6 superhero franchises that deserve to be rebooted
From Daredevil to Green Lantern, a lot of comic-book heroes need a second chance in Hollywood. But this time, let's do it the right way
Despite a massive budget and equally aggressive marketing push, 20th Century Fox's pair of humorless, poorly-cast Fantastic Four films failed to evoke the distinctive charm of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original comic series. Indeed, it's hard to imagine any critic or filmgoer putting either movie alongside The Dark Knight, Iron Man, or The Avengers in the all-time great superhero movie pantheon. Perhaps that's why Fox is going for a full reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise, helmed by Chronicle's Josh Trank. The movie will hit theaters in March 2015. The new Fantastic Four follows in the footsteps of movies like last summer's The Amazing Spider-Man and the upcoming Superman movie Man of Steel — quick-to-market reboots after weak installments threatened to derail the characters' overall box-office success. As audiences get more comfortable with the idea of Hollywood taking a mulligan on a disappointing superhero franchise, which heroes deserve a second chance at the box office? Here are six:
1. Daredevil (2003)45 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:Daredevil came out before smart films like Batman Begins and Iron Man set the template for the modern superhero movie, and the character is ripe for a reintroduction. Though the Ben Affleck-starring original is better than its reputation — particularly in the R-rated director's cut available on DVD — the franchise wasn't done any favors by the awful Jennifer Garner-starring spin-off Elektra, or by Colin Farrell's hammy turn as the villainous Bullseye.
How to fix it:The core idea of a blind superhero who fights crime using his other senses remains compelling, and there's no shortage of comic-book source material that a creative director could draw from. If the average moviegoer remembers Daredevil at all, they remember Ben Affleck, so a new, charismatic lead actor — think Bradley Cooper or Michael Fassbender — would be essential to wipe away any memories of the original. Earlier this year, director Joe Carnahan pitched an intriguingly grittier reboot of the franchise to Fox, which would have recast the story as a period piece in 1973. Fox turned down the idea, and the rights to Daredevil returned to Marvel in October.
2. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)17 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:Alan Moore's beloved series, which teams up literary characters like Allan Quatermain, Dr. Jekyll, and The Invisible Man, lost a lot in the transition from page to screen. The film was plagued with production problems, including a widely-reported feud between director Stephen Norrington and star Sean Connery. The cast clearly wasn't up to the task of playing such towering literary icons, and the film looks and feels cheap. Mina Murray was turned into a vampire. Tom Sawyer was unnecessarily shoehorned into the narrative (reportedly in an attempt to pander to American audiences). Given the film's justifiably poor reception, two planned sequels were scrapped.
How to fix it:The idea of a cross-literary hero mashup is much too compelling to be derailed by one poorly executed film. The ideal adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be an open-ended TV series on a premium network, capturing the episodic nature of the original stories and serving as a sandbox for other creative minds to find smarter ways to expand the world Alan Moore originally created.
3. Constantine (2005)46 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:Kudos to Warner Bros. for having the courage to make Constantine an R-rated feature, but this is still a watered-down version of Vertigo's grim horror comic Hellblazer. Keanu Reeves is badly miscast in the title role, lacking John Constantine's blond hair, Liverpool accent, and wry sense of humor in the face of the horrors he's routinely faced with.
How to fix it:Constantine was a flashy, overly expensive adaptation of the Hellblazer comic book series, with a $100 million budget that literally took the character to hell and back. A smaller, grittier, character-focused version would better capture the spirit of the source material. Cast Robert Pattinson, a talented actor who needs a meaty role to wash the Twilight franchise off of him, and find a director willing to embrace the comics' unique blend of the mundane and the grotesquely supernatural. To that end: Recent reports that Guillermo del Toro might be interested in making a film that would include John Constantine are very, very promising.
4. The Spirit (2008)14 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:The Spirit's writer/director Frank Miller threw out everything that made Will Eisner's fairly whimsical original comic a classic. Miller's take on The Spirit is a dumb retread of his own Sin City, with a visual style that doesn't even attempt to capture Eisner's original artwork. Other bizarre choices include star Gabriel Macht's constant mumbly monologues and the many costumes worn by Samuel L. Jackson's villainous The Octopus — a character who's never actually seen in the comics, and who appears wearing everything from a samurai robe to a Nazi SS uniform in the film.
How to fix it:The Spirit needs a lighter-hearted adaptation than the weird mix of gloomy visuals and prurience offered by Frank Miller. As most superhero film franchises follow the grim, angsty path forged by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, The Spirit should go the other way, aiming to capture the freewheeling nature of a series that shifted from mystery to comedy to romance at will over its original run. Fortunately, Miller's take on the character was so far off the mark that audiences wouldn't have a hard time accepting a new film based on the character that follows Will Eisner's model.
5. Jonah Hex (2010)13 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:It's not hard to see why Jonah Hex was one of the biggest flops of 2010. The Josh Brolin-starring adaptation is an absolute mess, from Megan Fox's ridiculous supporting turn as a prostitute to a phoned-in performance by John Malkovich as the film's villain. The title character was given the power to speak to the dead, which he never had in the comics, and the film didn't even bother to do anything interesting with the new superpower. Jonah Hex's ridiculously brief 81-minute running time is surely a sign that the film was drastically cut before its release. The version of the film that hit theaters is almost incomprehensible.
How to fix it:Jonah Hex is a difficult character to get right, and the massive failure of the first adaptation makes it unlikely that anyone will be brave enough to take another crack soon. But there's too much story potential in the comics' unique combination of the western and the supernatural horror genres to give up on Jonah Hex altogether. A truly successful Jonah Hex film would fully embrace both genres, spinning the character into a story that recalls classic spaghetti westerns like A Fistful of Dollars or Once Upon a Time in the West with a slightly more surreal, supernaturally-tinged plot.
6. Green Lantern (2011)26 percent positive reviews
What went wrong:The film gets bogged down under the weight of its own stifling mythology, which centers on mainstream-unfriendly elements of the Green Lantern comics like a massive intergalactic police force and an evil sentient cloud. Ryan Reynolds offers a smug, unlikable take on our ostensible hero, Hal Jordan. The film ends with an utterly nonsensical cliffhanger in which the alien Sinestro, who had been one of the film's heroes, becomes a villain for no discernible reason.
How to fix it:The popular cartoon series Justice League Unlimited introduced a generation of children to John Stewart, an African-American who becomes the Green Lantern in the comics series after Hal Jordan. Building a new Green Lantern around John Stewart would be an easy way to ignore the earlier film, and introduce a comic-book hero of color into the lily-white world of Hollywood superhero franchises. I suggest Idris Elba, who's great in pretty much everything.