I find my movie-going self rather vexed this weekend, since my comic-loving inner thirteen year old would love to go see a comic book movie, but the big studio option for this weekend (and maybe the fall) is an attempt to humanize and give a meaningful backstory to a classic Batman villain . . . without bringing Batman into it.
Like the previous movie incarnation of the same character, a very talented, very serious actor is taking the comic book villain to new levels, and the last time that happened, what I saw on screen transcended the source material so much that it was, for all intents and purposes, a brand new character.
Which brings me to Professor Moriarty, the barely-seen master criminal whom Sherlock Holmes saw as his career's greatest challenge. Moriarty was the best criminal mind there was, and since we know next to nothing of what criminal plots he actually concocted, we can't dispute that fact. If Sherlock Holmes said he was that much of a genius, he must have been. Other than one, brief, second-hand interview at Baker Street, we never read of Moriarty actually doing anything. We get his non-crime resume. We get a description of what he looks like. But outside of a bit of back-and-forth dialogue with a man he just met that one time, we have no idea of what his life was like.
If one were to film Mortiarty, a motion picture devoted to showing us all of Moriarty up until that time Sherlock Holmes noticed and came after him, would that actually be a good thing?
Since Moriarty's life is such a void, wouldn't an attempt to give him two hours of backstory just be the same as creating a new character?
That's basically what happened with Joker, the Batman villain movie out this weekend, for better or worse. The movie's success may cause the comics to retrofit some of its details into the comic book's mythos, but at this moment, the movie seems to have definitely spun its own Earth into the DC comics multiverse.
We've had Moriarty novels before, from John Gardner and Michael Kurland, but Sherlock Holmes always has to show up at some point. Moriarty has yet to separate himself completely from Holmes in a major adaptation. And the idea of a Joker-like film that takes Moriarty out to stand completely on his own in a critically-acclaimed display of his humanity . . . well, that seems as far-fetched as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, where Richard Roxburgh got to give him a go without Sherlock around.
But I think I'd go see it. After Sherlock Gnomes, I know I can definitely take one for the team, so how bad could Moriarty be? (Well, a bakery mascot baby, like he was in Sherlock Gnomes. All Holmes might be good Holmes, but all Moriarty should just be bad Moriarty in one way or another, shouldn't it?