As we embark upon a new year, it’s always interesting to look back at the previous year’s superhero films. 2018 was unlike any other just in terms of the number of comic book films released alone. Certainly, I believe that the quality of many of these movies sets it apart as well, but I won’t be reviewing them here. Instead I’m interested in the financial success that some of these films are having—particularly those films that have monster box office numbers, but low critic approval. Many bloggers and fans wonder where the disparity is coming from, particularly for a film like Venom, which some have placed on par with Fant4stic or Catwoman. The difference between Venom and Catwoman, a box office disaster, cannot really easily be explained except as one word… “cool”.
Bear with me here. When I was a kid, my favorite day of the week was grocery day. Growing up in a large family, composed of relatively large individual people, my mother would have to spend hours a week at our local Price Chopper. Mom liked it because they had the best deli section of the local grocers and a large enough variety of baked and processed goods to spoil each mouth at the table. I liked it because they had an entire shelf in their “Books” aisle dedicated to comic books. Well, a specific comic book actually. Todd Macfarlane’s Spawn.
While I was admittedly far too young to truly understand and appreciate all of the content in Macfarlane’s very mature, very 90s comic (the ritual went on from the age of 5 to 9 before my sister and I were enrolled in daycare), I was obsessed. It didn’t help matters that the original Spawn movie came out near the beginning of when my weekly ceremony launched. Spawn didn’t possess the color and humor of Spider-Man, nor the optimism of Superman. He had a kickass costume, a twisted backstory, and a set of superpowers that made me flip through the pages and say.. “cool”. It’s the reason I’m excited to see him imminently rebooted.
This is the x-factor that I feel is either forgotten or misunderstood by many of the critics who review today’s superhero movies. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled after years of legitimately phenomenal films like Nolan’s Dark Knight or the Russos’ run with Captain America and now the Avengers. It’s completely fair to say that this year’s Venom felt like a film that was made in the early 2000s. It didn’t have the plot or the writing or the thematic counsel of any of the year’s comic book movies. Yet the movie is among the highest grossing superhero films ever.
Nobody seems to understand why something like this can happen in an age when films often seem to live or die depending on their, now often divisive, Rotten Tomatoes score. It was actually when I rewatched Spider-Man 3 recently that I remembered the months leading up to that film’s release. I was more excited to see Venom on screen for the first time than I was to see Spider-Man for a third. It wasn’t because I related to him on some deeper level. His relationship with Spider-Man in the comics was fascinating, but that wasn’t quite it either. From his costume design to the occasional murder (anti-heroes almost intrinsically have this attribute), the character simply has that undefinable it-factor. He’s really frigging cool.
In a big way, the same thing is happening again right now. Some critics claim that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse deserves Best Picture. Not Best Animated Film.. Best Picture. And it very well may. It is a phenomenal film by any standards. Yet it’s losing out pretty handedly to Aquaman, which, while I felt was a really good film, does not have the critic support that Miles Morales has. News broke this week that Aquaman has already outgrossed Wonder Woman, another film that was adored by fans and critics alike. Projections indicate that it won’t be slowing down just yet either, as it’s predicted to win big again this weekend. That’s not to say that Miles Morales or Wonder Woman aren’t really “cool”. They both are. However, besides the absolutely stunning VFX, if there’s one thing that James Wan and Jason Mamoa unarguably accomplished, it’s that they took a character who had long been the butt of jokes (hello neon dishwashing gloves, cue Seaman and Swallow parody), and they turned him into a bonafide badass. People may dispute the film’s overall worth, but hatchet throwing, beer guzzling Jason Mamoa brings a sort of hyper-masculine charisma to the character. I believe that this has fans all over the world at least curious to see what will play out on screen. And believe me when I say, if you only see this movie once, you should see it on a big screen.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s I alone that haven’t matured enough as a movie-goer to dismiss the things that used to attract me to a character in my youth. I should maybe focus solely on a film’s more traditional creative merit. However, I find entertainment in different places. The kid in me is still content leaving the theater if a bad film has me saying, “that was cool.” If somebody else can’t appreciate that, then I don’t lose anything from it. I’d rather be the guy who finds value in more films than less. I’d like to imagine that I’m not the only one, and I don’t consider that a lack of judgement. In fact, I think the money is speaking for itself right now. This it-factor is totally lost on so many critics, and that’s so often the cause for a lot of the disparity between fan and critic judgement of these superhero films.
Do you find entertainment value in films or characters that you consider cool? You can let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter. You can let us know @superbromovies or find me at @abondination