Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Series of Genres: Comic Book Movies

We are about one month away from the opening of Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron and the beginning of the summer blockbuster movie season. What a perfect way to get excited about the latest comic book movie, by dedicating this post, which is a part of my genre series, to comic book movies. My original plan was to save this genre to the end, so I could save the best for last. The last post in this series, animated film for those of you keeping track, through that plan out the window. There were a few other factors to focusing on this genre now, rather than later. One of those factors was a buddy of mine’s podcast title, Informal Talks. This podcast should sound somewhat familiar because this series was inspired by a post on their site. Anyways, in this past week’s episode Devon and friends began by talking about the latest movie news, which consisted primarily of comic book movies. Comments during the podcast were mostly about the new X-men, Batman, and Superman films and how they are “shit”. These comments got me heated, and jump started this post. 

I personally disagree with their comments, sort of. My disagreements are with the premise that those films are “shit” in general. I typically reserve that declaration for the worst of the worst, since that jargon is referring to defecation. I may be a little more empathic to the notion that the films didn’t do the characters justice. This area of expertise is where I have to tip my hat to Devon and the guests of Informal Talks, because they know WAY more about comic books than I do. Rightfully so, they have more creditably to how well the filmmaker adapted the various comic characters. With that being said I think a problem has arisen. In the sweaty nerd culture this problem is called the “Um, Actually” syndrome. This is the constant correction of people who spout the wrong information about the subject matters popular in the geek / nerd culture. These corrections are almost always prefaced by the phrase “um, actually.”  

For the well read this problem manifest in the form of, “The book was better” which is usually followed by a laundry list of inaccuracies. Simply, this is a bad argument when talking about movies, because movies are a different medium from books / comics. There may be a strong case to be had when talking about movies adapted from other materials, especially if major plot points or character were changed significantly. There is a debate waiting to be had on what constitutes as a significant change. Mr. Pedantic will get caught up on every little change and call them significant, whereas Mr. Apathetic is willing to let some details slide, as long as the core attributes are intact. I really don’t want this post to focus primarily on this subject, but I do want to showcase my line of thinking, when determining the best comic book movies. I attempt to measure all the attributes of a film, include the truthfulness to its source material, to get a better picture of their strengths and weakness, therefore receiving a more accurate analysis of the films. 

Hopefully this will give you a better idea on how I look at movies adapted from other materials. So, when I reveal my list, you know the metric of my measuring stick. Before I share with you my favorite comic book movies let’s explore this genre's history. A history that is the epitome of a roller coaster ride. A history that showcases a fight between DC Comics and Marvel Comic, as they race to the top of the box office. A history that start back in the 1940’s. 

In the 1940’s there were a number of Serial Films being produced featuring DC Comics two main superheroes, Superman and Batman. Batman made his first appearance in the 1943 in a Serial Films title Batman, staring Lewis Wilson as Bruce Wanye / Batman. Superman followed in 1948 in its own Serial titled, Superman, staring Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent / Superman. Other superheroes serials from the 1940’s included Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), The Phantom (1943) and Captain America (1944). 

The 1950’s was the decade for Superman with the TV series, Adventures of Superman, staring George Reeves, which spawn a movie titled Superman and the Mole Men. The following decade, the 1960’s, Batman took the spotlight with the TV Series, Batman, staring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. The cast of this television show would reprise their roles in 1966 with a full length feature titled, Batman: The Movie. DC Comics rode Superman and Batman to the bank throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Marvel tried to interject with their TV-made movies: Spider-Man (1977), Dr. Strange (1978), and Captain America and its sequel (1979). Marvel’s efforts were crushed in 1978 when Richard Donner released Superman (Superman: The Movie), starring Christopher Reeve. I would say this film kick started the comic book movie craze, which lead right into the 80’s 

Four, Superman related films came out during the 1980’s: Superman II (1980), Superman III (1983), Supergirl (1984), and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987). Unfortunately the Superman films progressively worsen both in popularity and financially. Superman made a little over 300 million, while Superman IV made about 15.5 million. Marvel had success with their television show / TV made movies, during this time. Marvel only had one feature length film produced during the 80’s, that wasn’t TV made or direct to video, and that film was Howard the Duck. As the 80’s were coming to a close Tim Burton released a dark toned Batman film starring, Michael Keaton. The film's tone was heavily influenced by Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It was this version of Batman that we as fans wanted, so much so, a film franchise was built upon it. 

The 90’s was a dark time for comic book movies, even for Batman, who had three films released in this decade: Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman & Robin (1997). Batman & Robin is arguably the worst Batman movie ever made. George Clooney has been known for giving fans back their money for that film. DC Comics also produced Steel starring Shaquille O'Neal as John Henry Irons / Steel. Steel made less than 2 million at the box office. Marvel for the most part made their first major dent into the film world with Blade in 1998 which made about 131 million at the box office. It would take another two or so years before they revitalized the comic book movie genre. 

During The summer of the new millennium Bryan Singer gave us X-Men. X-Men made just shy of 300 million at the box office, with those numbers Marvel produced three more sequels / prequels: X2: X-Men United (2003), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). Marvel continued to steamroll through the competition, producing at least one film every year. Primarily under the 20th Century Fox banner Marvel attempt to bring to alive many of their properties: Daredevil, Hulk, The Punisher, Elektra, Fantastic Four, and Ghost Rider. Some of these films were fairly successful, while the majority of them were not. Marvel had their most success over at Sony, with their Spider-Man franchise, starring Tobey Maguire. 

While Marvel was focusing on cranking out many films a year, DC focused on putting out “quality” films. In 2005, Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman franchise. Then three years later, in 2008, Nolan gave us a sequel titled, The Dark Knight, which is arguably the best Batman film, if not the best comic book movie. During that same year Marvel launched their first two movies in what will later become the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) these two films were Iron Man, and The Incredible Hulk, which was more of a reboot of Ang Lee’s Hulk from 2003. Also right around that same time we got our first taste of Zack Snyder’s style with the films 300 (2007), and Watchmen (2009). Zack Snyder could one of the main driving forces behind The DC Cinematic Universe as we enter the 2010’s. 

Well, we have made it to present time and comic book movie are a staple of the summer movie season. Right now, Marvel rules the box office with their films in the MCU, which is being led by The Avengers (2012), with 1.5 billion dollars at the box office. The 2010’s have also brought with it a great deal of reboots. Sony rebooted Spider-Man starring Andrew Garfield called The Amazing Spider-Man. 20th Century Fox “rebooted” the X-Men franchise, using a younger cast, titled X-Men: First Class. Zack Snyder and Warner Bros. rebooted Superman, as the Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill. The reboots don’t end there, Fox plans on releasing a rebooted Fantastic Four film this summer. Also Marvel has a legal hand shake to use Spider-Man in the MCU which will lead to a reboot of the reboot. As far as the future goes, Marvel has a rough outline of movies to be released from now until 2019. DC has a similar plan, but focusing on establishing a cinematic universe themselves. 

There has been a fair amount of comic book movies throughout history, but which ones hold up as the best of the best. I’m going to give you my favorite comic book franchise. Before I do I want to warn you all, I’m a bit Marvel bias, so you may not see as much love for DC on this list. 
  1. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) 
  2. Christopher's Nolan's Batman Trilogy 
  3. Sam Raimi’s Spider-man Trilogy 
  4. X-Men Franchise 
  5. Superman Franchise
At first I didn’t want to include the whole MCU because there are a lot of films included in that list. As I began to think of the films in the MCU only Iron Man has a full trilogy, so I decided to include all the films in the MCU. I will give you my top five films in the MCU: 
  1. Marvel's The Avengers 
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy 
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
  4. Iron Man 
  5. Thor
Christopher Nolan raised the bar of what it means to be a comic book movie. The Dark Knight alone tops most people’s lists as one of the best comic book movies ever. I personally think the series ended on a weak note with The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight Rises is one of those films that is good overall, but has enough issues that it doesn't rise to greatness like its predecessors.

Sam Raimi has given me the better set of Spider-man films. The second Spider-man film in this trilogy is by far the best Spider-man movie, period. I believe Tobey Maguire gave us a better Peter Parker than Andrew Garfield. I’m not saying Garfield did a bad job, but he was too much of a “Chic Geek” or “Hipster”. Let’s be realistic here, the success of the Spider-man and X-men’s franchise had to be a big confidence boost for Marvel to create a cohesive cinematic universe. 

Do you remember the 90’s X-men cartoon opening theme? I’m not sure how much of that show influenced Bryan Singer, but from my perspective, most of the mutants showcased in that opening were placed in the first X-Men film. Then a few years later an even better X-Men movie came out. I can safely say X2: X-Men United is in my top ten favorite comic book movies. Then Bryan Singer left to direct Superman Returns, which lead to a major downgrade in quality. Matthew Vaughn was going to replace Singer at the helm, but left early on into production for personal reasons, his replacement was Brett Ratner. Ratner turned out a bad X-men film. Fox’s plans after X-Men: The Last Stand was to make a few origin stories, including Wolverine, Magneto, and “The First Class” (Cyclopes, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel, and Iceman). X-Men Origins: Wolverine more or less tanked. So, Fox brought back Matthew Vaughn as a director and allowed him to make his X-men film. He combined the Magneto origin story with his First Class story to create a prequel / “reboot” to the first X-men film. This film was going to take place in the 60’s and focus on a younger Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr. The film had success and revitalized the franchise. A sequel titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past, was made with Bryan Singer at the helm. I thought DOFP was one of the best movies of this past summer, one word, Quicksilver

Superman is by far the most recognizable superhero, he is beloved by many including his films. Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman (Superman: The Move) pretty much defines who Superman was climatically. Yes, there were a few actors to bring Superman to life before Christopher Reeve, but it’s his take on the character that sticks in our minds. Like most comic book movies franchises, the films had a rapid decline in quality. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is arguably one of the worst comic movie ever made, and by far the worst Superman movie. Superman didn’t make another appearance on the big screen until 2006 with Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. It was a decent movie, but not the greatest Superman movie. I enjoyed the cast: Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth but I didn’t enjoy the story. Just a few years ago, summer 2013, we almost got a Superman film that was as good as the 1979 film. For me the Man of Steel was a good film, but the last 45 minutes gave me battle fatigue. Even with the “bad” I can’t wait for the next Superman film, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. 

What are your favorite comic book movies?

No comments: