Bobby MacPherson thinks Hollywood needs to embrace its inner geek.
So it turns out that, on top of being pretty offensive towards the indigenous peoples of America in its casting a ludicrously famous Caucasian hippie in the role of Tonto, The Lone Ranger is also a cynical, ugly cash-in. Garish, brainless and possessing a sneering mean-spiritedness towards fans of its original TV iteration, The Lone Ranger managed to encapsulate Hollywood’s current attitude towards its surprising new status as a nerdy medium: “OK, we’ll give you dweebs what you want as long as we’re making money, but don’t expect us to like it.”
At every turn, The Lone Ranger manages to ridicule its source material
At every turn, The Lone Ranger manages to ridicule its source material; the Ranger accidentally kills people when attempting his famous non-fatal trick shots, utters a sarcastic version of his signature catchphrase and his sidekick is a deranged, Jack Sparrow-lite version of Tonto. Considering this film has been made in the wake of The Avengers’ superhero renaissance, you’d think such flagrant disregard for the culture and history behind such a popular character would be pretty rare in our current box office climate, but unfortunately this is not the case.
Historically, Hollywood has had a real problem reconciling nerd culture with its inevitable and lucrative celluloid reimaginings. Just look at Tim Burton’s Batman; a heroic failure, but a failure nonetheless, in which Batman actually ends up straight-up murdering people, his cartoony no-killing rule completely disregarded in favour of the requisite late-80s/early-90s ‘edginess’ that righteous baddie-slaying seemingly provided.
More recently, as with The Lone Ranger, this inability to balance nerd culture and popular culture has led to a complete lack of effort on the part of the studios to represent the virtues of either. 2011’s Green Lantern was a bumbling, effects-laden mess and 2010’s Jonah Hex actually ignored the comic’s Hollywood-friendly grittiness in favour of wanton anachronisms.
Nolan’s Batman films are great films, but bad Batman films
It’s easy to pick on the weak and gamey offerings to the nerd culture table – the Jonah Hexs and the Lone Rangers and Green Lanterns and Dragonball Zs are uniformly bad films as well as bad representations of their properties. However, it’s in the critical and commercial successes that we’re really able to glean Hollywood’s deep-seated discomfort with embracing geek culture.
The Dark Knight Trilogy is, largely, excellent. Cerebral without being alienating, exciting without being brainless, Nolan’s Batman saga is well acted, well directed and well written. They’re great films, but they’re bad Batman films, clearly uncomfortable with the larger-than-life material they’re based upon.
Despite the mishandling of the material: Superhero movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon
In its attempts to situate Batman in the real world and within mainstream culture, the Dark Knight Trilogy completely divests Gotham of its iconography, the slum-like Narrows from Batman Begins abandoned for a standard facsimile of New York from The Dark Knight onwards. Bale’s preposterous, raspy ‘Bat-voice’ was clearly adopted to evoke a Clint Eastwood tough guy, and all efforts to elaborate on the psychological warfare and espionage learned during his decade-long vision quest are abandoned in favour of MMA-style angry punch-ups. While his villains retain some of their original charm, Batman himself is just a big, angry bloke in Kevlar body armour – a riot policeman rather than a superhero.
Even Man of Steel attempts to inject some unnecessary grit into the Superman tale
Even Man of Steel, which features one of the most colourful, uncomplicated and patriotic of all superheroes – Superman – attempts to inject some pretty unnecessary grit into the tale, giving its protagonist darker bad guys, motivations and even a darker costume (it’s literally dark blue, that’s the level of subtlety we’re dealing with here). All four, highly feted and successful films (at least commercially) with enough legitimate Hollywood talent behind them to get both fans and critics alike frothing with excitement, and yet one cannot escape the creeping feeling that they’re somehow ashamed of themselves.
It almost feels like all the acclaimed stars and writers and directors of these films are there to apologise for and revise the source material, rather than to celebrate it. In order to produce more films like The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Scott Pilgrim and Tintin, which embrace their source material deftly and enjoyed the resulting commercial and critical benefits, Hollywood is going to need to abandon its squeamishness regarding its position as a major player in the nerd arena. We certainly have.
Now for an alternative opinion: How I learned to stop worrying and love the adaptation
Featured image: Walt Disney Pictures
Pictures: Legendary Pictures