Editorial: Comic Book Criticism and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Alternatively titled: “Come on guys, we’re kind of missing the point”.  Welcome back to our ARF! editorial, a column in which I get to rant on about anything I fancy (Hmm… – Ed.)! This particular topic has produced rage across the boards, swiftly followed by a swathe of critical editorials begging for us nerds just to “calm down and grow up”, and unfortunately we’re going to be treading over a bit of familiar ground here. Anyways, onwards and upwards!

This week we’re looking at the fan response to almost every casting decision for almost every comic-based property of the last decade. Despite our beloved comic book characters finally achieving a level of screen time and popularity (The Avengers (2011) made $1.51 billion after all) we could only dream of a short time ago, every release of screen-shot or trailer comes with a barrel of rage and vitriol from us fans.

Of course, said fans claim a deeper level of understanding for and attachment to the IP of groups like Marvel and DC that we (often rightly) assume is missed by the inevitably shady executives presumably making all the decisions. Sometimes, their criticism is even entirely right (looking at you, Green Lantern and your weird veined CGI suit), and the resulting product is slammed by us media types.

Whyyy?

Whyyy?

More often than not, though, the howls of disdain focus around casting or costume decisions and this is where it gets a bit tricky. Of these two, the former is usually the worst. The uproar over the casting of Idris Elba (A fantastic actor) to play Heimdall in the Thor franchise was both particularly loud and particularly distasteful. Vary rarely does the fan criticism rest on the actors ability or filmography, but their appearance or race or gender. Even more bizarrely is the idea that these fantasy characters cannot be changed at will (and they often are) by their creators. “But, in the comic books, the character was white” is not a viable criticism of anything, and is something we as a community need to grow out of, and soon, if we want to be taken seriously.

Explain how this is bad. Go on, we dare you.

Explain how this is bad. Go on, we dare you.

Costume and styling decisions are usually the basis for the other screeches of disdain that reverberate around the internet. Any divergences from what is considered to be the standard wardrobe of a character are endlessly scorned and endlessly recycled by other, less level-headed outlets of online nerd-dom. It should not matter if the Joker has tattoos (it definitely looks good, by the way), or if Daredevil’s suit has a marginally different shade of red in the TV series. Heath Ledger’s Joker was roundly deplored for his costume and general look before the film’s release, and roundly celebrated shortly after.

Again, it usually comes to naught. Either the attacks are justified, because the style decisions are genuinely bad (Green Lantern again, and the infamous “bat nipples” come horribly to mind), and are then reasonably criticised by the established media, or entirely forgotten about when the film is released. Unless the aesthetic is truly terrible, then it ends up having very little bearing on the character. It’s perfectly reasonable for Harley Quinn to own different clothes, or for the X-Men to have a marginally altered suit. What is possible to sketch with pencil and paper is not always possible to do in reality. When all is said and done, these things just don’t matter as much as we think they do.

Dem nipples tho

Dem nipples tho

What our community often forgets is: We don’t own or really influence the characters we love. Their creators do. If Marvel or DC want them to look different, they will. Whilst fan criticism rests on race, gender or general appearance, they’re not exactly likely to listen to us either.

That’s not to say that our criticism should be entirely ignored, or that we should not use it; Just that it should be refocused. Surely the essence of a character, their personality and mannerisms, their back story and powers and morals are the most important things. These qualities are what makes or breaks the portrayal of a character, things that should be most adhered to in the adaptation from page to screen. Batman should be tinged with loss and a righteous sense of justice. Iron Man should be a playboy that quips and jokes with his fellow characters. The Incredible Hulk should be on the verge of madness and anger and regret. Sod what colour trousers he’s wearing, or the ethnicity of the actor.

The essence of the character is the most important thing, always. Us nerds can be some of the most harsh critics around, and sometimes rightly so, but when a film gets its characters right, we’ll turn out in droves to see it. We just need to take a breath, refocus that criticism, and stop being so distracted by trailers and leaked screen shots. When we do, chances are the executives will start listening.

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