Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Best Comic Book Movies. Ever.

After three weeks of release, you don't need me to tell you how awesome Iron Man is, so let me just add my voice to the overwhelming multitude that hails is as one of the best comic book movies ever. This was just about perfectly done. The casting ended up being as spot-on as everyone expected, and you could make a strong case for Downey Jr. as being the best casting choice for any comic movie ever. The action was good, there were some genuinely funny moments, and basically the whole thing was good enough for Jon Favreau to get my nomination to direct every comic adaptation ever for the best of time. If he's not busy. Paltrow as Pepper Potts brought way more to the table than just being the token damsel in distress, Jeff Bridges was a great villain, Terrance Howard...well, he didn't have a ton to do, but as he said himself to the War Machine armor, "next time."

So the question now is, where does Iron Man rank among the greatest of all comic book adaptations? I'd put it third, behind Batman Begins and Spider-Man II. These seem to be generally acknowledged as the two masterpieces of the genre, at least until Dark Knight is released in a couple of months. Now, I'm hardly alone in saying Spidey II was awesome, but I admit to a bit of bias since Spider-Man was my favourite comic hero as a kid. I can definitely see how someone who grew up reading Iron Man might favor this film ahead of Spidey II.

And now, to expand on this discussion, LISTAMANIA IX: The Greatest Comic-Book Adaptations of All Time! I should note that I haven't seen *every* comic movie ever made. Missing are such notables as Catwoman, Elektra and the second Fantastic Four movie. But rest assured, I can certainly believe that they are as terrible as they are said to be. So they go into the first category...


THE DREGS

34. Batman & Robin --- Possibly the worst movie ever made. I'll discuss it more in my upcoming post, The Worst Movies Ever Made.

33. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen --- I love that Sean Connery passed up being Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Morpheus in Matrix, and after seeing those two franchises take off, he decided he should get onto the next sci-fi/comic book/fantasy project that came his way. And he picked THIS. In a related story, the body of Connery's agent has not been found.

32. Fantastic Four --- Just completely wrong in every possible way. Put it this way: Spidey II was the Spider-Man movie I had been eager to see since I was a kid. I'd imagine Iron Man fans and X-Men fans felt the same way about their movies. I could not imagine what it must've been like to be a diehard Fantastic Four fan waiting all these years for their favourite heroes to come to life on the big screen...only to be greeted by this turd.

31. Superman IV --- Just a pile of crap. Even as a six-year-old I knew this was terrible.

30. Superman III --- Just a pile of crap, but with Richard Pryor. Sadly, he doesn't refer to Christopher Reeve as a dead honky (thought now, that would technically be accurate).

29. Hulk --- Poor Ang Lee. It truly is too bad that this talented director tried to do something really innovative with this project, and it ended up just totally failing. As I've said before, the middle third of this movie is actually pretty decent, but the opening dragged and the ending was just an incoherent mess. The scene of Hulk fighting his dad (who, inexplicably, became Absorbing Man) is one of the worst-shot scenes I've ever seen in any movie. Speaking of Sean Connery killing his agent, Eric Bana should be next in line. After Black Hawk Down and a voice in Finding Nemo, he has been in nothing but total garbage ever since.

28. Blade Trinity --- Parker Posey, please join Connery and Bana on the agent-killing spree. Actually, that's not a bad idea for a movie right there....Connery, Bana and Posey as three actors who rebel against the Hollywood system and start murdering agents. It'd be a better movie than 75% of this list. My pal Dave's favourite scene in this movie is when Kris Kristofferson chews out Blade for killing humans, since they aren't the enemy. Five minutes later, police raid Blade's headquarters, so Kristofferson grabs a gun and just starts laying waste to every cop he sees. Do as I say, not as I do...

27. X-Men 3 --- This might've been a decent flick had they not decided to squeeze about 90 characters into a 90-minute movie. I love that Ellen Page went from this to an Oscar nomination for Juno.

26. Daredevil --- It gets the 'best of the worst' award since it had at least a few good scenes. 1) Daredevil destroying Kingpin's legs; all that was missing was Michael Clarke Duncan shouting out "My legs!" in a Chapelle voice. 2) The scene with Daredevil 'seeing' Elektra in the raindrops was admittedly pretty cool. 3) The dress that Jennifer Garner wore in the ballroom scene. I saw this movie with four friends at an otherwise empty theatre in Florida, and when she emerged on the screen in that dress, all five of us made a collective "Whoa" sound. It was hot enough that we even temporarily stopped harshly mocking the movie.


THE PRETTY MEDIOCRE

25. Blade II --- Notable only for the fact that Blade inexplicably busts out pro wrestling moves in his climactic battle with the uber-vampire. Upon hitting a suplex, my pal Dave (we see a lot of these movies together for some reason) actually stood up in the theatre and pumped his fist, adding an "Ohhhh!" yell. I just sat there dumbfounded.

24. Ghost Rider --- So Sam Elliott is one of the few actors to appear in two different comic franchises, both this and in Hulk. Maybe he's to blame. I think I've figured out the Nick Cage formula. When he's in a movie where his love interest is more than 15 years younger than he is, it'll suck. When his love interest is close to his own age, it'll be good. Much like how Ghost Rider walks in both worlds, Eva Mendes' cleavage walked in both the world outside of her blouse and the world inside her blouse. This was literally the only highlight of the movie.

23. Superman Returns --- A franchise that didn't need rebooting got rebooted. Really, with Smallville on the air for so many years, aren't people sort of Superman-ed out? It was even worse that Singer basically just updated the stale formula of the old Reeve movies (i.e. Superman is a Jesus figure, Luthor is a goof rather than an actual menace, Clark Kent is a massive nerd).

22. X-Men --- Most people would rate this higher, but I dunno, it didn't do much for me. Like in X3, way, way too much time is spent introducing characters. X2 found the proper balance, as we'll see later.


THE PRETTY GOOD

21. Men In Black --- Yeah, it was originally based on a comic book. Shit, I just realized that so were the Ninja Turtles movies, but I forgot to include them in the list. Shit, I just realized I wasted five seconds of life worrying about this. Anyway, Tommy Lee is crusty, Will Smith is streetwise, you know the drill. Men In Black II, which I also just realized I forgot, is most definitely in the Dreg category.

20. Road to Perdition --- This probably should be higher on the list since it's an actual quality film, but I remember being vaguely disappointed when I watched it. Perhaps my expectations were too high going in, given that it had Hanks, Paul Newman and Sam Mendes was directing. I love how the press about this movie was 'Tom Hanks is playing a villain!' when he's really just playing a hitman who ends up having a heart of gold. Hanks basically played Clint Eastwood, and had this movie come out 20 years earlier, Eastwood would likely have taken it.

19. 300 --- Some terrific action, though I sort of thought there would be more to it storywise. Snyder's direction didn't exactly give me great hope for the Watchmen movie, which I'm predicting ends up in the previous category at best.

18. Superman II --- Another one that's lower than it would be on most comic movie lists. This movie is dated as hell. It was on A&E a few months back, and boy, for a movie I remember as being great when I was a kid, it just does not hold up whatsoever. Even given the fact that it was made in the early 80's and given that comic book movies are inherently cheesy, this just did not hold up very well. Given a few more years, it might be in the Pretty Mediocre category.

17. Blade --- The movie that saved Wesley Snipes' career and led to his, uh, troubles with the law. Remember when Stephen Dorff was supposed to be the next big thing in Hollywood? What the hell happened there? His role in Blade ended up being his career peak. Yikes.

16. Hellboy --- A decent, if forgettable little movie that will probably gain a cult following given the probable success of the sequel coming out this summer. And by forgettable, I mean literally so. I remember almost nothing from the movie aside from the fact that I sort of liked it, and that it was a mark in the nay column in the ongoing debate of 'Is Selma Blair hot or not?'

15. Ghost World --- Remember this one? Thora Birch, pre-hot Scarlett Johansson, and sadly-snubbed-for-an-Oscar-nomination Steve Buscemi? Anyone? Anyone? Boy, and I thought my memories of Hellboy were spotty.

14. Punisher --- I mentioned my buddy Dave earlier. This is without question one of his five favourite movies of all time. After its release, he basically lived and breathed Punisher for the next six months (and, some might argue, to this very day). This included taking on Punisher's motto as his own, and adopting Tom Jane as a personal idol. He even adopted a workout routine based on the training regiment that Jane undertook in preparation for the film. What I'm saying is, if Tom Jane ends up kidnapped by a Misery-esque stalker, we have a prime suspect.

13. Spider-Man --- That's right, the Spidey fan extraordinaire wasn't crazy about the first Spider-Man movie. It fell into the common trap of too much time being spent setting up the origin, which was unnecessary since pretty much everyone knows Spider-Man's origin. Also, the Green Goblin --- points for casting Dafoe, minus more points for execution. The Green Goblin was pretty much the obvious choice as the villain, but they really dropped the ball on the character design.

12. The Mask --- It was technically an adaptation, though apparently the original comic was much darker and was basically totally different than what the film ended up being. But still, the movie was a lot of fun. I'm sure all nine of the Mask comic fans were appalled. Cameron Diaz has never been hotter than she was in this movie.

11. Spider-Man III --- Screw you all, I liked it. Sure, Venom probably should've been saved for the next movie. And sure, making Sandman Uncle Ben's killer was lame. And sure, the ending is as elongated as the ending of Lord of the Rings. And sure, James Franco clearly started auditioning for Pineapple Express early with his performance as 'happy Harry Osborn.' But still, overall, this film wasn't nearly as bad as people made it out to be. I'd like to see Sam Raimi come back for a Spidey IV that he can make his way, now that he doesn't have to worry about the Marvel people pushing to have Venom included in the plot.


THE VERY GOOD

10. Superman --- The Christopher Reeve original. I mentioned earlier how Downey as Tony Stark might be the best-ever casting in a comic movie. If so, then Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman has to be number two. Superman has to be just about the hardest possible role to cast in all of filmdom, and yet Reeve was totally perfect for the role. It also led to the great SNL skit where Reeve re-enacted his audition for Superman, and was losing out to a guy who could actually fly, catch bullets, etc. but who couldn't take the part because of a prior commitment to a juice commercial. The opening half-hour of this movie is still chill-inducing.

9. Batman Returns --- A lot of people thought this movie was too dark, but c'mon, it's not like that's unexpected given that it's Tim Burton. I actually really liked the new freakshow take on the Penguin, and DeVito pretty much knocked the role out of the park. Catwoman is widely acknowledged as one of the best-ever villains in any comic movie, and even Christopher Walken as Max Schreck is really the movie's unsung hero. Normally I'd complain about creating a new villain for a hero like Batman who has dozens of memorable villains ready to be used, but you can't go wrong with Walken. Hell, this movie gets made 15 years earlier, you could easily cast Walken as Bruce Wayne. Can someone build a time machine? I could seriously pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a Walken-as-Batman movie. I think I might rather see that than the legendary (but apparently untrue) Batman production that Orson Welles apparently considered making in the 40's.

8. V For Vendetta --- As Sideshow Bob's kid would say, 'Vendetta! Vendetta!' I'm docking some points because it changed a lot from the original text, but still, it was a pretty cool movie. One change I'm glad was made was that the film cut down drastically on the number of V-rhymes that V made to his enemies. That got pretty vucking old pretty quick in the comic.

7. Batman --- The first 'modern' comic book movie. It was also my first experience of a summer marketing blitz. Literally everywhere I looked in the summer of 1989, there was a Bat logo. That whole year I got into watching the old Batman TV show, read some of those Batman kids' novellas and even bought a couple of comic books. In short, that ad campaign had no effect on me whatsoever. People of my generation can probably quote about 40 percent of this movie without even realizing it. It's too bad that in many ways the Christopher Nolan Bat-films have already surpassed the original franchise as the 'definitive' Batman movies, since this and Batman Returns were actually very good.

6. X-Men 2 --- X3 was too hot, X1 was too cold, X2 was just right. The hardest thing in an ensemble cast movie is giving everyone enough time, but X2 found the formula that the other X-movies didn't. Special kudos to Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler, who just about stole the show.

5. From Hell --- Curveball! This is one that a lot of folks might not even remember or give too much credit to, but I loved From Hell. I actually own a copy of it. Sure, it's not perfect...actually, it pretty much is perfect except for Heather Graham's horrible performance. Damn you, Rollergirl! It baffles me that the Hughes brothers haven't made a film since this one came out in 2001. Part of the reason I rank From Hell so highly is that the Jack the Ripper story fascinates me. I remember back in Grade 12 English, when Jack the Ripper was one of the available topics for our class presentation, but it was snatched by Jonathan Urlin. Damn you Urlin! Damn you to hell! No, I haven't gotten over it 10 years later! Arrgh! I would've kicked that project's ass! I had to settle for studying Charles Dickens. Dickens! My grandmother could do a Dickens project! *punches wall*


THE MINT COLLECTION

4. Sin City --- People kind of forget about Sin City since the comic itself wasn't a huge mainstream hit, but this is arguably the most accurate rendition of a comic's original spirit ever put to film. Given that Frank Miller co-directed, that's probably not a big surprise, but hey.

3. Iron Man --- As discussed.

2. Spider-Man II --- As discussed.

1. Batman Begins --- My buddy Trev, who generally hates comic movies, loves Batman Begins because "it wasn't really a comic book movie. It was a regular movie about a guy who happened to be a superhero." Exactly. It's the comic book movie that appeals to everyone, from the hardcores to the casual fans. It even appealed to my friend Christine, who went into the movie thinking that Batman had actual powers after being bitten by a radioactive bat (I'm not making this up).

8 comments:

RT Murphy said...

Way to leave out American Splendor, you clod. What did Paul Giamatti ever do to you?

Kyle Wasko said...

...and A History of Violence, which, admittedly, I haven't seen, but is supposed to be excellent.

Kyle Wasko said...

Petty criticism aside (I'm of course referring to Ryan), this is an awesome post, Shuk.

My Top 10:

10. Spider-Man III (as you know, it's the only film in the series I actually like)
9. Batman
8. 300
7. X-Men 2
6. The Road to Perdition
5. Superman II
(I think you dramatically underrate 2 and vastly overrate 1--a common mistake that drives me crazy. Stamp's Zod is a hundred times more interesting/evil than Hackman's campy Luthor. Fun fact: S2 has the second highest score all-time (99) on Metacritic--likely because it's only based on five reviews).
4. V for Vendetta
3. Iron Man
2. Batman Begins
1. Sin City
(I caught the middle hour of this, randomly, on Showcase Saturday night--just a tremendous movie in every way).

Mark P said...

American Splendor, never seen it
History of Violence, never seen it

I know, I know, both probably should've been on my 'inexplicably never seen it' list from a few weeks ago.

Stamp chews so much scenery in Superman II that he might as well have put it in the oven and called it a Quizno's sub. Zod gets so much credit because he has arguably the best catchphrase in supervillain history.

Kyle Wasko said...

Re: scenery-chewing--> I suppose. But I'm not sure if the part works any other way.

All I'll say is:
1. the scene with Zod in the Oval Office is...immaculate. (The fake President cowering, etc.)
2. the climactic battle in the streets of Metropolis remains the best superhero fight scene ever. From the trailers for The Incredible Hulk, it looks as though they're trying to recreate it. To which I say: good luck.

Jesse said...

Batman Begins is one of my top "everyone's stupid but me" movies. I thought the story was overwrought, and that Christian Bale and Mrs. Cruise were TERRIBLE. I can still here him rasping like a terrible, terrible phone sex operator in his "Batman Voice". He's also completely emotionless in every movie, but whatever.

To nitpick, the V is too low, and I liked Daredevil, damnit.

Mark P said...

Someone once told me I have a great phone sex operator voice. I don't know what to do with this information. Where would I send a resume? If I got the job, what would I put onto my updated resume?

Katie Holmes delivered a Perfectly Acceptable Acting Performance in this film. She didn't bring anything to the table, per se, but she didn't take anything off of it. I can't help but think that the animus directed towards her performance was due to the Cruise-backlash of the time.

Peter Lynn said...

Jay Pinkerton and I once had a long conversation trying to figure out if there were any actors who had appeared in live-action films set in the same comic book universe, such that it was conceivable that a crossover could be planned, and the casting director would say, "Whoa, we've got a problem here." After a lot of thought, I finally came up with Sam Elliott. If there's ever a Hulk/Ghost Rider crossover, they're screwed.