I love mixing things up, in a literary sense. Fairy tales with superhero flavor? That’s my jam. Greek myths in space? Been there, wrote it. Norse gods in the Wild West? Saddle up. But what I haven’t quite gotten into yet is the meta-humor powering such novels as Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, and the movies that seem to be emerging from such things. Yes, they’re humorous storytelling endeavors. But rather than being straight-up joke-fests, the joke is that the joke behaves like something that isn’t remotely funny.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with absurdism or surrealist takes on the classics, and as I said, mixing things up can be both fun and interesting. However, I feel the mix should result in some tangible changes other than simply having additional elements tacked on. This is why the aforementioned PPZ never quite “clicked” for me: I got the gag, but the gag really only served itself, rather than fundamentally changing the story. Elizabeth was a pretty kickass slayer of the undead but that didn’t seem to alter her relationship with Darcy in any meaningful way.
On the other hand, consider Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The fact that Abe sought revenge for the death of his mother isn’t just an anecdote in his life. We learn that the real motivation behind the entire Civil War was to prevent the creation of a vampire nation, where slaves are used as food supply. It’s just as much a gag as the aforementioned zombies, but the way it alters the inner nature of the character and informs his motivations throughout his life makes it more effective both as meta-humor and as a readable or watchable story.
That said, it is entirely possibly to go too far in the other direction. As much as I like Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton, the upcoming Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters feels like the sort of fundamental change to characters aimed at increasing their broad appeal but likely to leave the characters bland and ultimately uninteresting. Van Helsing in a good example of this. There is so much just from the trailer of this new H&G that feels similar to that older, rather bland movie, and I’m not sure if it’s going to work the way it seemed to for Abe.
As with many things in writing, it’s all about balance. You can’t have the joke be too blatant and unrelated, and you can’t make the narrative all about the somewhat amusing change in character motivations or genre. Go too far one way or the other and the endeavor just falls apart. Strike the right balance, though, and as much as we’ll laugh at the concept, we’ll also be interested enough to see the narrative through to the end.