Comic Book Movies

I have read comic books in the past, though I was never a very dedicated collector.  My favorite superhero is still Batman.  I’ve read ones I thought had great art but lousy stories, and ones with great stories and meh art.  And like most fans, casual and dedicated, I looked forward to live action versions of the books.

And they were mostly bad.  Animations were alright, even the old ones like Spiderman with such an iconic theme song that the latest movie version uses it as Parker’s ringtone.  But they weren’t what everyone was looking for.  And that load of crap they stuck the “Batman” label on… well, if I can’t say something polite, I shouldn’t say anything, right?

As I said, not the biggest fan.  I don’t know the minutiae of most of my favorite heroes.  I know Scott Summers has brain damage and that’s why he can’t control his power.  I understand who the Collector is.  I get that Reed Richards is the smartest person in the Marvel universe, followed closely by Doom and Stark.  (As an aside, I actually kinda like the TV movie about S.H.I.E.L.D with Hasselhoff as Nick Fury.  It’s campy in the right way.)

I was happy with Reeve’s Superman (the first one.  The second was OK.  The third… yeah.)  I think it did a good job straddling the line between a cartoonish depiction and a good movie inspired by its comic book roots.  I think Burton’s Batman movies were stylish, but more on the caricature-ish side of movie-making.  (Yes, I liked them, though the second should have dealt with only one villain.)

One more time, I’m going to throw out there that this is my opinion on how the movies developed, before I actually get to my opinion.

I think X-Men was the true successor to what Superman started.  I think it took great inspiration from its source material, especially for the characterizations.  It assumed in its creation that the movie world contained people with an X-factor (if you will — I have read it a little) in their DNA that gave them special abilities, and then decided what each person would do with those powers.  And what would those powers do with the people wielding them.  There was very little that was, well, the best word I can think of that describes it is “cartoonish”.  The element of outlandishness that a lot of the comic book depictions fall into.

X-Men showed that you could make an actual movie about people with superpowers and still have a decent story and have the characters have to deal with those powers.  OK, it wasn’t going to win many Oscars, but crap could you get lost in the movie.  It’s almost like the point where Stan Lee created four characters who got their powers accidentally and couldn’t stop getting into arguments with themselves, because that’s what people do sometimes, especially family.

It was a movie that took inspiration from the comic books, but didn’t try to recreate it exactly.  And it worked.  Singer and his writers knew they would need some sort of balance and they found that balance.  No, I’m not saying that X-Men is the best movie ever (that’s Kelly’s Heroes, or maybe Big Trouble in Little China).  I’m saying it set the standard and blazed the trail to be followed.  After X-Men, almost all the comic book or graphic novel derived live action shows/movies found ways to be… real.

Almost all.  Has anyone seen the Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds?  I have never followed Green Lantern, so I only know the story from the animated Justice League cartoons.  I like Ryan Reynolds, at least once he got past his Two Guys, a Girl, and Pizza Place frat-boy characters.  Mostly, he toned those down, which works for most of what he does.  And he’s just gosh-darn likeable.  And I am entertained by the movie, but it is far from what Singer’s X-Men, Nolan’s Batman, Raimi’s Spiderman, and all of Marvel’s offerings have given us.  In all of the others, there is someone, sometimes the heroes, sometimes a trusted friend (Alfred), pointing out the toll the powers or abilities take on the hero.  Not in Green Lantern.  (And I think the scene where the love interest just knows who he is is fan-fucking-tastic.  “You think because I couldn’t see your cheekbones I wouldn’t know who you are?”  Screw you, Lois.)

This turned into far more of a treatise than I thought it would be.  I don’t necessarily believe that any of the main stream comic book movies, and by that I mean the movies based on the popular comic book characters, will win any awards outside of special effects or music (Yeah, I need to do another post on Marvel’s mistakes with music, as good as their music is). And they sure make a ton of money.  But any movie using the Adam West model of Batman was never going to do what Nolan’s has done, let alone what Burton’s did.

“Constantine” I also found entertaining as a movie.  I never read any of the books, but I have friends who did and who explained things a bit.  It seemed to be faithful to the character for the most part (changing cigarettes at the end was the no-no, but the play of one power against another was well within keeping of what the character would do.)  But it was very much a “This is happening and now this is happening and now this is happening” with little in the way of dealing with the characters.

The Superman “Man of Steel” movie was interesting, but I found it extremely ponderous.  “The Dark Knight Returns” was nowhere near as good as the other two, though I think the story fits in with the rest of Nolan’s presentation.  “300” was stylistically fabulous, though maybe story was light and character development — oh wait, they aren’t supposed to develop in this one.

Here’s another I think — I think Marvel has taken the ball and run with it.  I think DC had better make sure it knows what the fuck it is doing with its Justice League answer to the Avengers.  I think that having a theme to build the franchise around was genius.  I think that Marvel has handled the “superpowers in our world” very well with both movies and the TV show Agents of SHIELD.

I am surprised that it took as long as it did for film makers to realize that if they told a somewhat coherent/decent story that just happened to have superpowers in it, things would go better than if they tried to just feature those superpowers (I’m with Sheldon, Schumacher is on my list, despite Lost Boys) and who gives a shit about story or character.

Another disclaimer — I have not discussed here the details of the comic book characters lives.  At this point, there is no way to accurately portray lives that have been going on since, at the earliest, the 1960s in films.  There is too much detail, and there is too much science and society that is out of what was envisioned by these comics creators.  Trying to be that faithful would ruin any movie from the start.

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3 thoughts on “Comic Book Movies

  1. cicely December 31, 2014 at 12:37 am Reply

    The problem with the older live action comic book movies is that, until just recently, with CGI, you just couldn’t translate imagery that works well on the page, to the Big Screen—without it looking cheesy and clearly unbelievable. And the old movies’ costumes were never going to be able to “move” with the actors’ bodies, and were going to show wrinkles at the knees. Nowadays, it isn’t even a matter of filming-and-tweaking; it doesn’t ever have to have existed in the “real world” in the first place.

    Therefore…bad movies.

    (Big fan of Big Trouble in Little Trouble, but I have to disagree about it being the Best Movie Evar; that is Monty Python and the Holy Grail—unquestionably the Finest Movie Ever Made.)

    I’ve seen the Green Lantern movie. Too much of the CGI (especially the non-humanoid Lanterns) looked hastily done, and yes…cartoony. None of them seemed as “real” as Rocket Raccoon, for instance. And I had a big problem with Hal Jordan, Hot Pilot nearly wrecking his plane at the beginning, just to provide a back-story infodump. Could’ve been done a lot better.

    I did not like Man of Steel. “Ponderous” is an understatement; if I’d been watching it in a theater, I would have left before Clark even made it to Metropolis.

    The success of Marvel’s recent movies (and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series) may be just the kick in the nads that DC needs to step up its game. I hope so.

  2. barkeeperin December 31, 2014 at 8:58 am Reply

    Hah. I almost put Holy Grail in the list. Not sure why I didn’t. Probably because I can’t narrow down all the movies I like into a short list, and once I start, I’d just keep adding to it.

  3. cicely December 31, 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    Yup. What about The Princess Bride? Blazing Saddles? Young Frankenstein? The Fifth Element? The list just goes on and on….

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