A (contentious) Top Ten list
With X-Men 3 about to inject some major dollars into the world’s box office, it seems like a good time to acknowledge the great comic-book films that preceded it. Especially since there’s little chance the third chapter in a trilogy kicked off by Bryan Singer — director of this summer’s Superman Returns — will ever make the cut. Of course, comic geeks everywhere have high hopes, but the geniuses at Fox hired Brett Ratner (perhaps the most obnoxious and professionally despised filmmaker in Hollywood) to replace Singer once the latter jumped ship — so expect an intellectually crippled X-Men adventure. Cross your fingers, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Top 10 Greatest Comic-Book Flicks
Superman might not be as great a movie as #2 on this list, but it’s the standard that all other comic-book adaptations are measured against. Richard Donner took what was a beloved icon — Americana distilled into blue, red, and yellow tights — and transformed him into a Christ metaphor, with Marlon Brando’s Jor-El sending his only son to earth to save its good people from their own folly. Never before on screen or television had Superman seemed so human; the struggle of a god trying to live as a man showed us the potential for nobility in us all. Supes’ Messianic quest was completed in the sequel, when he succumbed to the earthly temptation of love and temporarily traded in his powers. Expect Singer’s Superman Returns (which pretends III and IV were never made) to complete the trilogy with a “resurrected” Superman assuming his role as mankind’s savior.
2. A History of Violence
David Cronenberg’s adaptation of John Wagner’s less-than-interesting graphic novel owes a great debt to its brilliant, insightfully human (and Academy Award-nominated) screenplay, written by Josh Olson. A History of Violence offers up a twist on film noir by moving the action to rural Midwestern America, where it poses questions about the nature of identity and the resonance of choice in the lives we live despite the pasts that are never so far behind. This film belongs on a lot of lists, the least of which is this one.
3. Ghost World
Terry Zwigoff followed up his documentary on comic hero Robert Crumb with this subtly hilarious adaptation of Daniel Clowes’s Eightball series about the limbo into which one can slip between high-school graduation and the wonderful world of adulthood. It boasts Scarlett Johansson in her last pre-legal role, Steve Buscemi in one of his career bests, and some of the smartest jokes you’ll find in any film of the last decade (Zwigoff’s take on Clowes’s Art School Confidential is even funnier).
4. Spider-Man 2
If this was a countdown of the greatest superhero flicks, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 would be #2 on the list. It’s like watching the comic books come to life, with the CGI that looked so spectacular the first time around approaching near-perfection here. That’s only just, considering the flawless study of the burden of power that accompanies it.
5. Sin City
Sin City is as close to watching a comic book come to life as you’ll ever get, with co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Sin City-creator Frank Miller using an experimental mix of digital video and animation to nail the multiple storylines of this bloody, über-violent tale of love and redemption and, of course, ass-whooping.
6. X2: x-men united
With X2, Bryan Singer transformed the X-Men from an ostracized group of outsiders challenging the racism of the ’60s into a group willing to tackle the Christian Right’s campaign against homosexual rights. Don’t buy it? Check out the scene where Iceman comes out of the closet to his disapproving parents. Watching Wolverine unleash a little hell doesn’t hurt, either.
7. Batman Begins
Christopher Nolan resurrected the franchise Joel Schumacher killed with nipples by bringing to life the shadow-dwelling Dark Knight that Frank Miller envisioned in Batman: Year One. If it wasn’t for Katie Holmes, this would’ve ranked just behind Spider-Man 2.
For years, rumors circulated about Spider-Man movies that might be; hell, for a while there, it looked like James Cameron was going to give it a go. But none of the foreplay could’ve prepared us for the surprise it was seeing Spidey actually web-sling his way through Manhattan. Sure, the Green Goblin’s costume is a joke, but Kirsten Dunst’s wet T-shirt definitely isn’t.
9. Road to Perdition
Like A History of Violence, Max Allan Collins’s graphic novel Road to Perdition was ho-hum at best, but, with Sam Mendes behind the camera, his story of a hitman exacting revenge for the murder of his family and, ultimately, finding redemption through the preservation of his son’s innocence became an opportunity for Tom Hanks to prove he can actually play morally complicated characters.
10. Flash Gordon
Flash Gordon is the campiest fun you can have without a tent and sleeping bag. From the opening scene, it revels in its cheesiness and sports some of the worst dialogue, acting, and FX of its era. In fact, the only thing it has going for it is an unforgettable (and equally campy) soundtrack by Queen: “Flash! He’ll save every one of us!” Despite everything that’s utterly laughable about the film, the sum of its deficient parts is a surplus of fun and laughs.
These Would’ve Made the Top 20:
V for Vendetta, Lone Wolf & Cub, X-Men, Superman 2, Batman, Popeye, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.