When I first sent out this week’s Roundtable topic to the staff, it was intended as a tie-in with the theatrical release of ‘The Green Hornet‘, which I had in my head as a comic book movie. As some of you probably already realize, it turns out that ‘Green Hornet’ is actually based on a radio serial. D’oh! There’s no excuse for me to not know that. Ah well, the character has also had a comic book over the years, and the movie certainly looks comic book-ish. And anyway, I can just say that we’re doing a tie-in with ‘The Cape‘ (which is a TV show, not a movie, and isn’t based on a real comic). Whatever, screw it. It’s done now. So, here’s our look at the Best and Worst comic book movies.
- Best: ‘Watchmen‘ – I loved ‘Sin City‘ and I marveled at ‘300‘, but no comic book movie had me more invested than ‘Watchmen’. It’s an absolutely brilliant film from start to end, and one of the few comic book movies where I actually approve of the changes made to the story. ‘Watchmen’ is equal parts drama and action, and does everything I’ve ever wanted a comic book movie to do. It takes the format seriously, and lovingly recreates the book with great respect. It also features what I consider to be one of the best openings in a movie – a brief look at history in the world of the Watchmen set to Bob Dylan.
- Worst: ‘Catwoman‘ – As silly as the portrayal of the character was in ‘Batman Returns‘, the Halle Berry version of ‘Catwoman’ is worse. She’s more like “Pumawoman” than Catwoman. She has super powers for some stupid reason, including telescopic vision….just like a cat. What? The worst of it all is that Catwoman is actually a really interesting character with a lot of potential. Selina Kyle is a cat burglar – hence the name – who manages to have tremendous success as an international criminal without any super powers. She’s fascinating! She could even be in a ‘Batman’ movie as a romantic interest, since for some reason he has to have one in every film. Of course, while the public still remembers ‘Catwoman’, we’re not likely to see a new film.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
- Best: ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘ – Poke around any movie-centric message board or blog, and chances are you’ll immediately plow into a rant about how theaters are being flooded with remakes and double-digit IQ sequels – that no one’s taking any chances or doing anything original. If you’re part of that group, then…well, you really shouldn’t have passed up ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ back when it was making the rounds in theaters. At least now you have a chance to make things right on Blu-ray. Edgar Wright’s adaptation of the universally-loved graphic novels is a breathlessly infectious adrenaline rush. Picture the manga rack at Barnes and Noble guzzling down a bag of Pixy Stix and then plunking a couple of quarters into a Double Dragon arcade game, and you’re somewhere in the ballpark. ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ easily ranks among the most visually inventive and tightly constructed films of the past few years. It’s howlingly funny, and is so densely packed with gags that you’ll still be picking out stuff you missed your eighth or ninth time through. Its hyperkinetic battle sequences are more imaginative and more skillfully choreographed than pretty much every traditional action flick that’s come down the pike in ages. The sprawling ensemble is straight across the board brilliant, and…C’mon, I should’ve had you at “Edgar Wright.”
- Worst: ‘The Spirit‘ – Fresh off the successes of ‘300’ and ‘Sin City’, Frank Miller was handed the keys to direct his very own feature-length comic adaptation. Miller opted to stay away from the grim and gritty stuff this time around, instead hammering out something so indescribably, unrepentantly campy that it makes the 1966 ‘Batman: The Movie‘ look like a Merchant-Ivory production. In one of the movie’s first big slugfests, the Spirit gets whacked between the legs with an oversized lugwrench and then gets stuck in a toilet. One of the bad guy’s flunkies gets run over by a van and walks around with tire treads dug into his face. You get to marvel at Samuel L. Jackson bungling a clone and instead creating a tiny head on a foot that bounces around his lab. The Spirit trots around town with a Xeroxed picture of a butt to see if anyone’s seen the woman it belongs to. There’s one, like, ten minute scene where Scarlett Johansson and Sam Jackson are dolled up as Nazis for no reason whatsoever, and Jackson’s chief character trait as the movie’s master villain is that he really, really doesn’t like eggs. Maybe you’re reading all that and thinking, “That sounds AWESOME!” You’re wrong! It’s not awesome. ‘The Spirit’ is a parade of one-joke characters, awkward slapstick, an aggressively bland story, and no sense of pacing whatsoever. The ‘Batman’ movie-slash-TV show from the ’60s was campy, sure, but it was also ridiculously fun. ‘The Spirit’…? Not so much.
- Best: ‘V for Vendetta‘ – I’m not a big comic book fan. I’ve never sat down to read comic books. They just don’t particularly interest me. I know fanboys have fits when a movie doesn’t match what was in the original book, but one of my favorite comic book adaptations is ‘V for Vendetta’. Maybe it’s because I lived in England for two years, so November 5th has more meaning to me. Or maybe it’s just because I really like Natalie Portman. Whatever the reason, ‘V for Vendetta’ is one of the few comic book adaptations that I’ll watch over and over and never get sick of. I understand that some people were put off by the movie not adhering strictly to the source material, and others were expecting ‘Matrix 2.0’ when they first saw it in theaters. Still, I love its underlying message that governments should be afraid of their people. I love Hugo Weaving’s performance, even though we never see his face. And like I said, Natalie Portman is always a class act in my book. It also helps that this is one of my wife’s favorite movies.
- Worst: ‘Spider-Man 3‘ – After the great first two entries into the ‘Spider-Man’ film series, I had huge hopes for Spidey 3. Huge. With no massive recastings, and an interesting villain set, it seemed like the bar was going to be raised, particularly with the use of Gwen Stacey and Eddie Brock. After missing it in theaters, the Blu-ray release date came the day after I blew a DLP lamp. The wait was extended an excruciating extra week. I really wish the disc blew up instead… every ‘Spider-Man 3’ disc, so that I could continue to want to see future Spidey films. What a pile of horseshit this film is. The handling of Peter Parker’s darker side is ridiculous. He seems more like a dancer for some awful My Chemical Romance video (he has that emo thing down pat) than a twisted version of himself. Then you have villains that damn near drop out of the sky who aren’t given proper screen time or development, a ret-con of the existing storyline from the previous films concerning the death of Uncle Ben that makes no sense whatsoever, and Spider-Man yet again revealing his identity to his arch enemy. Twice, by telling Sandman, and having the symbiote retain Parker’s memories. Oh no, another final confrontation concerning great heights and the fragile Mary Jane Watson, who gets captured more than Princess Peach. This is a film so awful it sullies the other movies in the series. It definitely deserves the tag of worst comic movie ever made. Halle Berry fans rejoice, I’m not neutering your kitty.
- Best: ‘Hulk‘ – There’s a moment in ‘The Green Hornet’ when the word gets out that our villain (Christoph Waltz) wants to find and kill our heroes. The screen subdivides as it follows various underworld characters, and then subdivides again, turning into a moving mosaic of images. Besides being one of the few showy “Hey! Look! I really directed this movie!” moments from director Michel Gondry, after I thought it was cool for a minute, I realized that another comic book movie had done the same thing for a prolonged amount of time much better. The movie? Ang Lee’s unfairly maligned ‘Hulk’. Is it a classifiably great comic book movie? Maybe not. The dialogue is leaden and, last I checked, comic books were supposed to be, you know, fun. But there’s a boldness to both its direction and execution that still leaves me breathless. The way that the movie frame gets turned into comic book panels is beyond incredible, and the way the story crescendos, not in a pile-up of two-dimensional baddies but with the more emotionally resonant conflict between father and son, is amazing and abstract. It’s the kind of ballsy, outside-the-box thinking that I thought we were going to get with ‘The Green Hornet’. (We didn’t.) My runner-up was going to be ‘Punisher: War Zone‘, so clearly my thinking was a little left-leaning too…
- Worst: ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ – Maybe just because it’s been on television a lot lately, and maybe just because I’m so jazzed about Darren Aronofsky taking on the property, but comic book movies don’t get a whole lot worse than ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’. This is a thunderously dull action extravaganza that takes everyone’s favorite mutant and turns him into a barely recognizable goon. The problems with this movie are myriad. Take, for example, it’s “period” setting (the climax takes place during the Three Mile Island incident, which happened on March 28th, 1979) without any formal indications of time or place. (No, “Soundstage in Australia” doesn’t count as “place.”) Then there’s that ham-fisted effort to squeeze the film into the ongoing continuity of the ‘X-Men’ franchise, via creepily youthful Patrick Stewart. It doesn’t even entertain on a popcorn level like, say, ‘Punisher: War Zone.’ For a man with unlimited healing abilities, this was dead on arrival.
- Best: ‘Superman: The Movie‘ – I was tempted to go with ‘Batman Begins‘ and ‘The Dark Knight‘, because I’m sure no one would ever consider those. After much thought, I have to go with ‘Superman’. Richard Donner’s film came out just one month after I was born, but 33 years later, it remains the quintessential superhero origin tale. It’s so effective and so resonant that director Bryan Singer approached the failed 2006 series relaunch by casting an actor with as close a resemblance as possible to the iconic Christopher Reeve, and plotted the film as a continuation of the story after Richard Donner’s first two films. Still, the best of the bunch is still the original. Reeve was, is, and always will be Superman. This epic origin tale brought the legendary DC character to life like never before. Sure, the film isn’t perfect, but it comes damn close. I’m sure there will be future ‘Superman’ movies, but this is still the best. As far as comic book movies themselves go, this remains my favorite.
- Worst: ‘The Green Hornet’ – I’ve seen the trailer. That’s enough.
- Best: ‘Ghost World’ – Not all comic books are about superheroes, you know. Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ comic follows two young girls (Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson), freshly graduated from high school, who’ve started to drift apart as they search for direction for their futures. One is ready to grow up and enter adulthood, while the other can’t let go of her youthful rebellion. The movie is a smartly-observed character drama that avoids any formulaic journeys of discovery or pat moral lessons. Any revelations the characters have are small ones. If they change at all by the end, that’s only because they were heading that way all along. ‘Ghost World’ is a cynical yet insightful look at the trials of adolescence.
- Worst: ‘Superman Returns‘ – It had been just shy of two decades since the ‘Superman’ franchise last saw any action on the big screen. I’m still waiting for some. As I’m sure most everyone remembers, the previous two (really, two-and-a-half) movies were godawful crap in a can. The success of ‘Batman Begins’ proved the power of a good reboot, and that’s exactly what Superman needed. Instead, Bryan Singer gave us this belated sequel, really an unabashed carbon copy of the first film with all of the fun sucked out. ‘Superman Returns’ is a laborious slog that reiterates the character’s all-too-familiar origin story, and rehashes villain Lex Luthor’s scheme to cause a natural disaster and profit by buying up valuable real estate. Meanwhile, Supes himself spends the whole picture creepily stalking Lois Lane and moping about how the world doesn’t need him anymore. This is a movie that exists only to remind people of a better movie that they’ve already seen, and what’s the point of that? Superman may have returned, but I sure don’t care.
Those are our picks. Now tell us which comic book movies you love or hate in the Comments.