A few recent articles have pointed out that this year has been marked by a surprising number of big-budget commercial disappointments (After Earth, Lone Ranger, R.I.P.D., and Pacific Rim – which, BTW, the wife and I quite enjoyed), and how the smaller counter-programming films – even, god help us, Grown Ups Goddamn 2 – have been the quiet successes of the summer.
Pretty much, if it didn’t feature Iron Man or Superman, it kind of thudded. People are slowly but surely getting bored at watching the same damn giant movie again and again and again, unless there’s a superhero involved somehow.
In the wake of the 2014-15 movie-promo fest that is Comic-Con these days, it got me realizing, in a few years, even having a superhero won’t help. My evidence for this? Me.
To gear up for The Wolverine, I popped in the first X-Men movie, which I haven’t watched in years. Aside from noting that there was a time when Hugh Jackman was simply very well-built, but not to the negative-2% body-fat, eating-whole-chickens-to-mainline-protein levels he gets to these days, I was mostly charmed by how…crappy it looks.
I mean, it’s fine, it’s not like the bricks are all made of Styrofoam or anything. But it’s clear the people paying for this movie felt like they were taking a huge risk, and were hedging their bets financially. Remember, other than Blade, which could be thrown into the “horror” genre category fairly easily, the last superhero movie at the time was Batman & Robin. THAT was the image in people’s minds when they thought “superhero movie.”
I also remember my blatant excitement that there was A superhero movie in theaters. ONE SINGLE MOVIE. Simpler times, those times.
Fast-forward to 2013. Do you know why I’m going to see The Wolverine? I got a free pass because I bought a Red Robin gift card. Without that pass, I am fairly certain I couldn’t give much of a shit. (Though this does have the nice by-product of lowering expectations to the point where I’m fairly certain I’ll at least mildly enjoy myself.)
The point is, when I, Jeff Holland, the absolute ideal market for a superhero movie (still in 18-35 target demo, disposable income I can direct at movie theaters, already predisposed to enjoy comic-based films, likely to encourage people online to see it if I like it, etc.), am basically bored to tears by the idea of going to another goddamn superhero movie, we have a problem.
Ultimately, if superhero films are going to survive, they’ve got to start taking chances, with their narrative structure, with their looks, basically with the type of movie they end up being. This shouldn’t be hard – I mean, from the start, superheroes were just slapping costumes onto other genres. This just has to start happening in movies again, so it doesn’t feel like Green Lantern just keeps getting remade to varying levels of quality.
The best test subject for this experiment is Moon Knight.
Look, Marvel just spent a whole weekend convincing people a movie with a talking raccoon and a tree-man would be the best part of next summer. They’re prepping goddamn Ant-Man. They’re talking about “phase three” like phases 4-10 are a given.
Moon Knight’s definitely a phase sixer at best, but make no mistake…he’s coming.
I’m fairly certain I love the idea of Moon Knight more than I do any actual Moon Knight comic book I’ve ever read (which is pretty slim). But I mean, look at this origin:
Mark Spector, mercenary, is working on a protection detail at an archeological dig, when he’s betrayed by his partner and left to die in the Egyptian desert. But he is brought back from the dead by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, in exchange for becoming his avatar on Earth.
Now, here’s where it gets even more interesting: in addition to Moon Knight, The Fist of Khonshu (using raiments and weapons taken from Khonshu’s temple), Spector comes back to the U.S., uses all his mercenary money and creates two more identities for himself,: a millionaire entrepreneur, and a streetwise taxicab driver, to wage war on crime.
And at some point, he begins
developing a dissociative identity disorder.
And his best friend/sidekick is a helicopter pilot named Frenchie DuChamp. He is French, and has the thin, pointy mustache to prove it.
From there, really, the least interesting thing he could do is be a superhero, especially considering the Marvel version of Khonshu has less to do with fertility and more to do with VENGEANCE. (And really, Moon Knight’s first big comics gig was fighting a werewolf, which is also more interesting than being a Batman whose bright white cape keeps him from blending in anywhere.)
Now, do we need ANOTHER movie where a guy skulks around New York and pouncing on street-level criminals until some opposite-number villain kicks off a plot he has to foil? Well, my whole point here is “Of course not, audiences are getting tired of it, filmmakers are getting tired of it, and look, at a certain point Marvel’s going to go ahead and reboot Daredevil so why don’t we save that stuff for him anyway.”
How about instead, we do this:
Or, another way of putting it: Petty Batman – a film by Luc Besson.
This isn’t the well-worn story of a man discovering the hero within. It’s the tale of a terrifying badass putting on disguises to get what he wants, from people who deserve to have it taken from them.
One particular thing I’d like to nail down, is that it’s not crucial that the audience like or relate to Spector as a character. He is a mercenary, after all, meaning he’s killed people for money, and while in the comics he fights crime as a way to atone for his past, that’s kind of weak sauce.
So let’s treat him more like Lee Marvin’s Walker/Parker, who is not all that likeable, but is still the guy the audience roots for, partly because he is exclusively going up against scumbags, partly because they are scumbags who WRONGED HIM FIRST (which is at least a little recognizable in terms of understandable motivation), and partly because there is something incredibly appealing about a guy with a singular focus and capabilities seeing an objective and going after it.
Instead of heading back to the states, Spector can stay in abroad (in more exotic and budget-friendly locales, which is pretty much the one thing that second Ghost Rider movie did right to give it a distinctive B-movie look), creating his new identities there so he can find and take vengeance on the man who left him in the desert to die. This can span months or even years, but ultimately the Moon Knight guise is simply used to conceal Spector’s identity from Raoul Bushman as he takes apart the man’s criminal organization out of spite and anger, rather than any loftier ideas about justice.
(I’ll just respond to an imagined studio note right now – fine, maybe as he wages his campaign, he starts to see how many people have been hurt by Bushman’s activities and that just makes him madder and more determined to see this through, for righteousness as well as good old fashioned revenge.)
Meanwhile, as he starts using these different identities, all while following the imagined guidance
of “Khonshu,” it can become clear (perhaps via Frenchie’s perspective) that maybe Marc’s not quite right in the head, and maaaybe nearly dying in a desert did more of a number on him than he realized.
I am honestly trying to come up with a compelling reason not to simply call this movie “Marc Spector,” evoking more of a 70’s B-movie title, since I can’t think of a single legitimate reason he or anyone else would name a guy in a white cloak “Moon Knight.” (Besides, “WHO IS…MARC SPECTOR?” would be a good ad campaign, and directly address recent movies that just throw the hero’s name up there like you’re supposed to already give a shit who Jack Reacher is.)
Anyway, once he’s destroyed and/or co-opted Bushman’s operation and taken vengeance on him, Frenchie can ask, “What’s next?” and Spector can suggest that he’s going to take this whole “beating people up and wearing a hooded cloak” thing on the road – an international force for punching dudes who deserve it.
So a second movie, if one is called for, could literally take place anywhere and be about anything – hell, he could be hunting an American Werewolf in London, if that sounds good – as long as the elements of Marc Spector, brutal fighter using multiple identities to disguise himself and further his goals, stays in place.
What is the theme? Do not fuck around with terrifying men, that’s the theme.
And that’s how you can adapt a b- or c-level superhero property without doing the Iron Man/Spider-Man formula yet again.
Casting: Particularly because we’d be setting this internationally, I’d recommend against a white actor (yes, technically Marc Spector is the son of a rabbi, but it’s really not an essential element as far as I can tell). Really, the only requirements are that he look like a dude who has taken his share of punches, and really, really wants to punch other people.
So, the line forms behind Idris Elba as per usual.