Ah, comic book movies.
In the short space of thirty years, it has become one of the most talked-about and profitable cinematic genres, with both Oscar-Winning masterpieces and thundering shit-storms of awfulness owing to its formula. Sadly, the die-hard fans of these films are usually of the mind that there is no middle-ground. Comic-book movies are either the greatest or worst films ever made. What's even worse is that over time, people's opinions of films change as a result of superior or inferior sequels. This chart more or less defines how these movies are looked at.
Anyway, there are a number of these movies that I find to be unfairly ridiculed. They have a heart, soul and message in them that survives an otherwise misguided direction. On the other hand, there's a number of them that are absolutely fairly ridiculed, but like the kid who can't stop looking at the dead bird, there's something I still really like about them. I felt it necessary to discuss them a little bit and how I'm able to look past their flaws and enjoy them. Also, y'know, I just like making lists of junk.
So here we go.
5. Spider-Man 3
By the time ol' Petey's third film rolled around, I'll admit I was getting a little bit bored with this particular franchise. Having rewatched the first two films in the run up to this new one, I realised that they really were a bit too mopey. There were too many times when I just couldn't identify at all with Peter and got angry with him for not growing a pair (which he absolutely did in the comics, about thirty or forty years ago). After two films, Tobey Maguire's performance of Peter was still the same dreary, doughey-eyed skulk he was in the opening scene of the first movie. He hadn't made any of the character development his comic-book counterpart had made, from a timid, whiney weakling into a strong and confident man who would always look on the positive side of things, even if his life stank up the joint.
I'm not arguing that Spider-Man 3 had some sort of supremely subtle, intelligent character development and that its critics are horribly wrong, but Peter did at least grow some balls, even if he also grew a greasy emo-fringe so black it would make Mr. T cry.
The scene where he lays the smackdown on Harry Osborn after a whole film-and-a-half of Ozzy swearing revenge on Spider-Man for murdering his father (which Spidey didn't actually do) was very satisfying. Maguire really put into words the frustration I had with that whole sub-plot. While watching the second film, throughout, I kept thinking "Couldn't Spider-Man just sit down and tell Osborn that he didn't kill his father instead of tip-toeing around the whole thing? Even if he didn't believe him, it would at least be a better than just letting him continuously plot his revenge."
On the subject of Harry Osborn, it is the performance of James Franco as Peter's maddened best friend that absolutely saves this film. Franco is one of my favourite under-utilised actors and he steals a very busy show in this film. Check out this scene after Harry exacts his Shakespearean love-triangle-revenge-plot on Peter:
That last wink is so James Dean, I could cry. (unsurprisingly, Franco played Dean in a very decent TV movie biopic). Probably the biggest problem I have with the film is how they turned him into a quippy, buddy-cop sidekick for the finale. There's nothing wrong with redeeming him, but they completely and utterly castrated the character, removing all of the darkness they had built up over the course of the three movies.
As for the rest of the film, it certainly is a mess and is justifiably hated for being so. There is absolutely no need for Sandman in the film and the only real benefit to his inclusion in the film is that we have a scene in the climax where Spider-Man battles a giant sand-monster and gets to pose in front of the American flag beforehand, in a delightfully cheesy bit. Venom is entertaining enough and Topher Grace does the best with what he was given, but again the character has been completely neutered from the complicated schizophrenic, symbiotic creature of the comics to a 2-dimensional muscle villain.
4. Fantastic Four
In all honesty, the only reason I put this one here and not at number 5 is because I thought it would be funny to put Fantastic Four in Fourth Place. Heh. [/fail]
Anyway, the reason I have this in the list is because for the life of me I can't really understand why people hate this film so much. Fantastic Four only really works as a fun-filled family comedy in the comics, anyway and that's exactly what this film is. It sacrifices all of the grit and grim darkness of modern day comic book movies for 100 minutes or so of silly fun.
Also, my deepest darkest secret is that I secretly love this film's version of Doctor Doom. Dr. Doom in the comics is a dictator with no real set shtick, so he's just sort of the jack-of-all-trades master villain of the Marvel Universe. Unlike Magneto, he doesn't really stand for anything, he's just evil for the sake of it. They put all this effort into portraying him as the master villain, when really he's just a goofy joke. I just...don't get it. Therefore, I far preferred his movie incarnation, where he's completely self-aware, campy image-oriented. You can never go wrong with a villain that has electricity-powers, either. Plus, Julian McMahon is a badass in the long-standing tradition of Australian Badasses.
3. Superman IV
Ah, Superman IV. Next to Batman & Robin as the most reviled of all comic book movies, this film is one of the great train wrecks of superhero cinema. And as co-scribe Mark Rosenthal even says in the movie's DVD commentary, it's evident from the very first second of the opening credits (which look a bit like something you might be able to make with an older version of Windows Movie Maker) that something is terribly wrong. The movie was infamously made on a budget of whatever loose change they could find in the pants Richard Pryor left on the set of Superman III before running off in a drug-inspired streak. The special effects are exclusively awful and there are large sections of the films that don't really make any sense, because of the producers' cataclysmically stupid idea to trim (read: rape) the movie's running time from two hours to a mere 90 minutes. Some of these deleted scenes survived onto the recent special edition DVD release, but they're rough and incompleted and there's still enough of them missing that the film wouldn't make any sense if you put them back in.
But do you know what? I like it. There are a number of films why I still dig this film in spite of its massive obstacles. First and foremost is Christopher Reeve. Even though the film as a whole is pretty terrible, it gives a Christopher Reeve plenty to do in the way of acting. Superman is faced with a very real dilemma in this film and the pressure he suffers having to deal with the disappointment of millions is evident on Reeve's chiselled face, in a few key scenes. One of Reeve's best scenes in any of the films is the scene where Superman announces to the U.N. summit that he will rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. There's just such a sense of cheer and wonderment in that scene (even if it was filmed in a convention centre and not the actual U.N.) that it's impossible not to like it. A similar scene is that where Superman restores Lois Lane's memories of his secret identity and they share a touching scene together where she restores his confidence, before he is forced to erase them again. Throughout the film though, it is apparent that she still remembers everything, albeit on a subconscious level.
The second thing that saves this film and makes it actually entertaining is the legendary Gene Hackman's reprise of his role as Lex Luthor. Unlike the previous films, Luthor didn't have his duo of sidekicks; the hilariously retarded Otis or the busty Miss Tessmacher. In this film he only had his similarly bumbling nephew Lenny (played by Jon Cryer - an obvious attempt by the producers to cash-in on the popularity of Pretty in Pink) and this character's role in the film was wisely toned down in comparison to his predecessors'. This meant that finally, Hackman never featured in a scene that was stolen from him. Luthor in this film is truly, devilishly menacing and utterly hilarious in a darkly comic way. Hackman's performance suffers a lot from the sheer amount of scenes he featured in that were ultimately deleted from the film. Some of the deleted Luthorisms are worth the price of the DVD alone (tragically, none of them exist on YouTube).
Probably my favourite bit in the whole film is where Luthor explains to Superman how for the first time in his life, he had found himself without a truly devious plot other than to kill Superman. He says it so matter-of-factly and with such relish, there's nothing about him that isn't awesome.
Also, I like Nuclear Man. I think his suit is actually kind of cool (mega 80s) and makes him look like an evil Superman. As a kid, I thought he was the coolest villain of any of the Superman films. That's all I have to say about that. Sue me.
2. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Like Superman IV, I know that this film is quite bad (maybe even terrible) and it certainly craps all over a bunch of really great comic stories involving Wolvie's classic origin. There was never really going to be any way to squeeze all of those great stories into one movie though, and on paper, this flick does a decent enough job of it (especially in the first ten minutes or so).
What stops this movie from being the popular definition of "good" is the sheer wealth of "What-the-fuck-did-that-seriously-just-happen?" moments in it. Like Spider-Man 3, the main reason for this is the studio listening to the idiot fanboys and shoving characters (like Gambit) into the film unneccessarily so that they can show them off in a snazzy trailer, ensuring a money-making opening day.
But...seriously...this. I want to know who thought that was a good idea. So I can put my hand on his shoulder and pity him.
So why do I like this movie?
Well, that's just about the easiest question I've had to answer all day.
And of COURSE this:
In short: The reason why I like this film is because Hugh Jackman is so completely awesome in it. I'll admit it with my hands in the air: I'm gay for Hugh Jackman in this film. Throughout the film, he radiates sheer, animalistic, testosterone-charged badassery in a way that hasn't been seen since Stallone in Rambo II. The veins pulsing in his biceps are bigger than my entire arms (I actually joined a gym shortly after this film was released as a result of this). His beard is sharper than a knife. And seriously guys...that hairstyle. I badly need my hair to be like that. Finally they got Wolverine's hair right, so that it doesn't look like he's some kind of Bart Simpson-inspired Village People enthusiast, like it did in the other films. I can't express how awesome Hugh Jackman looks and is in this film. I love him so much, I can't stand it.
I should mention that his acting is second-to-none in this as well. We really get a sense of the misery Logan has had to go through and we genuinely feel for him, for the first time since the first X-Men film. Also, for the first time, Wolverine is really allowed to cut loose and exhibit the feral beserker rage of the comics. It's very easy to look incredibly stupid while roaring your head off angrily in a movie, but Jackman manages to do the exact opposite. People go on and on about how great Robert Downey Jr. was as Iron Man, but really what did he have to do for that role other than show up and just be himself in front of the camera? Hugh Jackman puts sweat, tears and a whole lot of blood into his performance as Wolverine, overcoming the fact that not only is he not Canadian (or even American), the fact that he's over six feet tall (Logan is quite short in the comics) and the fact that he's a singing and dancing thespian that's pretty much completely unlike Wolverine in real life (unlike RDj compared to Tony Stark).
1. Batman Forever
(I'll be damned if that's not the coolest superhero movie-title, ever)
The Holy Grail of unfairly under-rated comic book movies; this is a deceptively good Batman film contrary to popular belief. Unlike the other films in this list, this a genuinely entertaining film in every regard that fully stands up on its own merit. It is still extremely flawed as far as films go, especially Batman films but there's far too much to love about this film. First and foremost is the way the film delves deeper into Batman's origins and the "Whys?" of his weird mission. Throughout the film, Bruce delves through some repressed memories of the aftermath of his parents' death, ultimately culminating in a flashback where he remembers why he became Batman in the first place, in one of the coolest scenes in any of the Batman films (that more than certainly paved the way for the majestic triumph that was Batman Begins).
Also, people forget how great Chris O'Donnell was as Robin in this film. The incarnation of Robin used is indeed Dick Grayson, but his personality celebrates and incorporates elements of all three comic-book Robins: the determination and eagerness of Grayson (as well as the circus background), the anger and vengeful nature of Jason Todd (as well as the hatred of Two-Face) and the wardrobe of Tim Drake. There's really nothing I don't like about Robin in this film, except that they completely destroyed everything good about him in the film that came afterwards.
The film suffers from weak villains (Jim Carrey is decent as the Riddler but is too similar to Nicholson's Joker. Tommy Lee Jones apparently plays Two-Face in this film, but aside from one or two scenes, he's pretty forgettable) and an overall emphasis on whimsy and light-hearted action instead of prioritising the darker character explorations I mentioned earlier. Like Superman IV, Warner Bros. decided they wanted a more easy-going, breezy popcorn flick instead of what could have been the greatest superhero film ever; so once again they deleted a whole mess of brilliant scenes (including Bruce finally finding his father's journal). And yes, this film premiered the nipples on the Batsuits, but whatever. You don't really notice them that much until the next film.
Unlike Superman though, the film is still very much coherent and even enjoyable. So much so, that this Summer my friends and I are getting together for a Cult Viewing of it, where we may actually recite every line.