Comic book writer/artist/screenwriter/director Frank Miller has certainly left his mark on modern comic books – and, to a lesser yet still noteworthy degree, cinema. Over the past decade, there’ve been multiple popular film adaptations of his comic writing (the Sin City and 300 franchises) and superhero movies that were heavily influenced by his work on the printed page, such as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and the upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – which director Zack Snyder has admitted is in part using Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” comic storyline as a guideline.
Miller is back in the spotlight again this week, as a result of him having both scripted and co-directed this Friday’s comic book movie sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For; in typical Miller fashion, he seems to be as interested (if not more so) in stirring things up right now, as he is in playing nice and simply promoting the latest Sin City film. Indeed, during a recent interview with Playboy, Miller admitted that although there have been times in his career where he just wanted “to inspire or spin a good yarn,” there’ve been other periods when he was foremost sought “to spend my career annoying or offending people.”
Miller didn’t mince words when it came to sharing his thoughts on, well, anything, during his talk with Playboy. Consider, for example, his comments on working in Hollywood during the 1990s, when he penned both RoboCop 2 and RoboCop 3 (see below).
I came back from RoboCop 2 convinced that writing a screenplay was the equivalent of building a fire hydrant and then having dogs run around and piss on it. I swore I’d never touch movies again. I don’t see how I could function in film if I didn’t have my comics. If I were one of those hungry screenwriters everybody sees in Hollywood, starving, begging and compromising for work, I’d end up at Musso & Frank’s bar with a martini, talking about the story I should be doing. I think screenplays are essentially stupid. I certainly do not regard working in Hollywood as a step up from comics, by any means.
Miller admitted that this had an effect on his comic book writing in the 1990s, saying that “the irony here is that I designed Sin City so it could not be adapted to film” – before Robert Rodriguez (co-director on both Sin City movies) showed him that it could be done, while preserving the look of the source comics. Infamously, Miller would go on to apply the first Sin City film’s hyper-stylized aesthetic to a cinematic adaptation of The Spirit comic (which Miller wrote/directed alone); the resulting movie was by and large panned by critics and mostly ignored at the box office.
The Spirit comics were, of course, created by the late Will Eisner and not Miller. That said, the latter has found critical success in the past with his comic book stories featuring characters that he didn’t create – such as Superman, Batman, and Daredevil, among others. It’s not entirely clear how Miller feels when other comic book writers put their own spin on a superhero or property that he’s tackled before; however, going by his Playboy interview, he flat-out hates it when filmmakers do as much.
When people come out with movies about characters I’ve worked on, I always hate them. I have my own ideas about what the characters are like. I mean, I can’t watch a Batman movie. I’ve seen pieces of them, but I generally think, No, that’s not him. And I walk out of the theater before it’s over.
To be fair, there are surely a number of artists who, to some degree, relate to Miller’s feelings on this subject. That is, even if they wouldn’t put it quite as bluntly as he does, or are more open-minded about how other storytellers re-interpret characters and/or properties that they feel passionate about (as Miller clearly does when it comes to his past comic book output). Still, it does seem a tad silly to get too worked up about other artists re-interpreting characters that you didn’t actually invent yourself.
Give him credit, though – Miller is also all inclusive with his distaste for movies that were either inspired by his comic book writing or cover story/character territory that he’s broached in the past. Even when it comes to Nolan’s quasi-realistic take on the Batman mythos, as it were.
It includes all of them. I’m not condemning what he [Christopher Nolan] does. I don’t even understand it, except that he seems to think he owns the title Dark Knight. [laughs] He’s about 20 years too late for that. It’s been used.
In response to this, it’s worth nothing that the term “The Dark Knight” was being used in reference to Batman some forty years before Miller popularized its use – which is to say, again it’s a bit silly for anyone to act like they “own” something that isn’t their original creation. Moving on…
It ought to be perfectly clear by now that Miller has little interest in crafting a friendly public image for himself, especially where it concerns his opinions on modern comic book movie adaptations and/or the superhero genre as it stands today. Still, it’s worth noting that he’s not against all comic-based films on principle, either; he’s even a fan of certain ones that he’s not been involved with (and thus, has no creative and/or financial incentive to speak well of them).
… People like to refer to comic books as graphic novels or sequential storytelling, all kinds of crazy words. Graphic novels sounds like we’re porn. I like the term comic book, because it sounds like something you fold up and put in your back pocket. I like the goofiness of them. One reason I enjoy the Marvel Comics movies is that they’re fun. A lot of superhero movies are pompous. At one point I was watching Superman, and all I could do was an impersonation of him saying, “Hi, I can fly and you can’t.” Whereas Captain America, the Hulk and Iron Man are a bunch of mixed-up crazy kids, just like the readers.
Again, they might not word it like he does, but there are a number of people out there who, like Miller, feel that some of the more well-respected comic book films out there – be they the X-Men movies from director Bryan Singer or Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy – are too “pompous” for their own good. (And that’s not even going down the rabbit hole of how people feel about Snyder’s rendition of the Superman mythos with the divisive Man of Steel.) We’ve already made it clear that we here at Screen Rant feel there’s a place for both the darker, more grounded and the comparatively light-hearted comic book movie fare, as it were.
That’s not to say Miller thinks anyone should get too worked up about all this superhero comic book stuff; as he put it, when asked if he loves Batman and hates Superman:
The Dark Knight series is all from Batman’s point of view. But if you look at Dark Knight 2, you’ll see a Superman who’s much calmer than the one in the first Dark Knight. Batman and Superman are dead opposites. I love Superman. Do I love Batman more? They’re not people. They’re only lines on paper.
Feel free to take that last comment as you will.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.