Monday, July 12, 2004

Superheroes on film

I just caught the special Superhero: The Blessing, The Curse on E! Which, of course, got me to thinking about superheroes on film -- those that have worked, those that haven't worked, and those someone should take a whack at.

Superhero Flicks That Really Worked

1. Spider-Man (I haven't yet seen Spidey 2 -- hey, I'm busy). Sam Raimi just gets it. Not perfect -- Kirsten Dunst is a terrific actress, but she's not the MJ of the comics, and the decision to use that bizarre fright mask for the Green Goblin robbed us of the chance to see Willem Dafoe in full-out villain mode to best advantage. But on the whole, it's everything a 35-year Spidey fan could have wanted, and more. The sequel is supposed to be even better. (Yes, I'll get around to seeing it.)

2. X-Men/X2. Amazingly well-done, especially considering that Bryan Singer wasn't a comics fan before starting the first film. X2 is about as good as a popcorn movie gets. If I had my druthers, I'd have seen more Cyclops (with a better actor playing the role) and a smidge less Wolverine, but you can't have everything.

3. Superman. I was never a fan of the big guy in blue -- too powerful to be interesting -- but it's hard to argue with the success of the first Christopher Reeve outing. The second one was all right too.

4. Hulk. Yes, the fanboys hated it because it was "too cerebral." Grow up, fanboys. Ang Lee made a beautiful, powerful, emotionally arresting film for adults. Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly were terrific, and Nick Nolte was more than worth the price of admission. And I thought the CGI worked just fine.

5. The Rocketeer. Fun, exciting, and perfectly cast with Bill Campbell and Jennifer Connelly (again). Why this wasn't a huge hit, I don't know.

Honorable mentions: The Blade movies are excellent (especially Blade II), but I think of them more as postmodern horror films than as superhero pictures. And even though it's more a pulp character than a true superhero, I enjoyed Alex Baldwin in The Shadow.

Superhero Flicks That Really Tanked

1. Captain America. For the superhero who's closest to our national symbol, Cap has been royally abused by Hollywood. First there were those two dreadful TV-flicks with Reb Brown playing Cap as Evel Knievel in superhero garb, then this monstrosity with Matt Salinger wearing rubber ears on the outside of his cowl. Yikes.

2. All the Batman films. The first two were ruined by too much Tim Burton, the last two were ruined by two much Akiva Goldsman and Joel Schumacher. I'll be interested to see whether Christopher Nolan comes up with a better plan for Batman Begins.

3. Daredevil. Love the character -- my mom made me a Daredevil costume for Halloween when I was 10 or 11 -- but the film...not so much. What were they thinking when they cast smirking Ben Affleck as Matt Murdock?

4. The Punisher. Awful character. Two awful movies. 'Nuff said.

5. Steel. You know, I can almost envision the pitch meeting on this one. "It's a superhero!" Umm...didn't anyone here see Kazaam? Plus, any film with Judd Nelson as the villain is, by definition, going to stink. (Annabeth Gish, however, is very cute in this, and turns in a spunky, charming performance against insurmountable odds.)

Dishonorable mentions: Supergirl -- poor Helen Slater's career would have been better off if she'd been plowed over by a Peterbilt. Spawn -- just because Todd McFarlane's name should always be mentioned in the company of the word "dishonorable."

Superhero Flicks Someone Should Make

1. The Spirit. Will Eisner's cinematic style was tailor-made for the movies. There was an abysmal TV pilot starring Sam "Flash Gordon" Jones in the '80s, but I mean a real, big-budget feature film this time.

2. The long-rumored Black Panther starring Wesley Snipes. T'Challa is The Man.

3. Ditto the long-rumored Iron Man with Tom Cruise.

4. Legion of Super-Heroes. At this stage, it would probably appear to be a lame X-Men ripoff, but it would be fun to see someone try.

5. Mister Miracle. Taking on the entirety of Jack Kirby's Fourth World cycle would be beyond the grasp of any filmmaker I could name, but this one piece of the mythos could make a very interesting movie. That, or Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion.

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