Superhero Movies. What works, what doesn’t

After a week delay my wife and I finally got around to seeing Captain America: The First Avenger. The movie sits in an interesting position. While it can certainly be looked at and enjoyed as a stand-alone movie, it is the fifth movie in the Marvel Universe franchise (Preceded in order by Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Thor). 

Like all superhero movies it has a balancing act to perform. It has to appease the long term comic fans well versed in the history and mythology of the characters, like me. At the same time it has to appeal to the general movie going audience who are not even sure which characters belong to which company, like my wife.
Thankfully Captain America pulls this off.
Sadly Green Lantern earlier in the summer did not.
But why? How do you make an engaging movie out of decades old characters that brings in both these audiences?
Looking at these two movies there are some points that may hold the clues.
Both movies hold true to the comic book origins of the characters. Their powers and supporting cast are basically translated straight across from 4 color to film.
So let’s look at two areas where they differ.
First off is story.
Green Lantern was basically a paint by numbers Hero’s Journey.
1.       The hero is called.
2.       He refuses the call.
3.       He picks up the call again.  
4.       He faces evil and is defeated.
5.       He goes through a time of doubt.
6.       He makes a leap of faith.
7.       He faces evil again and is triumphant.
 It’s a plot structure everyone knows and many early superheroes used. This unfortunately makes the story predictable and thus not as engaging.
Captain America, while a heroic tale, was not the standard hero’s journey. Steve did not have to be called. He wanted to serve and had to struggle for the chance, not once, but several times. Not once did he refuse to face the challenge, even during a time of doubt and pain. The story was not as predictable and thus was able to better engage.
Next we have our leads, Ryan Reynolds and Chris Evans. Both actors are known for playing cocky characters that spout one-liners. The characters they are playing are traditionally serious men who have a job to do and don’t rarely make wise ass remarks
Green Lantern Hal Jordan is a stock Ryan Reynolds character. Cracking wise, sleeping around, and taking nothing seriously.
Captain America Steve Rodgers is a sincere soldier who wants to do the right thing, a major departure from the characters Evans usually plays.
So what do we take from this.
With Green Lantern it looks like Warner Brothers wanted to formulaic summer block buster that happened to be based on one of the comic book characters they own.
With Captain America it appears that Marvel Studios wanted to make a movie that was worthy of the characters history and bring new fans into the fold.
Marvel does have one other advantage that I have brought up before. They are creating a common continuity for their movies, just like the comics. This allows them to build up momentum over several films in a relatively short amount of time. Right now Warner Brothers and DC do not appear to be going in that direction so every film has to build its own momentum.
Time will tell if both stay there courses.

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