::Literate Blather::
Friday, June 15, 2007
'Nuf Said: The Best and Worst of Superhero Movies
Yes, yes, we all know comic book movies like “Ghost World” (2001) and “A Brief History of Violence” (2005) are superior films based on comic books. So what? When DaRK PaRTY makes lists of comic book movies – we aren’t interested in “art.” We want superheroes.

Give us nasty special effects, villains dredged up from our deepest high school fears, and superheroes who are really just us (with some dumb luck and a cool latex costume). So with today’s release of “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” we decided it was time to announce our favorites and not-so favorites.

The Five Best

Making a good comic movie is tricky. It’s not just about special effects – it’s about character. And that’s where these movies succeed and others fail. They bring out the essence of troubled heroes like Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker – and make us feel the internal conflict. They are a perfect blend of storytelling and action. These five movies deserve Hall of Fame status:

Batman Begins (2005)

This may be the best superhero movie ever made. “Batman Begins” re-crafts the origin of the Dark Knight into a vision quest. Batman as the lone samurai. Christian Bale was an excellent choice to play Bruce Wayne, but the real inspired decision was to place the franchise in the hands of director Christopher Nolan. Nolan serves up strong characters and fast action. Using the little-known Scarecrow as the primary villain was also a wise choice. High marks and higher expectations for the next one.

Spiderman III (2008)

The Spiderman movies keep getting better. Any three of the trilogy could appear on this list, but the third installment shines. Director Sam Raimi’s love for the comic book is evident in all three films. “Spiderman 3” walked the line of over-production with the introduction of three villains, but Raimi pulls it off with a fast-paced, but tightly-wrought plot. The action sequences – especially the chase between Spiderman and Green Goblin – are amazing.

X2 (2003)

The X-Men franchise is another gem. Each of the films has something to offer, but the second one puts it all together. With a plethora of characters and superheroes, it would be easy for these films to feel like a mish-mash, but Brian Singer handles the cast expertly knowing just when and where to introduce a new character. The best sequence is when Nightcrawler (played by Alan Cumming) infiltrates the White House at the beginning of the flick. Stunning. Hugh Jackman continues as the heart of soul of the X-Men with his portrayal of Wolverine.

Blade II (2002)

This movie comes out of nowhere – because the first one disappointed. But Director Guillermo del Toro worked out all the bugs and problems with the first and made a fantastic horror, action thriller. While Wesley Snipes plays Blade a big clunky, the action here moves so fast and dizzyingly that it doesn’t matter. If you like vampires – then what are you waiting for. Kudos to the always fun to watch Ron Pearlman.

The Crow (1994)

The first comic book movie to really get it right. A mix of gothic horror, dark atmosphere, and brutal action. Brandon Lee would have been a star if he had survived the filmmaking process (he was accidentally killed by a prop firearm). “The Crow” is also one of the best revenge flicks going. If you like superhero action with a flair for martial arts – then you need to see this movie.

Runners-up: Spiderman II (2004), Superman (1978), X-Men (2000), Superman II (1980), Batman (1989)

The Five Worst

Making a bad comic book movie is easy. Just rely on special effects and cobble together a story seemingly from random events. These movies are bloated excesses. They failed to understand the concept of establishing and building character before deciding to blow something up. Our Hall of Shame:

The Fantastic Four (2005)

Made at a time when it finally seemed like Hollywood had figured out how to make a good superhero movie, “The Fantastic Four” was two steps back. In other words, “Fantastic Four” sucks. The characters – especially Chris Evans as Johnny Storm – are annoying enough that you want to take a frying pan to their faces. This movie failed at nearly everything – bland action (with the possible exception the Thing’s rampage on a New York bridge), thud-inducing dialogue, and an inability to connect with the audience. In fact, the movie sticks its thumb in the audience’s eye. Here’s hoping the Silver Surfer can save the franchise.

Superman Returns (2006)

Deeply disappointing. This alleged homage to the first Superman movie is the celluloid version of plagiarism – written by an alcoholic hack in a seedy motel. The special effects are actually quite good, but you get the feeling of an elementary school child trying way too hard to please. Did we really need another Superman movie featuring Lex Luthor? Can we please make a movie in which Superman is forced to use his super powers in battle – rather than just to lift really heavy things? (General Zod anyone?) Can we find an actor to play Superman who can do things like – well – act? This movie feels like a rerun – because it is one.

Daredevil (2003)

For a long time everything that Ben Affleck touched turned to crap. He was the anti-King Midas. “Daredevil” is no exception. There is nothing inherently wrong with Affleck’s performance as the blind superhero, but there’s nothing right about it either. It’s the problem with the entire film. It doesn’t seem to have a reason for being. It skates along mediocrity and seems fine with that – despite several changes to take this film to the next level. Colin Farrell is the villain Bullseye – an inspired choice for a bad guy – but he plays the role as an Irish soccer hooligan. That was a bad choice. If you enjoy insipid then “Daredevil” is for you.

Batman & Robin (1997)

The bat guano found on the floors of dark caves? This movie resembles that. Terrible isn’t adequate enough to describe it. This is George Clooney’s worst movie. Clooney later admitted that he played Batman as gay (was there any doubt? – the bat suit displayed erect nipples). The movie capsized the careers of Alicia Silverstone (horribly miscast as Batgirl) and Chris O’Donnell (overplaying Robin). But the real problem is Arnold Schwarzenegger who plays Mr. Freeze like a block of termite-infested wood. The saddest part of “Batman & Robin” is that it managed to con $107 million away from devoted Batman fans – so they could have the privilege of being kicked in the face.

Superman IV: Quest for Peace (1987)

Wow. This movie blows. Terrible direction and writing – and even scenes stolen directly from previous Superman movies. It all goes horribly wrong here. The movie killed the franchise for 20 years – and nearly came close to killing the comic book to movie genre.

Runners-up: The Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Captain America (1990)

Click here to read our 5 Questions interview about comic books

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