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The 32 Reasons Why Cracked’s “5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst” Is Full Of Crap

Posted on 08 May 2013 by William Gatevackes

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In the effort of being honest, I have an admission to make. One that will make the words that follow seem like sour grapes.

I “applied” to work at Cracked.com.

Applied in the sense that I signed up for their developmental workshop message boards, where writers can pitch stories that might one day make the website and get them paid. I haven’t submitted anything yet (and probably won’t after this) because I was trying to come up with the perfect pitch. One that was factually correct, stood up on its own, and made its argument forcefully yet logically.

jf-sargent

JF Sargent. No, really.

As it turns out, that wasn’t really necessary. JF Sargent, who just happens to the be the moderator of that above workshop, posted an article on the site last week called, “5 Reasons Superhero Movies Are a Bubble That Will Soon Burst.” In it, he compares the popularity of comic book films to the “New Hollywood” era of film making, the period from 1967 to about 1982 where young filmmakers made a big splash and changed the face of cinema. The five “reasons” are five similarities Sargent thinks he sees between the two eras. His theory is because the “New Hollywood” era of film making flamed out, surely the superhero film era is also on its way there.

On the surface, it seems like it has the makings of a well researched piece of film criticism, one so logically sound that it can not be questioned. I mean, if Sargent proves that  one era hit the same number of landmarks in  the exact same way as another era did, why, certainly if first era dies, the other one will die in the same way, right?

Well, it might, if Sargent hadn’t made any glaring factual errors, fudged facts and history, and used subjective logic and “proof” all along the way. There are so many glitches  that his arguments go from sounding the definitive death knell for the comic book film to being what appears to be a sad bit of “wishful thinking” journalism.

How many? Well, let’s make a list of our own by going through his text. And we don’t have to wait long. It starts with the lead paragraph:

If you’re a lover of comic books, fantasy novels, or sci-fi, you should be in heaven right now. All of Hollywood caters to your tastes. Hell, if you’re under 20 years old, you don’t even remember what it’s like not to have Hollywood throw $2 billion worth of blockbuster movies at you every summer (while the rest of us remember that as recently as 1994 they made a Fantastic Four movie so bad, it couldn’t even be released).

Okay, let’s start the list:

1. The poor quality of the Fantastic Four film played little to no role in the project being shelved.

I explained as much here, but let me give you the pertinent graph:

There are two schools of thought over why the film was not released. One was that Constantin never intended to release the film at all, and essentially lied to all parties involved in the production just so the film could be made. Another says that Avi Arad, who would become head of Marvel Studios two years after the film was due to be released and helped usher in the success Marvel has had in recent years, paid Constantin and Concorde to shelve the movie because he didn’t want such a cheap production to taint the brand. Regardless, the film was never released either here or abroad, and only exists in a popular bootleg version you can find at most comic book conventions.

FantasticFour1994Granted, the film was shot for $1 million dollars, a sum way under what it would take to make a good FF film. It was cheap and it looked it. But the main factors at play seem to be the ones mentioned above. And Arad’s reason for putting the film on ice, as described on the very Wikipedia page Sargent linked to, seems less about how bad it was, but how little money was spent on it.

This might be splitting hairs, but it goes to establishing Sargent’s bona fides. The fact that he just casually mentions that the ’94 FF film was shelved was because it was awful, without even presenting an existing opposing point of view, shows a tendency to present only the “facts” that support his argument. Not a good start.

And while we’re here:

2. Sargent uses Wikipedia as a source. A lot.

Not long ago I was in college. I wrote a lot of papers. Wikipedia was strongly frowned upon as a source of information. Why? Because it is crowd-sourced. Anybody can edit an article there,and you can have it say whatever you want. Therefore, it’s not always very trustworthy to back up your arguments. Granted, some of Wikipedia”s articles are sourced, but in that case its better to use the original source.

Sargent’s list begins in earnest by stating both eras began with a surprise box office hit out of the blue. For “New Hollywood,” it was 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. For the comic book era? It was a bunch of films that came out in the early 2000’s that overcame the superhero film-light 1990s. Let me let him tell you:

This changed in 2000 and 2001 when X-Men, Spider-Man, and the first The Lord of the Rings came out. Remember that back then those geek-centric movies were all pretty risky investments for the studios. Not only was this the first time that either of those Marvel superheroes would be seen on screen, but the last superhero movie to come out at that time had been Batman & Robin, which, you know, we’d rather not talk about. As for The Lord of the Rings, the last attempt at an adaptation was a godawful cartoon that was made in the 1980s.

Oh, I think I can get at least four additions to our list from this paragraph alone.

3. Spider-Man came out on May 3, 2002.

Before you call me a nitpicker, here me out. The reason I make an issue out of this is because it is key to Sargent’s comparison that each era begin with a “big bang” if you will–one or more films that were a surprise success. Now, since the “New Hollywood” era is traced back to just one film, it suits Sargent’s argument better if the three “superhero” films came out in quick succession. But they didn’t. It took three years for all the films mentioned to come out.  And really, there were only two that are legit, and they came out two years apart. More on that later. But Spider-Man definitely came out in 2002, even Wikipedia got that right.

4. What about Blade?

Blade movieIf Sargent was looking for a comic book film that fit his analogy to a T, Blade is it. It was the first film where Marvel took a more active role in the production of the film, marking a new attention towards fidelity to the source material that Sargent marks as a trademark of the superhero film era. It was also an unknown property without a huge built in audience, so it was not a lock that it would be a success. But it was, it debuted at #1 at the box office just like Sargent’s other examples and made a sizable profit. If there was a film that ushered in the era of the superhero movie, it was Blade.

Why didn’t Sargent use Blade as the start of the superhero movie era? Perhaps he just didn’t know that Blade was a superhero. Or, maybe, for his point to work, for the narrative he was trying to create to gel, he had to create some distance the “last” comic book film, Batman and Robin, and the comic book film’s resurgence. Blade wouldn’t work here because it was released in 1998 and Batman and Robin was released in 1997. That would have meant the superhero film bounced back just 14 months after it’s nadir. And that weakens Sargent’s point almost completely.

Some of you might argue that Blade is not a superhero. He’s a vampire who fights vampires with his vampire powers. That is totally different than a superhero who fights supervillains with superpowers! Okay, but what about…

5. Frodo Baggins, Superhero!?!!?

Listen, determining who is and who isn’t a superhero is a popular topic of debate in comic shops across the country. Is the Punisher a superhero? Someone will that because he wears a costume, yes. Others will say that he doesn’t have any powers, so no. Then someone will bring up Batman, who wears a costume but has no powers, is he a superhero? Someone will say yes because he fights super-powered villains. But, the Punisher fought super-powered villains…well, you get the idea. If your loved one goes to their local comic shop and doesn’t come back for hours, it’s probably because they got sucked into one of these kinds of conversations.

But if you were to go into that shop and say that your favorite superhero was good ol’ Frodo, all sides of the argument would stop fighting amongst themselves,unite, and start arguing against you.

I mean, granted, Frodo has a ring that makes him invisible, and he hangs out with wizards, but he resides in the fantasy/sword and sorcery genre, not the superhero genre. And while fans of one genre often are fans of the other, the genres are not interchangeable. It would be a huge stretch of logic to consider them so.

But Sargent needs big films and big franchises to provide the tools to work with. So, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars become superhero movies, even though they really aren’t. For the casual reader, this probably won’t matter much. But to fans of the superhero film, the inclusion of these films invalidates Sargent’s argument from the get go. Because he’s not railing against the superhero film, he’s really railing against a larger target–the geek culture film. But I guess that wouldn’t generate as many hits.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, The Mask, and Men in Black all came out in the 1990s.

Sargent likes to paint the 1990s as such:

In the ’90s, all of the major money-maker movies were Die Hard knockoffs (Con Air, Broken Arrow, Face/Off), sober explorations of tragedies (Dances With Wolves, Schindler’s List, Titanic), Adam Sandler being a dumbass, and Tom Hanks doing things that usually didn’t involve having superpowers.

First off, not including Speed in the list of Die-Hard knockoffs is a crime. It was Die Hard on a frikkin bus for goodness sakes!

brandon_lee_the_crowSecond, Sargent intends to show that the 90s were a dry period for the superhero movie. But they really weren’t. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Crow, The Mask, and Men in Black all could be considered superhero films (if Frodo’s a superhero, then so is Agent J). They all came from comic books. All their lead characters fought crime in different ways. And all of them were box office hits in the comic book film unfriendly 1990s. Each one had at least one sequel, which is more than you can say for Sargent’s examples. And, lest we for get, Batman Returns, Batman Forever and, yes, Batman and Robin all were released in the 90s and all made a profit (yes, even Batman and Robin, when worldwide grosses are added in).

So from here, Sargent goes on the the next step:

So next comes the heyday: Geek directors who truly love the source material are suddenly getting the green light to make these movies the right way.

Note the wording: Geek directors who TRULY LOVE the source material. To show the difference in superhero film eras, he says this about the first go round for Batman:

Compare that to 1989’s Batman, directed by a guy who said he didn’t like comics and written by a guy who thought Batman’s origin story was too dumb to work in a movie. It was a new era. The geeks had ascended to the throne!

Okay, back to the list!

7. Tim Burton never said he didn’t like comics.

Sargent employs the kind of journalistic skills you’d find in the New York Post, the National Enquirer, and on Fox News here–twisting a person’s words around to fit your own desired meaning. Sargent uses the book Burton on Burton for the source on that information. Let’s see what the paragraph Sargent got that quote from really says:

Burton quoteWhat Burton really said was that he was never a comic book fan, not that he didn’t like comics. There IS a difference. This is dirty pool by Sargent. He is definitely trying to give his readers the impression that Burton hated comic books. It really doesn’t seem that way. And as explained above, it was because there was a learning curve he couldn’t get by. It wasn’t until Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke comic came along was he able to figure out how to read comics. And he loved that comic book.

8. And he misquotes Sam Hamm too.

“You totally destroy your credibility if you show the literal process by which Bruce Wayne becomes Batman,” said Sam Hamm, screenwriter of the 1989 Batman.

That is the quote that Sargent uses as a source. It was published in a Digital Spy recap of the Batman franchise, surely taken from a Cinemafantastique interview done with Hamm back when Batman first came out. As you can see, Hamm doesn’t call Batman’s origin dumb. He isn’t even talking about Batman’s whole origin. Bruce Wayne’s parents still get gunned down in front of him in the film, so that part of the origins still exists. Hamm was talking about the training part of the origin, the part that Batman Begins did so well. Nowhere in that quote does Hamm say the origin was dumb. It seems pretty obvious that he’s saying that it wouldn’t work in the version of Batman Burton was putting on the screen at the time.

But he doesn’t have to mislead his readers about the current generation of comic book film makers, does he? Every last one of them”TRULY LOVE” the source material, right?

Wrong.

9. By the way, Bryan Singer? The director of X-Men? The film that Sargent says started the Superhero film trend? Not a life-long comic book fan.

From the X-Men panel at the 2000 San Diego Comic Con, transcribed by JoBlo:

How long have you been reading the X-Men comics, or comics in general? Have you always been a fan? Seems to be that you would have to be to get it all so right.

Well, as a matter of fact…<audience laughs>, I never read comics growing up at all. I liked science-fiction, fantasy, and watched a lot of television, but I never read comics. About three and a half years ago, Tom suggested that I take a look at X-Men, I did, and I found it incredibly fascinating, so I began to read, began to read the character biographies, began to read the comics, I watched all 70 episodes of the animated series, and really familiarized myself. So basically I’ve been reading X-Men for about three and a half years, but I’m much more of a contemporary fan.

10. Christopher Nolan? He wasn’t a comic fan either.

From an Entertainment Weekly profile from 2005, right when Batman Begins was about to hit:

But Nolan had never been a big Bat geek; his first contact with the series had been the goofy Adam West TV show, and he’d never read the comics as a kid.

So, that means two of the biggest names in the superhero film renaissance, who according to Sargent’s theory truly loved the source material and made sure they brought it to the screen correctly, had at best a casual, if passing, knowledge of source material before they took over. Yet another hole shot in Sargent’s argument.

Wait! Sargent seems to realize this, because he gives Nolan an out in the third reason “The Studios Start Throwing ALL of the Money at Them,” which really an extension of the previous reason but since all Cracked articles have to have at least five bullet points, they had to make two reasons out of one idea. But I digress:

Nolan talks about being passionate about the character (one of the hallmarks of Nerdywood, as explained above), and he had a weird, borderline crazy idea for the new series: Batman would be gritty and realistic.

Being passionate about a character is greater than truly loving the source material. Unless, of course, you are Tim Burton, because, well, that wouldn’t fit with the argument you are making, right JF?

We’ll get back to reason three later. Let’s go back reason two, especially how “New Hollywood” relates the now disproved idea that hardcore comic geeks were behind all the new comic book movies.

The New Hollywood era was all about film geeks taking over — a bunch of weird, experimental directors known as the “movie brats,” with names like George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Stanley Kubrick.

11. Stanley Kubrick really wasn’t part of New Hollywood.

StanleyKubrickNow, this isn’t the fault of Sargent, but rather the Wikipedia article that acted as his inspiration. And they really aren’t at fault either. Everyone thinks that trying to pigeonhole a certain period time and applying a name to it is a good idea. But it is never a case of black and white, rather it’s a shade of gray. Sargent’s theorem works if New Hollywood era lasted 13 years from inception to demise because we are at year 13 in the superhero era (if you count X-Men as the start of it, which I don’t). However, it’s impossible to get anything so fluid and so debatable into those kind of constraints.

New Hollywood has an veneer of youth to it. The recent film school grads got their hands on the directors chairs and guided Hollywood to a new direction. However, Kubrick was already a 14 year veteran of the film industry when Bonnie and Clyde arrived in 1967, had made seven films by that point, and had already received Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Granted, 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was a transcendent piece of work in Kubrick’s career, but you can see hints of where Kubrick was going in 1962’s Lolita and 1964’s Dr. Strangelove. His creativity and willingness to push boundaries does seem to be a perfect match for some of the other auteurs on the New Hollywood list, but he was anything but new when New Hollywood hit.

Let’s go on to his third point (the “Throwing ALL the Money” one, although the throwing of money is barely mentioned). In it, he brings up the theme of risks. First about Nolan’s grim and gritty take on Batman:

That had never been done on film before, but Nolan was young, nerdy, and excited, so the studios gave him an insane-o-copter ride to the money castle, and holy shit did it ever pay off.

Then he tries to convince us that The Avengers was risky. Hee hee!

Fast forward 10 years, and you can see that The Avengers is pretty much the same thing, except even more so. No, it’s not gritty or realistic, but it sure is weird and risky: It expects audiences to follow one story across two sci-fi action movies, a fantasy movie, a fugitive movie, and a World War II era adventure film. Most movies treat you like you can’t even tie your own goddamn shoes, but The Avengers took that risk and ended up going home with 1.5 billion nerd-dollars lining its pockets.

Let’s go in order, shall we?

12. The gritty, realistic Batman wasn’t risky, it was wish fulfillment.

The comic book Batman has been grim and gritty since 1986, when the Batman: The Dark Knight Returns miniseries began publication. While it is true that every version of Batman in other media before Nolan took the edge off the character, the hardcore fans would have actually preferred an interpretation of the Caped Crusader that matched more with his comic book counterpart. When one of the most exciting directors in Hollywood teamed with a screenwriter with comic book experience to bring a Batman to the screen that had more in common with The French Connection than Schumacher’s nipple fest, well, fans were salivating. Add to that a cast that would be chock full of Oscar winners and nominees, and you had the makings of a sure fire hit before the first showtime was announced.

And…

13. What Sargent thinks made The Avengers risky, is what guaranteed its success.

Sargent apparently never heard of the concept of a sequel. Or of the Harry Potter franchise. Because The Avengers essentially was a sequel to all those films listed. You didn’t really have to see all those films to get enjoy The Avengers. But if you enjoyed Captain America: The First Avenger or Thor, you had a chance to continue watching his adventures. You had four pre-fab audiences built in.

But if you did see all the films, you had the culmination of a sweeping epic in The Avengers. Movie audiences are not so stubborn as to not follow a franchise through numerous installments, and the James Bond, Harry Potter, and Twilight franchises have showed us. But, hey, if Sargent actually paid attention to this reality, he wouldn’t have had a column.

Sargent felt he needed to manufacture risks for the superhero films to make the connection with the real risks the New Hollywood films endured:

Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was a weird, morally complicated exploration of war based on a nigh-impenetrable 19th century novel, but it dominated the box office. Jaws was the first ever summer blockbuster, and Star Wars only turned out the way it did because Lucas refused to compromise and made the movie himself.

The first two also had incredibly tumultuous shoots and faced having the studio pulling the plug a number of times. And the studio was so worried about Star Wars‘ success that Lucas went and practically begged Marvel to publish a comic book tie-in to the film as an extra form of promotion. So the risk in the New Hollywood era were indeed real. This won’t be the last time the eras don’t exactly match up.

Sargent moves onto the next step of the rise and fall of these genres–studios taking more control of their film projects. It’s here where the parallels between the New Hollywood era and the Superhero film era start to really waiver, because the evidence Sargent presents is definitely in favor of the Superhero era:

You could start to see the signs years ago. After the success of Raimi’s first two Spider-Man movies, the studio pressured him into including Venom because he was a popular comic book character — except Raimi had been concentrating on the Silver Age of comics, and the dark, gritty, ’90s era Venom didn’t fit into the world he’d created. When they greenlit a movie version of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, they had such a limited idea of what a comic book movie could be that they turned Alan Moore’s love letter to 19th century prose into a movie with vampires where things explode and Sean Connery does hero things. When they made The Losers, they cut out all the political commentary and replaced it with light-hearted action bullshit. When they made Watchmen, they cut out the self-loathing, rape, and moral complexity and replaced them with slow-motion action scenes. As other people have pointed out, this totally missed the point that Watchmen is about failure.

On this point I do have to agree with Sargent. I do think that undue studio influence does ruin a lot of films. However…

14. Heavy handed studio/producer involvement is nothing new to comic book films…

Tim Burton has to wrangle with his studio bosses during his time on Batman. Richard Donner fought with the Salkinds over the tone of Superman. The reason why the Superman franchise took so long to be rebooted was because various producers wanted the film to include giant spiders or mimic The Matrix. So, this kind of heavy-handedness is nothing new.

15….nor is it exclusive to the comic book films.

Studios insisted that Blade Runner have a happier ending. Universal wanted a happy, 94-minute version of Brazil and got in a war of wills with Terry Gilliam over it. And studio influence handcuffed The Bonfire of the Vanities from the get go, coercing Brian DePalma to cast Bruce Willis and make Sherman McCoy a more sympathetic character. And these are just three examples. There are many, many more (although Sargent has problems finding any during the New Hollywood era).

16. However, if it wasn’t for Marvel playing a bigger role in the creation of their films, the Superhero era might not have even existed.

120925_PIVOT_AviArad.jpg.CROP.article250-medium It fits Sargent’s narrative if Marvel just recently started becoming more hands on (after all, it was Marvel’s Avi Arad who pushed for Venom, not Sony/Columbia), but the truth is the reason why the Superhero era in film began is because Marvel and, in particular, Avi Arad took a hands on role it how Marvel properties would be portrayed on the big screen. The studios would own the rights as long as the kept making movies, and the amount of the profits kicked back to Marvel were paltry, but Arad and other Marvel people would become producers on the films and ensure that the Marvel characters were getting a fair shake on the screen.

When the first wave of Marvel films became a success, due in a large part to Marvel’s hands on approach, Marvel decided they wanted even more control. Through a deal with Merril Lynch, Marvel received $525 million dollars to set up its own production studio to make comic book films their way. The first of these films was Iron Man and the rest, they say, is history. With their own studio, Marvel was able to guide their film franchises, unite them together through shared actors and plot points, and made sure they respected their source material.

And Marvel’s success inspired Warners to get more serious with their DC Comics properties, rebooting the Superman franchise (twice), the Batman franchise (most likely twice) and try to jump start new franchises with Green Lantern and Jonah Hex. Other studios scoured comic book store shelves for properties they could adapt. And hence the Superhero Film era we are living in today.

I could comment and some of Sargent’s other examples, but I don’t think they are worth a list entry. Yeah, there was studio fingerprints all over League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill pretty much washed their hands with the property when they got their checks. It’s not like they cared what the studios did with it. I’m not sold on The Losers suffering from studio interference, but any interference was mitigated by director Sylvan White keeping creators Andy Diggle and Jock in the loop. And I think a lot of the things Sargent found missing in the Watchmen are still there, but I agree the slo-mo additions were awful.

When Sargent’s analogy turns to New Hollywood, he comes up with a profound lack of examples, and the one he does use is incorrect. His idea of how studio interference worked in the New Hollywood era was that corporations started buy movie studios looking for the next Jaws or Star Wars, but decided to play it safe with sequels. The one example he gives of this new regime interfering with creative people is this:

But with these massive budgets, studios were determined to play it safe. That meant, of course, some of the riskier directors had to go — like when they were considering giving Straw Dogs director Sam Peckinpah the Superman movie, but fired him when he pulled a gun out during a meeting.

Hoo boy.

17. Sam Peckinpah was NEVER fired from Superman. Why? Because he was never HIRED to do Superman.

peckinpah2I imagine that by the time this point appears, half way down the second page of the article, Sargent figures that he has put enough links in his text that people do not bother to even click through anymore. I mean, why else would he write something that is obviously in contrast to what his source material says.

The source is the very good book by Larry Tye, Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero. If you click that link you’ll see that Peckinpah pulled the gun during the Salkinds’ SEARCH for a director. Unless Sargent has a vastly different work experience than the rest of the world, you typically aren’t put on the payroll during your interview period.

I know what some of you might be thinking. Big deal. So he got a word wrong. Who cares? Well, I do for two reasons. This is a writer of such a caliber that Cracked tapped him to their workshop moderator, the person who guides novice comedy writers to Cracked super stardom. His not being able to find a word that accurately portrays the point his source material makes is not a good thing. But this very likely could be just a subtle example of what Sargent has been practicing all along, trying to jury rig a weak argument so that it looks stronger. He’s already in trouble because the examples in both eras don’t even out.  Since studio interference weighted more heavily in the Superhero Film era, Sargent needs to show a little balance. Using “fired’ instead of “backed away” is a minor change that makes the studios in the New Hollywood era look more forceful, more controlling, more in charge.

Besides, Peckinpah pulled a gun on a job interview! Even if he was fired, would that really be the wrong choice?

We finally come to the end of the eras, when the bets no longer pay off. Once again, this parallel is a little uneven since the New Hollywood has officially ended and the Superhero Film era is still going on. So Sargent dedicates most of his time talking about the Superhero Film era to showcasing where the end may lie, starting with, well, not a superhero film:

We mentioned that New Line has given Peter Jackson a castle made of money for his Hobbit trilogy, but we didn’t mention that they’re $5 billion in debt and need him to make all that money back to keep themselves from filing for bankruptcy. Is it any wonder that what was originally supposed to be one movie got stretched into two movies? And then, very late in production, they decided out of the blue to stretch it into three?

They needed three shots to recoup their investment. That’s why the first film, An Unexpected Journey, was based less on the children’s book it gets its name from and more on The Return of the King‘s appendices and whatever bullshit Tolkien scrawled on the Oxford staff bathroom’s wall while he was fucked up on opium.

18. Bilbo Baggins is no more a superhero than Frodo Baggins.

Page up and read #5 on this list. But, for the sake of argument, let’s play along, shall we?

19. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey made $1 BILLION worldwide.

That means the trilogy is on pace to make $3 billion. Of course, the sequels could make less or more, we don’t know. Quite a bit less than $5 billion of New Line debt, and New Line has to share the pie with Warner Brothers and MGM, but if you add in all the T-shirts, statues, figures, games, posters and the exorbitant number of home video formats the film was released into,  I think it’s a safe bet that The Hobbit won’t capsize the Superhero Film era, even if it was a superhero film.

Next?

But they’re not the only ones putting all of their chips on their geek franchise. In addition to the lineup of 10 massive Marvel sequels we mentioned earlier, you have Christopher Nolan (probably) signing on to “Godfather” a Justice League movie — if you’re not familiar, that means that in addition to the Superman reboot we’re seeing this summer, they’d be launching another wave of superhero movies, including a Green Lantern sequel, a reboot of The Flash, a possible Wonder Woman movie, and God knows what else, in order to have them finally all team up in a Justice League tent-pole that would be the DC version of The Avengers.

How wrong is this paragraph? Let me count the ways:

20. Sargent is using Latino Review’s El Mayimbe as a source.

We here at FilmBuffOnline know in that way madness lies. And, well, wrong information lies there too.

21. The “Nolan Godfathering Justice League” rumor was shot down back on April 11, 2013.

We covered it here. Entertainment Weekly got the denials straight from Warners’ president Jeff Robinov and Nolan’s reps. Besides, Nolan is working on a non-Superhero movie of his own, Interstellar, which will probably dominate all of his “godfathering” time.

22. Warner Brothers has been ultra quiet on the Green Lantern sequel.

They announced that a sequel was definitely in the works right after the first Green Lantern came out. There has not been any movement on the sequel at all since that time. Except for rumors that Ryan Reynolds might not even becoming back.

23. A Flash movie would be rebooting what exactly?

This might just be a matter of semantics, but if Sargent means the Flash TV show, then he’s off base. When a TV show moves to the big screen, it’s not being rebooted. It’s being adapted into another medium. But Sargent likes his reboots, so, there you go.

24. It much more likely that Wonder Woman would be a TV show before it becomes a movie.

Warners is actively developing a Wonder Woman TV show, called Amazon, in the mold of its successful Smallville and Arrow series’. Not that this would preclude a film being made, but all energy seems to be heading towards that.

25. As it stands, Warners plans to have the Justice League film first, and use that to spin out solo superhero films, not the other way around.

This is pretty much common knowledge. Last we heardJustice League was set for a 2015 release. Common sense dictates that Warners would not be able to put up three other superhero films before that time, especially since zero work has been started on any of them. Now, it appears the greenlight for the JL film is on hold until the studio sees how Man of Steel does, and there is supposedly a big announcement forthcoming from Warners about their superhero slate, so this might all change. But, as it stands, it’s Justice League first, other films later, and Sargent is wrong (again).

26. Lord knows if DC will get their act together in time to avoid the comic film apocalypse.

Seriously, the only comic film they have confirmed to be in the pipeline is Man of Steel. And that took years to get up and running. It’s Warners’ M.O. to have let their comic book film linger in development hell. If this is the end of the Superhero Film era, Warners most likely won’t be the reason why it dies, but rather they will be the ones who missed the boat because it did.

Next?

Meanwhile, J.J. Abrams, who is already in charge of the new Star Trek franchise, has been tapped to direct the first of the new Star Wars sequels, of which there will be at least five -- three sequels, plus multiple stand-alone spinoffs (Disney wants a new Star Wars movie every single year, like clockwork). How much money in production and promotion do you suppose will be tied up in just the projects we mentioned up there? $10 billion? More?

27. Once again, Star Wars films are not Superhero films.

You do have to admire Sargent’s ability to set parameters then completely ignore them. But, once again, we’ll play along.

28. If you think a new round of Star Wars films helmed by J.J. Abrams has a snowball’s chance in Hell of failing, you need your head examined.

StarWarsSagaIt appears that JF Sargent doesn’t get out much. If he does, he probably doesn’t spend much time in malls or department stores. He obviously hasn’t seen rows and rows of Star Wars toys in the toy department. He probably hasn’t seen the wide assortment of Star Wars themed clothing on sale in not only the children’s department but also the men’s and women’s departments. He probably has never seen the numerous volumes of Star Wars novels in his local bookstore either. He lives in a blissfully ignorant reality where Star Wars is not the biggest cultural icon to ever come out of Hollywood, and a relentless cash cow for George Lucas for the last 36 years.

He was probably a wee baby back in 1999 and wasn’t able to fully comprehend the frenzy that existed when The Phantom Menace hit theaters. Even hardcore fans will admit that was the weakest installment of the franchise, yet it still made over a billion dollars worldwide, the fans still came back for two more installments, and those toy stores are still rolling out new action figures based on the film even 14 years later.

So, yeah, Abrams has to drop the ball on an almost apocalyptic level for him to ruin the Star Wars franchise forever and cause the end of any film era it actually fits into. Even if he screws up the next film in the line so badly that Star Wars fans melt the Internet by complaining so much, those same fans will be back for the next go round. And they’ll still buy the toys, the mugs, the sheet sets, the T-Shirts, the window decals and what have you.

Also note that the source he uses for Disney’s Star Wars plans was an article dated April 17, 2013. Which means he should have known the Latino Review rumor wasn’t legit because it was refuted almost a week prior. Unless he just ignored the EW article because it contradicted the narrative he was trying to tell.

Well, that was silly. Now, onto the fall of New Hollywood!

Star Wars and Jaws are called “the beginning of the end” of New Hollywood (by Wikipedia, anyway) because they created the blockbuster, but the real end didn’t come until around 1980, with the release of two legendary flops: Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, and Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart.

29. Star Wars and Jaws went from being a high point of the New Hollywood era just a few paragraphs ago to being the cause of its demise?

That’s what you get when you use Wikipedia as a source unchallenged. Also, when you try to put arbitrary guideposts in effect just to make an “era” line up correctly.

30. One from the Heart actually came out on February 12, 1982.

By this point in Sargent’s argument, we shouldn’t be surprised that he kept this information a secret. After all, it comes after a long line of fact fudging to make his 13/13 argument work. And I guess he deserves partial credit for saying “around 1980″ (although the 15 month gap between films stretches the definition of being “around”). But if he doesn’t want us to consider Star Wars and Jaws as the beginning of the end, he shouldn’t be allowed to consider Heaven’s Gate as the beginning of the end just because it suits his purposes. I mean, there were films such as Raging Bull, Body Heat and Reds that came out between Heaven’s Gate and One from the Heart. These are vital films with a lot of success that totally fit in the New Hollywood era, so it wasn’t like there was a parade of dreck that came out between those films.

The weird part of all this is, if Sargent just allowed himself to recognize that the Superhero Film era began with 1998’s Blade, he wouldn’t have to be so dodgy with One from the Heart‘s release date. Because instead of a 13/13 parallel, he’d actually have a 15/15 parallel.

31. All you need is two flops to derail an era? May I present to you Punisher: War Zone and The Spirit.

the-spirit-20081031011215637_640wBoth films are excellent representations of the Superhero Film era. The first was a reboot of a superhero that had appeared on the silver screen twice before, the most recent only four years before. He was being rebooted to make him more closely resemble how he was portrayed in the comics. The other was a Golden Age character who was being brought to the screen by Frank Miller, who not only was a big name in Hollywood after the surprise film success of his works 300 and Sin City, but also a close friend with Will Eisner, the man who created the character. Miller seemed like the ideal person to bring this superhero to the big screen.

Unlike Sargent’s example, both these film actually did come out in the same year, 2008, and in the same month as a matter of fact. Both died a quick death at the box office, failing to make their budget’s back. And their failure so quickly after each other had even me asking if this was the end for the comic book film.

But the comic book movie didn’t end. The next year started bumpy with the Watchmen, but bounced back with X-Men Origins: Wolverine. 2010 had disappointments with Jonah Hex and Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, but 2011 and 2012 became some of the biggest years for any comic book film in their history. And despite what Sargent says, there doesn’t seem to be any signs of stopping.

32. You can argue that the “New Hollywood” era never ended.

Granted, it did seem to end for directors such as Michael Cimino, Peter Bogdanovich and even Francis Ford Coppola. But Robert Altman kept making inventive and risky films right up until he died in 2006. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese went on to win Oscars and keep getting nominations, pushing boundaries and taking risks to this very day. And there are a whole new generation of filmmakers such as Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino who were inspired by the era and keep its spirit alive even now.

I’ll be the first to admit that the one surefire way to get me upset is to write an article predicting doom for the superhero film. But I probably wouldn’t have used as much bandwidth to this article if JF Sargent presented his argument  honestly and with valid evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, Sargent starts with a shaky premise for an argument, finds it doesn’t work the way he thought it would, so he cuts corners, fudges facts, and plays fast and loose with the premise until it comes out the way he wants it to be.

I guess we shouldn’t expect great journalism from Cracked. After all, it seems more concerned about generating hits than reporting any truths. But you’d expect better from the guy who is supposed to show the way to the novice writers Cracked attracts. If the Superhero Film era is due to end soon, it won’t be for the reasons JF Sargent says it will.

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Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists

Posted on 03 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

In this day and age, if you are a form of media that covers another form of media, eventually you will come up with a list. Rolling Stone has put out special, oversized volumes about what songs, albums and guitarists are the best in their eyes. Entertainment Weekly can be counted on at least one issue a year feature a list of some kind, most recently it was the “50 Best Films You’ve Never Seen” and “25 Best Cult TV Shows From the Past 25 years.” And VH1 and E! have made it a staple of their programming.

The reason why they turn to list making is simple–because it’s popular. In a world full of opinionated people, any collated list  that represents the authoritative ranking of anything will get attention. People want their tastes validated. Or, they want to see how wrong these media outlets are. These lists sell copies.  They garner high ratings. They get shared on Facebook. They get linked to. And the more controversial the better, For example, take Sight and Sound‘s yearly poll’s swapping of Citizen Kane with Vertigo and the furor that kicked up.

But sometimes, it appears that there’s more that goes into constructing these lists than just picking the best or worst of a particular medium. Some lists seem to be compiled just to garner controversy. Yes, there will be “no brainer” items on the list, but there will also be notable omissions as well. There will be items included that seems to serve no other purpose than to make people angry. And even if you agree with every item put on and left off, you have the rankings themselves to quarrel over.

A sterling example of this are two lists that have appeared on Newsarama.com, one of the oldest comic book news sites on the Internet, over the last week. One was the “10 Best Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES Of All Time” and the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES of All Time.” Both lists were compiled by the “Newsarama Staff,” and both are controversial in their own right. At best, the lists were sloppily compiled with mind-numbing gaps of logic, at worst, the list were compiled deliberately to anger comic book movie fans and generate controversy.

Here is Newsarama’s 10 Best List:

  1. Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
  2. Robert Downey, Jr, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, & The Avengers
  3. Gary Oldman, Commissioner Gordon, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class
  5. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  6. Tom Hiddleston, Loki, Thor & The Avengers
  7. Chloe Grace Moretz, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
  8. Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
  9. Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Chris Evans, Jensen, The Losers
And here’s their 10 Worst:
  1. Most Everyone and Anyone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies
  2. Halle Berry, Storm, X-Men & Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Catwoman
  3. Billy Zane, The Phantom
  4. Matthew Goode, Ozymandias, Watchmen 
  5. Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  6. Julian McMahon, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four & Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
  7. Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet 
  8. Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  9. Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh, Clark Kent/Superman, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns 
  10. January Jones, Emma Frost, X-Men: First Class

I have serious problems with these lists, problems that go way beyond differences of opinion (although I’ll have to comment on one glaring disagreement because if I don’t, my head will explode). The problems cause me to question the validity of the lists and Newsarama’s intentions. I’ll create my own list of where Newsarama’s logic went wrong, perhaps deliberately.

The lists are “best comic book-based performances” not “Best SUPERHERO comic book-based performances”: Granted, Newsarama focuses mostly on the mainstream superhero genre, and adding another word to the already gangly title would have made it even ganglier, but we have to take the titles of these articles to heart. That means, this should be the definitive list of ALL performances from ALL movies based an ALL kinds of comic books. Yet, there is no Paul Giamatti from American Splendor on this list. Nor is there Thora Birch or Steve Buscemi from Ghost World or Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or anyone else from Road to Perdition. 

I could go on. But what these titles are doing is advertising one thing and selling us another. And that is a recipe that is custom made to generate the kind of “you left XXX of the list” controversy that builds up links.

The Green Hornet? The Phantom? Comic Book-Based?: You’d think a news website with 10 years of independent coverage of the world of comic books would be able to tell what films were made from comic books and which ones weren’t. Baring that, you’d think they’d be able hire writers with an active connection to the Internet and the ability to access Google from it. Newsarama apparently is able to do neither.

The Green Hornet was based on a radio program that began in January1936. The Phantom was based on a comic strip that began in newspapers a few weeks after the Hornet made his first broadcast. . While both were adapted into comic books, neither originated there nor were their comics their most remembered incarnations. Calling The Green Hornet and The Phantom “comic book-based” would be like calling Star Wars and Star Trek comic book-based. And you can find far worse actors than Seth Rogen and Billy Zane in those franchises.

This might seem to be just a matter of semantics. But I believe it is indicative of the hap-hazard way these lists were constructed. Because you don’t have to look too hard to find two more bad performances in a film that was actually based on a comic book.

To Newsarama, “all time” means “within the last 12 years”: With the exception of The Phantom, the Schumacher Batman films, and the early Superman movies, all the films on the list were made after 2000. That means out of over 70 years of comic books being made into films, only a little over a decade of films were being seriously considered.

Yes, there have been a whole lot more comic book films to chose from in the last 12 years. But, as I realized doing my History of the Comic Book Film feature, the comic book film did not begin with X-Men. What? Newsarama couldn’t find a top ten worthy bad performance in SheenaRed Sonja, Howard the Duck or in Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher? And on the good side, what about Brandon Lee’s Crow, Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Wesley Snipes’ Blade? The fact that there wasn’t one performance from the above that made either list is a disservice to what Newsarama was trying to create. It shows tunnel vision, something that handicaps any attempt at creating a comprehensive list.

Their selection process is dubious and abitrary at best:  They pay lip service to the quality work Chris Evans has done in a number of comic book films, yet make a point of telling us that they can pick only one performance of his for the list (and the pick his least well-known role at that). Yet, Hallie Berry gets slammed for playing both Storm and Catwoman. They lump the combined casts of two films as one entry, and two actors who had played the same role almost 20 years apart as another selection.

You get the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along. Or, rather, constructing the rules of selection so that it suited them best.

Take, for instance, this “ground rule” from the introduction to the worst list.

…it would be way too easy and frankly not all that much fun to pick-on a lower class of Hollywood actor in barely feature-quality train wrecks like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or the 1980s Captain America. So yes, Shaquille O’Neal, you get immunity this day.

Okay, I’m no fan of Shaquille O’Neal, and I’m sure he would want his being left off a list of bad actors argued, but the reason Newsarama left him of the list just doesn’t make sense. When Shaq made Steel, he had already made two feature films (Blue Chips and Kazaam). And Steel was a $16 million dollar film made by Warner Brothers, not some film made for $200 and a bag of potato chips in someone’s basement. Could Shaq be considered a “lower class of actor”? Probably. But so could Billy Zane, king of the B-movie. Maybe if Shaq had a small part in Titanic, then Newsarama would have considered him worthy of inclusion.

This is how they defend their position:

Well, Tobey’s Peter Parker was naive and earnest enough, but he just didn’t have Parker’s inner beauty.

Yes. Really.

Putting Christopher Reeve on the list of worst actors might have been done just to anger people: I’m trying not to believe that they’d do something so wrong just to generate site hits, but Newsarama is not making it easy by how they open their defense of their opinion:

Yes, we’re going there, and in advance, we’re genuinely sorry you’re upset.

Yes, they went there, but did they go there thinking their opinion would be controversial, or knowing it would be controversial and get a lot of reaction?

Listen, whenever you have a list like this, there will be items on it that butt up against conventional wisdom. But seldom has there ever been a case where something flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion like Newsarama is is doing here.

If you are going to “go there,” then you’d better have an incredibly strong argument to back up your position. Unfortunately, Newsarama doesn’t.

…Reeve just wasn’t that accomplished a film actor.

In defense of this position we could point to his lack of much of a post-Superman resume, but the truth is now 30-plus years later with a more critical eye we simply don’t find his portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent very much like any Superman or Clark Kent we know… or like, for that matter.

His Clark wasn’t mild-mannered, he was a cartoonish buffoon. His Superman far too earnest and eager-to-please for someone with the power of a god. In short, he was a mild-mannered Superman, frankly lacking in the charisma you’d expect from an actor playing a cultural icon. A more theatrical rather than natural actor, Reeve’s Superman was a caricature of a comic book Boy Scout superhero and not a fully developed character.

Where to begin. Hmmm.

I wonder who this editorial “we” is? Perhaps it is someone who  is 12 and has only known the John Byrne interpretation of Superman. But, the character was around for 50 years before Byrne revamped him. Back when the film was made, the comic book Superman was a more staid version of the one found in the film. The mental image the editorial “we” has of Superman is so contrary to what the character’s image really is that it makes it seem that this entry came from a website that wouldn’t know a comic book if it fell in their lap, not a “respected” comic book news site.

I’m so glad they didn’t use Reeve’s lack of a post-Superman career as their only defense for their position, because is a defense that could be swatted away with one word–typecasting. Typecasting is the reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had less than stellar careers after Star Wars, and why Harrison Ford’s post-Star Wars career is so extraordinary. It is what the cast of the Harry Potter films are struggling with now, and what the cast of Twilight is working hard to avoid. Once you become so associated with such an iconic character, it’s hard for Hollywood to see you in any other role. This was the reason for Reeve’s lackluster post-Superman career, not lack of talent.

But Reeve’s performance was pitch perfect as Superman. I don’t know what the editorial “we” was thinking, but Superman doesn’t stand “Sarcasm, Bullying and Badassery”, he stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Yes, Reeve’s Superman was earnest–and honest and forthright–but that IS Superman. And Reeve played him in such a way that he never was hokey or corny.

As for Clark Kent, Reeve played Kent as a role Superman was himself playing. Superman portrayed Kent as an awkward and bumbling fool so no one would see through the flimsy disguise and put two and two together. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, and if you aren’t able to pick that up, then you have no business talking about acting performances whatsoever.

I have to laugh at the  “30-plus years later with a more critical eye” part. Like that is supposed to win us over, that they’re looking at the performance in a serious manner as an adult, and therefore, he is right. That might have held more water if Chris Sims and David Uzumeri didn’t take a similar look back on the first Superman back in March for rival comic book news site Comics Alliance.  They ripped the film to shreds, but still called Reeve’s performance, and these are direct quotes, “amazing” and “darn near perfect.” So much for that argument.

Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to not believe the trashing of Reeve was done purely to garner controversy. If so, at least it worked. Not only am I talking about it, but also many comic book professionals, the people Newsarama make a living covering, took umbrage with the list as well.

Creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker:

And legendary comic writer Mark Waid:

That tweet set off a Twitter war between Waid and Newsarama editor Lucas Siegel,which is not the behavior you expect from an editor who should be keeping a journalistic distance from one of people he would be covering, but it is the kind of behavior you’d expect if you want add more controversy to the already controversial matter.

Another sign that this whole thing might be hit bait is that they spun of the controversy to another article on the site, an OP/ED piece by frequent Newsarama contributor Vaneta Rogers , glorifying Reeve’s performance and giving yet another page full of ads for Newsarama from the controversial list.

I hope this isn’t the case, that Newsarama is manipulating the popularity of lists to gain hits for itself. Presenting honest, well-formed and well-thought out opinions is always something that should be striven for. But putting out incendiary opinions in a clumsy and hap hazard manner isn’t. And it looks like Newsarama did the latter and is trying to pass it off as the former.

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Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Posted on 21 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

The core of The Dark Knight Rises is a fairly sloppy movie. Large chunks of dialogue are devoted to exposition. Plot points in the first half of the film clearly telegraph the “surprise” plot twists in the second half. And the plot itself, while loaded with twists and turns, is fairly simplistic.

But, even while taking all of this into consideration, The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie and fitting end to the trilogy Christopher Nolan started in 2005. This is due to Nolan’s direction, the stellar acting by the wonderful cast, the great editing by Lee Smith, and the powerful score by Hans Zimmer.

The film takes place exactly eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, and Harvey Dent’s death on that night has become a citywide holiday. Crime is at an all time low, yet all is not well in Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman identity, but, without a purpose to his life, he has become a virtual recluse. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wrestling with his conscious over glorifying Dent, a man who tried to kill his son, and demonizing Batman, the man who saved his son’s life.

Things take a turn for the worse for Gotham with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is a dangerous and bestial mercenary who at first appears to be a soldier in a corporate war between Wayne and an evil business rival by the name of Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn). But things aren’t what they seem with Bane, and his true intentions will have dire consequences for both Gotham and Batman, consequences not even Bruce/Batman’s new allies–honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), eco-friendly business woman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)–can help Batman stop from coming.

This film is more a sequel to 2005’s Batman Begins than 2008’s The Dark Knight. While the latter was one of the most successful films in movie history, only two plot points–the death of Harvey Dent and the cover up afterwards, and the death of Rachel Dawes–are mentioned yet the Joker isn’t. Of course, there would few actors able, or willing, to follow in Heath Ledger’s shoes in that particular role, and to recast the part would be sign of disrespect, but his storyline in that film has interesting parallels and contrasts to the plot of this film. It would be a stronger film is these comparisons were addressed or even acknowledged. But as it stands, the film closes the circle and makes the series a true trilogy, telling one wide-reaching story arc.

The film is almost three hours long, yet nothing is wasted. There is no fat or gristle here, just meat. Every scene serves a purpose. And while this means that, yes, there are a lot of Chekovian guns being introduced that many savvy film goers will be able to figure out how they will be used by the third act, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a summer where there are films that barely introduce plot points and often forget to follow up on them, it’s refreshing to see so much forethought and planning put into a script. And the long running time allows moments for all the characters, and there are a lot of them, to grow and become fleshed out. Even minor characters get juicy character moments.

Editing and score are vital parts of any film, yet are often overlooked by audiences. They say the only time you notice editing was when it is bad. Not so, as I noticed Lee Smith editing and how good it was. When there is a lengthy patch of exposition-laden dialogue, he inserts a beautifully shot (by cinematographer Wally Pfister, once again in top form) scene that shows what the actor is describing. During action scenes, the narrative shifts back and forth from character to character, location to location seamlessly and at just the right time building tension along the way.

Hans Zimmer is an old pro at scoring and naturally his score here is top notch. It adds layers and dimension to the story, evoking the perfect mood at the ideal moment in a great compliment to what is going on on the screen.

Trying to single out an actor in the cast for special acclaim is like trying to pick just one player from the 1927 New York Yankees to be on your All-Star team. When a cast has 15 Oscar Nominations and five Oscar wins between them, there is little doubt that there will be a plethora of great performances to choose from. But if I had to pick one cast member to give an Oscar nod out of only one member of the cast, I’d choose Anne Hathaway.

Her Selina Kyle, the character comic book fans know as Catwoman, is a multi-layered, complex character. Hathaway’s Selina is a woman who must wear a number of different masks, a tricky thing for any actress to play. But Hathaway knocks it out of the park. I can’t say that I’ve been overwhelmed by anything I’ve seen Hathaway do in the past, but I was overwhelmed here. Hathaway plays Selina as bold and naive, strong and insecure, coquettish and earnest, usually within the span of a one scene. The other characters are kept guessing as to what persona Kyle is presenting, but the audience is always kept in the loop. Hathaway puts a more realistic stamp on the “bad girl with a heart of gold” archetype. It’s a brilliant piece of acting.

Tom Hardy’s Bane will be unfairly compared to Ledger’s Joker, so I am not going to compare the two (if I was going to compare Bane to any film villain, it would Darth Vader, if only for the breathing apparatus dialogue). Hardy plays Bane with the gusto of a Shakespearean actor playing Hamlet for the 49th time. He owns the role with confidence and bravery. In a world where every superhero movie can’t wait to remove the masks from their characters, you have to give credit to Hardy for working with half his face covered. Hardy will also be unfairly criticized for having his words swallowed by the mask. But, in truth, I didn’t find him any harder to understand than I did Gary Oldman, and all Oldman had blocking his dialogue was a mustache.

If there was one weak link in the cast, it was Mendelsohn as Daggett. It might be just me, but his performance annoyed me so much that I had to mention it here. He played the role more like a caricature than a character, chewing scenery and employing body ticks in lieu of developing any form of true characterization. Thankfully, he’s not in the movie for long, but whenever he’s on screen, I found it painful to watch.

As for the other cast members, you can expect your typical excellence. Michael Caine doesn’t have a lot of screen time this time around, but he makes the most of it. Gordon-Levitt plays what could be a boring role–the honest cop–with nuances and facets that makes John Blake interesting.

Christopher Nolan combines all of these elements in such a way that makes for a satisfying film. You willingly overlook its flaws because the trip Nolan is taking you on is so interesting. He sets an epic tone for the film while keeping it grounded in reality.

This supposedly is Nolan’s last time directing Batman, although he does leave an obvious opening to continue this story (albeit in a way that I doubt Warner Brothers would be interested it). But if this is Nolan’s last time at “Bat,” then he went out in a grand fashion. This film is a fitting end to an era.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Batman Begins Again

Posted on 18 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, the Bat-franchise goes back to the beginning with Batman Begins and to the Academy Awards with The Dark Knight.

After the debacle that was Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was looking to start over at square one. Joel Schumacher thought that was an excellent idea, and said as much in a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

It’s unlikely the studio will stick with the shticky tone of Batman & Robin. But if it does, count Schumacher out. ”The only way I would do another Batfilm is if we went back to the basics,” says Schumacher. His ideal Batman movie would be based on Miller’s Batman: Year One, a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, a no-frills account of Batman’s first year of crime fighting. ”It would be nice to take the bigger-is-better concept out of it,” he says, ”and just go pure.”

Schumacher had originally wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s legendary origin redo when he signed on for Batman Forever, but Warners’ executives, wanting a more kid accessible piece, ignored his wishes. They would ignore his wishes again. But this time, it would be with him doing a reboot based on Batman: Year One.  The studio thought that was a good idea, but were looking to Miller and director Darren Aronofsky to handle it.

While this seemed like a comic fans’ dream—Miller co-writing a script with a hot, up-and-coming director in Aronofsky—it was not meant to be. The version of Miller’s script I read had more in common with his Sin City comics than his 1987 storyline that the film was named after. This version found Bruce Wayne living on the streets, working as a mechanic at a garage in the bad part of town, directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was heavy on violence and adult themes, something that would have been perfect for the Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro pairing in the 1970s but ill fitting for a 2000 Warner Brothers studio looking for a PG-13 film to bring in the teens.

The studio, after briefly considering a Batman vs. Superman film, would turn to Christopher Nolan next. Nolan gained much acclaim for co-writing and directing the inventive indie drama, Memento. He was still a relatively unproven director—this film would only be his third big studio film he directed—but Warners made an excellent choice. The film Nolan made, Batman Begins, ranks up there with the best comic book films ever made.

Nolan paired with David S. Goyer, a Hollywood screenwriter with comic book writing experience, to create a film that while wasn’t  directly adapted from any one particular comic book, drew pieces from the overall Batman comic book history to create their narrative. The plot involves Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s training to become Gotham City’s protector, eventually saving it from destruction by his former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).

The entire cast of the film is the best cast any comic book film has had or likely will have. It was chock full of Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and, eventually, Bale), Oscar nominees (Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Neeson) and quality actors like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Oldman, who would eventually get an Oscar nod too, was especially good as the film’s moral center, James Gordon. Playing against type as a decent, honest man, Oldman gives one of his best, if somewhat underrated,performances of his illustrious career.

It seemed like it would be almost impossible for Nolan to top what he did with Batman Begins, but he did it on The Dark Knight with the help of a spectacular addition to the cast—Heath Ledger.

Heath Ledger’s untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose has added a mythic quality to his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, that his deep immersion in the character scarred his psyche in a manner that led to his overdose (the drugs found in Ledger’s system are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia). It feels unseemly even to bring it up, but I do so to make the point that the performance would have been mythic even if Ledger survived.  His Joker is the defining Joker. And I am saying that while having the utmost respect for the work Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have done with the character.

The Joker is written in the movie as a force of nature, an agent of chaos. He exists to destroy the fabric of society. He is a cipher—his history is unknown and his motives are unclear.  This is not an easy role to play. It could be the perfect opportunity make it hammy or give a portrayal that was out of place with the film as a whole. Ledger gave a scary, realistic performance that was totally believable. All the posthumous accolades that Ledger received, including becoming the first star from a comic book movie to win an Oscar, are all well deserved.

However, all the accolades that Ledger receives takes away from a great film and the solid performances of the other new additions to the cast—Aaron Eckhart as the tragic figure of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a vast improvement, I must say).

The Dark Knight set yet another impossible task for the next sequel to try and top it. That task begins in a few weeks when The Dark Knight Rises is released.

This film promises to be the last in the series, introducing Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) into the mix. It looks like Ra’s Al Ghul will be returning as well, either in a flashback or, well, if you knew the comics, you’ll know of another way he could come back. The plot is timely too, supposedly tying into the disenfranchised poor versus the entitled rich that was the basis for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. While Nolan is staying on to produce the next phase of the Batman film life cycle, it looks like whatever comes next will be a fresh start.

Next time, we look at a time when everything Marvel touched cinematically did not turn to gold. In fact, movies were made that we never seen at all.

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Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance

Posted on 17 February 2012 by William Gatevackes

I am convinced that there could eventually be a great movie made out of the Ghost Rider character. I’d settle for even a good one. But for that to happen Nicolas Cage will have to let the project fall through his hammy hands.

I’ve had a while to think this this film, more than it really deserves, and I have decided that the film is better than the first film. But that isn’t much of a complement, because I could make a better Ghost Rider film than the first one using action figures and empty cereal boxes. But this new film isn’t any good.

And, yes, I said this new film and not this sequel, because this a soft reboot of the franchise. This film makes it clear that Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage)willingly signed the contract with the Devil (now named Roarke and played by Ciarán Hinds instead of being tricked into signing by Peter Fonda’s Mephistopheles) and Blaze wants the curse removed, a change from the last film’s ending, where Blaze rejected Mephistopheles’ offer of removing the curse in order to use the power for good.

The story, in a nutshell, is that the devil is after a young boy by the name of Danny in order to put his essence into. No, not in that way you pervs. Danny is his son. Satan/Roarke is going to leave his old, beat up body and possess his son’s youthful one, therefore combining the two main versions of how the Antichrist will be created. Johnny Blaze is offered a deal. If he tracks down the kid, keeps him safe and stops the Satanic takeover from happening, then the Ghost Rider curse will be removed.

The plot, well, the plot exists to serve the plot’s purpose. What do I mean? Okay, early in the film, Ghost Rider interrupts Roarke’s mercenaries just as they were about to kidnap Danny. Ghost Rider is taken out of commission by two shotgun blasts and a grenade explosions. Later, when Ghost Rider tracks the mercenaries down a quarry to get the kid back, he shrugs off two direct hits from missiles that the bad guys describe as “bunker busters.”  In other words, weapons that are about 500 times as powerful as a shotgun blast or a grenade. No explanation given why Ghost Rider got so resilient all of a sudden. Other than at that point of the film, Ghost Rider needed to free the kid from his captors.

There are tons of this kind of stuff in the film. The plot also introduces elements that work for the narrative but make little sense when you think of them. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film moved fast enough so you didn’t have time to think about these plot points. But the film drags at points.  I mean, let’s start with the main plot point. It is stressed in the film numerous times about how Ghost Rider is a “spirit of vengeance” and cannot be controlled. He’s a weapon against sin and if you have done anything at all you need to repent for (the film offers illegal downloads as a low-end sin option), then Ghost Rider will attack you. Is this the ideal being you want to send to protect the son of Satan and his mother, a woman who made the beast with two backs with the Great Beast? The movie should have been over as soon as Ghost Rider found them. Two repentance stares and he’d be on his merry way.

The film doesn’t really build its characters or the relations between them either. We get shortcuts instead of character building scenes. “Here, here are two characters with daddy issues, you provide the rest.” “Here’s a scene with a child in danger while his mother watches, you fill in the blanks.” That might have worked if you even remotely cared for the characters or knew anything about them. This film doesn’t give you that much to work with.

And, not to belabor the script problems, but there is serious issues with tone. Most of the film is dead serious, end-of-the-world stuff, but every so often, a scene of out and out camp pops up and smacks you in the face.  There is room for humor in the concept, but not in the way presented here.

Worst of all, the story is credited to David S. Goyer and he is one of three men who wrote the screenplay. Yes, this was done by the one of the people responsible for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the Blade franchise. What happened?

The direction by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor shows signs of inspiration. There are a couple of nice touches provided by the directors but often it is overshadowed by their Matrix-lite visual style.

But their approach to directing their actors was probably spraying condiments all over each of their sets and telling their cast to have at it. Because the entire cast in the business of chewing scenery, and cousin, business is boomin’.

Over-the-top acting is the rule of the day. Some of the cast do well hamming it up. Hinds adds a kind of Shakespearean pompousness to his role as Roarke. And Idris Elba (apparently in a race with Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds for the most comic book films on his resume) seems like he is having fun chewing scenery as the drunken, French, machine gun-wielding priest Moreau. But then you get actors like Johnny Whitaker, who plays the head mercenary Carrigan. Whitaker has an uncanny resemblance to a young Kurt Russell, and his performance here calls to mind Russell’s performance in Overboard, only without Russell’s subtlety and tact. He’s aiming to be the wise-ass, quotable bad guy. He only comes off as smarmy and over-baked.

As I was watching these actors overact, I thought that this was deliberate. I thought this was designed to make Nicolas Cage, never the most restrained of actors, seem normal. That was until I saw the scene where Cage as Johnny Blaze goes to interrogate that gangster to find out Carrigan’s location. I think we can now take down that bee scene from The Wicker Man off of You Tube, because we have a new example of the worst acting Nic Cage has ever done. Cage is so over the top in the scene that it defies belief. It is truly horrible acting. It makes his awful performance in the rest of film seem Oscar worthy. And his performance throughout the rest of the film is completely rotten.  

I can go on and on telling you how bad this film is. But I’m not going to. It is a boring, poorly acted, poorly written piece of tripe. This is not a film for seeing. It is a film for laying down and avoiding.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Superman (Finally) Returns

Posted on 13 January 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we discuss how the journey to Superman Returns ended.

J.J. Abrams almost lost me with his treatment of the next Superman film. I never watched Felicity or Alias. I never saw Lost (I know, I know. By the time everyone I knew told me I should be watching it, it was already two seasons into continuity and I didn’t want to invest the time catching up. Sorry). I almost didn’t go see his Star Trek reboot, which was great. And I think his Super 8 was spectacular.

So why did his Superman go so wrong?

Before we get to his treatment, we should talk a little bit about the history behind it. Abrams’ script came in after Paul Attanasio’s and was able to sway director McG to direct it. McG dropped out to film Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and was replaced by Wolfgang Peterson. However, before Peterson could start on Abrams script, Andrew Kevin Walker’s Batman vs. Superman script caught Warner Brothers’ eye. The studio shifted focus (and Peterson) over to that project while Abrams continued to tweak his script.

The poster for Batman vs. Superman as it appears in I AM LEGEND

Batman vs. Superman dealt with the breakdown of the friendship between the heroes after the Joker kills Bruce Wayne’s new bride and sends Batman into a murderous rampage (you can almost hear all the comic book fans’ going apoplectic all at once while reading that statement, can’t you?). Superman has to stop his old friend from killing the Joker, which leads to a knock-down brawl between the two. The film was even scheduled for summer of 2004 before Warners decided to go the solo film route with Batman Begins and Abrams’ revamped script.

Concept art from J.J. Abrams' SUPERMAN script

Abrams’ treatment moved away from the “Death of Superman” adaptations that were proposed up to this point, although Superman does die in his script. But that’s not the only thing he moves away from. In his script, Krypton doesn’t explode. Martha Kent is almost raped by an evil landlord. Clark Kent’s nebbishy neurotic nature isn’t an act, it’s really how he feels because he is a superpowered freak. Lex Luthor is a CIA agent hunting aliens who is secretly a deep cover Kryptonian himself. Lara dies after being tortured by the bad Kryptonians. Jonathan Kent dies of a heart attack after Clark makes his debut as Superman. Superman dies trying to rescue Lois. Jor-El kills himself after psychically “feeling” Kal-El’s death so he can convince him to come back to life. And so on.

There is something in Abrams script to piss off every Superman fan. Most fans will hate all of it. Lex Luthor as a Kryptonian? That doesn’t bother me much. Krypton not exploding? That does. The fact that Superman is the last of his race, that his birth parents made the ultimate selfless sacrifice so their son could live was with the character from the first page of his first appearance. It adds depth, pathos and tragedy to the character. Keeping Krypton around just so you can have more Kryptonians for Superman to fight is an irritating reason to lose such a defining characteristic of the character.

I’d like to think the bad parts of the script show the hands of Jon Peters and not Abrams. That could very well be the case. But the fact that the script made it so far into development, first with McG, then with Brett Ratner, then with McG again is simply sad.

The Abrams script died when McG insisted on shooting the film on the North American continent rather than in the cheaper Australia the studio wanted. Bryan Singer, famous for doing the awesome X-Men films we’ll talk about later, was brought on as director and brought a new script by X2 scribes Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris with him. That script became Superman Returns.

It is almost impossible not to be hypercritical about Superman Returns, without all the negative emotions created by the previous attempts to reboot the franchise. Perhaps if this was the only attempt at a new look at Superman, perhaps I would have liked it more. As it is, all I see is the films flaws.

Singer gets points for treating the film as an ipso facto sequel to Superman II. Although, that being the case, it creates the first flaw of the film as the last line of dialogue Superman has in that film is “Sorry I’ve been away so long. I won’t let you down again,” and this film starts with Superman returning from a five-year mission in space. That’s a long time to be away after the character had just apologized for being away so long.

The influence of Jon Peters appears to be kept at a minimum, although elements from his time as a hands on producer are still felt (with Superman’s near death experience and the strained relationship with Lois carrying over from earlier drafts). The fact that Richard White (James Marsden), angle “C “in the Superman and Lois love triangle, is portrayed as a decent, nice guy makes that element pop. Too often the competition to the hero is portrayed as a cad which while making us root for the hero to win the affection of the girl, makes us wonder what the girl saw in the cad in the first place. Having the other man be a better man in many ways than Superman makes the love triangle more complex and more interesting to watch.

However, there are irksome elements too. Luthor’s plan to create a new continent in the Atlantic, killing billions in the process, goes well logically with Luthor’s plan in the first movie to create oceanfront property in Nevada by sinking California into the Pacific. But that scheme was one of the campy elements that took away from the first film. And considering Superman Returns was a darker, more serious film than Superman, that bit of camp is much more distracting.

And this is something that might bother only me, but I have a serious problem with Superman lifting Luthor’s continent into orbit at the end of this film. The first film established that a piece of kryptonite the shape of a person’s fist would be sufficient to weaken Superman so that he can’t even lift the metal chain the rock is attached to over his head. Yet, in Superman Returns, he is able to lift an entire continent composed mostly of kryptonite up into outer space, all while having a chunk of the stuff buried in his rib cage. I’m willing to suspend disbelief a lot, but not when it flies in the face of what was previously established in the franchise.

Superman Returns made over $391 million at the box office worldwide. However, the film cost anywhere between $204 and $350 million dollars to make, depending on who you ask and whether or not they add all the previous failed attempts into the calculation. Warners decided to go with a reboot for the next film instead of a planned sequel to Superman Returns. That reboot, titled The Man of Steel, is being produced by Christopher Nolan, written by David S. Goyer and directed by Zach Snyder, three men with a lot of success in the field of the comic book movie. The one concern with the film is the sense of urgency in its production, as Warners was rushing the film through production to gain a 2012 release date so they could have a film property they couldexploit in the theaters before the Superman copyright permanently reverts to the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 2013. However, the release date pushed back until June of next year. The project was undergoing script rewrites as it was shooting, so who knows what the end result will look like.

If all this behind the scenes talk about Superman was too heavy for you, then look out! Next time, the conversation gets even heavier…and more metal.

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New Releases: June 17

Posted on 16 June 2011 by William Gatevackes

1. Green Lantern (Warner Brothers, 3,816 Theaters, 105 Minutes, Rated PG-13): Once upon a time, DC Comics held a monopoly on the comic book movie. Between the Superman and Batman franchises, DC was being well represented on the silver screen. Marvel was relegated to the B-move and direct-to-video market.

But those franchises became cases of diminishing returns as the filmmakers strayed away from what made the originals a success and move towards Richard Pryor as co-stars and nipples on Bat-suits. Marvel took a more active role in the production of their films, and we get resounding successes such as X-Men, Spider-Man and Iron Man. DC was forced to play catch up.

They took a step in the right direction when rebooting the Bat franchise with Batman Begins. It followed the same pattern as the Marvel films–stay true to the comic book roots while molding it into an exciting film. Things looked positive.

Then Jonah Hex came out, and it showed the same kind of studio think that caused the Superman and Batman franchises to fail. The filmmakers had no idea what made the comic book character so good, and they fiddled with it until the film was just horrible.

This brings us to Green Lantern. I always thought that this would be a comic character that, if done right, could establish DC as a powerhouse in the comic movie genre. The concept is equal parts Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Top Gun. It would be hard to screw up.

I reviewed the script and found it had the potential to be a quality film. Then I saw the jokey first round of ads for the film and felt a knot in my stomach. Jokes were added that weren’t in the script, and when the studio ads humor to a DC movie, it kills it.

The next round of ads seemed to be more on track with what I originally expected, so I started feeling good about it. Then I saw that the film is rated 22% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and I felt discouraged again.

I don’t know what to expect. But I know DC is pinning their hopes on this film to jump start a Marvel-like dominance of the movie theaters (a sequel is already in the works). But if they drop the ball, it could doom any DC film not being overseen by Christopher Nolan from ever getting made. And if they screw this film up, that would be for the best.

2. Mr. Popper’s Penguins (Fox, 3,338 Theaters, 95 Minutes, Rated PG): Having any attempt at doing dramatic work met with lukewarm response, Jim Carrey is in an interesting stage of his career as a film comedian. He has grown out of being the “Village Idiot” type of roles he played in Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. He has grown out of the immature man-child roles he played in Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty. Now he is consigned to the role of the neglectful father who only realizes the value of family after being reminded of it as his life undergoes an unorthodox upheaval.

That unorthodox upheaval comes in the form of six penguins sent to him by his father. They force him to not pay so much attention to work, which allows his family to enter into his life.

Formulaic family entertainment to be sure, but, depending on what your tolerance for Carrey’s earlier work is, it might come as an improvement.

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Best/Worst Of The Decade: Comic Book Films

Posted on 08 February 2010 by FilmBuffOnline Staff

We continue our look back at the Cinematic decade just passed with a round up of the best and worst the comic book adaptation genre had to offer.

Best:

Batman Begins (2005)

The sequel, The Dark Knight, might get more accolades for its tragic and brilliant performance from Heath Ledger, but this first film in the revitalization of the Batman franchise is just as good if not better. The film traces the first days of Batman, and Bruce Wayne begins to employ the training he received at the hands of Ra’s Al Ghul to become a vigilante in Gotham City. This is the origin story, but one that fleshes out the by now universally known Batman origin.

This is an ambitious project, trying to revive the stalled franchise that was on life support after the abysmal Batman & Robin. But Christopher Nolan and David Goyer succeed by taking a grittier, more realistic tone to the franchise and filling the cast with some of the best actors of the 20th Century. It was a more faithful adaptation than any other Batman film that had come before, yet written and directed to please the mainstream audience as well.  – William Gatevackes

Cutie Honey (2004)

I’ve never read the original manga or seen the anime that this live-action film is based on, but I have to wonder if they equal the sheer delirious exuberance of this film. (And in rewatching this I have to wonder if the Wachowski’s had seen it before they embarked on Speed Racer.)on Cutie Honey is a cyborg who can transform from bubbly office worker to an equally effervescent superhero who fights the machinations of the nigh immortal “Sister Jill” and her minions in the Panther Claw clan. Dialogue like, “I’ll walk. Investigation is based on legwork!” – delivered by Cutie Honey to a potential ally – demonstrates that the movie has no intentions of taking itself too seriously. Fortunately, it never reaches for any level of post-modern irony or camp, which would only diminish the proceedings. Cutie Honey is pure cinematic popcorn, served in a big bucket with a highly caffeinated drink to wash it down. – Rich Drees

Ghost World (2001)

I honestly wish that more people realized that Ghost World was based on a comic book. While I think that the general public is aware that comics aren’t just for kids anymore, I’m not sure that they realize that comics aren’t just superheroes. While the decade also saw the graphic novels The Road To Perdition and A History Of Violence being adapted to the big screen, director Terry Zwigoff’s realization of Daniel Clowes’s indie comic blazed their way. Thora Birch (What happened to her career?) and Scarlett Johansson are great as quirky, artistically-bent, high school graduates trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives while those around them try to figure out them. Pulling a hapless record collector (Steve Buschemi) into their orbit, the girls slowly discover that their lifelong friendship is starting to dissolve. Clowes’ story rings emotionally true at every beat and is a great testament that a good story is a good story no matter what medium it is being told in. – RD

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man is one of the lesser known heroes in the Marvel pantheon, which provided a challenge to Jon Favreau. Yes, there are less casual Iron Man fans around to get upset if he screwed up, but he also has to sell a little known property to the non-comic buying American public. I think he nailed this part quite nicely. Of course, if it wasn’t for a bravura performance by Robert Downey, Jr., perhaps he wouldn’t be quite as successful. But Downey was a perfect match for the character, and his charisma made the character almost jump off the screen. All the elements were there, but Downey brought them to life. He added humor to the character, and provided the definitive version of Shellhead to a generation that might not have known anything about him. Iron Man is quite the accomplishment by all those involved. – WG

Spider-Man (2002)

The secret to a great comic book film is to remain faithful to the spirit of the original character. It is nigh impossible to do a word for word, issue for issue adaptation of a 40+ year old character, but if you get the important stuff down, comic fans will follow. Sam Raimi gets this, which is why the Spider-Man franchise is one of the best comic book adaptations of the decade.

The Spider-Man mythos is changed quite considerably from the comics (for example, Mary Jane enters Peter parker’s life much later in the books) but the tortured hero that the web-head is captured completely. The “with great power comes great responsibility” line has been used so much in the series that it has become a punchline, but that is the most important aspect of the character. And the scene that drives this point home to Peter, the death of his Uncle Ben is one of the most powerful scenes in this film. This shows Raimi’s skill as a filmmaker and gives us the reason why he is the perfect director for this hero. – WG

Worst:

Catwoman (2004)

I have to admit it. I saw Catwoman in the theaters, but I didn’t pay. With the incredible negative buzz circling the movie, I decided to avoid it altogether. But then, the Saturday of its opening weekend, I found myself at the local Cineplex seeing something else when curiosity got the better of me. Following the end of the movie I was seeing, I slipped in to the theater showing Catwoman, only to have my worse fears confirmed.

Not since Kenneth Johnson’s Steel (1997) has a comic book adaptation ejected so much of its source material in an effort to strike out in its own direction. And much like Steel, this was a horrible creative decision. Star Halle Berry found herself lost amongst some nonsense about cat totems and a banal plot about some chicanery at a cosmetics company. And to further complete the parallel to Steel, I found myself loudly booking at the movie at points. Don’t worry, there was barely anyone in attendance to be disturbed. Those who were there were probably in agreement. – RD

Heavy Metal 2000 (2000)

Rather than go the anthology route of the original Heavy Metal, this animated film serves as both sequel to the 1981 cult classic and an adaptation of Kevin Eastman, Simon Bisley and Eric Talbot’s graphic novel The Melting Pot. The story does manage to pick up a few storylines from the original, but manages to completely miss its moments of sly humor. The result is a grim story about some miners mutated into marauders scouring the galaxy for the secret of immortality while the lone survivor of one of their raids follows after them to extract revenge. There is also something fundamentally icky in the fact that Eastman designed the lead female character after his then-wife, b-movie actress and model Julie Strain (who voices the character in the movie) and then repeatedly placed her in situations where she is nearly raped. – RD

Hulk (2003)

If this film ended when the Hulk surrendered to Betty in San Francisco, then it would only be known as an ambitious disappointment. There are a lot of positives to the film up to that point—Ang Lee’s inventive split screen/comic book panel style, the performances of Eric Bana Sam Elliot, and Jennifer Connolly, the final fight between the Hulk and the military, the exploration of the psychology of the character. But there was also the lack of humor and the overacting of Nick Nolte as Bruce Banner to bring it down.

But the film didn’t end at the San Francisco scene. There was a tacked on CGI fight between Nolte’s character and the Hulk that seemed rushed to be included because a studio exec didn’t like a comic book movie to end without a big fight. The scene was murky and dark, so much so that it was hard to follow the action. It served no point and was confusing to boot. It was that last scene that knocked the film down to absolute failure. – WG

The Spirit (2008):

Frank Miller was riding a wave of popularity before this film came out. The adaptation of his Sin City, which he co-directed, was an innovative success and the adaptation of his 300 was a surprise hit. You could almost understand if his ego caused him to think that he could do no wrong. Hopefully, this film cured him of that fault. Between this film and his recent comic book output, his skills are in decline just as he is reaching the apex of his influence. This is a bad combination.

This film is an abomination in the eyes of all that is holy. Miller wrote and directed this adaptation of the Will Eisner hero. He also acted in a small cameo in the film, ensuing he accomplished the trifecta of suckage on this project. The plot was meandering and ill-defined. The dialogue was a series of hard-boiled noir-speak with failed attempts at humor sprinkled in. He presented some of the sexiest women in the world as femme fatales, but made them as alluring as moldy plywood. And he allowed Samuel L. Jackson to chew so much scenery that he was picking slivers out of his gums for weeks. It was a case of a man totally outclassed by the project at hand but blinded by his own ego so he could never realize it. This is not a film for going and seeing. This is a film for lying down and avoiding. – WG

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Marvel Hires Writing Team To Adapt Properties To The Screen

Posted on 27 March 2009 by William Gatevackes

marvel20comic20logoWith only three movies out under their own shingle, Marvel Studios have become a force in Hollywood. Now, the company has taken steps to expand their film portfolio by bringing some of their other comic book heroes to the big screen.

Variety reports that Marvel Entertainment is hiring a team of writers with the purpose of writing scripts for properties it wants to bring to the screen.

The group will consist of up to five writers who will sign on for one year of service. They will work developing pitches Marvel gives them, which might include long in development options or completely new characters.

Characters listed in the article include long in the works characters such as Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Iron Fist, and fresh ones such as Nighthawk, Vision and Cable.

Nighthawk is an interesting one because the character is a Marvel doppelganger for DC Comics’ Batman. It should be interesting to see if that character gets to the filming stage, how much it resembles Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

The focus overall appears to be one bring Marvel’s lesser known characters to the spotlight. Some may forget that Marvel first made its splash into cineplexes with one of its lesser known characters–Blade. The character was a B-level one in the comic books when it was optioned, yet the film was a worldwide success and spawned two sequels.

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Nolan Beats Around The Bush On Third BATMAN

Posted on 27 October 2008 by Rich Drees

In the wake of the expectation exceeding success of this past summer’s The Dark Knight, it is understandable that Warner Brothers would want a follow-up film as soon as possible. The question is would director Christopher Nolan want to return to the franchise or has he sad all he wants to say on the subject of superheroes with The Dark Knight and its predecessor, Batman Begins?

That has been the question being bandied about Hollywood and fan circles alike for the past several months. Now, in the first of a three part interview with the LA Times, Nolan has given an indication as to his state of mind concerning a third trip to Gotham City.

There are two things to be said. One is the emphasis on story. What’s the story? Is there a story that’s going to keep me emotionally invested for the couple of years that it will take to make another one? That’s the overriding question. On a more superficial level, I have to ask the question: How many good third movies in a franchise can people name? [Laughs.] At the same time, in taking on the second one, we had the challenge of trying to make a great second movie, and there haven’t been too many of those either. It’s all about the story really. If the story is there, everything is possible. I hope that was a suitably slippery answer.

Well, in regards to Nolan’s second question, there are not a lot of good third franchise installments out there. X-Men had a chance at having a third film that rivaled the quality of the first two, but director Bryan Singer left the project after the studio pressured him to meet a release date he thought was unrealistic, leaving the film in the ham-fisted hands of Brett Ratner. The less said about Spider-Man 3 the better. There are only one films that served as third franchise installments that stand out as a quality film and that is 1964’s Goldfinger, a film many consider a high point of the Connery James Bond films.

But could a third Nolan-helmed Batman film be as successful as The Dark Knight? That’s hard to say. The entire production is an incredible example of catching lightening in a bottle- from Nolan’s development of the script through casting Heath Ledger as the Joker all the way down to the technical side of things like production design and visual effects. With Nolan in charge, I can readily see a third film that is aesthetically as good as the first two. How it will fare at the box office in relation to The Dark Knight is something I’d rather not hazard a guess about at this point.

As to his first question, I think that there are a multitude of stories to be told in Gotham City. Do all of them plumb the psychological depths of Batman the way that Nolan’s two films have? No, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth telling. However, does Nolan think that they would be interesting to tell? It appears that this is a question the director is mulling over for himself right now.

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