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I ran into this meme on Facebook, and it triggered a long-held thought that I suspect is still relevant today.
This refers to the movie Constantine, which I love. Its Rotten Tomatoes scores are typical of the divide between film credits and the audience. The last panel in the meme is what grabbed me. It references the fact that comics and movies are different media, and so they should play out differently. That appears to be something many (not necessarily most) comic book fans can’t grasp. Even when they accept, for example, the death of Thanos, they immediately start spreading theories as to how he could return in future movies. That attitude is still prevalent, and as much as I loved Thanos, I don’t get why.
This issue goes back a long way for me. I remember my cousin, and avid comic book collector, not liking that the Joker died in Michael Keaton’s first Batman movie (1989). In part, he saw it as a waste of a character that could be put to good use later. (His views may have changed, but others still make this argument.) The thing is, the Joker is not a character that they should have used again, precisely because it’s a movie.
It’s necessary for villains to survive in the comics. There are only so many ideas for villains, and with comic story lines having to last decades, killing off villains would create a shortage of adversaries for your stories. The only way to fix that would be to have another person take up that villain’s mantle. Sometimes that works, but doing that too often would leave the reader with the notion that they’re effectively dealing with the same character, so the writers are (cheaply) trying to have it both ways. Hence, you instead put them in prison or Arkham Asylum, they escape, and then you start the cycle again.
Movies are different. Most audience members require definitive closure, with death providing the most dramatic end to a story. Because the MCU‘s “blistering” pace still produces only three movies per year, there are actually far too many interesting villains that will go unused if you’re going to reuse the ones you’ve already shown. By the time you genuinely need to reuse a villain (if ever), you’re probably rebooting the cinematic universe for a different generation of viewers anyway. Ergo, for movies, you can have the closure your audience craves without painting yourself into a corner. If that pisses off a small percentage of your core fans that are still going to watch your movies anyway, you have an acceptable outcome.
Go ahead. Kill the Joker.
EDIT: See my comment below.
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One thought on “Comic Book Movies: Same IP; Different Media #movie #MCU #DCEU”
I wanted to add that I believe most people get that it’s okay (if not good) for villains to be permanently killed in these movies. That particular sore point for some is meant as only an example, but one that I’ve encountered so often that I allowed it to color my view of how well-received certain comic book movies were. My experience with Shazam (https://gsllcblog.com/2020/04/12/squeakywheels/) leads me to believe that there are many other, more subtle ways in which this effect plays out. I suspect that the people who favor a character in general get angry at *any* significant deviation from the comics — not just that a villain has died — which causes them to loudly crowd my social media streams with genuine hatred. Or at least, that’s my hypothesis.