Monday, September 15, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Superheroes And The Silver Screen - Part One

Back at the start of the summer, a fan (who must remain nameless due to his anonymous e-mail) asked me why nobody at 411 Comics (ie Me) had done a special regarding the Summer of the Superhero where we picked the Top Fifty greatest superheroes movies of all time. After all, he pointed out, “Wizard Magazine did it!” I responded by saying two things.

First, that as far as I (and I think the magazine as a whole) felt, we wanted to avoid commenting upon all the movies until was had actually seen them. After all, a lot of the early commentary on The Hulk was little more advanced then “The computer animation sucks! This movie is going to suck.” I can’t prove it, but I suspect this fanboyish nit-picking did more to hurt the movie than any negative reviews by Ebert and Roper and the rest of our nationally published corps of film critics.

Secondly, speaking for myself and the magazine again, I said that we were not in the habit of aping other publications’ article ideas, simply because “everyone else is doing it.” You see, I like to pride myself on not following the pack. And bad as my jokes may be and as overly intellectual as my commentary becomes at times, I like to think that I offer a unique vision that nobody else in the Internet comic book criticism market can match.

But since this topic came up several times over the summer at work (where everyone wanted my opinions as to the quality of several movies) and just this last week at a friendly gathering where we gave “The Punisher” the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Treatment, I thought that enough time had passed that I could give my appraisal as to what the Top Nine comic book themed movies of all time were.

Why Top Nine? Well, it’s one lower, you see. Also, Alan Moore copyrighted the phrase Optay Entay and we don’t want to be sued or hexed.

9. Daredevil

I slammed this movie quite a bit when it first came out. And despite comments from the writer/director that he decided to turn Daredevil into a killer to make him “not Batman”, I’ve actually grown to like this movie despite its faults. Though as a Daredevil fan, I want to nitpick them to death.

Still, having reread all the classic Frank Miller stories that inspired the comics, I realize that it isn’t too far gone for Daredevil to remain impassive when a criminal is endangered. He did, after all, let Bullseye fall to his apparent death but later decided not to kill when given a full-blown opportunity to do so. Of course that was over a personal matter (the death of Elektra) and not just for the sake of “justice”, but why quibble?

The fact is that this movie does perfectly capture the feel of Miller’s Hell’s Kitchen, Ben Affleck and Colin Farrell perfectly portray their respective costumed (or uncostumed) identities and Jennifer Garner and Michael Clarke Duncan do the best with the limited material they are given.

8. The Specials

Delayed due to the release of the similarly-subject Mystery Men, this independent movie was denied a full screen release by its distributor because “nobody wants superhero movies” and after a short run in New York and Los Angeles, was released straight to video. Had they managed a release before Mystery Men (when it was made) or after Spider-Man (which killed any negative attitude towards superhero movies financially) this movie probably would be better known. Then again, it probably wouldn’t have the cult status or the same quirky underdog charm that it has now.

The Specials is the story of a day in the life of a superhero team called “The Specials”; the world’s sixth or seventh greatest superhero team, or so we are told in the opening credits. Filmed in a documentary style and intercut with interviews with the team members, this movie is the comedy masterpiece Mystery Men SHOULD have been.

An even mix of personality humor (Mr. Smart, the team brainiac, forgets to put pants on because he was too busy thinking of other things) and “fanboy humor” (anti-matter energy manipulator Amok discusses the problems with losing control of your powers during sex), this movie is a joy for fanboys and normals alike. You can have some fun watching for cameos, like Sabrina herself…Melissa Joan Hart… making a quick appearance as “Sunlight Grrrrrl” or tracing each character on The Specials back to the comic characters that inspired them. Minute Man for example, is a clear parody of The Atom and Aquaman, with his shrinking powers, inferiority complex over useless powers and orange shirt. Yes, there is quite a bit of discussion about “the orange shirt”. Incidentally, that’s My-newt, as in small. Not Minute Man as in an American patriot. And yes, he gets THAT a lot too. All in all, this is probably the funniest superhero movie that was actually meant to be funny and it’s hard not to like a movie where you get to see Jamie Kennedy dressed as Nightcrawler.

7. Blade

The film that broke the Marvel movie curse, this movie was actually an improvement upon every comic story that had ever been done with the character- particularly the atrocious attempts Marvel made at giving Blade a solo series after Blade and Blade 2 were released.

Give you a hint Marvel. Get David Goyer, who wrote both movies, to write it next time. The man did wonders on JSA working with Geoff Johns, so he’s proven able to meet a monthly deadline and tell some good stories on a regular basis.

6. The Mask

The movie that made Cameron Diaz and Jim Carrey stars, it is a far cry from the anti-hero comic that inspired it. It is also, in my opinion, much better than the anti-hero comic that inspired it. But despite not being totally true to its source material, it is still one of my favorite movies of all time, comic-based or no.

5. Ghostbusters

Okay, I KNOW Ghostbusters was never a comic book. But I think that it has the spirit of a superhero story; three scientists create outlandish equipment, put on costumes and fight the forces of darkness despite being generally disrespected by the community. Sounds like a superhero team to me.

One of the greatest comedies of all time, it also manages the neat feat of being a good action film... with a bunch of geeks as the heroes. Smart dialogue, smart plots- all the things that us geeks look for in a movie.

4. The Crow

This movie, about a man who comes back from the dead to avenge the death of the woman he loves, is probably more famous for the irony in that its’ star died and was “brought back to life” through some early digital special effects than for the wonderful story and amazing performances it has. This movie has gotten a bit of a knock by the traditional hero movie crowd as it was wholeheartedly embraced by the gothic comic fans (ie All us who read Sandman and Vertigo and Indie comics). Truly a shame, as the first movie was a true classic that was debased by all of its sequels and the TV series spinoff. Just like Highlander…

3. Batman (1966)

The only Batman movie on this list, I think this is the only one that ever truly managed to capture the essence of the comic was based on. Tim Burton’s movies violated the set rule that Batman doesn’t ever kill and Joel Schumacher’s movies were… well, just plain BAD!

It may seem a bit hokey to us today in these days of the dark, gothic “I walk the night alone” Batman stories, but considering the comics of the time this movie was casually typical. And I can’t make a list like this in good conscience, without giving credit to the film that introduced the line “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!” into our national lexicon of classic film lines. So keep your S&M nipple costumes and Ah-nold Freeze; give me Burgess Meredith and Caesar Romero any day!

And here’s a freebie. Get the DVD release if only for the commentary by Adam West and Burt Ward, where the two mock themselves, the cheesiness of it all and DVD commentaries themselves as they “remember” things as they watch the movie.

2. Spider-Man

A close second, and only by virtue of some horrid costuming and a script that leaves some characters with too little to do, Spider-Man is probably my favorite superhero movie of all time, though I will begrudgingly admit to it not being the best. Tobey Maguire brings Peter Parker to life in both his incarnations, Willem Dafoe makes a devilishly good Goblin, Kirsten Dunst makes a spitfire of Mary Jane when she the script lets her show some fight and my hat goes off to the gentleman who played J. Jonah Jameson to the hilt and up the sleeve.

My one comment for the next movie; lots of wisecracking. The first movie lacked it, and rightly so. Spider-Fans will recall that Peter didn’t really start making jokes in the early Stan Lee books until after he’d been in the costume a while. This time, I think Spidey should throw a lot more of his rapier wit into the ring, especially against the very easily insulted Doc Ock. Besides, I want to hear more scenes like the one in the Spider-Man video game… which I recommend to everyone, especially the naysayers who think Tobey Maguire can’t do comedy…

Goblin: Why do you fight me? We are like brothers!

Spider-Man: Brothers, huh? Well, I’m telling Mom!

1. Superman and Superman II.

Originally written as one movie and filmed at the same time, this film is the one that set and continues to hold the standard. We’ll probably never see the likes of it again, as it was made by an independent film company and funded by some very rich fans who were more concerned about making a movie that was the equal of the comic than making the next summer blockbuster or “selling a bunch of toys and t-shirts”, to quote Jon Peters.

Still, there is no denying that 25 years later this movie can still do what it set out to accomplish; to make us believe that a man can fly.

Tune in next week. Same Matt Time. Same Matt Website.

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