Comic Book Movie Throwdown
The last ten years or so have been a renaissance for comic book movies. Not only have Marvel and DC had blockbusters based on their characters, but even the independents have seen successful big- and small-screen adaptations, such as the Hellboy movies, Kick-Ass, the Walking Dead TV series, and others. Even non-superhero comics, like Ghost World, A History of Violence, and Road to Perdition have been adapted.
When you think about it, that’s kind of amazing. The problem with comic book adaptations is that things that seem perfectly at home on the page don’t always work so well on the screen. Filmmakers are forced to choose which elements will make the transition between mediums, and which won’t. They also have to satisfy both the fan community and the movie-going public at large. That’s no easy task. Fans want the utmost respect for the source material, which means minimum deviations. But the average person looking for a weekend distraction just wants a cohesive and entertaining story. The simple truth is that there’s no good way to condense decades of back-story and minutia into a two-hour movie and make everyone happy.
When Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie was in development, I was outraged (outraged, I say!) about Peter Parker having organic web shooters, instead of the mechanical ones from the comics. It seemed like a needless divergence from the source material to me. And then I saw the movie, and realized that organic web shooters just made more sense narratively. When you’re already having to cram both a hero’s and a villain’s origin stories into a movie, you don’t want to spend fifteen minutes explaining how the hero invented a gadget to go along with his new-found powers when it really makes sense for him to get all of the powers from the same magical spider bite in the first place.
Al and I used to fantasize about the ideal casting for various superhero movies. Many of our ideas were ludicrous or even impossible, without time travel. I thought a 1980s-era John Cusack would have made a great Peter Parker, for instance. We did nail the casting of Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier. If only we had written that down somewhere maybe we could demand some sort of royalties now. Well, live and learn.
I also used to fantasize about the notion that superhero movies could all share a setting. I was frustrated that every comic book movie seemed to set up its hero as the first and only superhero. If only they could just translate the comic book Marvel Universe to the movies, so that we could have team-ups and crossovers. Finally, Marvel is making that old dream a reality with their solo Avengers movies all leading up to what promises to be the greatest cinematic event the geek world has ever known. Well, either that or the hugest disappointment. Time will tell.
But until The Avengers comes and makes all other comic book movies obsolete, what is your favorite? What comic book adaptation — either in theaters or on TV — do you like best, and why?
It’s not an easy question for me. My all-time favorite comic character is Spider-Man, hands down, and the first two of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies were pretty great. Especially the second one. But in retrospect, those are a little rough around the edges. Maybe that’s just because they were among the first of the new wave of superhero movies. The two Iron Man films were also awesome; casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was a stroke of genius. But both of those movies suffer from a somewhat anticlimactic final battle. So I think I’m going to have to go with X-Men 2.
The first X-Men movie was better than it had any right to be. It was a really risky movie, and somehow it worked out pretty well. Most people had never heard of Hugh Jackman before he played Wolverine, but he nailed a role that could have very easily devolved into self-parody. And of course, Patrick Stewart is absolutely perfect as Professor X, as Al and I predicted. Ian McKellen as Magneto was another surprise, but Sir Ian classes up any joint.
While the first movie suffered from a somewhat low budget, the second one rectified this and upped the ante, with more mutants, better effects, and a grander scope. Overall, I’d have to say that X-Men 2 got more right and less wrong than any other comic book movie. It’s really too bad that X-Men 3 dropped the ball so spectacularly.
So, my vote for best comic book movie is X-Men 2. What’s yours? Keep in mind that I’m asking about comic book movies, not just superhero movies. So feel free to vote for something that doesn’t feature tights and capes.