Wednesday, June 13, 2012

#425. Comic Book Movie Chronicle, Part 4

The new millennium began with a comic book movie explosion, so big even I wasn't crazy enough to try and write about all of it in one post.  Here's the first decade's worth, continued:

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
Maybe you can picture it for yourself, but it's incredibly rare for a threequel to be considered thematically worthwhile.  Go ahead and try to name the third movie in any film trilogy that fans actually enjoyed (I can think of Return of the King and...), I'll wait.  The problem is by the third film the story either needs wrapping up and the conclusion is dissatisfying, or there've been some changes behind the scenes.  In this case, it was Brett Ratner replacing Bryan Singer, and because Ratner has a bad reputation, everyone assumed that they wouldn't like The Last Stand.  Surprise, surprise, they didn't.  I loved it, still my favorite in the series, by the way.  This, by the way, is also about the time where fans started wondering if the superhero genre was another fluke, like the early success of the Superman and Batman eras.  (And so, yes, the successors of those eras, for those counting score, are officially the X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Avengers.  Nolan's Batman exists, currently, in its own bubble.)

Superman Returns (2006)
This was a hit movie that nobody loved (well, except me), and the reason is fairly obvious in hindsight: it met none of the expectations the current superhero movie genre has produced in fans, and while it was as cerebral as Nolan's Batman, it had none of the action.  Big ideas and mythology must be met with an equal amount of "Hulk smash!," silly Bryan Singer.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006)
This one counts as much as a Hollywood creation as what was at the time the continuing effort to cash in on the cult success of Uma Thurman's iconic turn as The Bride in Kill Bill.  I will still see it, some day, for the latter reason.  But again, a female-led superhero movie fails at the box office, three different ways now (well, four, if you include Supergirl).  Well, thanks god for The Hunger Games.

Zoom (2006)
There's a better movie mashed in with a kid's movie, and that one stars Tim Allen, who for some reason took a precipitous fall as a movie star.  I guess there are only so many iconic roles he could inhabit before audiences turned him into mush.  Anyway, half of this movie is worth watching.  So watch that half.

300 (2007)
A huge cult hit whose impact can still be felt today, even if just about everyone is fighting it, based on a Frank Miller comic.  It's funny that comic books, which are themselves highly stylized, can produce highly stylized movies, and critics will still complain about that.  If one medium can influence another medium in a wide variety of ways, then I call that a success.  I applaud when a movie breaks tradition.  Movies can be an incredible art form, which something like 300 represents.  If your movie looks like it could have been produced on home video, good for you.  If it takes talent and vision, then I say all the better.  To continue this rant a little further, some say "showing less is sometimes more," and thereby implying the inverse.  If you've got a visual medium, it's nonsense not to show, and show spectacularly, your story.  Unless you're really good at implication.  (I do not endorse horror movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, which exhibit cheap and lazy filmmaking.)  Anyway, watch 300!  Moving on!

30 Days of Night (2007)
I'm eventually going to see this one.  It's based on another of those obscure, if cult favorite, comic books, and stars a bunch of interesting actors, and has a classic Hollywood horror plot.

TMNT (2007)
A computer animated version of the Ninja Turtles.  Nobody cared.  Did you know this existed?

Ghost Rider (2007)
This is exactly like every other Marvel movie, and yet it (and its sequel) gets no respect, probably because it has no connection to any other franchise, even the comic book character can never get out of cult gear, and it stars Nicholas Cage, who is assumed by everyone to mostly work in shlock material.  This is really no different than Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, but with less sarcasm.  Actually, I think Ghost Rider got into the mythology game better (not to mention earlier) than the Avengers flicks, so that's another reason why I hate to see such a bad reputation hung on it.

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Another threequel that gets no respect (and another one that happens to be my favorite in the sequence, thanks to Thomas Haden Church and the Sandman storyline).  The breaking point of this particular period of Marvel dominance, but not the end.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
Probably better than its predecessor, this movie makes the cardinal error of teasing a giant villain without actually using him (that would be Galactus), instead focusing on the existential problems of a cool visual whose source material has never broken out of cult status despite decades of history (Surfer, meet Ghost Rider; Blade probably succeeded because he's been even less successful as a comic book, and so that much easier to assume as practically an original cinematic creation).  This is the big addition to the franchise?

Underdog (2007)
You know Hollywood is starting to get a little antsy about the whole superhero genre when they make a movie out of Underdog.

Wanted (2008)
Between this and Kick-Ass, you can hear Mark Millar trying to become known as the new Frank Miller/Alan Moore.  The only problem here is that Wanted is almost completely transformed from its original comic book material, which features superheroes, whereas this version features a vague conspiracy of assassins.  This is an adaptation that might as well have been an original creation, and was probably assumed to be by most filmgoers.

Superhero Movie (2008)
Ah!  The spoof movie!  Now you know the movement is pretty much over (or so everyone believes).  Actually a pretty good movie.

Iron Man (2008)
The modern age is reborn with full snark as Robert Downey, Jr. revives his career and wears a metal costume.  Arguably the transformation of superhero movies from being seen as superhero movies to being seen as spectacles with noted actors pulling an equal amount of attention.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The problem here is that they hired Edward Norton and didn't allow him to play Edward Norton.  They took everything interesting out of it, and tried for spectacle instead, and discovered that it's very difficult to make a movie out the Hulk while leaving Bruce Banner out of it.  Hence the success of the character in The Avengers.  Also tried too quickly to shoehorn the budding franchise mythology into a story about someone who wanted nothing to do with it.

Hancock (2008)
Better known as a Will Smith vehicle, though I'm not really sure why this is such a problem with Hancock in particular, because at this point Smith had made a career of having his cake and eating it, too.  There's actually a tremendous story to this one, while most people assume it's just the setup, which leads me to believe that either most people haven't actually seen the whole thing, or they gloss over what they assume to be incongruous elements.  It's called a story, people.  The reputation of Hancock is like saying Obi-Wan Kenobi is just some crazy old hermit.  I beg anyone to see this one for what it really is.  For me, it's one of my favorites, and not just as a superhero movie.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Otherwise known as the sequel del Toro did after Pan's Labyrinth made him visual visionary.

The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger achieved the impossible, making people actually care about the acting in a superhero movie.  There are so many things to love about Christopher Nolan's second Batman flick (not the least that it didn't even have to have "Batman" in the title), and most of them have exactly to do with that transcendent quality exhibited by Ledger's Joker.  Part of me fears a great deal for The Dark Knight Rises.  It's a threequel trying to follow in the footsteps of a celebrated sequel.  See: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, X2: X-Men United, Spider-Man 2, Blade II...But this is Nolan.  He's triumphed over his own reputation before.  He's made a career of subverting expectations.

Punisher: War Zone (2008)
Yes, there was a second Punisher.  Yes, there was a second Ghost Rider.  Move along.

The Spirit (2008)
This was actually Frank Miller making a movie out of his chief inspiration, Will Eisner, thanks to the success of Sin City.  I loved it, most people didn't.  Well, it's a movie based on a pulp character.  What did you expect?

Whiteout (2009)
Basically the same deal as 30 Days of Night.  Basically exactly the same.

Watchmen (2009)
Based on an Alan Moore comic, but you already knew that.  The failure of this one actually hurt me.  But I guess in time I've come to realize that its similarities to The Dark Knight meant that it could do nothing but fail, because audiences didn't embrace The Dark Knight because it was a comic book movie, but because it transcended them.  Watchmen is the quintessential comic book movie (and comic).  It doesn't fit in with the Marvel movie trend, and outside of that, it's really hard to be relevant these days, because that's now what audiences think of in this genre.  Iron Man succeeded because it booted up a franchise.  The Incredible Hulk failed because it was assumed to be just another monster movie.  Watchmen failed because it assumed people actually wanted to see good comic book movies.  Yes, I love this movie.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
The decade ends on what was supposed to be a hopeful note.  After all, Hugh Jackman was finally starring in his own Wolverine movie!  Ah, try five years too late, buddy.  Iron Man changed a lot of things.  As we all know now, the strategy to build a franchise from the ground up worked really well.  Making a Wolverine movie at the dawn of this new era was like trying to do one last Superman after the third one flopped, and this metaphor is more apt, considering the last X-Men flick was poorly received.  I guess it doesn't really help to tell an origin for a character best known for being dangerous, not growing more tame.

Coming tomorrow: a new decade of destruction!


Maurice Mitchell said...

Yeah, Wolverine was behind the curve after Iron Man came out. Tony, if it had come out two years earlier would it have been better?
- Maurice Mitchell
The Geek Twins | Film Sketchr
@thegeektwins | @mauricem1972

Tony Laplume, Sith Architect said...

My argument is about perception, which has a large to do with our ideas about the quality and worth of a movie.

Michael Abayomi said...

The Dark Knight pretty much owned the second half of the decade. I really hope the final one lives up to expectations. Worst cast scenario, I hope it is at least handled as well as Batman Begins. *crosses fingers*

Side note: I actually have a preference for low-budget horror movies like Paranormal Activity and peers, if only because they reinforce the notion that less is indeed more. Our greatest fear after all is the fear of the unknown, something that the big-budget horror movies seem to forget, with their over-the-top blood and gore and CGI monsters.


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