Monday, June 11, 2012

#423. Comic Book Movie Chronicle, Part 2

There seems to have been some confusion following the first installment of this series.  I promise you, after this one, there won't be.  Here's my continuing examination of movies based on comic books, this time from the 1990s:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Sometimes it can be hard to remember that the Ninja Turtles originated (and still star) in comic books, partly because they were one of the earliest and most successful creations of the modern indy scene, and because it's become just as easy to think of them as stars of movies and cartoons as the printed version only true fans will be able to find in the first place.  Anyway, so yes, the Ninja Turtles helped kick off the modern era of comic book movies, starring in the first release after Tim Burton's Batman, spawning a franchise that continues to this day (in case you weren't aware, that'd be Michael Bay taking a fresh crack at the Heroes in a Halfshell).  For the record, even though it's a tad dated today, this entry is still awesome.

Dick Tracy (1990)
Perhaps more of a comic strip movie than a comic book movie, this one's perhaps better known as a Warren Beatty vehicle than anything, even though it's incredibly awesome, like the Sin City of its day (or perhaps more accurately, The Spirit), featuring a whole rogues gallery of foes working together against our hero.  It surprises me that both this movie and the character of Dick Tracy have basically been forgotten.  I'd read a Dick Tracy comic book, easily.

Darkman (1990)
Now, clearly, the folks at Hollywood reacted to Tim Burton's Batman more as if it was inspired by the pulp adventures of yore than the camp nature of the Adam West version, or even Christopher Reeve's Superman.  Sam Raimi's first superhero effort is still something I've never experienced myself, even though it stars Liam Neeson (before he became known as an auteur, mentor figure, or action star), but clearly fits into the mold of what people were then thinking about superheroes at the movies.

Captain America (1990)
It's like Marvel tried to capitalize on both Batman and Superman at the same time (when you think about it, that's exactly what the character is), and in this incarnation couldn't figure it out.  Took another decade before the company tried it again.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Hey, the Turtles were huge!  And like Marvel would later do, their producers struck while the iron was hot.

The Rocketeer (1991)
Just like Darkman, another of the early comic book movies from this era was a counterfeit piece of nostalgia.  While everything about it seems to indicate The Rocketeer comes from the serial days of Hollywood, at this point the comic book on which it was based was only ten years old (and even more obscure today than the Ninja Turtles).  This is another lost treasure, but probably not surprisingly so, considering Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and John Carter failed with similar gimmicks.

Batman Returns (1992)
It's no surprise to modern audiences that Tim Burton loves to go Gothic, and there were certainly traces of that in his first Batman effort (and not to mention Edward Scissorhands), but the inclination was incredibly thick and unexpected here.  It's an awesome movie, but it doesn't have a ton of Batman in it (Michael Keaton was always surprisingly inert in the role, and it wasn't just because he was encased in unyielding rubber).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
The Turtles leave the city, which is the most iconic thing about them, in this movie, turning Japanese and losing the popular zeitgeist.  If you've seen these movies, you know that it takes a stretch of the imagination to accept the Turtles as plausible in the first place, not hard for kids to do, sure, but maybe harder when they're taken out of their element and thrust into a more realistic setting for their gimmick.  And actually, I haven't seen this one yet.  I'm assuming.

The Meteor Man (1993)
There was a movie I chose to skip over in my earlier survey, Condorman, which is so obscure today I'd never heard of it, or at least never even came close to seeing it.  Meteor Man was basically the Condorman of its day, starring Robert Townsend as a black superhero, played for laughs, but basically an attempt to create an original superhero for the big screen, which happens less often than you'd think.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Fans tend to forget that perhaps it was easier for Warner Bros. to let the films go in a different direction after Batman Returns because suddenly they had a huge TV hit on their hands, a series so popular it spawned a whole franchise.  I'm talking about the Bruce Timm version of Batman, which like the Adam West Batman improbably got a theatrical version, which is a little obscure today but at the time was enthusiastically embraced, at least at a critical level.

The Crow (1994)
Best known today as the film in which Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, died during production, The Crow was another movie based on an obscure comic book, and was clearly inspired by the success of Tim Burton's vision of Batman.  Who knows how this franchise might have evolved had fate been a little kinder to the Lee family?

The Shadow (1994)
Ah, so Hollywood finally figured out that maybe trying out some actual pulp heroes might work better.  Of course, by this point it was far too late.  Film audiences wanted something a little more sensational.

The Mask (1994)
Based on another obscure comic book, Jim Carrey's career shot off like a rocket thanks to the CGI effects that stretched him into an actual cartoon.  It's weird that this is a franchise that has been basically forgotten, especially considering that it's the comic books that really dropped the ball.

Batman Forever (1995)
After the increasingly tepid response to superheroes and the wild success of The Mask, is it any wonder that someone thought the solution was to combine Batman with Jim Carrey, basically reviving the Adam West version of the franchise?  It wasn't such a stretch, considering Tim Burton had already made his villains such outsize personalities.  Joel Schumacher basically reshaped everything else around that core concept, dragging everything into a more modern setting, which basically helped prime audiences for all those movies based on Marvel characters.  If you really think about it, just because fans didn't think it worked with Batman, it clearly doesn't mean that they didn't think it worked with, say Iron Man.  And so, yes, thank you, Joel Schumacher.

Judge Dredd (1995)
Sylvester Stallone was at a point in his career where he tried any and everything to connect with audiences again.  This was not the only movie of its kind that he did during this period, but it's the only one with superheroes.  The extremely odd thing is that Judge Dredd is a British creation.  Even the British don't seem to realize this.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995)
Bet you don't often think of the Power Rangers as superheroes.  They basically are.  Someone figured out that kids love superheroes, and made this happen.

Tank Girl (1995)
I assume that someone started wondering where all the female comic book characters were, and someone came up with this obscure punk creation and made a movie out of her.  Even the movie is obscure today, but it happened, and at some point, someone will remember.

Barb Wire (1996)
At this point in pop culture history, someone was also trying to revive the concept of the bombshell as culturally relevant, and so Pamela Anderson happened, and so did this movie, based on another obscure comic book.  Does anyone get the sense that Hollywood really liked obscure comic books?  Perhaps they were easier to film, because their scope is quite a bit different than, say, just about any mainstream comic book.  At the time.

The Phantom (1996)
It's perhaps no coincidence that a lot of these movies don't actually feature superheroes in traditional costumes, because it's something that's always hard to translate from the page to the screen.  The Phantom features someone in a costume, and it's also another pulp recreation.  I like it because it's also a direct precursor to The Mask of Zorro.  But yeah, it shared the same fate as every other comic book movie at the time.  Audiences just didn't care.

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)
Someone else was curious to find out if Brandon Lee was the only reason anyone cared about The Crow.  It took more than this movie to discover that he basically was.

Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie (1997)
If it weren't for the fact that the Power Rangers are actually still chugging along in their latest reincarnation from the same basic mold, this is a franchise that could use a reboot and might actually be worth it.

Men in Black (1997)
You'll never guess this, but Hollywood found another obscure comic book and made a movie out of it.  Even though the film franchise has become something of an institution thanks to the uncanny chemistry between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, no one has thought to bring the comic books back (possibly because there really is no relation between the two).  Still, Men in Black is perhaps the film that finally broke the spell, the funk, the genre had been mired in throughout the decade.  It made it okay to look for less traditional properties to adapt, and that's exactly what started happening.

Batman & Robin (1997)
There were a few sacrificial lambs before the new era officially began, however.  The first was Joel Schumacher's second and definitely last crack at Batman, in which he takes his impulses to their most obvious conclusions.  If he'd done this movie with any other franchise, it would not be a punchline today.

Spawn (1997)
Those who remember the comic book boom of the decade have strong memories of the impact Image left on the industry, like an entirely new beginning to the superhero phenomenon.  Hollywood believed the same thing, and thus Spawn happened.  It never happened again.

Steel (1997)
Like Supergirl all over again, a miscalculation that deserved a better fate than it got.  But I'd argue that it's the last necessary link between what superhero movies were this decade and what they'd become the next.

Blade (1998)
The complete opposite of Schumacher's Batman initiated a whole subgenre of black leather and trenchcoat antiheroes and was the first success based on a Marvel creation, not to mention tellingly a cult hit based on a character so obscure he is still obscure today even after gaining a film franchise.  This one is the last link needed in the chain begun by Men in Black and Steel, all featuring black lead characters.  Well, it's not as if Hollywood could possibly be ungrateful about that particular fact, right?

Mystery Men (1999)
Because superheroes were still a punchline, the decade closed out with a comedy that was like a last gasp for everything audiences might have thought of the genre to this point.  It's also based on an obscure comic book.

Coming up next: the first barrage of the 2000s!


Maurice Mitchell said...

I get it now. This is a list of movies based on superheroes. not a "best of" or "worst of" list. That makes sense. Darkman is a brilliant film filled with all Raimi's visual genius, but without a back story that he needed to cater too. The sequels, I hear, are horrid.

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

Exactly. I was going to do a "Best of" or possibly even a "worst of" but I realized that my criteria are a little different than most people's tend to be. And so I went for a survey approach, because I love perspective and I could still gush on whatever movie I wanted to and offer opinion on others that have poor reputations that don't necessarily deserve them.

Michael Abayomi said...

The fact that I've seen (or at least remember seeing) nearly all these movies means that the 90s was the decade I became a movie buff! I especially loved Blade, and Spawn had some awesome (at the time) special effects, especially the cape. God, I loved the cape!

Now. Bring on the 2000s. :D

Tony Laplume, Scouring Monk said...

I think the cape is Spawn's lasting contribution to comic book and movie lore. I'm not really sure why, because Todd McFarlane's previous notable superhero experience was Spider-Man, who definitely does not have a cape.


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