A week or two ago, an article from Hitfix came out claiming that Warner Bros. has issued a “no joke” policy for all their upcoming superhero films. This is just the hearsay from the writer of the piece but, if you look at their more recent financially successful movies, you can certainly get the feeling this is true. After all, Christopher Nolan’s Batman/Dark Knight trilogy was a grim and serious world and those films were well received. Even though Man of Steel polarized critics, casual fans rated the film much higher. And that film was serious as serious could get for a superhero movie!
I guess when they say “no jokes,” the bigwigs don’t literally mean the films will be devoid of all humor. I think they’re trying to differentiate themselves from Marvel films, which usually inject a lot of jokes and whimsy in their superhero movies. And besides, the last time they tried to make a funny superhero film, Green Lantern, they failed miserably. But is this a good decision? Should they actually make such an edict, especially if you consider how lucrative their competition’s films have been?
The obvious answer would be “yes,” right? Well, sometimes the obvious answer is the correct answer. A sweeping declaration that all future superhero films is dangerous because whether or not a film has to be humorless or hilarious actually depends on two factors: the superhero him/herself and the tone the film wants to set.
You see, not all superheroes are built and designed the same. Superman is an almost god-like being who acts like a boy scout. Batman is a brooding vigilante who’s haunted by his parent’s death. Green Lantern is a daredevil test pilot who laughs at danger. And so on and so forth. So there’s actually some wiggle room regarding if their movie should be dead serious or full of jokes.
Let’s look at one of the “B-list” superheros of the DC Universe: Plastic Man. Now, Plastic Man’s backstory is tragic… to a degree. He was a criminal who was exposed to experimental chemicals and left for dead by his partners in crime. Realizing he was a “monster,” he attempted to kill himself by jumping off a bridge. But before he could do it, an escaped mental patient named Woozy Winks convinced him not to. The two of them decided to capitalize on his new powers and, because of a coin toss, chose a life of crime fighting instead of performing criminal acts.
Even with a rather sad origin story, Plastic Man is one of the more irreverent superheros in the DC Universe! His adventures are usually filled with slapstick jokes. He’s also sort of a wise-ass. Now, imagine if DC decided to make a movie based on the character and made it totally serious. It probably wouldn’t work.
I said “probably” because, sometimes, it is possible to change even the tone of the superhero and still work. While we consider Batman to be a totally serious avenger of the night, he wasn’t that serious in the 60’s as any viewer of the live-action Batman television series starring Adam West can attest to. But the thing is, the tone has to be consistent throughout. That’s why it worked for Batman then! It was a farce and people loved it. This is also why Nolan’s Batman trilogy worked. The seriousness, peppered with some dark humor, exuded throughout all three films and people loved them as well.
Unless you’re one of the best directors/writers around, it’s very difficult to switch from drama to comedy in an instant. This is one of the things the 2011 Green Lantern movie got wrong: it tried to do both and it failed miserably on both accounts. It tried to be funny when it needed to be serious a lot of the time and it just confused viewers, including myself. If you watch the funny parts of the movie without sitting through the entire thing, they’re, at the least, chuckle worthy. But the dourness of the film just drowns out all of the laughs they could’ve garnered.
Bottom-line, the “no jokes” policy can work for some DC characters. Not all of them, though. Choose your battles, DC. And choose wisely because that’s a very serious decision to make, especially with an entire franchise of films.
What’s your take on DC’s “no jokes” policy? Is it a good idea or a bad one? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!