Another Week of Comic Book Movies Reviewed!

Here are 7 more Comic Book Movies Reviews!

What I did try to do, was mix it up by watching non-traditional superhero tales, or movies which I was watching for the first time.  What I also tried to do was showcase the weird and wonderful world of movie marketing by showing foreign or fan made posters.  There are some truly wonderful, and some much less so, examples.

Hope you enjoy, maybe discover a new movie, or have a non-violent angry reaction to my opinion!

Day One – Thor (in 3D)

Given how successful the Marvel movies have become, it’s easy to forget just how big of a risk the original Thor movie was. With Iron Man and Captain America (the first two movies from Marvel’s Phase One), there was a sense of realism to their worlds.  They were set on Earth, had good old fashioned values, and while they were very loyal to the comic books, there were liberties taken with both the characters and the design, in a bid to bring the masses to the (at the time) unfashionable Superhero genre.

With Thor, we were introduced to a world that exists beyond Earth.  We were introduced to Gods.  We were introduced to costumes ripped straight out of the comic books.  We were introduced to old fashioned, almost Shakespearean-esque language. And all the while, it was directed by Kenneth Branagh, a stalwart of British Drama, both in front and behind the camera.  Could this be the first mis-step for Marvel?  Was this going to far into the realms of the comic book?  Not a chance.

For me, this is the best of Marvel’s Phase One, right up until The Avengers.  The character of Thor goes through a journey taking him from a conflict seeking Warrior, to a true leader of men.  The casting is all spot on, with special mention going to Tom Hiddleston (For me, still the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) as Loki, and Anthony Hopkins as Odin, bringing a sense of gravitas and weary experience to the movie.

Fantastic movie all round, and as I say, one of the very best Marvel has put out so far.

9/10

Day Two – The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Spider-Man movies have been on a strange journey.  It was Sony who picked up the rights to Spidey in 90’s.  After many failed attempts to get the project off the ground (including an attempt by none other than James Cameron), it eventually fell to Sam ‘Evil Dead’ Raimi to bring the Webslinger to life.  It was a strange choice, and the casting of Tobey Maguire did nothing to dispel the Fanboys.  However, the first two movies were excellent and some of the best examples of the genre.  As for the third one, well…

The key point here is that these movies were made before Marvel fully entered the cinematic fray.  Having seen their success, Sony had to make a movie, otherwise the rights would revert to Marvel and The Avengers could be reunited.  Sony were eager not to let that happen given how profitable the movies had been.  So they gave us The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Denis Leary.  I have to say I enjoyed the first one, mostly because of Garfield.  I thought he was an excellent choice and pulled off the wit and charm of Peter Parker in a way that Tobey Maguire never quite managed.

Now onto the sequel.  If you can’t see the obvious trouble of this movie given the 3 part poster above, then allow me to lay it out.  Three villains for one 2 hours+ movie is too many.  You have separate stories for each of those villains, Peter and Gwen’s romance, secrets about Peter’s parents, the death of Norman Osborn, the return of Harry Osborn, Peter’s guilt about Captain Stacy, Aunt May holding secrets, set up for future movies with Oscorps research…

There is simply way too much going on in the movie for it to be a cohesive piece.  Rhino features prominently on the poster, yet probably has about 10 minutes of screen time.  Green Goblin is on the poster, again 10 minutes max.  Jamie Foxx thinks he’s in Batman Forever, or is at the least doing his best impression of Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma/Riddler.  The only strong spots are a couple of short action scenes, and Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker / Spidey.  I fear he may become the Pierce Brosnan of the Superhero Universe.  Great pick for the lead (Bond), some terrible movies (World is Not Enough, Die Another Day).

Other than that, there is not much here to recommend.  Oh how Garfield must be wishing that Marvel, not Sony held the rights for Spider-Man.  Then we’d be in business……

5/10

Day Three – Unbreakable

Time to take a step away from movies based directly on comic books, and instead focus on an original story that celebrates their place in our everyday culture.

Unbreakable was always going to struggle.  Not because of the subject matter; or because of the casting; or even because its’ serious take on the Superhero genre was ahead of its’ time.  No, it was going to struggle because it was the movie that directly followed The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan’s major Hollywood debut.  The Sixth Sense was a juggernaut.  It was both a critical and commercial success and brought back the notion of ‘Twist Endings’.

Unbreakable is a much slower and much more deliberate movie than The Sixth Sense.  It has atmosphere dripping off of every frame.  It has Bruce Willis in possibly his most withdrawn ever performance as David Dunn (Your first clue he could be a superhero, repeating initials…), a security guard in Philadelphia who is the sole survivor of a catastrophic train crash.  When Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a lifelong comic fan, starts to ask questions about why he was the only survivor, they start to explore the idea that maybe Superheroes can exist in the real world.  Instead of flying and invisibility, perhaps supreme strength and increased intuition are superpowers in the world that would allow a seemingly ordinary man be able to help people.

What’s interesting about this movie is that it’s an origin story with a difference.  Most origin stories in superhero movies take place in the first act.  Second act is learning to deal with those powers, and the third act is the big climax with the bad guy.  This movie is the first act, stretched out to fill a whole movie.  Shyamalan has publicly admitted that this was the first act in a planned trilogy of movies, but due to the fact it was not as successful as The Sixth Sense (it still made over $250million from a $75million budget so was not a flop by any means), this never happened (Update – due to the success of Split and a certain cameo in that movie, we are finally got a proper sequel…).  In the time since Unbreakable, Shyamalan’s pull and reputation have also suffered dearly after mis-fires such as The Happening and The Last Airbender.

9/10

Day Four – The Crow

The Crow is a bleak movie.  There is no other way around it.  While there are fleeting moments of happiness and hope, it is an unrelentingly dark movie about murder, death, arson, rape, crime and just how evil humankind can be.  This should not come as a surprise for anyone who has ever read the graphic novel by James O’Barr upon which this stunningly faithful adaptation was based upon.  O’Barr had been a victim of tragedy himself, with his girlfriend being killed by a drunk driver when he was in his early 20’s.  The Crow was his way of dealing with the pain and tragedy of that loss.

The graphic novel itself has the distinct pleasure of being my first ever purchase.  I was maybe 11 at the time and way too young to be reading such sensitive material, but it left such an impression on me.  I still have that very same copy today, very much worn and tattered but still in readable condition.  It gave me nightmares as a kid, yet I couldn’t stop reading it.  There was just something about the fragility of life and the line ‘childhood is over the moment you realise that someday you will die’.  It’s always stayed with me.

Onto the movie itself, and outside of Sin City, I don’t think there has ever been a more faithful rendition of any comic book material than The Crow.  The film is not quite black and white like the comic (though Alex Proyas, the director did battle for that), though it is shot so darkly, that there is very minimal colour.  The movie perfectly captures the pain and suffering of the lead character as well as his desire for revenge.  And for this reason, the movie makes us look at ourselves.  We are rooting for Eric to take revenge against these characters; they are established as having zero virtue or indeed any hint of redemption, or regret for their actions.  They are simply the embodiment of evil and therefore they must be slayed.

And onto the elephant in the room.  The movie is also infamous for Brandon Lee’s death during the making of it, when a prop gun was misfired, and he died from his wounds.  There are many conspiracy theories about this, but the general consensus is that it was a bonafide accident, and the safety laws of handguns being used in movies have been strictly changed in the aftermath.

It can be hard watching a movie about a character who has been killed and brought back to life, knowing the real life tragedies of both O’Barr and Lee.  But it is an important movie.  The kind that Hollywood don’t really make any more.  The kind where the world is an ugly place, with little to no hope.  The kind where characters are raped and killed and it’s not just a throwaway line giving the audience this information, you see it through many characters’ eyes.

I will always love this movie and the source material.  I just would never recommend it for a first date or family movie night though…

9/10

Day Five – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Otherwise known as ‘The Movie where Marvel showed it can do Grown Up Movies Too.’  All the Phase One Marvel movies were fun, enjoyable romps, with action spilling right off of the comic book pages.  They had larger than life characters, one dimensional villains that were easy to root against and the heroes themselves were pretty straightforward.  With Cap 2, Marvel crafted an espionage thriller which would not have been out of place in 1970’s Hollywood.  It explored themes of patriotism, freedom, fear, the effect of war, authority, political struggle, all the while having the main character carrying a large red, white and blue shield around.  When actors like Robert Redford are joining in the Marvel party, you know these movies are here to stay.

Cap 2 finds Steve Rogers living in modern times, and dealing with the aftermath of what happened in The Avengers.  But while that movie dealt with threats not of this world, Cap 2 is very much rooted in the real world, with threats and villains much closer to home.  Everyone has their own way of preparing the Earth to deal with any threats, foreign or alien.

With this movie, Marvel massively changed the status quo of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).  By the end, S.H.I.E.L.D. will never be the same; friendships and alliances have been severely questioned and tested; and new allegiances have been formed.

And that’s all without mentioning the clear links to the first Cap movie – the Winter Soldier himself.  The Winter Soldier storyline from the comics (written by the always fantastic Ed Brubaker) is perfectly captured here.  This is the best Marvel movie villain this side of Loki, and the fact that the actor has been signed up for future Marvel movies makes me very happy indeed.

This was one of the very best films of that year.  And I just don’t mean from a comic book fan’s standpoint.  This is a movie you could show your folks and they know this is not all kids stuff.  This is the closest that Marvel has produced to the yardstick of Comic Book Movie Storytelling, The Dark Knight.  And while it may not quite reach the level of Nolan’s masterpiece, you have to think Marvel are not far away from matching it.

10/10

Day Six – Guardians of the Galaxy (in 3D)

And from the serious and thrilling, to the ridiculous and the sublime.  It may be hard to remember, but GotG represented a huge risk for Marvel.  It featured a bunch of characters no-one had ever heard of before.  It was not set on Earth, and so had to rely on setting up a whole world.  Other than the voice acting talents of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, it starred a TV sitcom actor, an actress best known for being an eight foot tall computer generated Na’vi in Avatar, and a WWE wrestler (who wasn’t The Rock).  It also had no clear links to the established movie universe, no mention of any of The Avengers and no A-List director. All of this was a fact expertly handled in it’s trailers – ‘I’m Starlord’ ‘Who?’ ‘What a bunch of A*#Holes’.

In spite of everything against it, I have no hesitation in saying, that GotG was the best film that year, and may very well be the Star Wars: A New Hope for a new generation.  Everything about this movie was pitch perfect.  It has interesting and diverse characters (who will all be, at some point, your favourite character in the movie, only for your opinion to change 5 minutes later); it has superb special effects; it has a very well set up world; it has humour; it has great action; it has an Awesome Mix Vol. 1 of a soundtrack; and most importantly of all, it has heart.  ‘We. Are. Groot’ will get me every time….

The story follows Peter Quill (or Starlord only to himself), a young boy who is plucked from Earth at a very young age, only to be introduced to the vast universe that exists outside of our own.  He becomes a treasure hunter of sorts, and during his exploits comes across a very much sought after item.  Suddenly a lot of people are after it, and through a mixture of fate and fortune, he is thrust together with an alien princess, a talking raccoon, a living tree and a very matter of fact man mountain.  Together, they must stop the forces of evil from possessing this item, and become the reluctant heroes.

Words cannot quite describe my sheer delight the first time I caught this movie.  I thought it would be good, after all, Marvel know what they are doing at this point; but it exceeded every expectation I had.  And it is a movie that has captured the imagination of everyone, given how it is currently Marvel’s third highest grossing movie of all time, after The Avengers and Iron Man 3.  Not bad for a bunch of A*#Holes.

(A quick mention must also go to how well the 3D was integrated into the movie.  Outside of Avatar, this is the best demonstration of the possibilities of the format.)

10/10

Day Seven – A History of Violence

It’s a little known fact that A History of Violence began life as a black and white graphic novel written by John Wagner with art by Vince Locke.  Released in 1997, it was a small title for DC, released through their Vertigo imprint.  There was not much fanfare around the title, despite the fact that Wagner himself is very well known throughout the industry due to being the co-creator of one Judge Joseph Dredd.  It just seemed to fade away from public perception.

It was only when David Cronenberg became attached, that people started to revisit the source material.  Cronenberg himself was not one of them however.  He has famously stated that comic book adaptations hold no interest to him, and claims to have only found out about the graphic novel after production had wrapped.  It was the simplicity of the story and script itself that attracted him.

Whatever the truth, there is no doubting that this was a great match of director with material.  Cronenberg’s movies tend to delve into the darker parts of the human psyche and usually have outbursts of very real, horrific violence.  All of the above are present in A History of Violence.

The story follows Tom Stall, a small cafe owner in rural America.  He is happily married with two kids and enjoys the quiet life. His perfect little life is thrown into chaos when he is held up at his cafe by two mass murderers.  He manages to kill both of them and protect everyone under his roof.  He is soon lauded as an American hero and receives widespread media attention.  This exposure leads some very bad men to his town, who claim Tom is not who he says he is and has a much darker, murkier past.

This is one streamlined movie.  It clocks in at just over an hour and a half and there is not one wasted scene.  On first viewing it is incredibly tense, and you are constantly guessing whether Tom does indeed have a dark past, or whether it’s a case of mistaken identity.  Viggo Mortensen is superb in the title role, and gives a great, nuanced performance where either possibility is very real.

It loses some of its appeal on a second viewing however, once you know which way the movie is headed.  It is nevertheless very well written, acted and directed and very much worth an hour and a half of your time.

7/10

And there we have it, another batch of comic book movies reviewed for your reading pleasure!

Until next time……..

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