Rob and Mike watch Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) at The Projection Booth. “The first big American studio film — and last big American studio film – directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, The Black Cat is, uh, ‘inspired’ by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story and stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff in a taut game of life and death.”
Posted May 13, 2010
This last month at the Gutter, we’ve been mixing things up, with the editors writing outside of their usual domains. This week, instead of romance, Chris Szego will talk about movies or comics. Hey, wait! How about movies AND comics? Or rather, comic book movies?
Recently, the theatre’s been a good place for comics. Not just because amazing special effects are possible and seamless, but because there’s something else at work: studios are beginning to value the kind of stories comics tell. Okay, it’s probably more accurate to say that studios value the immense returns on good comic book movies, but still. Working together, writers and actors are seriously raising the bar when it comes to bringing comics to screen. Which is a good thing (Anyone out there besides me ever see Captain America? If you said no, count yourself lucky).
When trying to come up with a list of what I think are good movies based on comics, I had two major criteria. First, I stuck to popular movies made about popular comics. Second, I had to have both read the comic and seen the film. That leaves out Watchmen and Persepolis (which I’ve read but haven’t seen), and Ghost World and Kick-Ass (which I saw but didn’t read).This is in NO WAY meant to be a definitive list. In fact, I’d very much welcome suggestions and additions. So, onwards.
Batman Begins (2005)
There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Christopher Nolan’s extraordinarily well-cast revision, no matter which origin story or universe you prefer. As a character study it’s spot-on; as a transformation story, it rocks. Which is kind of the point: it’s a story about becoming, rather than being, a legend.
Nolan hit a second home run with The Dark Knight (2008). Less about becoming than about coping, and with a stronger focus on the tech toys, it was nonetheless riveting. Largely due to Heath Ledger’s brilliant personification of violent chaos. Dammit.
Iron Man (2008)
I’m not the only one who
though casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark was both smart and
deliciously ironic. But irony was the last thing on my mind when I
saw the movie. Director Jon Favreau kept a light hand on the reins,
and the result was an exciting mvoie in which the snappy dialogue
doesn’t detract from the very real character development. I’m
eager to see what happens next.
Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
Of the movies on the list,
this one definitely had the smallest audience. Which is too bad. In
the able hands of Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, this movie
suggests its source material rather than translates it, but it keeps
to all the necessary particulars. And result is charming. It’s
well-written, well acted and smarter than it looks. It’s also
hilarious, and has a remarkably catchy soundtrack (largely by Bif
Superman Returns (2007)
Yes, the Christopher Reeve movies were wondeful adventures. But I think Bryan Singer’s remake had something the earlier movies lacked: a very real sense of Superman as Other. The moody colour washes, the Messianistic poses in the upper atmosphere: these things beautifully illustrate the point that Superman isn’t human. He is apart in every way: physically, emotionally, spiritually. And though all-powerful, he cannot manage any real human relationship. Not a perfect movie, but subtler than it appears at first viewing.
A confession: I stalked
Wolverine though comics in my early years. He was a revelation:
short, grouchy, Canadian — good god, we were practically twins! So
I was a little worried when X-Men was announced. Needlessly, as it
turns out. By refusing to sacrifice story for spectacle (though
there’s plenty of the latter), Bryan Singer turned comic book
figures into real characters. He deftly handled multiple origin
stories, and allowed most (if not all) of the main players some
complex emotional development. Though I’m sure Hugh Jackman in
leather didn’t hurt.
I was also seriously impressed withX2 (2003), particularly the maturation of the younger generation. It could have been just more of the same (with Bigger! Explosions!), but once again, it was a movie about people, not powers.
Chris Szego would like to see Bone on the big screen.