2012 has been an epic year for comic book adaptations. Both ‘The Avengers’ and ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ were released into the wild and quickly became the two highest grossing comic book movies of all time. This sub-genre is undergoing a renaissance to accompany its surge in popularity; and with the announcement of ‘The Avengers 2‘ and ‘Iron Man 3,’ things are still looking up.
However, before these new movies see the light of day, and with a new year almost upon us, lets take a look back at the roots of this sub-genre, and pick the Top 5 Comic Book Movies of all time.
5. Batman (1989)
Close to being overshadowed between the accomplishment of the first Batman blockbusters and the two near-fatal Joel Schumacher attempts(/bastardizations) stands Tim Burton‘s first attempt at Batman in 1989. Those that remember will know it’s one hell of a good movie, and a box office phenomenon of its day. Though die-hard comic book fans still wallowed in the blaze of the original comic book of conceivably the definitive modern-day Batman chronicle, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (1986).
Now, here’s where things get complicated. Everyone seems to think this spot should go to one of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ films. I want to preface this by saying that Nolan brought a truly unique version of the caped crusader to the silver screen. His interpretation of the story and the performances within it (not just in terms of acting) were magnificent. However, there can only be one Batman movie in this list, and (despite what those around me may think) it’s not Nolan’s.
Nolan was largely successful in his unrelenting attempts to achieve believability, transcending the oft-juvenile antics found in past interpretations for a Batman that would fit into modern society. However, I believe this endeavor was also his greatest fallacy with this series.
I’ve never been one to buy into the fascist superhero argument, but I do believe that Nolan’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, while magnificently performed, lacked the character development and deeper soul-searching (or soul-interrogation) necessary for a ‘realistic’ Batman to maintain any place in a ‘true to life’ Gotham. To bear the weight of the world on your shoulders in the face of insurmountable odds AND keep your mind in tact is just as unrealistic as the Bams, Thuds, and, Whaps of the Batman television series. This is the reason why Frank Miller explored this in-depth in his graphic novels. The near-complete absence of this exploration or any deeper mental struggle in favor of shallow explorations of the concept of anger in Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ leaves an incredibly unlikely central character in an otherwise plausible world and renders all attempts at believably moot. The focus should be on a believable Batman, not a believable (and admittedly, incredibly well thought-out) world for an unlikely character to occupy.
Despite being colorful to the point of nausea, Burton’s Batman contains deeper character struggles, and nods to conflicts of conscience and mental health issues. For that reason, Tim Burton’s 1989 interpretation stands above Nolan’s in this list.
Scene-Stealer: Any scene featuring Jack Nicholson’s humorously maniacal Joker.
4. Iron Man (2008)
The audience loves a different kind of super-hero. We actually like the conceit and suave male vanity. Just about everyone can embrace his ego because of his humanity. The irony inherent in surrounding that humanity with a metal suit only compounds this duality. Robert Downey Jr was the perfect fit for this role, feeding us that love-hate playboy conundrum, and they pulled it off while still remaining faithful to the original publication.
Scene-Stealer: It’s difficult to choose. Being unlike any other interpretation of the stories, most would agree Iron Man had us in the palms of those iron fists. To pick just one, it would have to be Iron Man’s first showdown with terrorists after donning on the red and yellow. Tony Stark’s intellectual superiority over every other person on the planet reigns true in the scene, and provides a clever introduction to the suits true capabilities.
3. Superman: The Movie (1978)
The original ‘Superman’ was the first true modern-day comic book adaptation, and while the technical aspects and special effects are pathetic by today’s standards, the writing and musical score remains an all-time classic, accompanied by charming performances and an enchanting story-line.
Scene-Stealer: When Superman rescues Lois Lane from a falling helicopter. Everything about this moment is perfect; bystanders get to cheer Superman on as he heroically rescues the damsel in distress. 10/10 for saving the day.
2. X-Men 2 (2003)
X-Men 2 (‘X2’) deserves a round of applause. The film hits the ground running from Nightcrawler’s brazen infiltration of the White House as its introduction. While the movie is captivating it doesn’t really pay homage to the original comic books. However, with exceptionally well-choreographed scenes, the original publication tends to escape us anyway as we focus on the action. Wolverine cutting loose on the soldiers invading the Xavier Institute serves as a prime example. I should add that the cultural significance of this entire X-Men franchise cannot be overstated. It paved the way for the influx of super heroes on the silver screen which continues to this day.
Scene-Stealer: Wolverine getting his claws into the soldiers is certainly a highlight; however, a special mention must go to Magneto’s escape from his prison cell.
1. The Avengers (2012)
‘The Avengers’ takes me back to the old comic book days, and it’s exactly what everyone should hope to see in a comic-book-based superhero movie. At first thought, I really expected the Avengers to be a cheesy budget-busting movie, not worth the ticket – but I was surprised. What makes this movie so good is that the characters were superbly integrated, which is a difficult task when you think of meshing all those incredibly different characters together. A soldier, a monster, a god, a machine, and all the egos. Placing such a motley crew in colored ink is one thing, but to do so well on the silver screen is a difficult task that was completed incredibly well.
Scene-Stealer: Can you really pick one scene? On one hand, the Hulk versus Loki was magnificent; need I remind you of the “puny god” jab. However, in the showdown between Captain American and Loki, the old German man delivering of a super-dose of truth, “there are always men like you,” is something that resonates deeply with any audience. The dialogue in that entire scene is clever on so many levels.
Agree? Disagree? – Let us know in the comments below.