How to make a superhero movie (Hint: It ain’t just punching, but boy it helps.)

I could point out that it’s the Age of the Geek, and that the Nerds have at last achieved the everlasting Revenge that they’ve been lusting for since the mooks at Alpha Beta burned down their house, but I don’t have to.

You’re already a Nerd.

Statistically speaking you are, at least. And if you’re not, if you’re really a Jock, then you’re trying to lie low so you don’t draw attention from the Nerds, which could only get you fired from your job or or your favorite TV show canceled.

I mean, us Nerds, we’re everywhere, right? We’re the mainstream. We’re where culture is at right now. Hollywood goes to Comic Con to beg for our purchasing power. Advertisers and merchandisers know they need to appeal to our sensibilities to or risk their products being passed over by the Dorkish Tastemakers with discretionary income.

But I’m nervous. We could still blow it. And the superhero movie could be our undoing.

See, in 2012, Nerdom is set to explode, really explode all over itself, when two long-anticipated hero movies hit theaters: the third installment of Christopher “Dark Knight” Nolan’s Batman franchise, and “The Avengers,” the summa summarum of a series of Marvel hero flicks that begins with “Iron Man,” continues through Captain America and Thor installments, and ends with a chorus line team-up of costumed characters so epic it can only be entrusted to director Joss “Buffy” Whedon, the godfather of geekpower.

The cast of "The Avengers," assembled for the first time at the 2010 San Diego Comic Con. And the nerdosphere squealed.

Don’t forget a certain 2011 movie dedicated to the least understood Justice Leaguer, Green Lantern, who wears a magic ring that creates indestructible goodies like giant hands and baseball bats and (in one hilarious Silver Age comic moment) enormous radiators. (That last was for absorbing villainous heat rays. Naturally.) This one has Mr. Scarlett Johannson donning CGI spandex:

Ryan Reynolds, reporting for duty in Sector 2814. (That's Earth, duh!)

And I’m nervous about this not only because it could be superhero overkill (it could be) and not only because real-life humans wearing supersuits look silly (they do). I’m worried because pulling off a great hero movie is the exception, not the norm. The goofier these heroes are — namely any Man not named Super, Bat, or Spider — the less likely it is audience are willing to suspend their disbelief, or sustain their tolerance for this costumed tomfoolery.

I mean, moviegoers barely tolerate the ridiculousness of a strongman in blue, yellow and red who no one can recognize when he puts on glasses, but that’s purely because Superman has been anointed in the sacred waters of American legend. He’s an icon now; if he had debuted in the ’60s we’d have laughed him out of his little red boots by now.

So I’m really worried that during the ultimate hero scrum of “Avengers,” the Jocks will look at each other and go:

“You know what? These dudes look really stupid.”

“Yeah. A Norse god? Seriously?”

“Totally. If Captain Yankeedoodle went into a real Marine barracks wearing that outfit they’d beat the spit-and-polish out of him.”

“Oooh! A guy who can shoot arrows real good! I’m glad he’s on the team with the thunder god and the flying iron guy with the laser cannons in his palms.”

And then the spell would be broken. The Age of Nerds would end, and the Jocks would resume casting their Sauron-like aura over the Middle-earth of our souls.

But there’s hope. There’s a way this could all build to greater heights without tearing down our house of Magic: The Gathering cards. I have seen the salvation of superhero storytelling and it is this trailer for DC Universe Online.

DCUOnline is a massively multi-player online game, and whether it’s fun or not is almost irrelevant to me, based on how UNBELIEVABLY AWESOME I DON’T WANT TO OVERHYPE THIS BUT LOOK OUT HERE I GO the trailer looks. What’s important here is that the creators seized my attention with tight, tense superhero action. Not just one superhero, but the whole cast of the Justice League and its stable of archenemies.

There’s punching, swordplay, major ordnance discharging and all manner of magi-cosmic hooha thrown into this 5-minute sequence, and none of it feels out of place or, dare I type this with a straight face, implausible. This is exactly what a balls-out battle between superpowers would look like.

Joss Whedon, and all other big-budget, super-franchise moviemakers out there, please take note of this trailer. Right off the bat, it makes Wonder Woman seem like not the most silly concept for a hero ever. The mechanics of her punching, stabbing, throwing, ripping, and leaping — oh! that leap! — blow out the bulb of her hero thermometer, and then some. This is a Wonder Woman you could watch a whole movie about.

This trailer makes a cosmic-powered ring work on screen by not dwelling on daffy constructs or look-at-me graphics. Instead, Green Lantern uses his glowing green magics to bitchslap badguys — when not getting bitchslapped by them himself.

Then there’s a beautifully choreographed (and comically, deliciously brief) fight between Black Adam and a really, really, really pissed off Man of Steel.

One  reason why this all works is because these are cartoons; put live actors in those suits and you begin to lose an ineffable believability to it all. It’s ironic that cartoonish characters make the scene more plausible, but that’s the magic of comics, and of art in general: Images are abstractions, and abstractions are easier to graft our meanings and our stories onto.

So all I’m really asking is that if we insist on going through with it, that we’re collectively determined to put Ryan Reynolds and Jeremy Renner and Chris Evans in some of the dopiest four-color costumery that 25-cent funnybooks can muster, then please, please, please let the action live up to this trailer.

It’s not enough to build character: Take Brandon Routh of “Superman Returns,” who had gobs of pathos and regret and loneliness and other emotions that went deeper than Spandex … but who didn’t punch anything. Nothing, which is a big deal for a guy like Superman. As we learned from “Iron Man,” first you make us care about an intriguing character. Then you let him hit the hell out of something, and good.

Otherwise your franchise will wilt faster than Aquaman at an Arizona SB 1070 protest rally.

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