As a community that loves and respects Richard Pryor, we’ve all agreed to speak politely of Superman III. But I can’t help but ruminate on the ’83 film today, encouraged by reports of the latest induction into the spectrum of super-powered cinema: a Spider-Man film written by Vacation writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, the duo also responsible for Horrible Bosses and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Comparison to Richard Jenner’s second Supes entry is not meant as a prediction of what breed of film we’re gearing up to see. Perhaps even of the new direction the genre on the whole seems willing to brave.
Superman III is one of the few DC Comics properties translated to screen that is canonically categorized as a comedy. While such a designation might seem alien to those affixed to the contemporary “no jokes” period, it was not always out of line to expect a couple of laughs from Clark Kent — Richard Donner’s original Superman picture surely had a sense of humor — or Bruce Wayne — the ’66 Batman was indeed a laugh first, an adventure second, though that's not at all a bad thing. In a post-Nolan era, we’re saddled insistently with the glowers of Zack Snyder and David Ayer.
The surge of comic book movies to the forefront of pop culture has shone as a victory for those privately championing the source material for decades. The reproduction of the community’s cherished properties onscreen, at the center of public attention, rebranded their passions with a new widespread reverence. Disney, in particular, has exhibited a liberal acceptance of levity with its Marvel Cinematic Universe. Granted, the embrace only came to fruition in earnest midway through the franchise’s Phase II. While early MCU entries touted quips and sight gags aplenty, it was not until after The Avengers that laughter became a chief priority for the films in question. Iron Man 3 structured scenes around and sacrificed action beats in the name of jokes. The ante was upped in Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron alike, prompting accolades of “the funniest Marvel movie yet!” to breach social media at each end.
At this point, we expect comedy from our Marvel films just as much as we do from our Judd Apatow outings. With the employ of screenwriters Daley (who you might know better as Freaks and Geeks’ Sam Weir) and Goldstein to handle Sony’s next Spider-Man feature script, this psychology seems to be bleeding into other studios’ superhero schema. What’s more, the Daley and Goldstein hire incurs the question of what might be expensed in the name of comedy.
Is the prioritization of humor in direct conflict with reverence to the characters onscreen? Daley and Goldstein's past features, funny or not, suggest little interest on the part of the duo in adhering to the self-serious model of Peter Parker movies of yore. Can we see a Spider-Man flick script in the vein of Horrible Bosses that still feels to Spider-Man fans like Spider-Man?
And is this question specific to the property at hand? Coming our way are a Deadpool movie (canon with 20th Century Fox's other mutant entries), a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel, and a Han Solo film directed by the LEGO Movie guys. Are all forces eschewing that old stony sincerity for big, irreverent laughs? And if so, is this a betrayal of the devoted fan base who helped lift comic book properties to mainstream popularity in the first place?
Or am I taking this issue just a bit too seriously?
Images: Sony Pictures; Warner Bros; Disney