This is a tough topic to tackle. It’s not because there’s a huge pot of truly great comic book movies. In fact, the film industry has crapped out careless comic-based movies without any respect to the fans and great respect to the possibility of turning a buck, as we discusses last week. This week, Matt and Brian compare their Top 5 comic book movies of all time.
5. V for Vendetta, based on the masterful graphic novel by Alan Moore, was treated with both care for the source material and respect for fans – both key elements to a comic film. Hugo Weaving brought great dimension to V with a dark passion for justice while combining elegant body language that gave depth to a character with no face. He also wasn’t afraid to add some humor. Natalie Portman gave another steady performance in a film by the Wachowski brothers, Andy and Larry (better known for the Matrix series). All in all a stand out film for people who never even knew it was a comic and die hard fans of Moore.
4. Iron Man was my favorite book as a kid, and it killed me to rank this at number four. Jon Favreau shook off critics to bring a fun, multidimensional film about the complex character of Tony Stark, played with precision by Robert Downey Jr. Stark is an alcoholic, womanizer who deals weapons that kill people while facing down those demons as he becomes a hero. This was a great origin story supported by a cast that has never been matched in other comic films – Downey, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, all of who have been nominated or won Academy Awards. The only downfall was Terrance Howard, who was wooden and too chummy as Stark’s best friend Rhodey.
3. The Dark Knight is simply a great detective, noir film with excellent acting and superb directing. The show was stolen by the Joker, portrayed in the Academy Award winning role by Heath Ledger. Sadly, his death means the character will no longer exist in the series, brought back to life by director Christopher Nolan. This is a comic book movie that reaches a broad audience because it’s simply a good film with engaging characters, smart action, and villains that work. The scene where the Joker slams a thugs face down on a pencil was simply perfect.
2. Watchmen is a movie that will turn a lot of heads on this list, and perhaps rightfully so. However, the film was perfect in my mind. There was great respect given to the source material, which was the best selling comic book in history. The film looked beautiful and was no easy task to complete given the amount of characters and the depth they are given in the book. However, director Zach Snyder was wise to focus in on Walter Kovacs/Rorschach, who is the most challenging character to the viewer – he‘s a murderer of evil people, but still a murderer. There were several scenes that were directly taken from the pages of the books, including dialogue, which is something that really hasn’t been done before. The ending was changed, which made many comic fans complain, but was a wise choice. It still had the same result, but eliminated the giant squid – which wouldn’t have worked on the big screen.
1. Superman: The Movie was the first film to take the comic genre seriously, and it is a flawlessly made film. It is a charming, funny, exciting film with a performance by
Christopher Reeve that can never be matched. He was a bumbling nerd as Clark Kent, and graceful and beautiful as Superman. Margot Kidder was a feisty Lois Lane, who brought humor and romance to the story, while Gene Hackman brought a comical, but dark Lex Luthor. This movie has yet to be surpassed in the genre. Richard Donner clearly loved Superman and gave the utmost care in casting and writing this wonderful origin story of America’s most famous and beloved super hero.
5. Batman Begins: Christopher Nolan did the impossible. Within 15 minutes, he manages to wash away one of the worst film experiences ever in Batman and Robin by bringing us a gem of a film. This is Detective Comics: dark, moody, atmospheric, gripping, and rooted in a loose reality that we can believe in. The cast is superlative. Bale perfectly embodies the angst of Bruce Wayne along with the rage of Batman, Caine is brilliant as Alfred, and Cillian Murphy gives us a chilling Scarecrow. The lone miss in this film is Katie Holmes who comes in flat and nearly sinks any dramatic moment she’s associated with.
4. Iron Man: This is nearly as brilliant a comedy as it is an action film. Robert Downey Jr. carries this entire film and cements himself as an A list star who is gripping every time he is on screen. It’s an oscar caliber performance and a true breaking out for director Jon Favreau who previously was mainly known for his low budget comedy hit Swingers.
3. Spider-Man 2: By far the best of the Spider Man series. This takes Peter Parker in a much darker direction where he has to confront a crossroads in his personal life interfering with the gift that has been given to him to help save the world from itself. Most comic book films are at their best when the hero’s true fight is against their own demons and this is no exception. This film also gives us Alfred Molina in a terrific turn as Doctor Octopus who manages to grab our sympathy as well as our attention. That’s pretty impressive for a film about a guy with Spider powers.
2. The Dark Knight: The quintessential Batman film. Nolan essentially took a complex interwoven Scorsese film and managed to slot it in Gotham City. This film raises serious moral question about choices that people make when they are at their lowest and most desperate moments and how their instinctive reactions can label their good or evil. Of course, the puppet master in all of this is a sick and crazed anarchist that we know as the Joker who is played note perfect by Heath Ledger in an Oscar winning performance that can never be overstated as stunning and masterful. The plot weaves, characters die, decisions are made, and at the end few are left standing. It’s a must see for anyone who just likes good movies.
1. Superman: the Movie: I was torn between this and Dark Knight but I had to choose the originator of the serious comic book film. Before Richard Donner gave the Verisimilitude to Superman, comic books were known for Adam East’s Batman and George Reeves’ Superman. While entertaining, they were treated as a joke that never took the material more seriously than a comic strip. Donner changed the rules by taking Superman and placing him in an epic adventure the likes of Ben Hur of Lawrence of Arabia. We follow him from being a baby , to his teenage years at Smallville, to his rise as Superman with breathtaking cinematography by the late Geoffrey Unsworth(of 2001 fame). The cast is absolutely perfect. Christopher Reeve absolutely embodies Superman to such a degree that he never really broke out from the role. He WAS Superman. All these years later, when I hear John Williams score, I still believe a man can fly.