Comedy Actors In Superhero Movies

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Most of the time, in comic book movies, we like our superheroes mighty and daring, but, also likeable and often witty. In our villains we want an evil calculated side whilst desiring a sense of humour that is smart and fiendish. Both of these traits suggest that there should be more comedy actors in superhero and villain roles. Comedy is often mentioned by great actors as being the hardest thing to do right. However, the past has proven that it can be an absolute disaster to hire a comedic actor to play your superhero or villain unless they are mocking and parodying.

The most notorious case of a villain being cast in a comedic role was Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever. In 1995, Carrey could of been in whatever movie he so wished. He was unequivocal box office gold and producers knew anything he was in would make massive amounts of money. However, Batman Forever was a critical disaster and almost ruined the franchise before Batman and Robin plodded along to finish the job several years later.

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That’s not to say that Carrey was the worst thing in Batman Forever, the massive influence from the campiness of the 1960’s show that strayed away from the world created in Batman and Batman Returns by Tim Burton and the horrible chemistry between the leading actors Val Kilmer, Nicole Kidman and Chris O’Donnell, also has to take the blame somewhat. Carrey has a body of work that any actor would envy, both in comedy with The Mask, Dumb and Dumber and the wickedly dark and massively underrated The Cable Guy, and drama, for Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and The Truman Show in which he should have won best actor ahead of Roberto Benigini in 1999.

However, looking back at Batman Forever, you see how miscast he was. It was like director Joel Schumacher let him do whatever he wanted on set and just rolled the cameras whilst he improvised continuously. His moments and jokes in the film go on too long and make The Riddler little more than a farce rather than a threat. The Riddler should be Batman’s psychological equal and challenge Bruce Wayne’s intellect with his genius and cunning. Instead, he just dances around the room with Tommy Lee Jones’ Two Face and doing weird accents whilst prancing and laughing.

There is a big parallel for me with Richard Pryor’s casting in Superman III in which director Richard Lester let him improvise for huge amounts of time which turned the film’s tone into something strange and centred the movie on the story of Pryor’s character as opposed to that of Superman. Superman very much became the second string character in his own movie because Richard Pryor was beloved by the American public and directors thought he could be shoehorned in to lend humour to the franchise. It would be like Kevin Hart or Rob Schneider being the sidekick to Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel in the upcoming Batman v Superman. Just writing this now, I remember, with regret that Rob Schneider already played a sidekick to Sly Stallone’s Judge Dredd…

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Other cases include that of Seth Rogen in The Green Hornet. Like Jim Carrey and Richard Pryor you could say that Rogen is also the comedian of his generation, he is always guaranteed to make a huge amount of money at the box office with his comedies and he is massively well liked, some would go as far to say he has been the era defining comedian of the past decade. Unfortunately, the move to a superhero film didn’t suit him. It’s a lot more likely that the disastrous outcome of the film was not because of Seth Rogen and his inability to be serious or understand the tone of the movie. It’s a lot more to do with the many production and personnel issues on the movie.

Rogen has stated in interviews that when he wrote the movie with co-writer Evan Goldberg they had an idea that started well and began to change as the budget escalated. The screenplay was often heavily scrutinized by studio executives, nipping needlessly at pieces of dialogue. This explains the confusing tone of The Green Hornet which is constantly changing. Director Michel Gondry, better known for his excellent independent films, had also never worked on a big budget movie before. Even though the same can be said of Jurassic World’s Colin Trevorrow, at least he had the support from Steven Spielberg and studio executives who knew what they could expect and just wanted to make the best film they could.

The Green Hornet was not Rogen’s fault, like Batman Forever wasn’t Jim Carrey’s, but they’re the ones who get left with the mess while the director’s, the writers and the rest of the cast go about their careers without any criticism by the mainstream audiences. Because they are actors more known for another genre, they are pinpointed and given the most criticism as clueless hacks tell them to go back to “what they do best”. Although not strictly a comic actor you could argue Ryan Reynolds got a similar treatment as both Deadpool in the abysmal X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which he is atoning for with his forthcoming standalone movie, and the perennially derided The Green Lantern.

Which brings me to Marvel’s newest offering Ant-Man. It’s been over a ten year wait as the baton of director has been passed from Edgar Wright to Peyton Reed but throughout the entirety of Ant-Man’s production history the lead actor has always stayed the same. Paul Rudd is an actor of immense quality and is known mostly as a comedy actor; it is the genre that he has appeared in most and if you were to think of three Paul Rudd films off the top of your head the chances are they would be comedies.

Both the filmmakers and Rudd are taking a huge risk with Ant-Man because if this film flops, it will flop hard, considering Marvel are currently on such a winning streak. Sadly is would be harder for Rudd to recover than Marvel, it won’t ruin his career but it will be a blot on an otherwise wonderful oeuvre. He will forever be known as Ant-Man which would always have those negative connotations and would be the face of the Marvel movie that didn’t quite meet the standards of the others. Some people survive the bad reviews, comedic actor or not (George Clooney in Batman and Robin) and some don’t (Brandon Routh in Superman Returns and arguably Halle Berry in Catwoman) we will see what the audiences think in a few weeks’ time.

What Marvel are great at doing in terms of casting is hiring actors who are deemed serious actors, and then add the comedy as opposed to hiring comedians and then writing the script to suit them. The Marvel writers make the characters witty and funny, and that is due to great writing and the charisma of the actors, especially the likes of Robert Downey Jr. But it’s fair to say Paul Rudd could boast the same amount of charisma as any of The Avengers.

These days you don’t see too many comedians in these films. When people like Kevin Hart, Adam Sandler, Ricky Gervais, Jonah Hill and Jason Segel are making millions and millions of pounds with their movies why would they want to risk sullying their career with a massive flop of a superhero film. They don’t need that grief, especially as the superhero movies now move into the deep echelons of darkness; there may not even be room for these talented actors within the genre.

I think Paul Rudd is going to excellent as Ant-Man, whether the film will be equally great is another matter. He can take a ray of light from the fact that before The Guardians of The Galaxy last year, Chris Pratt was primarily a comic actor with Parks and Rec, The Five Year Engagement and What’s Your Number, with only really cameo appearance in films like Moneyball and Zero Dark Thirty to flex his acting chops, but has now established himself into the go to action hero for casting directors in Hollywood.

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The End of The World As We Know It!

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You wait years for an end of the world comedy starring a country’s selection of finest funny actors and then two come at once. Two potential, very good ones in This is the End and The World’s End. In all honesty the last couple of years have been absolutely inundated with apocalyptic, end of the world fare, although most of them have attempted to show our earth’s final days in a more dramatic manner. Whether they were inspired by the Mayan’s 2012 predication or the fact that our society’s social, economic and environmental problems are represented within cinema through this bleak genre, they have truly saturated the market.  

Whether it’s 2012, The Book of Eli, Melancholia, Oblivion, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Road, 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Vanishing on 7th Street, Knowing, After Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still and even Wall-E, we have probably been subjected to too many of these movies in such a short space of time. Our poor earth has been nothing but terrorised in the past decade.

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With all these bleak, terrifying and sometimes dubious apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic movies it’s refreshing to see something new with the genre. Parody and pastiche are the best way to liven up a tiresome genre that’s past its peak and we’re seeing this with both the aforementioned comedies. This is the End, written by the scribes of Superbad, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogan, sees a selection of the best and brightest in American comedy join forces to play fictional, exaggerated versions of themselves.

The trailer (See above), which hopefully hasn’t blown all the best jokes and surprise cameos already, sees Rogan, Baruchel, Hill, McBride, Robinson etc shelter in James Franco’s house as they struggle to survive the apocalypse. Although much of the plot wasn’t revealed after the opening party and subsequent invasion, except the fact that Emma Watson comes in to steal their limited supplies, I’m sure that much more happens and hilarity ensues in their quest for survival.

On this side of the pond Edgar Wright has completed his long awaited third film of his Cornetto trilogy. Teaming up again with Simon Pegg on writing duties after the widely successful Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the story sees Pegg and friends played by Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman and Paddy Considine embark on an epic pub crawl they once attempted, but failed, in their youth, only to find they are in the middle of the apocalypse.

It really is a battle of the juggernauts between Britain and American comedy and I’m sure that both will be enjoyable and breathe life into a genre that, like that of the zombies, has been tarnished with saturation and simply too many films. Innovation and re-invention is how these genres develop and comedy is a great way to establish what we originally loved about these films. 

The Curse of The Comedy Trailer

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I love trailers. I love them so much that I have often spent full days just watching trailers on YouTube until I fall asleep. They provide a ridiculous amount of anticipation for upcoming films or a nostalgia to films long gone. However, there is one type of trailer that acts as a double edged sword. This is the comedy trailer. The catch 22 here is that they have to sell their movie, make people want to see it, establish the tone and that it’s got a load of laughs. But, they can’t give away all the best jokes otherwise there would be little point in people seeing it. That’s the big problem many trailers have, it often renders the film unfunny if you know what’s coming next.

One of the most blatant instances of this was when I recently saw a copy of Johnny English Reborn. The first one was very watchable, pretty funny and Rowan Atkinson, Ben Miller and John Malkovich were on top form. A comedy that didn’t that itself too seriously. You expect predictability but in a good way, not in a ‘I saw that in the trailer’ way.

Where that was appealing to me, last year, I didn’t much fancy Johnny English Reborn at the cinema, I didn’t think it would merit the ticket money. It may have been considered if I didn’t see the trailer about 40 times at the cinema, as well as the preceding adverts that showed the trailer again to sell the Odeon Premier card. I knew what was coming and it dulled the enjoyment of an otherwise bland film. These jokes and slapstick humour are what would of saved the film for me, but considering I knew when they were coming it just killed it for me.

Things I could expect included Johnny English hitting a woman with a tray repeatedly before getting hit again, mistaking Gillian Anderson’s mother with that of an assailant, driving a motorised wheelchair under a lorry whilst evading the authorities and of course, that old chestnut, getting hit in the testicles several times.

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This is why when I see a trailer like the Hangover 3, This is the End or 21 and Over I’m terrified that all the best jokes will be revealed and I won’t be able to enjoy the film. I sit in anticipation of the punchline in the cinema. As the build up progresses I half expect half the audience to blurt out said zinger. Too often,  I’ve been in a packed screening and what’s supposed to be the money line from the script doesn’t get the wave of laughs hoped. Instead it’s gets a silent hush as everyone already knew what was coming ten minutes before, this is a big shame.

There have been some things done in the past that have tried to amend this problem including creating jokes separate from the film. Or doing a little short skit like Monsters Inc to introduce the tone and characters but not the killer lines.

Often though, comedies don’t have this luxury and they must surrender their best lines for the sake of getting their audience. In some cases though the film will be good enough so we forget this and in context, the jokes are given extra depth. This doesn’t happen as much as we’d like though.

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Audiences these days are so attuned to comedy beats that these films have to be so original that they catch out their viewers. You have to be very smart or audiences and critics alike will find you out and make you pay. People surely no longer will stand for movies that machine gun the audience with swearing and star cameos and shocks. Trying and attract the lowest common denominator, shoving a load of predictable unfunny lines onto the screen and adding very outdated film references, not that I’m pointing fingers at Scary Movie 5 here, it’s just Inception was three years ago…

Star Wars: In Memorium

Hello everyone,

As I expand my blog I hope to start adding some video podcasts with some discussions about movies and other film related features. For the time being though here’s a video I made while having a play around with Movie Maker. It’s a memorial to many of those brave characters in the Star Wars saga that lost their life. I hope you enjoy and you don’t feel like you’ve wasted five minutes of your life.

The Life, Death and Rebirth of the Teen Comedy

In 1999 a simple, $11 million teen comedy took the world by storm and 13 years later American Pie has finally come full circle with the final instalment of the series, American Reunion. The life cycle of the American Pie franchise has mirrored the whole teen movie genre itself and here I will assess the short lived but highly popular group of movies which American Pie inspired and where we are now.

The first American Pie could not have asked for a simpler narrative: Four Boys aim to lose their virginity before prom. However, due to the strong script, likeable characters and countless iconic scenes the film took the genre to the next level, giving birth to something completely innovative and original, while taking $235 million worldwide at the box office.

Sure, there were teen movies in the 1980s and earlier with Revenge of the Nerds, Weird Science and the wonderful films of John Hughes but American Pie was a movie that truly captured the zeitgeist and truthfully showed American teenage life without beating around the bush. It was the first teen film that didn’t seem like it was written by an adult. Needless to say its pastry humping, webcam filming and semen drinking caused a wave of excitement across Hollywood and it wasn’t long before studios everywhere wanted a piece of that pie. (I’m so very sorry, but I couldn’t resist.)

The genre took an unprecedented ascension with film after film making huge stars out of unknown actors and throwing as much gross out comedy at audiences as possible. Not a week went by without a new title being released: Loser, Van Wilder: Party Liaison, Dude, Where’s my Car, Roadtrip, Eurotrip, American Pie 2, The New Guy, Cruel Intentions, She’s All That, Harold and Kumar, etc. The teen comedy even got its own parody with Not another Teen Movie showing how quickly and ubiquitously the genre had taken over.  A lot of the actors and directors overlapped and the genre was becoming saturated. It was very easy and cheap to make these films and they were proven money-makers.

Something had to give and soon enough it did. By the time that American Pie: The Wedding was released, Hollywood and America had moved away for the most part from the teen comedy. It was veering closer to traditional rom-coms, the Frat pack films starring Stiller, Ferrell and the Wilson brothers and the R rated comedy of Judd Apatow which bought in the huge money and dominated the box-office. Productions such as The 40 year old Virgin and Anchorman were making huge sums of money and it started to seem that comedy had grown up, at least in terms of age as opposed to maturity.

A few teen comedies continued, there were the sequels to Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies and American Pie continued to produce five films that started to border on softcore pornography by American Pie presents Beta House. The only thing that associated the films with the American Pie franchise by this point were the title and Eugene Levy, even though they were American Pie Presents as opposed to American Pie. The most recent of the unofficial films have been shameless excuses to show as many breasts as possible. The plotlines are weak, the characters undeveloped and stereotypical to the extent they border on parody while the films resembling more a lads mag than a Hollywood production.

Despite all of this, it is still exciting to have a new American Pie with the entire original cast. Even though most of their careers declined as the genre did it is still good to see them all returning. The whole thing oozes nostalgia right down to the poster that mirrors the original and anyone who grew up with the films will be interested to see how the filmmakers approach the final instalment. Even though I doubt there will be a resurgence in the genre following the last piece of American Pie, I for one am going to enjoy the reminiscing about the films that dominated Hollywood at the beginning of the last decade and remembering the legacy that the original produced.

British Comedy at the Cinema

 

Next week sees the release of The Inbetweeners Movie. From its humble beginnings on E4 the series moved from strength to strength, acquiring a cult audience of teens, before word of mouth catapulted it into one of the most talked about and quoted comedies of the past decade and worthy enough to have a big screen outing. The series in no small part became a success thanks to some of the quickest, sharpest writing seen on a sitcom, a superb soundtrack and the quality of the actors and how they really took hold of their characters and let them grow organically throughout the series. Like me, a whole generation of teenagers embraced the show and praised the realistic characters and situations while other sitcoms would gloss over all the real life elements and have the protagonist be generally moody and smug. It is the failure of the characters in The Inbetweeners and this pathos that helped make the series so innovative and likable and garnered this cult of fans. I was surprised at first hearing of the release of a movie though, especially since I thought the final few episodes of the series were slightly repetitive and lacklustre. However, I was intrigued, wondering how successful the movie could become.

Over the years there have been an array of British TV comedies that have tried their hand at making a film.  In the 1970s we had successful long running sitcoms such as Dad’s Army and Porridge being turned into films. This then went on to movie versions of Are You Being Served and Allo Allo before moving into Ali G Indahouse and Kevin and Perry Go Large territory. The problem is with most of these, although funny enough just seem like longer TV shows as opposed to a movie. However, it seems you can’t win with the critics who herald these films one long episode because when The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse completely changed from its series format, giving the lead parts to more bit part players in the series and having some clever, post-modern plot where the creations met their creations it was met with further criticism that they wanted more of the series.

The most successful British comedy transition is arguably Spaced to Shaun of the Dead. And although it doesn’t share the same characters or story, the fact that it came from a scene in the Spaced Episode ‘Art’, the direction of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s acting meant that the two were connected. Usually it takes such drastic changes to make it cinematic; it took some of the best elements from Spaced including the inundation of pop culture references and the movie like cinematography and sound effects and then incorporated different genres and established actors with a strong narrative and script to make it stand alone. Bean was also a success story, moving the character far away from the comfort zone of the television series proved well. It didn’t work as well though in the sequel Mr Bean’s Holiday.

What surprised me first reading about The Inbetweeners movie was the choice that they decided to put the character’s on holiday, as over the years when doing a big screen spin off, including in On The Buses, Are You Being Served and Kevin and Perry Go Large it’s a common thing and therefore seems like it’s been done before. There is also the fact that with the Hangover 2 this year we have already seen one gross-out holiday based comedy. However, as the characters are at that age where lads holidays are the norms it does seem the ideal place for comedic set pieces and incident, so as long as they put their stamp on it hopefully it will give something different.

What the film must be careful of though is that the cinema is such a different medium than the television. First of all, rather than a 22 minute episode where there’s a single situation, there needs to be an overriding narrative to the story so that it doesn’t look like a series of sketches, which the trailer kind of does at the moment. Also, it’s usually the case that films gather an audience that would not have seen the television show and are coming into it cold. This is always difficult for writers sometimes because they have to keep the material fresh but reintroduce characters that fans have been acquainted with for years which could be tedious and patronising for the fans who feel the movie should be for them. If previous television to film transitions are anything to go by then The Inbetweeners has a very difficult job of keeping everybody happy. Some want an extended episode with loads of gross out set-piece and wouldn’t mind the lack of narrative while some would want a standalone film with a narrative and characters that could stand on their own two feet. The trick is to combine these things and I believe if any set of writers could do this it would be Damon Beesly and Iain Morris so I am confident.

Although many former TV shows have bombed at the box-office and some have just been terrible as if somebody has forgotten to write the jokes I am confident that with the elements that made The Inbetweeners such a success of TV will translate to the big screen. With a solid script and plenty of jokes and gross out moments I don’t see why it couldn’t be a hit in the cinema and be a fitting ending for one of the best, current comedies. Even if it is not critically acclaimed or a financial success I am sure it will still acquire a cult audience of people who were there from it at the beginning.