanke me later.
Onto the business at hand.
So from what I’ve heard, The Losers has turned out to be a box office disappointment and Kick-Ass is underperforming as well. It’s easy to make excuses or come up with reasons for why this is happening. Personally, I think it has less to do with the quality of these films and more about the juggernaut of awesomeosity that is How to Train Your Dragon. That’s why movie making is such a tough biz. You can make the greatest movie in the universe, but if you don’t promote it properly or if some other movie grabs the buzz, you’re out of luck. A movie has only a short time to really gather positive momentum, and if it’s weak out of the gate, for whatever reason, it’s going to have trouble. Although I don’t think Kick-Ass had that problem. Rather, it just couldn’t hold its momentum.
My own pet theory is that both Kick-Ass and The Losers suffered from media transition. Things that were pretty cool in the comic book format don’t necessarily translate well to film. In both cases, I think the differing attitudes and expectations of different audiences were a bit of an obstacle. This is exactly what happened to Mystery Men. Everyone I know who is a comic book fan enjoys the film immensely. For everyone else, it tends to fall flat. The jump to a wider audience is a difficult one.
That’s what’s tough about movies. Movies are bigger by nature. As a novelologist, I can make a living appealing to a very small portion of the population. Books are cheaper to produce, easier to allow as a niche market, and can sit on a bookshelf longer than a movie can languish in a theater. Books also tend to pick up momentum as the audience discovers them while movies tend to lose that energy as new competition appears.
But let’s get back to myoriginal two examples. Keep in mind, these are just my thoughts. There’s no proof or guarantee that any observation I make is correct. Just some musings on my end. That’s all.
First up: Kick-Ass.
I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of the original Kick-Ass comic. It’s too dark, too ridiculous, too inconsistent for me. But that’s just a matter of taste. Still, even the movie version of Kick-Ass acknowledges that changes must be made because ideas and story beats that are very successful in a smaller comic book audience would have trouble reaching more mainstream moviegoers. And while there are small films that don’t care about being number one at the box office, Kick-Ass isn’t one of these types of films.
But even with these changes, many of the ideas and themes of the film have trouble reaching a wider audience. To really enjoy what Kick-Ass is trying to do (in either format) requires a knowledge of comic book tropes in general and superheroes in particular. It’s true that many of the concepts of superheroes have become mainstream, but for the most part, your average non-comic reader still thinks Clark Kent wears glasses / Superman doesn’t is cutting edge superhero deconstruction.
Add to this that Kick-Ass, like all superhero movies, struggles not to look ridiculous in a live action format. Sure, the film adopts a more realistic approach to costumes and powers, but it still doesn’t change the fact that in several scenes a young girl in a costume kills a room full of thugs without batting an eye. And let’s not forget the Jetpack. I didn’t read the original comic book long enough to know if this actually happens, but I do know that the jetpack’s arrival crosses the line to full on ridiculous. Especially considering the pains the movie takes to keep realism in most other scenes.
Sure, most of the audience really won’t care about the jetpack. Not in the short run. But in the long run, its arrival transforms a story that is supposed to be about non-super superheroes into genuine superheroes. In that way, it ends up weakening the film. It makes the film into just another superhero flick with a few plot gimmicks and unconventional characters, but I don’t believe movie audiences are looking for these things in superhero films. They want melodrama, broad characters, and larger-than-life action. Kick-Ass‘s desire to be more intimate, more believable, yet also superheroic ends up defeating itself. The audience doesn’t notice, but in the long run, people like convention. And conventions, like it or not, exist for a reason.
It’s easier to flaut convention in a smaller medium, but when you’re making a big movie, there’s more at risk. People might disparage Avatar for its by-the-numbers story and uncomplicated characterizations, but people watched Avatar.
But what about The Losers? Why would this movie stumble out of the block?
Probably because, outside of the comic book medium, The Losers is all but indistinguishable from any number of generic action movies. This isn’t an insult. I enjoy action movies, and this one isn’t a bad one. Although it’s not a great one either. Regardless, The Losers is a comic book emulating an action movie, which makes it intriguing in that medium, but the moment you make it into an action movie, you’ve taken away the one element that makes it unique. There aren’t many action-espionage comic books (especially in comparison to superheroes and shudder zombies). But action-espionage movies are still a common staple.
The transition from one medium to another is always difficult, more difficult in certain situations than others. Not just in terms of artistic differences, but in terms of competition and demands. Kick-Ass the comic did very well. The movie did well, but had trouble competing with a variety of films. In the comic book world, Kick-Ass wouldn’t be competing with How to Train Your Dragon because there would be little crossover in audience. But people only go to so many movies, only have so much time, and that means that even a rude, crude, adult-oriented big budget film has to be able to compete against a kid’s movie.
As for The Losers, well, it’s just hard to stand out when you are, for better or worse, an action movie in a world full of action movies. Much easier when you’re one of a handful of such comics on the shelf.
I guess I’ve rambled on long enough. For the record, I don’t equate either of these films or their performance with criticisms of their quality. Just a few thoughts on my mind, especially since I might one day have to endure this trial by medium sometime myself with a little luck.
But remember, above all, Lockjaw & The Pet Avengers is freakin’ awesome.
Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,