Top Four: Movies (Based on Comic Books)

The-Avengers-MovieThe Top Four series looks at certain aspects of the comic book world from two perspectives: Rob’s, as a relative newcomer to mainstream comics, and Kristine’s, as an older hand in the world.  Each installment evaluates the top four choices from both Rob and Kristine and why they chose their picks.



By Robert J. Baden and Kristine Chester

 

 

 

The past couple of decades have seen a lot of movies based off comic books coming about, so much so that Marvel has even created its own division and an interconnecting in-continuity universe for such properties (well, some of them).  There have even been some made-for-TV movies and direct-to-video films (such as the DC original animated features), so many that we’ve actually lost count.  Below are the 8 (4 each) films that we believe best represent movies (based on comic books) that one should see.

 

 

MINOR SPOILERS BELOW

 

 

 

Rob’s Picks

#4: X-Men 2: X-Men United (2003)

Background:

Wolverine attempts to find out more about his past while various members of the military persuade the president to capture members of the mutant community for interrogation—specifically, the Xavier School.  Iceman comes out to his parents about his mutant abilities, and Pyro begins to consider leaving the school.  In the end, Magneto joins forces with the X-Men to take on William Striker, but can’t resist the chance to pursue his own agenda and attempts human genocide to ensure mutant supremacy.  The X-Men leave, but only because Jean decides to stay behind to buy time for everyone to escape.

Pros:

Even more so than the first film, this movie showcased some of the X-Men and their enemies in great situations.  We learn more about Wolverine’s past (and in a much better way than the Origins movie presented); we see the beginnings of Pyro’s dissatisfaction with his friends and allies; and we see that even now, when mutant kind is being threatened, Magneto continues forward with his plans for humanity’s genocide.  One of the best parts is at the end when Jean shows off her Phoenix powers—even if the third movie kind of overdid it with the character—and how powerful she can be.

Cons:

My biggest problem with the movie was how easy Striker was able to get access to the school; it took little effort on his part to take out the facility’s defenses, and that really bugs me.  This is supposed to not only be a school, but a highly classified facility for the X-Men; one would think that there would be better defenses in place than walls.



#3: Batman Begins (2005)

Background:

Bruce Wayne comes to grips with the death of his parents by going out into the world and living life one day at a time.  He trains with a man who is really the head of a secret society determined to help change the world, but ends up defying him and returns to Gotham to start changing it for the better.  Under the guise of Batman, Wayne starts inflicting terror on the criminals of Gotham City and creates a positive influence on some of the more decent police officers.  Finally, when Wayne feels as though he’s made a significant difference, Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow make their move to bring Gotham down.

Pros:

Nolan takes a fresh aspect to the franchise and decades-old hero, falling more in line with the more modernized incarnations of Batman.  The film doesn’t spend an excessive amount of time on his parents’ death or the origins of the Bat, but instead does so in a great, slow, yet measured, way so the audience can see what is going out without getting bored.  The movie is dark, giving a noir feel to it that really works, and the choice of actors is superb.

Cons:

What stood out the most for me in this film in terms of “bad” was the fact that Bruce Wayne was very willing to use a gun against Joe Chill.  Batman’s always been a bit violent, but the one thing he’s been pretty staunch about is never to use guns due to what happened to his parents.  To me it just felt as though it wasn’t keeping in character with what has been long-established; now, if he were to use a knife, sure, that would have made sense in my head.



#2: V for Vendetta (2006)

Background:

An oppressive regime comes to power in Britain, and only one man seems to be willing to take an active interest in changing things.  His use of violence and outspoken promises of further public destruction have created waves throughout the personal fiefdom of the country’s rulers, all in pursuit of vengeance for the deaths of people in a money-making and political maneuvering scheme.  Eventually, he succeeds in inspiring dissent amongst the populace to the point where even the threat of being shot doesn’t stop a mob from marching on Parliament.

Pros:

I absolutely love the look at the very complex and oppressive political situation in Britain and the call for reformation and retribution by a sole citizen that doesn’t even exist.  Hugo Weaving’s performance is stunning, especially given that his face is never seen, and the shock and awe that the citizens of Britain portray is very lifelike.  As an American, I see a lot of parallels to some of the domestic policies that the United States have had and how bad they could become if certain situations arose, and as a geek I like to see a parallel to the mutant treatment within the Marvel universe; quite well done.

Cons:

Perhaps the biggest problem with the movie is that it is not exactly like what the creators of the comic intended it to be.  I’ve seen it described—and partially agree—as a political satire look on the then-current United States' policies toward privacy and religion, and while it did make the film enjoyable, it was different than the original on many levels.



#1: The Avengers (2012)

Background:

A great power is coming to Earth, with Loki as their advanced scout.  Using the tesseract as a way to open up a doorway to another place in the universe, the bane of Asgard unleashes turmoil upon humanity.  Only the combined efforts of six heroes can stop them, but they’re not without their own problems; a lot of personality conflict doesn’t allow for the Avengers to form themselves right away, and several losses are experienced before they finally come together.  In the end, they defeat Loki and his master, but invite the ire of a distant villain who does not hesitate to show his resolve.

Pros:

Absolutely the best comic book film I’ve ever seen. I expected a lot out of The Avengers, and it delivered without any problems.  A plausible story, good and evil, even the tragic death of a beloved character, Joss Whedon and his team put together one of the best films I had ever seen.  What made it great was the team had to actually become a team before it could defeat their enemy, and that’s not always easy.

Cons:

I’m not particularly happy about how easily Hawkeye was taken under control, and the fact that he spent half of the film on Loki’s side was rather annoying.  Not only that, but the apparent ease with which he shook off the effects following the helicarrier battle was rather hard to believe, even from a comic book standpoint; I felt as though he should have struggled a bit more, perhaps manipulated Black Widow’s character somewhat.




Kristine’s Picks

#4: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

Okay, so maybe Scott Pilgrim wouldn't be my #4 on a Top 10 list strictly speaking. Such a spot would be more likely to go to Thor (*sigh* Chris Hemsworth), The Avengers, or possibly even Kick-A--, but I wanted to pay homage to at least one of the excellent, non-superhero comic book movie adaptations out there.

Background:

Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is an underachieving 23 year old. He doesn't really work, or do much of anything outside of badly playing bass for a band and hang out with his 17-year-old girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). That all changes when Scott meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a mysterious girl he falls hard for. Scott breaks up with Knives and starts to go out with Ramona but learns there is a catch. If he wants to go out with Ramona, he will have to defeat her seven evil exes.

Pros:

The movie manages to condense the six volume of the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley into a fairly lengthy, but good, movie. The supporting cast, including the evil exes, were excellently cast and so much fun to watch on the big screen, especially Wallace Wells and Kim Pine and their epic snark. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is also a real treat for gamers who started with the NES/SNES eras. There are so many little tributes to video games, many of which were different from the comic's own video game tributes to make them work well for the film.

Cons:

While I think the movie did the best job it could of adapting six volumes worth of material, it was still adapting six volumes worth of material. There are a lot of great side stories from the comic that don't make it into the movie. Also, Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim was a poor choice as Cera plays a better awkward, nerdy kid while Scott is more oblivious, lazy, and a little bit slow than awkward.



#3: Unbreakable (2000)

I cheat again! Technically, Unbreakable isn't a direct adaptation of any particular comic book, but it does derive its inspiration from comics and pays homage to them.

Background:

One of M. Night Shyamalan's films before he became a joke. David Dunn (Bruce Willis) survives a train wreck that killed 131 other people with him being the only survivor. From there he starts to explore what happened to him with the guidance of comic book collector Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). Together, they start to discover that David might be something more than human.

Pros:

Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are perfect leads in this movie, both encompassing their characters and being great foils for one another. The ending of the movie is a real surprise but fits perfectly into the mythos and is a twist I'm able to get behind. Unbreakable does an amazing job paying homage to comic books and superheroes in so many little ways that it's a must watch for any superhero fans.

Cons:

Unbreakable is a slow-paced movie, which wants you to think. The most common complaint I've heard is that people lose interest early on, as this film tries to find its feet. Also, anyone not intimately familiar with how superheroes are handled in comic books are going to miss out on a lot of the cool details that went into this movie, which are a huge part of why this movie gets my #3 slot.



#2: Batman Begins (2005)

Background:

The first of the second series of Batman movies, this time with Christopher Nolan at the helm. After his parents are murdered, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world trying to understand the criminal mind and learning how to defend himself. He eventually comes across the League of Shadows, an organization of ninjas who train him in their fighting styles and ways of thinking. After learning the League intends to wipe out Gotham as part of their new world order, Bruce takes down their leader, Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), and flees to Gotham. There, he looks for ways to end the crime and corruption in the city and takes on a new identity based on a bat motif to act as a symbol.

Pros:

As far as origin stories go, this is fantastic. I was engaged the entire time watching Bruce go from a scared little boy to the goddamn Batman. It was nice to see a fallible version of the character as he figures the ins and outs of crime fighting. The film is well paced and we get to see plenty of Batman in action. Also, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox add so much life and levity to this film that I doubt Batman Begins would be this high on my list without them.

Cons:

Some will complain that it's still an origin story, which I completely understand. Ra's al Ghul and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) are not the level of villain as Heath Ledger's Joker (The Dark Knight) or Tom Hiddleston's Loki (The Avengers), if you can call being good instead of great a con.



#1: Iron Man (2008)

Background:

The first of Marvel Studios' movies, Iron Man was not just a superhero film but can be viewed as a science-fiction movie on its own right. Billionaire playboy Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) runs a weapons manufacturing company. Following a demonstration in Afghanistan, Tony's convoy is attacked by terrorists wielding Stark Industries weapons, and he is injured, requiring him to have an implant over his heart to prevent shrapnel from entering it and killing him. While captured, he creates a miniature, but incredible, power source called an arc reactor to replace the implant above his heart. Tony then invents a suit of weaponized armor powered by the arc reactor in his chest to aid in his escape. Back in the States, Tony perfects his armor design and starts to take his company's future into his own hands by going after Stark Industries' weapons in the hands of terrorists, but others at the company are not so ready to give up selling weapons to all sides.

Pros:

Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark. The lead character is fun and his struggles with the morals of selling weapons are believable and raise the stakes. I also love the fact that Iron Man can be taken out of the superhero genre and is a pretty good sci-fi action movie on its own. Iron Man set the tone for all of the Marvel movies to come: it was fun, it was action packed, and it had a great cast.

Cons:

Iron Man shows a little wear around the edges in the CGI department, since the film is already four years old. It also has the issue of having a less-than-compelling villain in the form of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), though personally I felt Stane was an excellent choice for the comparison to Tony and his father and wasn't so compelling as to overshadow Tony's origin story.



As more and more movies are being released based off comics, this list can certainly change, but at the moment it is what it is. With companies like Marvel and directors like Christopher Nolan raising the stakes, it's likely that as good as our current choices are, we will be fortunate enough to have several of our choices usurped by the next generation of comic-inspired films.  We’re certainly looking forward to experiencing those new films, and we hope you are, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 27 December 2018 17:16

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