24
Sep
2011
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List
Top 10 Comic Book Movies
Chris, Jordan, Rachel
Random Pop Culture Top 10 List is a (fairly self-explanatory) biweekly list in which the Review to be named gang take stock of the realm of pop culture, and come up with their Top Ten in a specific category.

Top Ten Comic Book Movies of All Time:

The comic book movie has been around for a while now, and the last decade has given us so many comic book adaptations it's a wonder Hollywood has had time to make any remakes, sequels, or other adaptations of easy to loot media (but hey, at least the Age of the Comic Book Movie put off the Age of the Board Game Adaptation Movie for a decade or so, right?). There's been a lot of drivel in this genre, heaps of useless or awful movies taking up celluloid somewhere, having either disgraced a beloved hero with a terrible film or taken an unknown character and transformed them into a character no one cares about instead. Yet through all the piles of crap, a few gems have emerged. There have been some great comic book movies in the last few decades. Here are some of our favorites.

10. X-2: X Men United

We love X-Men. And even though we were saddened by the supreme suckage of the first X-Men movie, we still saw (and loved) X-2. Without the burden of exposition that weighed down the first film or the disappointments of The Last Stand, X-2 took the opportunity to spend more time with the cast of mutants every comic book geek loves so much. In the sequel, the characters really get the chance to stretch their legs: we learn what drives them, what divides them, what's important to them, and how far they're willing to go for what they believe in. Despite some issues with the plot, solid performances by the film's cast basically make up for any issues of continuity. Hugh Jackman does well as Wolverine, a man torn by his struggle to discover his past as a way of coming to terms with his present. The always fantastic Ian McKellan turns Magneto into a delightful, complex villain, while Patrick Stewart's Prof. X gets to go beyond his typical sainthood into the intricacies of his character. We also love Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler (always a personal favorite character). The film blends the action of the plot with the development of characters well in a way that didn't reappear in the X-Men series until 2011's X-Men: First Class.





9. Ghost World

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) don't exactly fit in. As they navigate the summer after their high school graduation, their previously co-dependent relationship starts to deteriorate. As Enid grows closer with fellow social outcast Seymour (Steve Buscemi), Rebecca drifts into more mainstream interests like clothes and boys. A near-perfect adaptation of the tender and perfectly observed graphic novel by Daniel Clowes (who also wrote the screenplay), Ghost World perfectly matches the tone of the book, but adds dimensions to its story with stellar performances from Birch and Buscemi. The film matches its moments of despondency and hopelessness with quiet comedy and the occasional feeling that there may just be a light at the end of the tunnel.




8. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

The first Hellboy film was good, but it felt mostly like a workmanlike origin story for a mostly unknown Dark Horse hero. The second time around, visionary director Guillermo Del Toro wasn't messing around, crafting a world so fully realized it is hard not to get lost in it. The plot, which follows the titular demon (a winning Ron Perlman) and his merry band of BPRD associates (including Doug Jones' amphibious sidekick, Selma Blair's pyrokinetic love interest and Seth MacFarlane's incorporeal researcher) as they rush to stop ruthless elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) from unleashing the indestructible Golden Army. The plot is fine and the dialogue is full of fun and wit, but the real treasure here is the veritable cornucopia of creatures Del Toro unleashes. From a Troll Market that puts the Moss Isley Cantina to shame, diversity-wise to an Elemental that flourishes life wherever it moves, to the miniature Tooth Fairies that eat people alive to get to their calcium deposits and to the deeply disturbing Angel of Death, the film is a visual marvel that shows the current master of creature make-up working at the top of his game.




7. Iron Man

Before Jon Favreau's excellent film, no one we knew cared all that much about Iron Man. Afterwards, it was hard to find someone who wasn't a fan. A near-perfect summer blockbuster, Iron Man mixes stunning special effects, solid action, great characterizations and a quick sense of humor to come out with exactly the type of cinematic cocktail we all hope to imbibe when summer comes around. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., whose charismatic and hilarious performance alone is worth the price of admission) is the real center of this story, but you'll be too entertained to notice the Iron Man armor playing second fiddle. The bad guy, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) is serviceable too, but ultimately, this film flies or falls based on Downey's performance. And it's so pitch-perfect, Iron Man soars.




6. Batman Begins/Batman Returns/ Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Had we not decided to bundle some of the Batman titles together, this list might have appeared just the slightest bit lopsided in favor of the Caped Crusader (let's save his much better nickname for slightly higher on this list, shall we?). Yet each of these films deserves recognition among the greatest comic book movies ever made. Batman Returns doubled down on Tim Burton's first film in the franchise, losing the muddled origin story (The Joker killed Batman's parents? Really?) and the Prince soundtrack and instead transforming into a dark, Christmas themed story about deformity both physical and mental. Watching Batman (Michael Keaton) face off against Catwoman (Michelle Pfieffer), Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is just pure gothic bliss, exactly what Burton must have aimed for and an important entry in Batman's film canon. Batman Begins also may be overshadowed by its sequel, yet credit must be given for the film that so perfectly delivered the story of Bruce Wayne's transformation from man into symbol, and set the gritty, realistic tone for Nolan's saga from its opening minutes. Nolan wasn't afraid to make Bruce Wayne a man, but neither was he hesitant to let Batman be just a little bit scary. And Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (which most of you probably haven't even heard of...but everyone should see), the theatrically released film set in the same universe as the excellent Batman: The Animated Series (which everyone should also see), easily stands toe to toe with any comic book movie ever made. The film focuses on Batman's (Kevin Conroy, who is still arguably the definitive Batman) past as he rushes to stop brand new villain Phantasm from killing off Gotham's mob. The crimes, and the criminal, are connected to an old love of Bruce Wayne's, a relationship that got him to consider giving up his costume for good. The film is a seriously moving Batman tragedy, with leavening provided by Mark Hamill's (also arguably definitive) Joker and you have one of the all-time great Batman stories. Batman Begins told us who the Caped Crusader is, but Mask of the Phantasm got there first. Don't let the animation fool you; this movie is deadly serious.




5. Sin City

Frank Miller's Sin City series of graphic novels are pure pulp bliss: noir-tinged, blood soaked, and bearing a morality as black as midnight on a moonless night. When Robert Rodriguez announced he was making a movie version, fan boys the world over cringed, waiting for their violent, pitch black noir to get softend for the silver screen. Instead, Rodriguez created a near panel-by-panel recreation of three of Miller's stories, turning Sin City into more of a living graphic novel than a film adaptation. The color-sapped black and white (with occasional flourishes of vibrant color) fit the tone perfectly and allowed Rodriguez to capture even more closely the look of Miller's hellish cityscape. With fantastic performances by Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Elijah Wood and dozens of others and directorial flourishes the enliven rather than dull the stories, Sin City is one of the few comic book adaptations that may best its source material.




4. Persepolis

Persepolis is something of an anomaly on this list, seeing as it deals with neither super powers nor noir elements (Ghost World also avoids those tendencies...I guess that's why Persepolis is only SOMETHING of an anomaly, not a full fledged exception). Instead, it follows Marjane Satrapi (writer of the comic book and the screenplay), an Iranian woman recalling her childhood in Tehran and the political upheaval that rips her world and her family apart. Weaving a tale of political revolution, civil war, social conflict, and identity crisis, Persepolis is a beautiful, well-wrought film that tells a complex, large-scale story in a way that makes it personal, particularly for an American audience conditioned to see Iran and its people as radical, faceless monsters. The fact that Persepolis manages to tell this intricate story with equal parts comic lightness and emotional heft merit it's position on this list. The film's emotionally effective use of color, the simple style and crisp animation that pervades the graphic novel and the film adaptation, as well as the identity politics of the whole story, make Persepolis example of comics as a high art.



3. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

A film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World had a lot to live up to. The graphic novel series, written by Bryan Lee O"malley, on which it was based was a near perfect blend of pop-culture geekery, epic action, sweet yet moving romance, and meta-textual riffs on both comics and video games as media. None of that sounded like it would easily transfer over to a film adaptation, yet director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was the perfect man to prove us wrong. Casting Michael Cera as Scott, a geek willing to do battle with seven Evil Ex-Boyfriends for a chance at true love with Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Wright condensed the six-volume saga into less than two hours of frenetic absurdist rom-com action that kept us nailed to our seats with its sheer power. Wright doesn't lose the series' quirky humor and sense of whimsy, but he raises the stakes enough to keep the battles (which we feared might appear endless and take up most of the movie) interesting and the romance compelling. Plus, filling the supporting cast with such able comedians as Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman and Kieran Culkin (and including narration by Bill Hader) ensured that even strangers to the series brilliance would enjoy a fast-paced, hilarious and incredibly referential battle for true love.




2. The Road to Perdition

A moody, stylish gangster noir set during the Great Depression,, The Road to Perdition is not what anyone thinks of when they think of comic book movies, yet Perdition is based on the graphic novel by Michael Allan Collins. The story follows Michael Sullivan (played well by Tom Hanks in the film), a hit man for the Irish Mafia working under the tough but kind John Rooney (Paul Newman). Rooney's son Connor (Daniel Craig) is a ruthless son of a bitch desperate to take power, and when Michael's son Michael Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) witnesses a hit, Connor has the whole Sullivan family, sans Michael and Jr. murdered in an attempt to cover it up. Father and son hit the road in an effort to escape the long arm of the Rooney family and find some tenuous peace outside their former life. As they travel, the younger Michael learns what kind of man his father is, and discovers the hard to come by truth that no one, not even your father, can be defined in black and white terms. Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Away We Go), The Road to Perdition is both a taut gangster thriller and a tender, moving portrait of the slowly forming bond between father and son. The film is suspenseful, heart-wrenching, and deeply moving. In short, its what all comic book movies, and all movies in general, should aspire to be.




1. The Dark Knight

After solidly molding a Batman origin story in the aforementioned Batman Begins, Director Christopher Nolan (who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan) topped his first outing with the greatest super hero movie of all time. Months after the last film ended, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is still working the night-shift as Batman, and searching for a flesh and bones hero who can save the city by bringing it the hope and legitimacy that his vigilante never could. He finds his strongest candidate in the tough on crime new DA Harvey Dent (a phenomenal and underrated Aaron Eckhart), who along with the morally unimpeachable cop James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is waging a war against organized crime in the city. Their struggle is complicated by the arrival on the scene of the terrifyingly nihilistic "engine of chaos" that is the Joker (Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Oscar for his stellar performance), who believes that anarchy is the only way to live in a world without rules. The Joker sees life as one dark joke, and its punch line is the terror he inflicts and the death toll he racks up. The film also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, and combines some of the best action set pieces of the last decade with the thematic scope of a great novel and more depth than any movie in its genre has ever tried. More than just a titanic battle between good and evil over the soul of a troubled city, The Dark Knight is an examination of existentialism versus nihilism, order versus chaos, and vigilantism versus the often failed attempts of a broken system to do good. The film may be a super-hero movie on its face, but beneath the surface lies an epic and a tragedy of greater proportions than most, and of greater resonance than any other comic book movie ever made.




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