Fanboys help propel comic book films into blockbusters, through repeat viewings and word of mouth. They are the built-in audience, and often the ones who keep studios honest in interpreting the characters we know and love.
Right now, comic book films enjoy a golden age, with popularity at studios and among mainstream audiences who have both learned to take the material seriously and expect higher quality than past films of the genre delivered.
But amongst this fan base is a segment who have the potential to do more harm than good as they perpetuate the worst stereotypes of fanboys.
Recently, this particular group have lent their voices to a chorus that is in danger of helping return the film genre to its lesser self.
They rail against the most minute of changes…
They allow their hormonal fantasies to dominate opinions about female casting…
They adhere to absurd standards placing muscle size and jaw-lines over acting ability…
And they think their own narrow interpretations of source material are the only valid means of adaptation.
It's good that studios listen to fans, and it has led to faithfulness and seriousness in how the studios treat the genre in most instances these days. But when the studios pay too much attention -- or are fearful of angering the most narrow-minded and fickle segment of fan boys -- they are making a huge mistake that could do much harm to particular films and thus to the genre as a whole.
Older fans will recall a time in the mid-1970s when excitement swelled around the news that a Superman film was in the works. Yet when the casting for the lead character was announced, many people were shocked. A young, tall, skinny soap opera star had landed the role of Superman. Some people thought the project might be doomed due to wrong casting in the most important role.
Then came December 1978.
We then learned how wrong we were. Christopher Reeve wasn't just good casting, he was brilliant casting. He was Superman come to life, an example of filmmakers seeing something in an actor, some element that transcended mere muscles and name recognition. They followed their gut, and created one of the greatest examples of casting in comic book genre history.
A decade later, fans were once again silenced when the initial outcry against casting "Mr. Mom" as Batman gave way to shock at Michael Keaton delivering a performance that erased all previous memory of Adam West doing the Batusi from audiences' minds.
I have no doubt that if Reeve or Keaton were cast today -- with the existence of the internet and the online dominance of the more shrill fanboy voices in comic book forums -- the outcry would have drown out all attempts at reasonable discourse and led to an about-face by the studios.
And that's exactly what happened recently, when reports that John Krasinski was close to signing a deal to portray Captain America sent fanboys into histrionics. So loud, sustained, and childish were the insults and complaints, the studio appears to have walked away from whatever deal may have been close at hand; instead casting Chris Evans without even so much as a single script reading…allegedly.
Evans is a good actor, so no offense is intended. However, some of us saw in Krasinski the chance to once again catch lightening in a bottle as was done in the casting of Christopher Reeve. While not an immediately obvious choice, Krasinski is 6 ft 3 inches tall, weighs 190 lbs, and is a terrific actor. True, he's mostly done comedic roles, but those who are familiar with his entire career have seen him in dramatic moments, seen the nuance he brings, and seen the mixture of both youthful idealism and naivety combined with cynicism and strength that he can exhibit in a role.
We'll never know if Krasinski would have stepped in and shocked everyone by embodying Captain America the way Reeve and Keaton surprised us all. But some of us feel a great opportunity for brilliant casting was missed. And we owe the loss of that opportunity to fanboys clamoring to proclaim that muscles and simple-minded tough-guy bravado are the only necessary components for adapting comic book heroes to the screen. Some cried that Krasinski's hair was the wrong color (apparently never having been through the hair-care section of a grocery store). Some complained that he wasn't already 220+ lbs of solid muscle. Some just didn't like THE OFFICE. And so it went.
We saw similar fanboy backlash when Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker back in 2007. With juvenile homophobic complaints, an outcray arose at the casting of someone who dared play a gay person in a film. Those jokes, complaints that he had an accent, and complaints that he was too "pretty" or good looking circled the Internet. Luckily, the success and brilliance of BATMAN BEGINS helped create a segment of fans who took a more mature and intelligent perspective, and the backlash from the worst sort of fans never gained the same traction that brought down the potential casting of Krasinski.
Likewise, there were fanboys who disparaged Maggie Gyllenhaal taking over the role of Rachel Dawes in THE DARK KNIGHT, based entirely on the notion that she wasn't "hot" enough. This at times reached levels of stupidity and obnoxiousness that were stunning even from a segment of fans typified by their stupidity and obnoxiousness.
"Yeah, he'll suck as The Joker and I wouldn't touch THAT with a ten foot pole!"
Which brings us to another aspect of bad fanboy behavior: "The raging hormones," if you will.
Name any female comic book character. Whomever you picked, chances are a sizable portion of fanboys think Rachel McAdams, Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, Natalie Portman, or perhaps Hayden Panettiere would be perfect for the part. Whichever actresses between the ages of 18 and 25 and who are the pin-up crushes of fanboy fantasies becomes their go-to casting suggestion. The only concern is wanting to see their idealized young woman in a Catwoman suit, or Wonder Woman suit, and so on.
That's not a dig against any of these actresses. The point is that there's no consideration for whether the actress is a good fit for the role, or their acting strength. It's about how they look in their underwear, and whether they have a sweet, young face. It's the same obsession over appearance that dominates too much fanboy opinion, style over substance.
The dominant concern for appearances of the actors mirrors the fanboy concern over even small nuances of the look of characters and their costumes. As one BOF forum member brought up recently, the initial images of Brandon Routh as Superman in costume from SUPERMAN RETURNS was met with catcalls and complaints about things like the size of the "S" shield, how high the points are at the top of the boots, and similar minutia. Having a preference about such things is one thing, but the intensity of opinion and denunciation of the film itself based on such minor elements was out of all proportion.
We've heard some fan backlash about the appearance of Whiplash in the early images released for IRON MAN 2, just as we saw from some fanboys regarding the early images of The Joker from THE DARK KNIGHT. Again, not all complaints are the sort of fanboy backlash that is shrill, myopic, and trivial, but there were plenty of such in evidence.
This isn't to suggest that I want to see Chris Mintz-Plasse as Superman, that Kathy Bates would be an appropriate choice for Wonder Woman, or that The Green Lantern should just wear a green sweater or perhaps be in a giant CGI mecha. There are of course varying degrees. But the fanboys I'm referring to take it to an absurd extreme, and seem incapable of any behavior besides extremes.
None of this would much matter, though, were it not for the great equalizer...
There -- in this digital landscape -- all voices have the chance to reverberate. Add together a bunch of voices, and a small handful of guys sitting at home festering over Superman's cape being an inch too long can get some things done. The fact that it's online means there is the added element of e-thugary involved with the tendency to say something that's already dumb in the dumbest and most obnoxious way possible.
The mixture of these raging fanboy with online "foul-mouths" is a toxic one; and there are enough of these fanboys to create an embarrassing impression of comic book fans that feeds the worst stereotypes.
"THIS is how these chicks need to look on screen!
If not, I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole!"
Why then, would studios listen to them is beyond me!
But it has happened.
And the more it happens, the more it is likely to keep happening. It emboldens them, gives them an inflated sense of power in these matters, and worst of all leads to filmmaking decision that arise from the lowest common denominator.
It hasn't had a big impact on the overall genre yet, luckily. We still enjoy mostly higher quality fare in comic book films, and studios still seem to mostly understand that respect and seriousness for the genre in most cases is the best direction. But as these films continue to rake in money, and as this leads to studios paying increased attention to fans in order to figure out the next property to adapt and what was most popular in previous films, it could also lead to the increased attention causing increased prominence for the shrillest and worst fanboy voices.
That is the danger posed to the genre, because comic book films becoming dominated by the shallow, juvenile tastes of this segment of fandom, and studios listening more to rants and outcries of the worst sort, will drag the genre back from the heights its achieved and into the realm of cheesier, lower quality, and ultimately far less successful filmmaking.
It would be a shame for that to happen. This means that comic book fans who share a strong dislike for the worst fanboy behavior have to continue working to make our own voices heard, and to help drown out the ranting from those who would see our beloved genre dragged into failure.