Friday, August 3, 2012

My favorite comic book films (so far)

Right now it's just a list, but one I fully intend to flesh out over the next week or so.

10: Superman 2
"Kneel before Zod!" Seriously, how much more epic can it get? Although Jack O'Halloran's monstrous portrayal of Non (whose beard was unparalleled up until the NBA days of one Vlade Divac) will always be my favorite, all three Kryptonian creep-os beating the stuffing out of Superman made for an awesome film, indeed. Although Superman finally gettin' it on with Margot Kidder was . . . unsettling.

9: Hellboy
Guillermo del Toro had already proved his comic book film directing chops with Blade II (which was ever so much better than the other installments of the series). Hellboy, however, really let him go nuts with the prosthetics and the visual gags and the strangely steampunk reality he builds around his foam-rubber protagonist. On that note, Ron Perlman is deserving of particular praise because he is able to build such a likable, relatable human connection between Hellboy and the audience. As goofy as he looks, it's so easy to get caught up in his story that his appearance makes no difference. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is also an excellent (and very, very strange) film, but the first one set the bar really high. Also of note is Jeffrey Tambor, who goes from the hatable heavy to the very, very cool ally.

8: Daredevil 
The Director's Cut is better by a long shot because it eliminates some of the goofier elements and adds more action, but I honestly liked this movie a lot to begin with. Affleck is surprisingly believable as Matt Murdock, but it's the villains that shine in this one. Colin Farrell trades in his usual distant, troubled persona for a manic, snarling turn as Bullseye (brilliant casting), and Michael Clarke Duncan absolutely nails the character of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime. The first time you see him, standing proudly and coolly in the window of Fisk Tower, you know this guy means business and revels in his magnificent evil. Also, this is the film that introduced a lot of us to the glorious sound of Evanescence.

7: Iron Man
I loved Captain America, Thor and even Hulk (the Ang Lee, Eric Bana one, darn it! Not the one where Ed Norton looked like he wanted to go take a nap in his trailer rather than be on set), but of the past few years of Marvel's non-mutant, non-Spidey films, this is the one that ushered in the Avengers Initiative, and it is a thrill ride. Not only is Iron Man the ultimate symbol of Robert Downey, Jr.'s redemption as an actor and as a man, it brought humor back to superhero films without resorting to cartoonish buffoonery. Plus, look at Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger. When you first see him cruising around innocently on his Segway scooter, your first thought is, "Oh, it's just Obie, the supportive dork." Because that's what Jeff Bridges was typecast--he was never the villain. But for those who mulled over the sound of his name (OBADIAH STANE!!), even those who hadn't read the comics, it became clear that when this guy showed his true colors it would be explosive. And it was. That was a villain--the one you didn't see coming until it was too late.

6: Mystery Men
"Und a diet Pepsi with a little bit of ice." Oh, Casanova Frankenstein, you devil! This is one of the funniest movies I've ever seen, thanks in no small part to the ensemble comedic cast consisting of Ben Stiller, Hank Azaria, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Kel Mitchell, Wes Studi, Pee-W--er--Paul Reubens, Eddie Izzard and, oh yes, Geoffrey Rush. And Michael Bay, oddly enough. Not the most accurate adaptation of a comic, to be sure (where the heck is the Flaming Carrot?), but it has heart, and that's what puts it on my list. That, and, "We've got a blind date with destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!"

5: Batman Forever
How? How could I put this squealing, brightly-colored monstrosity on my list and leave out the Dark Knight trilogy? Simple. This one was the most fun, and, frankly, the best portrayal of Batman. First off, this is probably the only movie in which Batman doesn't straight-up tell the girl he's Bruce Wayne. That takes a lot of self-control for the old horndog, who freaking sleeps with Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises. Val Kilmer, while not the perfect Batman, is the best we've seen so far, in my opinion. He has the big, strong build that Keaton lacked, the naturally deep Batman voice that Bale lacked and the self-respect Clooney lacked. Plus, the camaraderie between Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face and Jim Carrey's Riddler is screen dynamite. Their jewel heist and "Battleship" match are absolutely delightful, and the film has a dark tone (Riddler's humor is offset by his very chilling obsession with Bruce Wayne) without taking itself too seriously. The only weak casting is Chris O'Donnell as Robin (dare I say Christian Bale would have been better?) and Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, the love interest. The older, smirking, earring-sporting Robin was annoying at times, and Kidman tried too hard to be vampish. Other than that, though, Batman Forever will "forever" (haw-haw) be my favorite screen portrayal of the Dark Knight.

4: Spider-Man 2
"Oops! Butterfingers!" Only Alfred Molina could have pulled off Doc Ock so perfectly. The build, the hair, the attitude . . . perfect. Tobey Maguire stepped up his game as Spider-Man, too, shedding some of the blandness and inserting more humor into his performance ("You threw away my comic books?"). And of course, more J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson--the best casting decision ever. This is the film in which Peter Parker really examines the consequences of being Spider-Man, most notably the loss of Mary Jane from his life as she finds his emotional distance to be too much to deal with. And again . . . Doctor Octopus!!!!

3: X2: X-Men United
The opening scene wherein Nightcrawler attempts to assassinate the president is creepy as heck, which is what makes his ultimate characterization as a meek, sweet-natured hero all the more enjoyable. Plus, Brian Cox is very, very hatable as the conniving General Stryker, a villain so sinister the Brotherhood must team with the X-Men to take him out. Seeing a controlled Cyclops take on the burgeoning Phoenix also kicked mega butt, and we also got to see both the milder and wilder sides of Wolverine. This movie expanded on an excellent foundation in the first X-Men and proceeded to best it in every way. The only complaint I have is that we didn't get to see a fight between Nightcrawler and Toad, who was no doubt nursing his blistered tongue somewhere.

2: Watchmen (The Ultimate Cut, preferably)
Settle down, irate fanboys and moviegoers. I know what you're thinking, how could this cult film beat out Nolan's entire Dark Knight trilogy as well as all three Spider-Man films AND Iron Man. Well . . . I really liked it. Zack Snyder paid enormous respects to the source material (lack of "alien" squid notwithstanding), directed a spot-on cast (although Matthew Goode's Ozymandias is a bit too easy to peg as the villain early on) and had arguably the most eclectic and wonderful soundtrack of all time (Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole and K.C. and the Sunshine Band all have excellent moments to shine). The script, by the way, is extraordinary in its reverence to the original Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel, and is carried out to perfection by its actors. Jackie Earle Haley is Rorschach in the film, and even though the audience doesn't see his face for most of it, he conveys such raw emotion in his performance, and succeeds where Christian Bale failed miserably with the gravelly voice. Patrick Wilson's portrayal of Nite-Owl II is simultaneously pathetic and awe-inspiring. And Jeffrey Dean Morgan perfectly captures the senselessness and sensitivity of the Comedian.

1: The Avengers 
Part of me wonders if this choice is premature, if this pristine rose of comic book swashbucklery will lose some of its luster as time and small-screen, non-HD televisions take their toll and the novelty effect will wear off. But I've seen this movie three times, in 2 and 3-D, and I love it more with each viewing. It may not have been deeply psychological like Nolan's Bat-films, but it hit all the right emotional chords nevertheless. And it was fun.
That's the main thing--it was an exhilarating film that took a good 15 minutes to really get rolling, but once it did there was never a dull moment. Joss Whedon is to be commended for maintaining such a delightful pace of action, thrills and humor, along with the ever-difficult human connection.
The Avengers is one of those films that, statistically speaking, should not have happened (at least not successfully), but it is everything a superhero film should be and more. Plus . . . shawarma.


The Road to Perdition is the one I really wanted to add to the list. It has some of the finest actors of all time (Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Daniel Craig, Stanley Tucci and even the wonderful character actor Dylan Baker), and they give it everything they've got. Also Thor, Iron Man 2 and Captain America (but not The Incredible Hulk), because they set the stage for The Avengers. The first X-Men was also a winner, thanks in no small part to the script by Solid Snake himself, David Hayter. V for Vendetta, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World are also winners. And of course, the truly grand Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises. They're excellent films, and the final installation was one of the best films I've seen this year, but they're not my favorites of all time. But, for the absolute darkest take on Batman, look no further than Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. Nicholson's Joker, while not as "chaotic" as Ledger's, was ultimately scarier in his giddiness, and Returns had the absolute creepiest versions of the Penguin and Catwoman ever conceived.

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