A Little Shock in the Penny Press!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Hollywood tobacco addict, in possession of a handsome face and some washboard abs, must be in want of a superhero franchise. In a business where everything is ‘the new’ something else, superhero movies are the new … well, entirety of the movie-industry, and four-color properties are being snatched up at a feverish pace until the bubble bursts.

I admit, the pattern of all that snatching-up mystifies me. I hear talk of an Ant-Man movie, a Hawkeye movie, even a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, all from Marvel Comics’ movie-making division – and even more bewilderingly, I hear rumors that DC Comics’ upcoming Superman movie (starring a Brit in the lead, for Rao’s sake) will be their only superhero production for the next few years. Even at a glance, it seems like Marvel has better characters to adapt to the big screen – and DC has an entire galaxy of such characters, from Wonder Woman to the Flash to Captain Marvel. I suppose it’s possible that studios have finally learned to go where the geeks are, rather than use big-ticket names to draw a general audience – hence we see a Hank Pym movie before we see a Wonder Woman one. But a part of me keeps expecting even older, more primal names to crop up.

That part of me was first overjoyed and then appalled when one such name – John Carter of Mars – cropped up and was made into a horrifically banal two hours of instantly forgettable CGI. But even John Carter, though venerable, is one step removed from the ultimate genealogy of the 20th Century’s superhero craze. That genealogy comes down to three names, all unbearably precious to me: Doc Savage (in the one incredibly bad movie he got, the writers decided to make him bulletproof), the Shadow (the first 15 minutes of the 1994 movie starring Alec Baldwin are as great an opening as any superhero movie has ever had – the rest of it, not so much) … and Tarzan of the Apes, whose woeful interaction with the dubious magic of film has been one long bloody swath of destruction. No other literary character has ever featured in so many cinematic disasters, including the 1998 live-action debacle “Tarzan and the Lost City,” starring a ripped but vacuous Casper Van Dien.

‘Ripped but vacuous’ is a Hollywood mantle that’s been passed on since Cap Van Dien wore it – and it’s currently in the meaty paws of four-pack-a-day tobacco addict Kellan Lutz of “Twilight” fame. So naturally my heart caught in my throat when I read in the latest GQ that Lutz had just returned to his Everglades photoshoot from filming a Tarzan movie in Germany.

It’s not that I dislike the idea of Lutz playing an action hero – far from it: he’s clearly a natural for the job (far more of a natural than, say, Christian Bale or Ryan Reynolds, to name just two) and should get a franchise as soon as possible. My own first suggestion would be Flash Gordon, but I’m guessing Breck Eisner will pick somebody else. My second suggestion is of course Aquaman, yet another instant-recognition name DC is just sitting on, content only to have it made a punch-line on “Entourage.” But the reason Tarzan has eluded so many directors over the decades (and please, don’t bring up “Greystoke” – if I live to be 30, I’ll never understand the weird, obsessive cult-loyalty that piece of garbage inspires in some people) is because there’s far more to an effective realization of the character than just his super-heroic outward trappings. And although I’d trust Lutz with those outward trappings, I’m not so sure about his skill at subtlety (although he gets along really well with animals, which can be a plus).

Fortunately, a quick spin around IMDB reveals that this Germany-produced Tarzan movie Lutz just wrapped is an animated feature, probably made along family-friendly lines for children. Which takes it neatly out of the range of my own obsessive cult-loyalty. Whew.

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