I read a review of the movie “The Spirit” the other day that caused me a moment of pause. The gist was that the movie is cheesy, over dramatic, and at some points, ridiculous. It said that Samuel L. Jackson was so over the top it bordered on painful. After sitting down and finally watching the movie, I have two points of contention… one, the author of the review was correct in all aspects. And two… he’s an idiot. It’s a comic book! It’s a comic book! Do we think that Heath Ledger won his academy award for his realistic portrayal of a true to life character? The Joker was just as ridiculous as can be. But that’s just how we like it!
The comic book movie has been around nearly as long as movies themselves, and as technology and special effects have advanced they’ve become more plentiful. No great mystery here… for the most part they tend to stick to the classic “good versus evil” formula, and they give us a chance to live vicariously through super heroes. throw in the nostalgia factor… after all, comics have, in a lot of ways become modern day mythology… and it’s obvious why we line up in droves to see the characters we grew up reading come to life.
Making these movies is an art form, one that not everyone seems to grasp. For every “The Dark Knight” there are a half dozen wrecks. So many pieces of the puzzle have to fall into place, or the movie will simply become a farce of itself. There isn’t one specific formula that works, but there are some constants that seem to be universal to the genre. To me, the biggest necessary component is the villain. Good vs. evil falls short if the villain doesn’t carry his weight. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one specific villain, either, although one bad one can spoil a movie. (see: Schwarzenegger). Some of the serialized movies introduce a new bad guy every time around and avoid falling into the trap. (Spider man, Hell boy). While others should simply have avoided sequels altogether. (The Crow, The Punisher). Villains carry these movies… Did anyone over the age of 14 go to see Spider man because of Toby McGuire?
The next important piece is your hero. He has to be believable. Strong, but vulnerable. And he has to fit. Shaq in “Steel” was just a very bad idea. Ben Affleck, while a good actor, was a terrible fit for daredevil. Ditto for Nicholas Cage in “Ghost Rider”. The Crow characters from all of the sequels were equally disastrous faux pauxs. The right choice, however, can also carry a movie. (Brandon Lee in “The Crow”, Thomas Jane in ”The Punisher”). For the formula to work, we have to want to believe in the hero.
Cinematography will always play a critical part of the equation. It’s no coincidence that some of the best comic movies spawned from Tim Burton’s mind. Most of the classics…. The first and last in the “batman” series,”Hellboy”, “Sin City”, “The Crow”, and now “Watchmen” all walked the edge of revolutionary filming.
The final major piece, at least for me, is the soundtrack. A good soundtrack can, in some cases, at least partially save a less than stellar movie. (”Spawn”). Or cement its status as a classic. (”The Crow”) The music that serves as a backdrop to a movie is ever so critical to the mood.
So, to conclude, I would simply be remiss if i didn’t include my own top ten list of comic book movies. These are just based on my own tastes, so take them with a grain of salt….
10. V for Vendetta
8. The Spirit
5. Sin City
4. Batman Begins
3. Batman (original)
2. The Crow
1. The Dark Knight
And finally, a list of some of the people without whom the genre simply wouldn’t be what it is.
in no particular order…..
Good watching, friends.