Comic Fodder

Pandemic Pirate Mutant Weasels

The press is already running around in circles trying to figure out if Wolverine is a success or a failure, if the leak hurt it or gave it extra publicity, and nobody has much in the way of quantitative data to prove who is correct. However, here at Fodder, we do have common sense and experience, so let's give it some context.

The movie debuted with $87 million for its opening weekend, and $160 million worldwide. That's despite the Celtic/Bulls basketball game, the Pacquaio/Hatton boxing match, and the film not getting to open in Mexico due to concerns about the swine flu. That tells you a little something. The irony of a movie about a guy with an unstoppable healing factor being shut out by a disease has not been lost on the reporting community, even if most of them don’t do much more than repeat the official release statement.

There are a few people who downloaded the leaked movie, but that type of personality tends never to go to the movies anyway. They're too busy staying at home ripping off a ton of other stuff, much of which they'll never get around to actually watching or listening to anyway, so they were never going to count towards ticket sales in the first place. Another group consisted of a small contingent of folks who downloaded it, saw a bunch of stuff they didn't like, and decided they really didn't want to spend real money, even for complete special effects. What we don't have any numbers for are the people who saw the leaked video and decided they did want to go see the finished product. But the bottom line is, the movie was the #1 movie for the weekend, successfully kicking off the summer season, and beat the opening of the first two X-Men films (Note: the "actuals" are close enough that X2 might still be ahead by the time the dust settles). The leak did not do any measurable damage, with the film coming in smack dab in the middle of the wide range of projections ($70 mil - $100 mil).

They left the damage for the movie itself.

I'm in the middle, because Jackman did well as Wolverine, and some of the other actors did well too. The liberties they took with some of the comic background, and especially the poor treatment of Deadpool, left me disappointed (how can he bend his elbows now, anyway?). And for the life of me, with a movie that cost $130 million to make, why couldn't we get a slightly more cohesive plot? So I'm glad we got to see Wolverine again, and it's definitely a mindless, popcorn-munching summer action flick, but closer to Van Helsing in its mindlessness. I just wish they had done better in terms of the plot itself, and used more of the good comic book background instead of mangling it. Is it possible to like and dislike a movie at the same time, in equal proportion? By the third time the camera pulled back so we could get a bird's-eye view of Logan howling, it felt like I was watching a re-run within the same movie (and not in a good way, like in Groundhog Day!).

My guess is that we will see a big drop-off, partly due to the places where the movie was lacking, partly due to its comparatively lower per screen average of about $20,000 per screen. It came out on more than 4,000 screens, and its final tally will most likely come closer to $200 million than the $336 million of Spider-Man 3 or the $318 million of Iron Man. If it's lucky, it might beat the $215 million of X-Men 2.

But that's almost irrelevant at this point; since the opening weekend kicked everything off to such a great start, we are guaranteed at least two more sequels, and the door is open to concentrating on a decent plot, since they've gotten the "origin" material out of the way. The next picture doesn't have to take place in the past, either; they could choose to pick things up sometime after X-Men 3. This has also given executives a warm fuzzy to grease the wheels for Magneto and Deadpool movies, and further reinforcing the super-hero genre as a mainstay of big-budget Hollywood movies. Excited fans tend to hold their collective breath with each new debut, fearing that just one clunker will put a nail into the coffin for the entire super-hero genre. Of course, you also have some rabid fanboys who are so disgusted with every bastardized monster of a movie that desecrates their favorite hero, that they would welcome a ban from comic-to-film translations forever...

The recent king is still Iron Man, which debuted at $98 million for its opening weekend. Pay no attention to any comparisons that try to imply Wolverine failed in some way because it couldn't top Iron Man. Even if there were no sporting events, Wolverine would have only gained two or three million more in receipts. The marketing was different, the characters are different, and the feel of the two are very different from each other. Iron Man was very well written, designed to be fun for the whole family. Audiences have known for years that Wolverine is based on a killer with claws, and that automatically meant a smaller attendance base (this was reinforced by the fact that the previews did not provide a new "wow" factor). After three X-Men movies, Wolverine doesn't have the fresh feel that a shiny new Iron Man provided.

It can also be argued that Fox does not have quite the same sense of the characters as Marvel itself does. It is worthwhile to note that Iron Man seemed to gel in every category, while other films featuring characters from their library came up short when developed by other studios (see Hulk, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, etc.). Marvel's entire business strategy is based on the idea that nobody else can do their characters as well as they can, and Shell-head's debut reinforced that idea. They will have to keep proving it with each new film, though. Still, any movie fan could tell by instinct that the Iron Man phenomenon was special, and the anticipation for Wolverine was not on the same scale. Close, but no cigar.

The end results are mixed. From a business standpoint, they will recover their costs and make some profit, which is always a good starting point. From a critical perspective, they really need to come out with a better sequel, or risk the derision that has become widespread when referencing the Fantastic Four movies. Cut out the massive cameos, stick to a good story premise, and stop butchering continuity. From Hell suffered immensely from turning multiple characters into a single composite. They had the same difficulty here by fusing Silver Fox with the White Queen's sister. Hollywood needs to learn that you can't please the fan base by doing a mash-up of a comic story that was already partially mashed up to begin with. Imagine if they concentrate on Logan's adventures in Japan, and showcase his long effort to learn and bring the inner animal under control, instead of a five-second entreaty by his dying girlfriend to magically convince him he's not animal. There is a better potential for this franchise by a mile, but it's going to take a lot of work.

The big winner in all of this is Hugh Jackman. The beauty of a successful comic character is that it can keep on giving, and he’s worked hard to make sure he can continue in the role. It enabled his career to take off like a rocket, and will serve to keep his name fresh in the public’s eye, letting him go do a variety of other projects like Broadway plays without becoming sidelined from major movie deals. He recently got to immortalize his hands in the cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles. Just his hands, no claws this time. Although you have to wonder what they would have said if he asked…

Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.

Really, VanHelsing? Argh. Did they have an exploding coach (with no explosives aboard) like VanHelsing too? *sigh*

-- Posted by: Wendy at May 5, 2009 10:15 AM