The Cultural Gutter

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In Living Colour

Chris Szego
Posted May 13, 2010

weeiron.JPGThis  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.

heath ledger wss.pngBatman 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.

X-MEN (2000)

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.


8 Responses to “In Living Colour”

  1. Nefarious Dr O
    May 13th, 2010 @ 7:27 pm

    You know, I was skeptical about all of these, and though I haven’t seen Superman or the second of the new Batman movies, I mostly agree with you on this. Like you I’d really love to see Bone on the big screen, but only if the right director is doing it.

  2. Carol Borden
    May 13th, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    We had some technical difficulties posting this article today. Sorry if you checked in and it wasn’t here. Or was partially here.

  3. Carol Borden
    May 14th, 2010 @ 5:09 pm

    i’d like to see Bone as an animated film. and preferably not 3-D CG puppets.

  4. Chris Szego
    May 14th, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    I agree: Bone would need the right director (but I have no idea who that might be), and that it’d be better as regular animation.

  5. Mr.Dave
    May 22nd, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

    I am pleased to see Josie and the Pussycats on this list. I really enjoyed Alan Cumming and Parker Posey being nefarious, as well as the send up of manufactured boy-bands.
    But I’m surprised there’s no mention of the Spiderman movies. While I had trouble accepting Toby Maguire as Peter Parker (to my recollection, Peter Parker wasn’t such a dweeb – just kind of a nerd) or Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane Watson (again, the Mary Jane I recall was a more tough and strong willed red-head) they first two were very well received.

  6. Chris Szego
    May 23rd, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    The SpiderMan movies were casulties to space, I’m afraid. I liked the first movie, really liked the second, and, well, a few parts of the third.

  7. Willard
    August 27th, 2010 @ 1:15 am

    I agree with you that “Superman Returns” did a good job depicting Superman as apart from humans but that is about the only thing the movie did right. The action was lukewarm with no powerful villian to fight. I felt there was no chemistry at all between Superman and Lois Lane. The movies overall tone seemed to me to go from light to dark without being able to decide what kind of movie it was. This was particularly pointed out when superman’s son actually killed one of the bad guys. What was the point of making a killer out of a small child? The situation could’ve been handled in many other ways that were less jarring and more fitting.

  8. Chris Szego
    August 27th, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

    Good point about Superman’s son — I didn’t really think about that aspect of it before. And you’re right about the lack of chemistry between Superman and Lois. It was as if they didn’t even know each other, let alone have a past relationship.
    On the other hand, the movie also offered a very different take on heroism (in the person of Lois’s boyfriend); a normal guy, with normal strength, who still managed to rescue his family in a spectacular manner. And in some ways, his actions spurred the remarkably distant Superman into saving the planet.

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