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The FilmDebate Contributors Collaborate – Our Top Three Comic Book Movies…


Posted April 11, 2016 by

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Our Top Three Comic Book Movies

The next in our monthly collaborative series, in which the FilmDebate Contributors collaborate on a chosen topic – This month, in keeping with the latest trends – Top Three Comic Book Movies!

Adam Snowden

1. The Dark Knight – An awesome film! – great narrative, direction and writing, coupled with an awesome cast and a phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger. Batman has always been my favorite superhero, and ‘The Dark Knight’ captured everything I loved about the character and the comics. The whole Nolan trilogy is great, but I think ‘The Dark Knight’ has that something extra – not only is it a great film within the superhero/comic book cinematic universe, but stands its ground amongst the most entertaining action films of all time.

2. Superman (1978) – A classic. In my opinion, no other superman release has come close to the original Christopher Reeve portrayal. A film that I remember watching countless times as a child, and have continued to enjoy as an adult.

3. Guardians Of The Galaxy – Well done Marvel, broke the barriers of cinematic credibility with this one. Many people will argue with me, but until ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ – I always felt Marvel films lacked proper substance. ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ is comical, action-packed, well directed & well performed. I was immediately endeared to the characters of Rocket and Groot, and really enjoyed the way the film blends an excellent pop/rock soundtrack with Sci-Fi – bring on number two!

Daniel Smith-Rowsey

1. The Incredibles – You’ll say this doesn’t count, because it’s not from a comic book. Why not Spirited Away while you’re at it? I’ll say this is the best film version of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four that ever was or will be, and thus the best comic book movie ever. Anytime anyone argues the FF point I ask: why do invisibility and force fields have to go together? (Hint: they don’t.) The Incredibles also happens to be the best film that will ever be made exemplifying Ayn Rand’s ideas, partly because in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead the deck is rigged against the non-Randists on every page, while here Helen Parr/Elastigirl, defending “normality,” is not only credible but so well-played by Holly Hunter that we almost forget her retro non-feminist domesticity. The film papers that over with nostalgic/anti-nostalgic production design suggesting a vaguely defined (or cleverly obscured, to listen to the DVD commentary) post-Brady Bunch time period – one of about a thousand things you barely notice the first time, but luxuriate in during the fourth or fifth viewing. (Three more: Edna Mode, Frozone, and Michael Giacchino’s score. God, yes.) The Incredibles is not for little kids, but that’s less because of violence than pacing: contrary to excellent Brad Bird efforts like The Iron Giant, the characters are practically talking over each other for the entire picture, even as they methodically raise the stakes (Two examples: Bob and Helen’s “is that rubble?” argument and Mr. Incredible’s first encounter with the adult Syndrome – uh, monologuing.) If you ever wondered if the pace of Chuck Jones’ best cartoons (say, “Duck! Rabbit! Duck!”) could be made into a feature, The Incredibles is the answer. And yet it would all be little more than sound and fury were it not for the three words that John Lasseter used to guide Pixar through its first decade: “story, story, story.” If good artists copy and great artists steal, then not only did writer-director Brad Bird steal, repurpose, and perfect Stan Lee’s signature comic, he somehow, impossibly, did the same thing at the same time to the best (and certainly most influential) comic mini-series ever written, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. Isn’t the Syndrome-Mr. Incredible tension really just Batman-versus-Superman, not the bad 2016 kind, but tech-versus-magic, agnosticism-versus-moralism, and conflicting visions of exceptionalism channeled into heroism that aren’t as different as Bob would like to believe? All this plus each member of the Parrs achieving his/her true potential even while strengthening familial solidarity? Can I really consider this the best comic book movie ever? “You can’t! It’s impossible. So ask me now before I again become sane.”

2. The Dark Knight – What exactly does director Christopher Nolan do that endears him so deeply to fanboys in comment sections? (And that was apparently impossible for Zack Snyder to imitate in 2016?) Editing is an under-appreciated part of it: almost every shot is about 3 to 4 seconds long, creating a rhythm and forward momentum that viewers learn to trust and even desire just for the sake of it. One can also credit fluid camera movement, crisp, painterly mise-en-scène, and action filmed in a manner that never seems to cheat character location. What struck me the first time I saw The Dark Knight was how unexpected it often was: from the (telegraphed) extraction from Hong Kong to “Let her go”…“Poor choice of words” to the totaled Batmobile morphing into a motor-bike to the Joker fumbling with his remote bomb-switch outside the hospital, the movie exudes a sort of vertiginous spontaneity that’s rare in any blockbuster. And of course, story and cast. Like Singer making X2, Nolan needs not establish or conclude his central characters’ lives, freeing him to explore certain kinds of hard decisions (may as well flip a coin), sacrifices of the post-9/11 world, and threats from people who, as Albert (Michael Caine) so memorably puts it, “just want to watch the world burn.” And yes, we can decry the Stannish tendencies that put the Batman-Joker interrogation room scene at the top of any YouTube search for “great acting,” but there IS a there there. Christian Bale, in a role that never seems to get enough attention, vibrates with a barely restrained, almost capital-r Romantic pathos that makes his forays into furious vengeance – as in the interrogation scene – all the more harrowing. (Charlie Cox as Daredevil, take note.) I’ll leave the major Heath Ledger love to my fellow writers at FilmDebate, but as the Joker he absolutely personifies the unpredictability of which I speak, as well as evoking every erratic sociopath we’ve ever come across. The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent – Gary Oldman, in particular – but Ledger makes this film compelling viewing even on the tenth visit. The Joker says “I’m just ahead of the curve.” As we watch him, the curve goes from the hairs on the back of our neck to our heart skipping a beat.

3. X2 – The best Marvel-sponsored movie, so far, is the one that best captures the spirit of the best comics Marvel made in the 1970s and 1980s (with the possible exception of the peak of Frank Miller’s Daredevil run), namely the Chris Claremont-John Byrne run of X-Men, when Professor Xavier’s team of mutants ran out of easy, honorable choices, when the pages burst with new characters that were each more spicy and worldly than the last, when Stan Lee’s racism metaphor was broadened to its most heart-rending conclusions. Like Claremont, director Bryan Singer is freed from the burdens of introducing his characters and can explore a vaster, more thematically rich territory. James Marsden and Hugh Jackman were total unknowns when Singer cast them as Cyclops and Wolverine in the first film; now aware of their considerable talents, here Singer unleashes them into a power struggle/love triangle (with the estimable Famke Janssen as Jean Grey) that combines the best parts of Uncanny X-Men #101 and the graphic novel “God Loves, Man Kills” where Stryker, here brilliantly embodied by Bryan Cox, mobilizes religion and the military against the muties. This synopsis downplays how well Singer balances all the moving parts, particularly the exquisite performances from the likes of Ian McKellen as Magneto, Patrick Stewart as Xavier, and Alan Cumming (who is sadly only in this one film) as Nightcrawler. The action services the character conflicts, not the other way around, as in too many comic book films. I love everything about this movie; I can’t help but think of the scene where Iceman “comes out” to his parents just after they ask this burly tank-topped man what the heck sort of classes he could possibly be teaching at Bobby’s school. Logan growls “ART,” and indeed, X2, like Wolverine easy to disparage from a distance, surprises as it rises to the level of Jackman’s barbaric yawp.

Larry Oliver

1. Spider-man (2002) – A real game changer!

2. Batman (1989) – Was also a game changer for DC.

3. Superman (1978) – Because of Christopher Reeve’s pitch-perfect performance and the Gene Hackman/Ned Beatty comedy act.

Jonathan Eig

1. The Dark Knight – Pretty clearly the best of the modern super hero crop. Heath Ledger’s acclaim is justifiable.

2. Ghost World – Comic books, and the film’s drawn from them, do not have to be about flying men in colorful suits. They can be about real people, too.

3. Ghost In The Shell – Still definitive modern Manga.

Honourable Mentions – ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (Anthony and Joe Russo, from Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) – because you gotta have a Marvel, right? ‘Fritz the Cat’ (Ralph Bakshi, from R. Crumb) – comic books, and the film’s drawn from them, do not have to be about flying men in colorful suits. They can be about horny cats, too. ‘Bambi Meets Godzilla’ (Marv Newland, from … well, that’s a problem) – technically, this isn’t derived from a comic. Bambi came from a novel and Godzilla came from a movie. But almost simultaneous to the movie were a whole bunch of comics, predating this, so I’m using that loophole to squeeze in the greatest 100 seconds of absurdism ever captured on film.

Tim Buckler

1. Superman The Movie/Superman II – Impossible for me to pick between the two as they follow the same line of narrative and neither is as good without the other. Also impossible for me to pick which cut of SII is superior, the Richard Lester or the Richard Donner one, as I have my own fanboy Super edit in my head. These films have some of the most brilliant performances in comic-book cinema history. Terrance Stamp’s General Zod has a confident calmness to him, which only amplifies the intensity when he is enraged. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor is mainly played for laughs yet still somehow manages to be more sinister than Jesse Heisenberg’s turn as the chracter and Christopher Reeves as the Man of Steel is in my opinion the greatest casting in cinematic history. Add one of my favorite film scores composed by the main man John Williams and you have some of my fondest childhood memories that still resonates and acts as my moral compass to this day.

2. The Dark Knight Trilogy – Again, impossible for me to pick a single film from Chris Nolan’s fabled trilogy on account of me loving them all equally for different reasons. I love Batman Begins because is the most “Batmany” of the three (The Cave, The Car, Ninjas and staying mostly faithful to the source material). I love The Dark Knight as it is technically the best film out of the three and of course has Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Dark Knight Rises, which I agree with most people is the weakest of the three, hits me on a more personal level. The first “grown-up” comic-book story-arc I ever read was Knightfall and the panel where Batman is defeated and doesn’t get back up again haunted me as a kid and cemented Bane as my joint second favorite DC villain (just behind The Joker, on par with The Riddler). Also the mish-mash of my childhood crush (Julie Newmar’s Catwomen) combined with my adult one (Anne Hathaway) makes me honestly feel that the Warner Bros. execs got together and laid out a blue print to make a Batman film that was custom built for Tim.

3. Spider-Man – The first superhero film that truly felt like a live action adaptation of a comic book. Up until that point nothing really felt like it had truly stepped out of the page. Even X-Men which was released two years prior seemed ashamed of its source material forcing our favorite mutants to don all black leather costumes in favor of the brightly colored original attire. To this day I remember the first image of Spidey loading up on my P.C screen over the old 56k modem and after a good five minutes of waiting me and my brother where shocked and overjoyed to see an image of Spider-Man. Not a weird black rubber Tim Burton Spider-Man, Not an over serious simplistic Brian Singer Spider-Man, but the web-shootin’ wall crawlin’ friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! The film was an event in itself and still one of my favorite cinema going experiences to this day.

Honourable Mentions – Honorable shout-outs to Deadpool and The Crow.

Hannah Wales

1. The Dark Knight – One of Christopher Nolan best movies. I doesn’t feel like a superhero movie – just a well-written, dark thriller that had extraordinary performances from Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. Ben Affleck has nothing on Bale!

2. The Avengers – Bringing all the beloved Marvel superheroes together to make a fun, entertaining action movie families can watch again and again. Shame Joss Whedon dropped the ball on Age of Ultron, but the first one made me so happy

3. Guardians Of The Galaxy – This one took me by surprise. I thought it was going to suck but it was genius. It is so different tonally from the others and this was refreshing. Chris Pratt was an unlikely cast for an action lead by defied critics and was simply brilliant. This film leaves me with a massive smile on my face – which how I like my superhero movies – not dark and depressing like BvS!

Louis Skye

1. X-Men – The film that made superheroes cool again; great plot, music and wonderfully cast, it had me on the edge of my seat and wishing for more.

2. Captain America: Winter Soldier – A superhero spy film unlike anything we’ve seen before; raw, brilliant action and fight scenes, full of heart (that scene with Peggy!) and a plot that was full of unexpected twists and turns. What a film!

3. The Dark Knight Trilogy – I can’t choose just one from this trilogy because they are all brilliant; Nolan, in peak form, doesn’t miss a beat as he gives one of the greatest superheroes (and villains) the treatment he deserves; stunning stories, incredibly well directed, edited and scored, the Dark Knight Trilogy has set the benchmark for superhero films

Lestat de Lioncourt 

1. Batman Begins – It changed the landscape of what a superhero movie should look like but kept the essence of what Batman is and what his comic book stories are like. It’s dark but has a sense of humor. It’s the kind of film that you can constantly go back to and still enjoy and be amazed at. I love the realism of the film and how it immediately sets the trilogy apart from all the superhero stuff that we were used to up till that point. Christian Bale made for such an excellent Bruce Wayne – conflicted yet morally good. Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon is the kind of character you can easily follow and love. Liam Neeson was fantastic as Ra’s al Ghul though I still wish we could have got an Asian actor in that role. My favorite character of the lot was Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. He’s so enigmatic that it’s no wonder Nolan had him cameo in the sequels as well. Nolan sets up a brilliant new universe with a solid crew behind the scenes for cinematography, music and story.

2. X-Men – I will always credit this film for getting people into Marvel and superhero adaptations in general. It came out at the turn of the millennium and comic book films have never looked back since. Fast-paced action meets concrete character development, this film so perfectly introduces us to a world of mutants and the humans who fear them. As someone who never met the x-men before this film, I have not been able to stop loving these characters since I walked into the cinema in 2000. This film made me a fan for life and Bryan Singer needs real kudos for doing right by these characters. Whatever issues he has off screen, there’s no doubting that he genuinely loves these characters. It’s no wonder the films that he has directed, including X2 and Days of Future Past, have such an intimate feel to them. i could write a thesis on how much the first film captured the important message of the comics, including the bigotry, discrimination, hypocrisy and prejudice the mutants face and how they own their differences from the rest of humanity. I still watch this film from time to time and still get goosebumps during the climactic showdown.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Going into this film I was expecting nothing. My memory of the first captain America film was that it was boring and lame (I have since changed my mind) and most of the MCU sequels were poor runners up to their predecessors. But this film genuinely blew my mind. You’d think a film called Captain America and about an American intelligence agency with villains attacking America would be insignificant to anyone not connected to the US, but this film proves you wrong. It captures the worries of today’s global world and the threats we face inside and outside our countries. But what captured a lot of people’s imaginations and mine as well was that The core of the film was Steve Rogers being a man out of time. The story has so much heart and in the center are Steve’s relationships with Black Widow, new guy Sam Wilson, an elderly Peggy Carter and of course Bucky. It’s the kind of film you can keep going back to because of the story, the characters, the acting and the action. The Russo brothers really upped the realism in a film essentially about two formerly dead friends fighting each other. For a roller coaster of emotions, TWS is your film.

Michael Keyes

1. X-Men – The first 12-rated movie I saw (I was only 10, f**k the police). More importantly, the first superhero/comic-book movie I saw that showed me how striking they could be. Bearing in mind the might of the Marvel Cinematic Universe today, there is something remarkably prototypical about the first X-Men movie. Back in the year 2000 (feeling longer ago the more I think about it) I realised that comic book lore could be brought to the silver screen and, better still, could be translated remarkably well.

2. Road to Perdition – I always forget this was based off a comic. Road to Perdition sparked my love for everything Sam Mendes turns out, a director who knows how to put beauty into a frame. Since before I was a teenager I have been fascinated with all things Gangster/Prohibition/Roaring Twenties and Great Depression. This movie still feels tailor made for me. The drive to Chicago, with Thomas Newman’s eloquent score and Tyler Hoechlin’s wonder on seeing skyscrapers for the first time is a mesmerizing and wondrous sequence.

3. Batman Begins – Sure, I could have picked The Dark Knight, the most memorable of the Nolan trilogy, but it could never have been with Batman Begins. The word to use here is importance, for what it fixed and what it set in motion. The visual migraine that was Batman & Robin was undid. A tone in comic books was popularised, a tone that audiences and critics had not expected. Grit, realism, real emotional weight. As Dan O’Brien of Cracked wrote; “Nolan didn’t make a good Batman movie; he made amazing, near perfect movies that happened to be about Batman.” Me and my three closest friends, just 14 at the time, were at the movies. We’re at the last scene “But take this guy. Armed robbery, double homicide. Got a taste for the theatrical, like you. Leaves a calling card.” – Gordon hands Batman a playing card in a plastic evidence bag. Batman turns it over. We lost our fucking minds. I’ll never forget that.

Lyndsay Townsend

1. Deadpool – I’ve seen this twice since it came out at the cinema and just loved it. I didn’t realise how clever the film would be, and I love how meta it is. I think Ryan Reynolds is just perfect as Deadpool, and for me it’s just got a perfect balance of violence and comedy. I never thought I would laugh out loud at a comic book movie but I was proven wrong!

2. Kick-Ass – Like I said, I’m not particularly keen on comic book movies which take themselves too seriously, and Kick-Ass is great for a mix of violence and humour. I particularly love the character duo of Hit Girl and Big Daddy, and think they just bring an extra layer of greatness to this film.

3. The Dark Knight – I think this is the only serious comic book movie that I have actually watched many times, and love it more every time I watch it. Heath Ledger’s role as the Joker is simply outstanding, and the whole film is just beautifully shot by Nolan. A brilliant piece of filmmaking.

Katie Young

1. Diary Of A Teenage Girl – Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical graphic novel, this film about a teen’s affair with her mother’s boyfriend is one of the most realistic and unflinching portrayals of young womanhood and sexuality ever to have come out of Hollywood.

2. The Dark Knight – Pretty sure this will feature somewhere in many of the lists, but Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker is simply iconic.

3. The Crow – As with Ledger, Brandon Lee’s premature death probably contributed to the cult following which this revenge flick attained. But it’s the ultimate love story – a bond so strong it can cheat death, and all set against a backdrop of rock n roll. The soundtrack alone makes this one of my all time faves.

Anthony Lowery

1. The Dark Knight – Christopher Nolan’s trilogy centrepiece sent ripples charging through Hollywood; ripples that are felt even now, eight years later. The Batman Begins sequel found a dark, sinister shade to the Caped Crusader that Hollywood had so far overlooked. This intense and murky style of filmmaking set a trend that spread through the mainstream quicker than the Batmobile and before long, franchises like Harry Potter, James Bond and even Marvel’s universe were filming through a shadier lens. Whereas Heath Ledger’s powerful rendition of everybody’s favourite clown goes a long way to affirming this selection, there are so many beautiful elements that harmoniously come together to anchor The Dark Knight as the greatest comic movie of all time.

2. 300 Madness? THIS IS… You know the rest; and that’s exactly why Snyder’s lusty, masculine fare deserves a spot here. 300 has contributed significantly to the landscape of cinema: not only did it invent a new gritty and illustrative style of aesthetics for ambitious fantasies to mimic, but it acts as a metonym for pulp filmmaking – the mass of the pulp genre can be made sense of entirely through Snyder’s adaptation. It anchors pulp conventions in being very fast-paced and cutting to the quick. The use of accelerated action and slo-mo is effective for creating maximum intensity for its audience. Though its characterisation may fall short of the mark, 300 is focused storytelling and does well to express brutish virility and sensationalism.

3. X-Men: First Class – Matthew Vaughn hoisted the franchise from the ashes by looking to a fresh, exhilarating new class of mutants, satisfying fans while making new ones (and a lot of them). From its expertly realised world, that did well to tap into reality, right down to the exciting and unspoiled cast, First Class gives testament to how franchises should be rebooted. The instalment set the foundations for the clever Days of Future Past and the imminent Apocalypse to emerge; a trilogy topper scheduled to shine as one of this year’s most anticipated tentpoles.

Manish Mathur

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – One of the best things about the MCU is that it takes the superhero movie into different genres. The Winter Soldier is an homage to 1970s conspiracy thrillers, given credibility by the presence of Robert Redford. Captain Rogers is a hero for the ages–he’s noble and heroic, but often questions his own place in the world. The cinematography is quite electric, and the fight choreography is astounding. Natasha Romanoff gets to share the spotlight, finally given some thoughtful and interesting material for the actress. The pacing for this movie is just stellar, with each note hitting perfectly. TWS manages to be serious and important, without losing its fun and excitement.

2. Superman: The Movie – Donner’s man of steel is still the hero we need, not that moody raincloud Snyder’s been throwing us. The original 1978 movie is full fo charming character moments, between Lois Lane and both Clark Kent and Superman, and Perry White and his staff. The effects are crude but quite beautiful. The script is really strong. John Williams’ thunderous score is iconic and brings back so many memories. I love Christopher Reeve, who delivers two different performances but as played by a single man. When the movie gets towards the obligatory climax, it does lose some of its charms. I can see how superhero sameness got its start.

3. Iron Man 3 – I don’t really read comic books, so a lot of the uproar against this movie was really lost on me. I get it. The film takes a classic villain and does something weird with him. But I liked the twist because I was genuinely shocked. And within the world of the story, it made sense to me. Tony Stark is far from my favorite MCU character, but his journey here is emotionally interesting and brings new depths to the persona. The characters are so engaging, especially Rebecca Hall’s earnest performance. This is a vibrant movie, with a smashing climax. And the score is just jazzy and cool.


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    Captain America! Thanks Manish Mathur!

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