David Hayter on The Evolution of Comic Book Movies

By  · Published on July 21st, 2013

One of the surprise panels at this year’s Comic-Con was for David Hayter’s directorial debut, Wolves. The panel didn’t come out of nowhere or anything, but it was for an original property. We don’t see a whole lot of original films highlighted at the Con, so to see Hayter’s picture have a presence was a pleasant addition to the festivities. It’s a movie Hayter’s been developing for the past six years, based on a script of his own.

You know Hayter’s voice as Solid Snake, but you’re probably also familiar with his screenwriting credits: X-Men, X-Men 2: United, and Watchmen. Of course the first X-Men was a one of kind movie at the time. We hadn’t seen a superhero team onscreen yet, so it was far from a sure thing. The movie ended up a success, paving the way for more comic book movies like it.

However, since then, a lot has changed. What worked best about those first two X-Men movies isn’t something we see very often now: simple, streamlined action. The second X-Men ends with a bang involving Jean Grey protecting the aircraft full of her friends, not William Stryker bringing a city to its knees and the X-Men having to save it. That’s what a lot of superhero movies have turned into, and sometimes, it’s somewhat of a shame.

We sat down with Hayter at Comic Con, and since Robert already posted a rundown of what to expect from Wolves, we thought it’d best to save our discussion focused on Wolves for the film’s possible 2014 release. Until then, here are David Hayter’s thoughts on the ever growing comic book genre.

Comic book movies have changed so much since the first X-Men movie. What do you think of the current state of comic book movies?

I think going too big is a mistake. I think when you have 200 million dollars you don’t need to creatively solve problems the way you do on a mid-budget film. On the first X-Men film we had 75 million dollars and Fox told us, “Not a penny more. That’s it.” That’s a lot of money, but for a movie with 11 super powered lead characters, that’s tight. There were problems we needed to solve for budget that brought out more creative solutions. When you have 200 million dollars, you just repaint the frame.

Because it’s that much money, I feel like directors think it should be two and a half hours. Not all films have two and a half hours of story worth to tell. I think a lot of those movies become bloated because of that. I also think there’s so much panic over that much money at a studio that they takeout the original edgy bits that make the film more interesting.

The things we did on X-Men, we didn’t have any other movies like that. There was the Burton’s Batman movies and Donner’s Superman, but it was a really original thing about characters who were not hugely known for a moviegoing audience. We took a lot of risks and did what we thought was badass, which the studio didn’t necessarily understand, but they didn’t know whether it was going to work. We just got to do it because they weren’t spending 200 million dollars. We got more leeway because of that.

There are a lot of comic book movies I love, though. I thought Iron Man 3 kicked ass. These aren’t comic book movies, but what J.J. Abrams has done with the first two Star Trek movies is amazing. Those are greatly constructed movies, while there are others that are just nonsensical and bloated. That’s a bummer, because all these 125,000 people here are ready to see great renditions of their heroes. Like, I wanted to see a great Green Lantern movie, but I didn’t. That movie could’ve used a lot more edge, love, and risk than it took.

That’s such a bizarre movie where you just think, “Who was this made for?” I can’t imagine a kid enjoying what happens with Hector Hammond.

Right. That was intended to be for everyone, but, in the end, it’s not for anyone. You can’t bland out a movie and hope it will read to everybody in the audience. What you have to do is create something that is true to your love of the material. If it’s cool enough, older people and girlfriends will go to see it. When I did X-Men I had fans come up to me from five years old to 75 years old that loved it. I heard from women, “I never went to a comic book movie, but I loved it.” I really focused on the women in that movie, making sure they were kick ass on their own right, at least I hope I did that. Really, I made it for my 15-year-old self. What would I love to see at that age? That was it. I didn’t make it for anyone else. Obviously that’s for my part in it, because it’s Bryan Singer’s film. I was aiming for the kid in me who saw “soon to be a major motion picture” on a comic and thought, “What do I want to see?” I knew if I loved it from that perspective, it would have an audience.

It’s interesting how in X2 the spectacle comes from Wolverine simply walking down a hallway stabbing people. You don’t need much more than that.

Right. On the first film, the studio was worried about the lead character stabbing people. We were like, “Yeah, okay, but he has nine inch blades that come out of his fists. People are going to get stabbed.” You can’t do what they do in the cartoons having him open doors or be the world’s most dangerous can opener. When we started to do X2 one of the first things I said to Bryan [Singer] was we needed to see Wolverine cut loose and just go on a rampage. We also knew we want the mansion be invaded. I think it was Bryan who said the others should be out of town and it should just be Wolverine watching the mansion, then you can see him tear into those people. We made sure the soldiers he was attacking were faceless. They got masks on, so you can stay in a PG-13 relm and murder a bunch of people. That’s what my 15-year-old self wanted to see from Wolverine.

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Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.