Weekend Roundtable: Superheroes Who Deserve Better Movies

As of this weekend, we’re already on our second movie iteration of the ‘Fantastic Four’ (third if you count the unreleased Roger Corman cheapie), and it seems like the popular comic book team still hasn’t been done proper justice. In the midst of our current superhero renaissance, what other characters really deserve better treatment than they’ve gotten on cinema screens?

Shannon Nutt

I’m going for the obvious answer here and will direct my ire at the makers of the last couple (and future) Superman movies.

Yes, this is a little off the proposed topic, since Superman did get a pair of really good films back in 1978 and 1980 that set the bar for what comic book movies should be. But that was 35 years ago, and nobody has been able to get the world’s greatest hero right since then – starting, I suppose, with Christopher Reeve’s last two appearances as the Man of Tomorrow in ‘Superman III’ and ‘Superman IV’.

Tim Burton failed to launch a reboot in the 1990s. That movie that never got made, but continues to be talked about. (See the brand-new documentary ‘The Death of Superman Lives’.) Warner Bros. bailed on the film days before it was to go in front of the cameras, only to head back to the drawing board in deciding how to handle one of its most important characters. After a long hiatus, Superman finally returned to the big screen in 2006 with ‘Superman Returns‘, but director Bryan Singer was so determined to tie in his movie with the earlier Richard Donner/Richard Lester films that he forgot to make Superman interesting. Worse yet, he turned the Man of Steel into kind of a creepy voyeur. The fact that Singer’s movie lacks any real action didn’t help matters either.

Still, ‘Superman Returns’ did reasonably well for Warner, despite all the money that had been sunk into the franchise (including the lost dollars from the aborted Burton flick). Nevertheless, the studio felt it was time to reboot the character yet again rather than proceed with Singer’s vision. That brings us to 2013’s ‘Man of Steel‘, which certainly made up for what ‘Superman Returns’ lacked in action, but again misses the mark by giving us a superhero who seems unattached from the world around him and uncaring about the humans he’s supposed to protect.

Now, it seems, Warner has decided that the only way to make a successful Superman film is to populate it with other superheroes that moviegoers might be interested in seeing, particularly Batman, who’s even getting top billing over Supes in next year’s ‘Batman v Superman’ – a movie that was originally supposed to be a ‘Man of Steel’ sequel, then turned into a Batman/Superman team-up, and is now being marketed as the first in a series of ‘Justice League’ movies. To add insult to injury, Warner has announced its future slate of superhero titles, which includes standalone films for Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Shazam and Green Lantern. Heck, even DC villains are getting their own movie with ‘Suicide Squad’.

As for Superman? Sorry. The world (at least the one at Warner Bros.) doesn’t seem to care about you anymore.

Luke Hickman

My pick may be controversial, but I strongly dislike the decision that Sony has made regarding Spider-Man. I’m not talking about the three Sam Raimi movies nor the Marc Webb reboots. I love the three Raimi movies (even the maligned ‘Spider-Man 3‘) and had a great time with the ‘Amazing‘ versions that Webb put out. However, I dread what Marvel will do to the web-slinger now that it has partnered with Sony on the character’s fate.

Marvel Studios started off well, but lately it’s been stuck in a giant rut of making one-note comedic characters – not to mention the reliance on flat cookie-cutter villains. Seeing the Spider-Man character thrown into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a terrible idea. Why? Because it will just be more of the same.

I’m looking forward to Marvel (Disney) and Sony having a huge falling out, then Sony rebooting the character for a fourth time. The upside to the reboot is that at least one family-friendly Marvel superhero series (thanks to Sony) will have some balls. Balls to make superhero dramas and not formulaic superhero comedies. Balls to actually place a superhero in real danger. Balls to kill off central characters. Balls to create truly terrifying and memorable characters.

With every installment of the MCU that’s exactly the same as all the others, we already know where Spidey is headed and there’s no reason to hold off on demanding that Sony either start afresh again or continue with the ‘Amazing’ series that was headed in a great direction.

M. Enois Duarte

Growing up, I was a huge ‘Ghost Rider‘ fan. I loved the supernatural antihero character and his back story. Decades later, when I learned the comic was finally being adapted to the big screen, I was very excited. Hearing that the role of Johnny Blaze went to Nicolas Cage didn’t really bother me all that much at the time, but I was nevertheless hesitant. Then, when I actually saw the movie… damn. I walked out so disappointed, almost as if the filmmakers took a hot, steaming dump on my childhood. Cage was hilariously bad, as usual, while the story and directing were yawn-inducingly boring. Instead of embracing a dark, atmospheric tone, the filmmakers went with cartoonish visuals that made the whole experience feel cheap. The film’s only saving grace is the look of the Ghost Rider himself, which was cool to look at. I only wish they’d given him a better script. Marvel should seriously revisit the comic, hire Tom Hardy as Blaze and go full-tilt dark horror to wash away the bad taste of Nic Cage.

Also, as much as I actually love the weirdly awkward, campy badness of 1986’s ‘Howard the Duck‘, the movie is not a faithful take on the character and is objectively a terrible adaptation of the cult comic series. Howard’s creator, Steve Gerber, has always described the adventures of the anthropomorphic duck as surreal, existential and having a wry, self-aware sense of humor. Howard himself is supposed to be a hot-tempered, irascible and sardonic individual because he’s angry for feeling trapped on Earth. The humor comes from his mocking the ridiculousness of life and human behavior, a satire of sorts on current events and culture. His appearance in the post-credits of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was a hilarious highlight, but it only reminds me of the fact that Howard deserves a good film adaptation.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

When you hear the name Frank Miller, chances are that your thoughts turn to his iconic runs on ‘Daredevil’, ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, or the comics that would later be adapted into ‘300’ and ‘Sin City’. If you dig back deeply enough into Miller’s back catalog, though, you’ll spot the screenplay for ‘Robocop III’ as a footnote on his résumé, and it’s that Frank Miller who wrote and directed ‘The Spirit‘. Seven years have passed since ‘The Spirit’ belly-flopped in theaters, and I bet Will Eisner is still spinning in his grave because of what Miller did to his classic masked crimefighter . Here are just a few of the lowlights:

  1. The Spirit gets whacked in the family jewels with a nine-foot-long lugwrench.
  2. The sinister Octopus traps The Spirit in a toilet.
  3. One of The Octopus’ cloned flunkies is run over by a van and walks around with tire treads dug into his face.
  4. Another badnik is carved in half with a sword while Scarlett Johansson sultrily takes a chomp out of an apple.
  5. Sam Jackson attempts to clone one of his minions, who instead winds up as a pint-sized head on a foot that bounces around his lab.
  6. The Octopus melts a pretty kitty down to a couple of eyeballs in a sink.
  7. After being accidentally pushed out of a window and snagged on a gargoyle, The Spirit takes off his belt and drops down to his skivvies to swing out of harm’s way.
  8. Femme fatale Sand Saref leaves a photocopy of her butt in a trashcan, and The Spirit shows that shot of her derriere to the doormen at a bunch of ritzy hotels in the hopes that someone would recognize it.

I mean, there’s a scene with Sam Jackson and Scarlett Johansson dolled up as Nazis – for absolutely no reason whatsoever – that drags on for something like ten minutes straight, and The Octopus’ defining character trait is that he has a hate-on for eggs. ‘The Spirit’ is a “Begorah!” and a flame-throwing umbrella away from the 1960s ‘Batman’ TV show, even piling on a gaggle of double-digit IQ flunkies wearing identical black shirts with goofy nicknames on ’em.

This laughless disasterpiece is the worst kind of camp, devoid of the fun and adventure a ‘Spirit’ adaptation ought to offer, not to mention niggling little things like pacing or storytelling. As wholly and completely as I dislike the ‘Fantastic Four’ movies to date, I can’t think of a costumed hero who’s ever had it worse on the big screen than The Spirit.

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

For a time, Wolverine was far and away Marvel’s most-read character, increasingly a solo artist more than a team player. So why is it that when he’s ventured out of the ‘X-Men’ movies and into his two standalone flicks, the results are kinda blah? My theory is that Hugh Jackman, a wonderful actor who exceeded even fanboy expectations for the role, used his clout as producer on the ‘Wolverine’ movies to nudge the stories away from action and more into drama, giving him a chance to flex his thespian muscles and not just the meat. He’s certainly up to the challenge, but are these the movies that devotees – and the character – deserved? I say “No.”

As further proof of how far astray these stories have meandered, look at the wasted opportunity of introducing fellow mutant Gambit in ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘. Beloved from the comic pages, he mostly just stands around in the movie. And of course the insanely popular Deadpool, the trash-talking “Merc with a Mouth,” here has his trap sewn shut. Sometimes Hollywood just doesn’t get it, but at least next year’s ‘Deadpool’ standalone looks promising.

Brian Hoss

I probably have a little kid’s fascination with the Ghost Rider character, but I still think he deserves a better adaptation than either of the Nicolas Cage movies. A young lead actor would help for sure, but I think the existing movies were doomed simply by virtue of being all over the place. (Wes Bentley as Blackheart, really? Peter Fonda and Christopher Lambert?) When a comic book skews between goofy and B-movie serious, you can only guess that the production team is not really committed to the project.

A ten episode series on HBO, AMC or FX could really establish a look and feel for what should be an arcane traveling biker motif. The Southwest U.S., if framed right, could be perfect for a Faustian, flaming-skull antihero. Once that dark magic, dark crypts and bleak desert look is in place, then add some dark humor. Much like ‘Daredevil’ was able to get the origin story, foreshadowing and full set of characters balanced in a cool-looking Hell’s Kitchen, ‘Ghost Rider’ could be reborn from Nic Cage driving up a building and whizzing out fire.

Josh Zyber

I’m with Shannon on Superman, but I’ll even go him one further. I think the Man of Steel has only really had two individual halves of a good movie – the first half of ‘Superman: The Movie’ and the second half of ‘Superman II’.

I’m sure that I’ve explained before that I didn’t grow up reading superhero comics as a kid. Nevertheless, I’ve seen most of the big superhero movies made in the past decade and a half. One that strikes me as being a huge waste of potential was ‘Green Lantern‘. The character has a really fun superpower (being able to create anything he can think of from his magic ring) and seems to exist in a hugely elaborate mythology with an epic scope. Unfortunately, the movie version is a gaudy eye sore that turns the hero into an unlikable jerk who only makes the goofiest and least creative use of his powers. This one definitely needs a redo.

What superheroes do you think most cry out for better reboots? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. NJScorpio

    I still contend that The Hulk deserves a good feature film all his own, in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon. We just need the combo of the right director, and the right bad guy. Certainly it would have to stay on Earth, in the real world, otherwise it will just be a CGI snooze fest with no frames of reference for Hulks strength (such as we know, roughly, how strong he’d have to be to pick up a tank).

    • Clemery

      I enjoy both The Incredible Hulk with Ed Norton and Ang Lee’s Hulk also. The former for the action, the latter for the style.

      I’m gonna have to go with Spiderman, as I’m not much of a fan of Raimi’s trilogy, and the adventures of Garfield were even less impressive. Perhaps I am just not a fan of the character, but after 5 films I just can’t say I have found any of them to be interesting.

  2. Chris B

    About The Spirit, don’t forget it also had Sam Jackson wearing a Nazi SS uniform at one point. I swear it’s one of the most batshit crazy movies a major studio has ever released. I can only guess Miller was given free reign after the success of Sin City, and proceeded to deliver an abomination.

  3. Chris B

    With the exception if The Rocketeer, pretty much every golden age comic character has gotten a crappy movie. From The Spirit to The Phantom to The Green Hornet. The character that really deserves proper treatment though is The Shadow. I enjoy the 1994 Alec Baldwin film for what it is (even though I know most people don’t), but a reboot is long overdue. I heard at one point Sam Raimi was attatched to the project but apparrently thats fallen through….I keep waiting and hoping for some filmaker to come along and do it justice.

    • David Weishahn

      Sam Raimi was interested in doing The Shadow way back in the 80s, but could not get the rights. Instead he went and made his own “superhero” movie that was a cross between the Phantom of the Opera and the Shadow, which was Darkman.

    • EM

      Yeah, I was going to comment earlier that Howard is usually not a superhero; though he has been one temporarily from time to time (Master of Quak Fu, Iron Duck, arguably his stint as an agent of A.R.M.O.R.…), none of this has figured in his cinematic œuvre to date.

    • Josh Zyber

      Oh… Yeah, actually, E. did go twice. We had a back-and-forth about whether Howard the Duck really qualified as a superhero so he sent me another entry. Apparently, I forgot to take out the first one. I’ll leave it in there since people have already read it, but I’ve just consolidated the two into one section for E. Sorry about the confusion.

  4. Spawn. That’s one of the worst movies ever! The frustrating part about it, was that there was an awesome, very adult oriented animated version on HBO that could of been a perfect template for the live action movie. This one is definitely in need of a makeover.
    I would love to see another Ghost Rider redo myself, but no matter how good it is, washing that stank off from the other two movies might require a deal with the devil himself. I’m done with Johnny Blaze, I really enjoyed the early 90’s version with Danny Ketch. That was one bad ass Ghost Rider.

    • Brian Hoss

      Too true on ‘Ghost Rider.’ (Agreed on ‘Spawn’ as well.) It needed more of ‘The Crow’ and a lot less of ‘The Green Lantern.’

  5. EM

    All of them. I’m a longtime fan of comics and superheroes, but I don’t care much for superhero movies. As the saying goes, the book was better.

  6. damonous

    Hands-down, Fantastic Four is the superhero property that’s been most-abused and holds the highest potential for fun (and to be a huge blockbuster series). In Marvel’s (Disney) hands as part of the MCU, I’m sure that they would give it the budget and respect it deserves in order to realize this. If it stays with Fox and their half-hearted commitment (both to the source material and for budget), it will continue to fail pretty shamefully.

    I know people really like Green Lantern (the character), so he’s probably next in the ‘most abused’ category. That movie had a great cast, but dreadful imlementation.

    Spider-Man hasn’t really been Spider-Man in a single movie. We’ve seen portions of the character and his villains realized well, but not all in the same movie. The first Raimi movie had the action & feel, but not the wise-cracking nature of Spidey. The first ASM had the wise-cracking, and some of the action, but was sorely missing the JJ Jonah element, and he felt a little ‘old’, as if Spidey had already gone through all his teen years.

    There was one poor TV take on Aquaman, so he’s next in my list. The Jason Momoa movie upcoming looks promising.

    And, I’ll agree with the start of this opinion piece that Superman, for as many attempts as has been done to depict him, falls into the same ‘Spider-Man category’: neat things in each film, but not all at once in a single movie. The original Richard Donner Superman gave him the most legitimacy, but had a lot of terribly campy moments and (rather humorously for those who remember the promotions at the time) he doesn’t look like he’s actually flying. Man of Steel got off to a pretty good start, then crashed & burned (or should I say, ‘jumped the shark’?) in its unnecessary destruction-porn ending.

  7. Charles Contreras

    The first Darkman movie was great, the 2 sequels not so much, so maybe a reboot would be in order. Also, I thought The Phantom starring Billy Zane was outstanding, I would suggest, instead of a reboot, film a sequel where The Phontom’s son (or daughter?) takes over the crimefighting duties some 20-odd years later. I would also have Billy Zane written in as well, but have his character very much alive and lending a hand.

    And while I’m on a roll, how about one more George Romero zombie movie which actually wraps things up for good, cure or no cure for the ultimate munchies. For some reason I could see this story taking place somewhere in a South American village. Anybody want to pay for my plane ticket for Hollywood, let me know, I’ll write my ass off for these scripts. Yes, I am serious about this.

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