My top 10: Comic Book Movies
I love lists for the discussion that can come from them. This is my top ten comic book movies. Feel free to disagree and let the discussion begin.
10. X-Men 2- This is the film where everything came together for Bryan Singer. The actors fell into their roles and any introductions were out of the way. Social commentary played out under the surface quite nicely and led to wonderful discussions about not only homosexuality, but privacy as well. The opening scene with Nightcrawler is still especially effective and stands as one of the best openings on this list.
9. Spider-Man 2- A theme running throughout this list is that the sequels are almost always better than the first. This is true with Spider-Man. The original gave us the origin story and got much of the exposition out of the way. That paved the way to get straight into the story this time out. Tobey Maguire feels more comfortable as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man giving a solid performance and letting his supporting actors lift him up. Alfred Molina is brilliant as Doctor Octopus and blows away what Willem Dafoe gave us as the Green Goblin. Even James Franco seems a bit less annoying than he did the first time around. All around a great film for the blockbuster set.
8. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army- Guillermo del Toro has crafted a wonderful superhero fantasy tale with a brilliant visual style. Ron Perlman is back as the big red goofball and nails the character once again. In fact, almost all of the original actors are back to reprise their roles, but as good as everyone is everything takes a backseat to del Toro’s visual storytelling. There is a world just behind our own and a battle rages there without us ever knowing. Del Toro does a wonderful job integrating the more fantastical elements into a world very much like ours that lets everything feel strange yet almost familiar and plausible. He directs with a deft hand that is unafraid to slow down and let the character moments breathe in between gigantic action set pieces. It may be a step down from the likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it is as close of the superhero field has ever gotten to art house fare.
7. The Crow- This film hit at the right time in my life to have a lasting impact. As an avid goth/industrial music fan with a propensity for the dark my (surprisingly) outsider high school self was enamored with this film. I still am to this day. Brandon Lee gave a wonderful performance that hinted at the great things that could have been. There were solid character actors playing the supporting roles and the visual style was impressive. The director Alex Proyas, who later directed the stunning Dark City, did a solid job of tapping into mid-90’s sentiment of underground and gritty pseudo-reality. Of all the movies on this list I admit to having the most personal bias towards this film.
6. Superman: The Movie- Audiences really did believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve owned this role in a way that no one before or since has been able to do. He was the Superman we wanted. Richard Donner directed a solid character piece that just so happened to be about a superhero. He also was able to amazingly segue from the Smallville scenes to the Metropolis scenes without it feeling like a time waster. There was a campiness to it that would feel completely out of place today, but somehow it still holds up. Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty hammed it up to great heights and Margot Kidder was as flighty as ever, but Reeve dominated this film. He showed us what Superman could be.
5. Ghost World- This has flown under most people’s radar and even those that saw it probably didn’t know that it was comic based. It stars Thora Birch and Scarlet Johannsen as outsider teens graduating from high school with nothing much in the way of plans or drive. Life passes uneventfully until they decide to pull a prank on a sad older man played by Steve Buscemi. Thora Birch is inexplicably drawn to him in a way that Johannsen can’t understand. Buscemi is lonely and gets his only thrill out of old blues 45’s that he collects. Birch and Buscemi combine their loneliness while each tries to figure out what they want out of life. This is a sad, but brilliant, coming of age tale depicting what it’s like when the only thing you know about yourself is that you don’t fit in.
4. The Avengers- The Avengers is a movie that I thought would never happen. At the very least, if it did happen it would be awful. I was wrong. Joss Whedon managed to bring together the biggest heroes in the Marvel universe to create an epic superhero picture that laid to waste what we thought was possible with the genre. Spider-Man 3 was an example of the result of when a movie tries to have too many characters. Everything went haywire and Sam Raimi wasn’t able to make anything interesting happen to any of them. Apparently Joss Whedon > Sam Raimi. Whedon brings together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, The Hulk, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Hawkeye to fight off Loki and not once does it ever feel crowded. A crowd pleasing blockbuster that changed the way comic book movies are made and perceived.
3. V for Vendetta- James McTegue crafted the only movie based on Alan Moore’s comic work that Moore should have kept his name on. Moore has famously denied all involvements with adaptations of his work, but V for Vendetta was brilliant nonetheless. Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman lead this film that is about…vengeance? freedom? terrorism? anarchy? It is everything all at once and somehow manages to be coherent. The tone and style of the film, while dark, remain steady and serve the story well. It celebrates art and doesn’t talk down or disrespect the audience. For that I am forever grateful. V makes a most interesting lead character as he is seen as a mask that doesn’t emote, yet Weaving breathes life into the performance that allows us to understand the character in ways that other actors would not be able to accomplish. Portman is pitch perfect in her transformation from solid citizen to freedom fighter. In all, everyone involved did a magnificent job creating a thought provoking film that doesn’t shy away from its intent.
2. Road to Perdition- Tom Hanks and Paul Newman headline a wonderful cast in an engaging drama directed by a top notch director in Sam Mendes. This is the story of a hitman who is forced to take his son on the road with him and must choose between that son and the boss that he’s always looked at as a father. This is a brilliant film made all the more enjoyable by the performances by Hanks and Newman. Supporting turns were made by Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Ciaran Hinds, Stanley Tucci, and Dylan Baker. All were well cast. While this doesn’t fit the common perception of a comic book movie it is magnificent and deserves all the accolades it can get.
1. The Dark Knight- The Dark Knight transcends the genre. It is so much more than a comic book movie. The themes of terrorism, spying, and anarchy reign throughout the film and it is all tied together with a mesmerizing performance by Heath Ledger as the Joker. Christopher Nolan created the superhero movie that changed the game. The Academy’s decision to enlarge the best picture nominee field from five to ten was almost directly as a result of this film’s failure to be considered. Every piece had to work just right to accomplish this masterpiece and they did. Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all turn in splendid performances, but Heath Ledger is a wonder. I was among those who scoffed at his casting and was proven very wrong. This was a 2 and a half hour movie that never felt long and I was disappointed when it was over, just because I wanted more. Comic book movies will forever be trying to duplicate both the critical and commercial success of The Dark Knight.