Last week some rumors surfaced about the future of DC movies that left people either scratching their head or just flat out upset. According to Hitfix, there is a “no joke” policy as the studio movies forward with their vision of a cinematic universe. This superhero business is serious business after all.
Now I don’t believe that there won’t be jokes at all in the DC movies. It’s my understanding from the rumors – which may end up being entirely false – that the company doesn’t want their movies to strive for the Guardians of the Galaxy model for fear of ending up with another Green Lantern. I can understand the worry about Green Lantern as it is just not a good movie. But the humor isn’t the reason the movie failed with critics and audiences alike. It probably had to do with the fact that they so royally fucked up the hero’s journey on every level by not showing why Hal deserved to be a member of the Green Lantern Corps, instead having Hal reject his calling (that was on shaky ground to begin with) for the sake of a movie spinning its wheels until the finale. Green Lantern is a movie so uninventive that even Hal’s ring creations are merely variations of standard superhero fare. And to think this is the same director as Goldeneye and Casino Royale.
If directors like Ridley Scott, Matt Reeves, or even Alfonso Cuarón were in charge of the upcoming slate of DC superhero films, maybe I could understand a mission statement as narrowly focused as the one purported to have been released in the DC memo. Those directors mostly do some serious work. But every once in a while, even their movies have some moments of levity with humor sprinkled throughout. Take, for instance, Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield. Reeves’ found-footage monster movie focuses on a group of partygoers the night a monster attacks New York and strands them on the island of Manhattan. One of the characters is killed on the Brooklyn Bridge while the survivors help their friend rescue the love of his life who is pinned down by rebar in her apartment complex. During an excursion through the subway the camera man, Hudson, audibly recalls a story he heard about homeless people being lit on fire in that same subway. The other characters look at him in disbelief and disgust while I find myself laughing at their reactions every time. It’s a randomly funny scene that helps alleviate tension from the previous scene and lets the audience get comfortable for a moment before a chase scene that ends with someone exploding like a blood filled balloon. It’s especially brutal since we had gotten to have the little moments of laughter between the characters. If these characters instantly switched into gun-ho action superhero mode, there’s no time to get to understand their relationships or grow an attachment to them. Down time is just as important as the go time.
So back to this Guardians of the Galaxy model that DC is desperately trying to avoid. Why do you think that movie has audiences everywhere hooked on a feeling? Because it’s fucking funny and all the humor is based in character. It’s just a good time at the movies. A superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously? But is still able to deliver well-rounded character arcs with emotional gut punches? Who would have known! And can you guess why those emotional moments work so well? There’s such a sturdy contrast with the humor and character drama that they actually end up complementing each other. Rocket Raccoon could be a one-liner machine, but when he gives a drunken speech about how lonely and insecure he is, all the humor comes from a deep pool of character ethos.
Want to know a secret? All the great blockbusters have some degree of humor in them. It keeps things light, influences character decisions, and makes outlandish moments easier to swallow. The first Die Hard is in contention for greatest achievement of mankind and a hell of an action movie, but it’s not afraid to point out its own ludicrous elements. John McClane constantly comments on how unlucky he is as the situations escalate to him jumping off a building, crashing through a thick glass window, and almost falling to his death. It’s exciting “Blow the roof!” and comedic “I promise, I will never even think about going up in a tall building again.” The reason John McClane is the greatest action hero (Yes, the greatest) is because of his comedic timing and his ability to diffuse a situation with average joe humor. He’s a normal guy in an extraordinary situation, so why not comment on that silly fact?
Let’s look back at DC’s latest cinematic efforts. The Dark Knight trilogy to “dark and gritty” what Guardians of the Galaxy is to levity. But to think of the trilogy as humorless would be an error in perception; it’s also not afraid to throw in some laughs once in a while. Batman Begins might have my favorite Alfred iteration ever just for the “What’s the point of doing all those bloody pushups if you can’t even lift a bloody log?” line. Michael Caine brought some light to the grim proceedings throughout the series. But did everyone suddenly forget how disturbingly hysterical the Joker is in TDK? After all, he’s not a monster. He’s just ahead of the curve… with comedy! Okay he’s basically chaos incarnate, but his awkward waddle out of the hospital and dumbfounded expression with a delayed explosion remains a darkly comedic highlight for me.
Man of Steel attempted to stand on TDK‘s model (emphasis on the “less” this time) but in a way that was blind to the counterweight of injected humor, fixating on a misunderstanding of “dark, gritty, realistic! Serious!” vibe that really just helps nobody. (No, the “tinkle” line and “I think he’s kinda hot” lines do not register as comedy for me. It registers as “tired screenwriter wanting to get paid” or “intern went in to ‘spice up’ some dialogue.”)
So, how does the already humorless DC Film’s decision to continue further along the wholly humorless path impact my excitement for other DC movies? Well…
The Rock has been saying he’s playing Shazam for months now and I was really looking forward to it. A good Shazam movie would be like if Big and Superman: The Movie had a baby, and that baby fought supervillains. A fun superhero movie for the whole family. A more serious approach would also lessen Johnson’s ability to commit to crowd pleasing in the movie. He’ll probably still be a “badass motherfucker” (his words, not mine) but I can’t even wrap my mind around a Shazam movie that isn’t partially played for laughs. Don’t even get me started with a Flash movie with a dark and gritty approach. Too late, you fucking started me. First, I hope they use Wally West instead of Barry Allen so we can get Chris Pine or Ryan Gosling in the mix. Secondly, a Wally West with no humor is a Captain America that isn’t patriotic. The character trait is that essential to the character. We already have a joyless Superman. Do all the other heroes have to suffer too?
I write about superheroes a lot on this site (Seriously, just follow the tag) and that’s because the characters mean so very much to me. They inspire hope and joy in the lives of millions. If DC really wants to take away the joy aspect, hope might go along with it.
Batman v. Superman broods into theaters March 25, 2016.