Comic Fodder

Wolverine vs. Watchmen

Crash and burn.

Wolverine has had his second weekend at the box office, and no amount of healing factor can make up for these wounds: $26.4 million, a 69% drop from its first weekend. Normally, a 50% drop is to be expected, and 55% still isn’t too bad for a front-loaded summer blockbuster. Anything less indicates some form of staying power. It can’t be blamed on Star Trek; even while that movie was #1 with $75 million, it didn’t match Wolvie’s own $85 million debut the week prior. There are several examples of summer movies still holding their own on the second week as a new #1 movie comes out. No, this big of a drop means that the movie-going audience had as many problems as Ryan and I had with it.

A drastic drop such as this will most likely encounter spin, as the studio tries to blame it on the leaked version of the movie, but it won’t fit: the movie did great the first weekend despite any negative word of mouth. The truth is that the vast majority of people came out to see it on the big screen anyway. People who are not comic fans mostly thought it was good; it was received by them better than Watchmen was, anyway. The fans were another story. For every fanboy who loved it, there was at least one or two who thought it was a hot mess. The bad-mouthing spread quicker than ever before, with all sorts of posting places that movie fans have to use. Welcome to the future of movie blockbusters, folks. We not only get on our cell phones as soon as we leave the theatre, we give a quick update to Twitter, or the Facebook/Friendster/Myspace page, post in forums, etc. Everything moves faster with our increased technology, and that will translate into good news for good movies, and devastating drops for duds.

Kudos have to be given for Star Trek before we move on too much farther, for having the greatest debut of the Trek series, and for the clever way they have rebooted the franchise. Without giving away any spoilers, they have charted a path forward that allows the old fans to cherish the original stories and the original characters, and all of it is still intact, while simultaneously managing to use those classic iconic identities to start over, with the ability to tell brand-new stories. All that, and the film was good in and of itself at the same time. For those like me who thought there wasn’t enough explanation of the plot concerning the villain, check out the comic book tie-in. But I digress…

I promised a while back that I would give you a Watchmen update. My first article tried to show how the number crunching algorithms had over-estimated the total haul of the film by at least $20 million, just a first gut instinct. The second article tracked its rapid drop-off, very similar to Wolverine’s, and I had to adjust my own prediction downward to reflect the new data which indicated the film would have no legs. The maximum I saw was $120 million at the time, but the remaining weeks it can remain on the screen show it dribbling out closer to $110 million. I cited this as proof that they wouldn’t be talking about a Watchmen sequel. Now that Wolverine is taking a similar nosedive, does it put his sequel into question?

Watching the Mutated Apples and Oranges

No, it does not. There are four reasons. One, Watchmen was basically designed to be a self-contained story. While Hollywood doesn’t often let that stop them, the truth is that Wolverine’s comic has been much more stereotypical of traditional super-hero fare, with a popular character that must have ongoing adventures, with certain qualities that will always be part of the character (or will return after a brief side-trip that strips away one or two of those fundamental aspects just to experiment with what happens). Watchmen also can’t be taken much farther from its roots. Wolverine, on the other hand, arguably has a more stretchable history than any other character in either the DC or Marvel universe. He is ancient, he has had at least four different origin stories, and he has been almost every interesting profession imaginable throughout the course of history: soldier, spy, thief, samurai… for all we know, he’s rented himself out as a pencil sharpener or a barber, or performed circumcisions as a Mohel at Bat Mitzvahs with his claws. Directors can stick a hand in Marvel’s treasure chest of stories and pull out almost anything they want (which was actually part of their problem with the recent movie, but try telling them that while they’re filming).

Reason number two: with everything happening faster, that includes reboots (remember the quick turnaround for the Hulk franchise?). Just as the Batman franchise had to endure its own downward spiral into the depths of creative depravity, Wolverine can suffer the same problem, even on its first outing. The next Batman/Wolverine might be a hit, and if they run into too much trouble, they can always restart with a new #1 issue; much like the publisher might restart a famous comic book series to represent a clean slate and boost interest. At Warner Brothers, they may still be debating whether to continue with the Superman series at #2, or just start from scratch yet again (hopefully this time with less peeping-tom activities). For Watchmen, there is no long-standing, ongoing series to provide them a wealth of material from which to pick and choose, which can give filmmakers considerable latitude when adopting it to the big screen. There is also no proof beyond what they have seen with the one film to show that they can go any further with the idea. Wolverine is already part of a successful franchise via the X-Men movies; all they need to do is ride out the bad news and come back with a good movie, and just like the Bat, good times (and reviews) will rise again.

The third reason is related to its marketability as a franchise, and that is merchandising. I don’t think anyone needs a detailed analysis of that. The final reason is the contract that Fox has with Marvel: they have to keep developing these characters into films within a contractually obligated timeframe, or the film rights will revert back to Marvel. Anyone who currently has film rights to a super-hero will be doing something, even something lame, just to make a little money off their investment, and to keep the money-making possibilities away form their box office competitors.

For Watchmen, the quick drop means the one-shot will remain a one-shot. For a decades-long icon like Wolverine they can just shout “do-over!” Wolverine might pull in $162 million or less for his first (sort of) stand-alone movie, but even though the drop-off will raise questions about budget, they will definitely come back with another big-screen treatment of Marvel’s favorite mutant berserker.

That's it for me, guys, I'm away on a job assignment for a few days. Try not to start a Secret Infinite Crisis War while I'm gone, will ya?

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