Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week I'm sure you've heard by now about Spider-man 3 's record opening weekend box office take of $151.1 million domestic and $382 million worldwide. (75% and 97% of Singerman's TOTAL box office take respectively) Mind you this is for the third film in a trilogy when these big film franchises usually tend to fall off a bit i.e. Batman Forever, Superman III, The Matrix Revolutions, etc.
Now granted the box office take is not the sole indicator of a film's quality, as the few supporters of Singerman like to point out. (except when it comes to comparing it to Batman Begins, then box office matters for some reason?) However it can be one big indicator of a film's quality since if people enjoy a film or a franchise of films, they'll actually pay to see it... a novel concept I know.
So why does Spider-man, Marvel's flagship character, continue to break box office records and soar in popularity while Singerman, DC's big gun and American pop culture stalwart, festers in cinematic mediocrity and Brandon Routh's photo appears on milk cartons? Well it's a pretty simple formula, parts of which we've discussed on this blog before. The break down is as follows:
1. A director with an appreciation of the source material who isn't afraid to do his own spin on it within the bounds of what's consistent with the characters. - This is the most crucial piece to any of these films. This is why the Sam Raimi's and Christopher Nolan's of the world get such rave reviews from the fan communities and why websites like this exist for Bryan Singer. Raimi is a life-long Spider-man fan. Even so, he admitted to spending hours upon hours with the writers brushing up on the comics to decide where he wanted to go with all 3 of the Spider-man films. He wanted to do his own updated take on the material while remaining true to who the characters are. He knew these characters had withstood the test of time for a reason, and didn't have the ego to try and make them something they weren't. True, he took a lot of shit for the whole "organic webshooters" thing, but in the end it was a relatively minor alteration and he still came through with the same Spider-man character everyone knows just with an updated twist.
Singer on the other hand, admittedly shit-canned the comics, and had his cronies Harris and Dougherty pen an unabashed love letter to Richard Donner's film and took liberties with the Superman character in an attempt to give him some kind of "emotional weight," when if he had just studied the character in the comics over the last two decades since Superman: The Movie he would've found all of the weight he needed.
2. A charismatic cast who plays well off one another. - Chemistry is an important part to casting any film . Not that I'm a fan of Kirsten Dunst by any means, but she and Tobey Maguire have "it" on screen together. You buy them as a couple and you empathize with them. The entire cast plays well off one another and that energy comes across when you watch the films. There's little to no "scenery chewing" in these films either with the exception of Dafoe at times in the first film. Most everything comes off as sincere.
Compare that to Singerman where you have background extras who have more dialogue than Brandon Routh, and he and Kate Bosworth have all the chemistry of old oatmeal and dont allow the audience to build a shred of empathy for them. (and you wonder why people keep bringing up Tom Welling and Erica Durance as a basis for comparison?) Add to that the fact that they completely wasted Kevin Spacey's talents by making him play a long extinct, petty swindler version of Lex Luthor that was far too Gene Hackman-like, and it's no wonder why audiences really had trouble caring about these characters or they alleged "drama" the film was trying to build.
3. Appeal across all demographics. - Again Spider-man makes a killing at the box office because its got something for everyone. It's true to its roots so the life-long fans enjoy it. Its got a ton of action for the young male crowd. Its got love triangles for the young female crowd. It's got the fast-pacing, super villains, and bright costumed characters to appeal to children of all ages. It also doesn't take on touchy issues like pre-marital sex and illegitimate children that offend the politics of some and turn certain people off.
What demographic exactly was Singerman trying to appeal to? Besides himself that is? Singer copped to the fact that he thought he made a "chick flick." An odd choice considering comicbook movies generally skew towards the young male demographic who prefer the exact opposite of that which is the action blockbuster. (Studio head Alan Horn acknowledged that shortcoming.) It makes sense to add pieces of that drama element to a film, not dominate the movie with it, and even then it fell flat since Bosworth's zombie like performance killed any believability in the romance angle. The only person you really felt bad for in the whole mess was Richard White.
Children weren't really targeted by the film either with it's slow-pacing, lack of an interesting villain (unless you count the island...) and drab, washed out pallette, which was an extremely odd choice for such a light character. The sluggish merchandise sales figures basically confirmed that the movie didn't hit home with kids. Then you get to the alleged "elements of drama" like the illegitimate "super kid" and the creepy stalker angle, and you don't really have a family friendly film either.
4. Storylines that don't unnecessarily paint the film into a corner and lend themselves to further sequels. - At the end of each Spider-man film you know the direction the characters are headed in and they don't make have any unnecessary plot contrivances that they'll have to sweep under the rug in the sequels. They dont saddle Spider-man with children he doesnt know he has for the sake of trying to evoke some emotional response about him being an orphan. Seriously, what the hell do you do with that kid in sequels? (unless you never intended for any...) Forget him? Kill him? Make him a side-kick? If that's the case, why invent him in the first place other than for arbitrary drama?
5. Don't be ashamed of who you are. - These are comicbook characters. Embrace that! You dont need to pretend to be some boring, weighty think piece. There have been compelling drama aspects to comics for years even though the focus has always been on action and the super reality the stories are based in. You dont need to pretend to be The Bridges of Madison County in order to evoke an emotional response from your audience, the emotional aspects are in the books already. Plus going overboard like that's something that is only going to bore them to tears.This is what killed the first Hulk movie and why it's being relaunched as the action/adventure epic it should've been the first time. But at least in the case of that film, most of the cast had the acting chops to pull it off.
The Spider-man films do the comicbook drama aspect very well. The death of Peter's Uncle Ben, Peter explaining how he could've stopped the shooter to his Aunt May, the revelation to Harry Osborne that Peter is Spider-man are all very well done and all straight from the comics. Where was that in Singerman? Even the way you actually empathize to an extent with the Spider-man villains is great and they dont do it in an over-the-top, sappy way. They do what they do for a reason, not for the sake of just doing so. They actually have real motivations not wacky real estate schemes for no apparent reason. That's part of what keeps people coming back and recommending the film to their friends.
This whole "Spider-man formula," however, has been evident since May of 2002 when the first Spider-man film exploded onto the scene, a full 4 years before Singerman was even released, so why did WB miss it? Hell Singer even got parts of it right in the first two X-Men films. The only thing I can think of here is that his ego and ambition to suck up to Donner got the best of him now that he felt he didn't have to prove himself in the genre any longer.