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.

Moon KnightPretty 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

Sample dialogue: “Sacre bleu, croissant! …Fromaaaage.”

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:

Point blank movie poster


Danger Diabolik

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

Pictured: An excuse for me to use more images from Danger: Diabolik!

Pictured: An excuse for me to use more images from Danger: Diabolik!

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.

Pictured: Another thing perhaps Marc Spector could get up to in this movie.

Pictured: Another thing perhaps Marc Spector could get up to in this movie.

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.

  1. braak says:

    I think they should start making sort of boutique Marvel movies, too. They should get the guy who did Black Dynamite to do this one, and just straight-up make it in a retro 70s pulp style.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    Remember when Joe Carnahan put together a fake trailer full of 70’s crime movies to show how he wanted to do Daredevil, and instead Fox was like, “That looks way too interesting, let’s just give the rights back to Marvel instead.”

    Y’all are dummies, Hollywood.

  3. His Jewish heritage IS an important thematic element for the character, it’s just not bandied around directly very often. There is the pervasive element of discrimination at the hands of the rest of the very goyim-centric superhero community (that MoonKnight sure is crazy right? you can’t trust him!) as well as his relationship with both his father and Konshu that are strong parallels with many Jews and their feelings towards God post-WWII (a parental figure they have strong ties to that can be both incredibly cold/distant and at times cruel and unforgiving).

    Outside of Magneto, I feel Marc Spector is the most important Jewish hero in comics, because of how his journey touches upon distinct cultural issues/angst of the community.

    I definitely think there is a clear color imbalance in the superhero genre, but tossing out Marc’s cultural heritage is stripping him of a lot of what makes him him, which is counter-productive to diversity.

    That being said, I agree with just about everything else you said and love your view on how they should handle adapting MoonKnight to film. *crossing my fingers*

  4. nathanortega says:

    That said, I love your write up on how to handle the character on screen, and hope they go a similar route.

  5. braak says:

    Hm. Yeah, Holland, I actually didn’t even know that Moon Knight was Jewish; it seems like the sort of thing you’d want to keep in, if for no other reason than that the superhero industry is conspiuously WASPy right now.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    I’m not really a big fan of superheroes having parent issues they need to explore (the GEOFF JOHNS SCHOOL OF WRITING), and also want to keep this thing fairly tightly-focused. But! I am also hardly a Moon Knight expert. So if it’s important enough, WE SHALL LEAVE HIS JEWISH HERITAGE INTACT!

  7. braak says:

    What I like about this are all the hilarious pitfalls it opens up for a lousy writer to try and make sure we all know about how Moon Knight is Jewish.

    Moon Knight interrupts a Bar Mitzvah. Moon Knight fasts for Yom Kippur. Moon Knight recites the Shema Yisrael.

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Marc: “My father, WHO WAS A RABBI, believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me out of fear. He was convinced that the world wasn’t ready. What do you think?”
    Bushman: “Um, I think – ”

  9. nathanortega says:

    Thankfully his relationship with his dad isn’t central to any storylines, just a little facet into his character mildy touched upon. I am with you on the whole “daddy issues are way overplayed” angle. Hell, “backstory” in general is something writers raised on comic books and Joss Whedon shows tend to focus WAY too much on. I don’t need to know a characters life story to understand them as people and process their motivations.

  10. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, his backstory really needn’t be any more complicated than, “He is a mercenary.” Anything else, the actor and director can talk about if they want to deepen the performance, but leave that biz out of the action, man.

    OK, having returned to white dudes who might also be good for this movie, I am kind of stuck with either Karl Urban or Ray Stevenson. Who played Judge Dredd and The Punisher, respectively, but outside of Jason Statham movies, there haven’t been a lot of taciturn-badass roles, lately, have there?

    Stupid Stallone and Bruce Willis and their “only leathery old men can be scary” movies, they’re ensuring a generation of actors grows up SOFT. SOFT AND WEAK. WITH FEELINGS. AND NOT-LEATHERY SKIN.

  11. Jeff Holland says:

    Hold up, Liev Schreiber could be kind of cool.

  12. nathanortega says:

    After watching both seasons of Veep, I am leaning towards Reid Scott. I think he can capture the kind of biting sharp humor of the character but also pull off the darker more dramatic moments.

    Plus he’s a morally ambiguous jerk who women have the hots for, so that’ll get the lady butts in the seats.

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