Nowadays, movies based on comic books are all the rage. They make ridiculous sums of money, spawn multiple sequels, and are fun to watch not just from a nerd’s perspective. As far as blockbusters go, for about 30 years comic book movies were limited to the two main and well known heroes; Superman and Batman. DC Comics ruled the box office (if not necessarily the critics) through Superman and its two sequels, and then Batman and the three that followed it (even the atrocious Batman and Robin made nearly twice its budget). It wasn’t until Marvel Studios released Blade, to moderate success, that it was realized that mainstream superheroes weren’t the only ones that could cash in big at the box office.
This week, I will be going through the films that Marvel has released, whereas next week, I’ll journey through those that DC has made. In the week to follow that, I’ll compare the merits of the two and through comparing and contrasting, proclaim which company creates the best films out of their comics.
Before I dive into things, I will first say that I am not by any means a comic book nerd. To me, it’s like Magic the Gathering. I have the wherewithal to understand and communicate intelligently about the material; I just simply do not care enough to submerge myself into that sect of culture. What I do know about the source material of the films comes directly from Wikipedia and Wikipedia alone, as I have never once opened a comic book in my life. Comic books do have some great ideas for movies that translate over very well, but at the same time they also have some terrible ideas that are designed simply for selling more comic books (see DC’s infinite amount of alternate universes). I will judge a comic book superhero film on how it takes the good ideas from the source material, and translates it into a movie. With that being said, let us delve into Marvel and the films that they have created, and their merits as comics displayed on the big screen.
Blade (1998): The first film that Marvel developed, this movie spawned the realization that lesser known heroes could make bank for studios, seeing as it made triple its budget. All you need to know now is that it’s been free to watch on Netflix Instant Streaming for years now, and that Wesley Snipes went to jail for tax evasion. That should probably tell you something. 5/10
Blade II (2002): I saw this, and thought DEL TORRRRRRO (Guillermo Del Toro directs) and imagined it had possibilities. But this was pre-Pan’s Labyrinth, he hadn’t hit his rhythm yet. And it’s still Wesley Snipes. And more mindless entertainment, hunting vampires like the Black Panther he is. Whatever.4.5/10
Blade Trinity (2004): Even more mindless, less engaging, less rhythm, and more ridiculous fight scenes than the predecessors. In other words, I’ve never watched it all the way through, but from what I saw… 3/10
X-Men (2000): To be honest, X-Men was a rather aggressive and progressive choice for Marvel to make into film right out of the gate. Its reception at the box office demonstrated not only the power of nerds to make loads of cash from a comic book, but the readiness of the American public to accept these types of movies. X-Men especially, with its liberal ideas of universal acceptance and tolerance for all humans, was a neat allegory to choose off the bat. It helped that the cast was headlined by quality actors such as Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Hugh Jackman. The first movie, although not fantastic, is a solid film, amplified by director Bryan Singer’s enthusiasm to direct a movie based on tolerance. For its time, this is not a bad movie. 6.5/10
X2 (2003): One of the few sequels ever that is actually better than its predecessor, X2 adds Brian Cox to the cast to play the main villain, Colonel William Stryker. We still follow Wolverine (Jackman), but not as much as in the first movie, as in this one he has a personal connection with Stryker and a score to settle, even though he doesn’t exactly know why. Stryker is driven by personal tragedy to attempt to destroy all mutants, and uses the imprisoned Magneto (McKellan) captured from the previous film to find more information on Professor X’s school. Cox’s performance makes this movie that much better, and the fact that the enemies of the previous movie (Magneto and Xavier) are forced to work together to defeat the government goons, increases the chemistry of the film, as there are multiple betrayals throughout, creating interesting plot twists. With smarter action, better acting, and less of Rogue (Anna Paquin), this movie ends emotionally as it actually attaches you to the characters and plot. 8.3/10
X3 Last Stand (2006): Meh. This movie is simply okay, at its best. Introducing a kaboodle of new mutants, the main promise of this movie is that it is simply the end, to be fought in one giant battle of bad mutants vs. good mutants and the humans the good guys are trying to protect. The Wolverine and Jean/Phoenix relationship gets weird and the audience actually doesn’t care about it, plus Professor X takes one for the team like a boss, yet somehow manages to survive in the post-credits scene. There’s the politics of a “cure” for mutantcy (yes, I’m creating this word), and California landmarks littered about in the final fight. It’s a convoluted mess and an unfortunate ending for the original “trilogy” that was given fresh life in the second act. 5.5/10
X-Men Origins Wolverine (2009): Yikes. I really dislike this movie. Stupid action, bad actors (when will.i.am is your second best actor in the movie, you know there’s problems), bad plot, and a destruction of the source material for the character of Deadpool, this movie is ludicrous, loud, and downright bad. As hard as Hugh Jackman tries, he can’t save this movie from itself. I also really hate Liev Schreiber as an actor because he’s ugly and annoying, and to make it worse the character of Sabertooth is portrayed downright stupidly. Danny Huston totally butchers the character of Stryker, portrayed so well in X2 by Brian Cox. This movie wasn’t worth the four dollars I paid for its DVD. 3/10
X-Men First Class (2011): This is how you do a reboot. Or, as the upcoming X-Men Days of Future Past demonstrates, perhaps not quite as much a reboot as we would like to think. This movie combines quality acting, directing, action, and 1960s politics all into one movie, which is based on the premise of showing how the mutants first came together to form Professor Xavier’s school. With James McAvoy (Professor Charles Xavier), Michael Fassbender (Magneto), and Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique) forming the frontline starring cast, First Class is the best X-Men movie yet. 9/10
Spider-Man (2002): The thing I love about spider-man is that he’s an underdog. He’s just a nerdy loser kid, who wants nothing more than to be something other than just a wallflower. And yet, when he obtains his superpowers, he’s still outgunned by the baddies, and doesn’t have the confidence of other superheroes as he is still simply a kid who has to keep his identity secret. That’s why this movie works so well. It’s awkward, and you can relate to Peter Parker (Tobey MaGuire) as he blows every single chance he has to express himself to the girl of his dreams, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). This movie is an example of one that takes more liberties from the source material, yet does it very well. He’s awkward with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), because he had a hand in his Uncle Ben’s (Cliff Robertson) death and only he knows it, he’s awkward with his best friend (James Franco), because his father (Willem Dafoe) is actually the villain, and he’s awkward with his crush, because he simply isn’t used to being noticed by girls or even talking with them, not to mention his superhero secret. He really is only at his confident home when behind the eyes of the mask, and we spend the movie rooting for him to figure out how to blend both. He doesn’t get it right, but he manages to dispatch the Green Goblin (Dafoe) and keep those that he loves safe. Good action, good directing, pretty good acting. 7.2/10
Spider-Man 2 (2004) : Another of the few sequels that is better than the first installment, Spider-Man 2 delivers with Peter Parker trying to balance being a superhero, going to college, working a job, living by himself, and attempting to have a social life. In case you’ve never done any of the former, take out being a superhero and there’s still a very, very difficult task on hand. And so far, it seems that being a superhero is first and foremost on his to-do list, as he is failing his class at school, getting fired from his job, and can’t make a simple appointment to see MJ’s Broadway performance, as she’s made it big. To make matters worse, she’s had enough with Peter’s wishy-washy diddling around and has a steady boyfriend-turned-fiancée, who happens to be the son of Parker’s boss at The Daily Bugle (JK Simmons). It isn’t until the villain of the film, Dr. Otto Octavious (or Doc Ock, played wonderfully by Alfred Molina) combines most of the problems in Peter’s life into a mano y mano Boss Battle that he gets his life straightened out. Not everything is perfect though, and the movie ends with Peter’s best friend, Harry Osborne (Franco) discovering his father’s secret Green Goblin workshop. Simmons continues his 100% perfect portrayal of J. Jonah Jameson, the editor of The Daily Bugle where Peter is an occasional photographer. Great action, soundtrack, directing, conflict, and improved acting upon the first. 8.5/10
Spider-Man 3 (2007): Let’s put it this way. I liked this movie when I was 16. Now, I don’t like it so much. Too many villains that include, Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), Venom (Topher Grace), the space parasite, and at one point, James Franco’s Chrome Goblin. The plot is too messy and silly, and filled with too many distractions that you have to question about halfway through what is happening in the movie, and how on earth it’s all going to end. The bright spots in this movie are Bryce Dallas Howard’s Gwen Stacy (ridiculously good looking as a blonde), the black spidey-suit and evil confidence Spider-Man (not Parker, his confidence is just stupid) inherits from it, and the final superhero tag-team of Franco’s Goblin and Parker’s Spider-Man. For some reason, it seemed that director Sam Raimi wanted to make MaGuire’s character too over-the-top in many scenes, and he decided to confuse the audience with the relationship between Peter and Mary Jane (who is basically an afterthought in this heap). The movie ends just about as muddled as it began, with several characters dead, and the relationship between Parker and MJ splintered. This film is an example of how to really screw up the source material’s inspiration. I’m not really sure where Marvel wanted to go after this movie, but I can’t say any source of direction throughout was clear. A reboot though, x years after, just seems a little ridiculous. 5/10
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012): I wanted to love this movie so much. I liked the cast. I liked the fact they were trying to stay true to the source material. I loved the director (Marc Webb) and his only other movie at that point (500 Days of Summer). I didn’t exactly like the villain they picked (Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors, or the Lizard), but Ifans, I hoped, was stellar enough to pull through despite that. And then, I watched the movie. I was disappointed, but it wasn’t a terrible movie. Better than Spider-Man 3, and about on par with the first Spider-Man, I’ll buy this movie when it’s $5. I did not like the fact that they killed off Captain Stacy (the only other person to know that Peter Parker was Spider-Man), or the fact that it doesn’t seem like Parker (Andrew Garfield) really cared about keeping his identity secret, which was what I felt made the conflicts in the first movie so good. What if Captain Stacy (father of main love interest Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone), hadn’t died, and forbade his daughter from seeing Parker based on the dangers that Spider-Man is bound to bring? Wouldn’t that create much more interesting conflict for the second film, and for the remainder of the rest of the current one? That aside, I didn’t like the Lizard as a villain, nor did I like how muddled the transformation of Peter Parker into Spider-Man was. Not a bad movie, but one that should have been better, and wasn’t necessary as a reboot in the first place. 6.8/10
Elektra (2005): All I got out of this movie was “Wow, Jennifer Garner is hot.” I also just don’t respect female superheroes. 1/10
Fantastic Four (2005): It has Chris Evans and Jessica Alba in it as eye candy. This was the movie you took your high school girlfriend to, to make out in, because the theater was guaranteed to be empty and there were attractive actors for both parties involved. 3/10
Fantastic Four Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007): I actually really liked Julian McMahon as Dr. Doom in this movie! Beyond that, it’s basically the same thing as the first one. It’s a special effect movie, and that’s about it. Another unnecessary Marvel sequel. 3/10
The Punisher (2004): A giant steaming pile of dog turds of a movie. I was 12 when I first saw the trailer for it, and I knew it was going to be utter junk as a pre-teen.1/10
Punisher War Zone (2008): There’s a legitimate this reason this movie made less than a third of its $35 million budget. I shouldn’t be reviewing it because I didn’t see it, but on that pathetic fact alone…..0/10
Ghost Rider (2007): Why anyone who didn’t have a crush (man or regular) on Nic Cage would go see this movie, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because their IQ is in the double digits. If your answer is “Eva Mendes”, well, fair enough. You shouldn’t have to pay for that though, because they should pay you to see this debacle. 2/10
Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (2012): I read somewhere that a critic said this movie made its predecessor seem like The Dark Knight. Yikes. 0/10 (any attractive actresses would have earned this an extra half point, but nope)
The Incredible Hulk (2008): I really liked this movie. Although I missed out on it in theaters even when told that it fit into the Iron Man universe, when I finally caught it I fell in love. Edward Norton is the PERFECT (sorry Mark Ruffalo) Dr. Bruce Banner. He actually appears to be a legitimate scientist, is a pretty passive person, and in that Ed Norton manner is just a soft spoken easily liked guy who just wants to be normal. It helps that he’s in love with one of the most gorgeous women to walk the planet in Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) who has secretly been hoping for his return from exile one day. Complete the cast with Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, Tim Blake Nelson as Dr. Samuel Sterns and William Hurt as General Ross, and this movie has a solid, talented group to portray its characters. The action is on point, the story keeps you compelled, and it’s cool to see how, at this point in time, it fit into the Iron Man universe. My only (impossible) hope is that Marvel learns to reuse villains not named Loki, because Roth is a very good actor. 8.5/10
Iron Man (2008): There isn’t much to say about this movie, because if you’ve watched it, you know how good it really is. Just a great film overall, when I was 17 I went to see it in theaters on three separate occasions, and loved it each time. Robert Downey Jr. plays a fantastic Tony Stark, and the action, acting, soundtrack and plot are very well done. Terrence Howard is a perfect Lt. Colonel James Rhodes, and Gwenyth Paltrow seems practically born to play Pepper Potts. And with The Dude (Jeff Bridges playing Obidiah Stane) as the antagonist, Jon Favreau assembles a great team and puts together one of the best superhero movies of all time. Watching it again recently, the only bone I have to pick is the fact that some of the survivals that Stark pulls off in the desert are completely unrealistic and ridiculous for a movie that prides itself in being grounded in a large semblance of reality. This is the best movie Marvel has put together outside of its ensemble cast in The Avengers. 9/10
Iron Man 2 (2010): I was so excited for the sequel, and the trailers had me pumped up. AC/DC was doing the soundtrack, Sam Rockwell was in it, and they were moving forward with teasers for The Avengers team assembling. And then, I saw the movie. I liked it, but walked away feeling a little bit let down. There were some awesome moments, don’t get me wrong, but the whole movie it felt like Iron Man wasn’t in danger. Plus, because of Marvel and their cheapskate games, they replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle as Colonel Rhodes. I love Don Cheadle to death, but he’s simply not Terrence Howard who played the role so much better in the first one. Cheadle is more of a dramatic actor, unlike Howard who is more of a badass, which suits the role much better as Rhodes/War Machine. In addition, they made Sam Rockwell’s character a little too smarmy for me, which although I have come to like what they have done, I would rather him be someone that could actually go toe to toe with Stark in everything he does. Mickey Rourke’s character as the main villain was simply okay, I thought he should have been more of a wrecking ball that can truly dismantle Iron Man than a scientist who creates a bunch of useless drones. However, having Scarlett Johansson in a skintight suit for part of the movie is never a bad thing. It’s a fun movie, but not a great one. 7.5/10
Iron Man 3 (2013): Dear Lord, they should’ve kept Jon Favreau on to direct, as he did the first two. This movie is simply an absolute mess. Although I like the Lethal Weapon series and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Shane Black really does not fit in here as director well. When a movie is released in the spring or summer, unless it portrays a time period of over six months, I want the setting to be in warm weather. Don’t show me snow and Christmas when the movie comes out in May, that simply takes away from the realism to me. Not just that, but the movie is riddled with plot holes and ruins several great opportunities at expansion in the Marvel universe. The character of the Mandarin is utterly ruined, the actual villain is about as silly as a Fantastic Four movie, and they single handedly destroy War Machine and Iron Patriot in one fell swoop. Here is an instance where a movie takes good source material and bludgeons it to death. In the comics, Iron Patriot is a suit of armor based on the technology of Captain America’s shield and designed by Norman Osborne (helllllooo, bridge to Spider-Man series). In the movie, it’s simply War Machine redecorated and renamed based on a test group survey. Well done, movie writers. I could list the continuing faults of this movie for another thousand or so words, but instead I will simply give it a 4/10.
Thor (2011): It is fun to watch, and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is ridiculously ripped and makes ladies swoon, but the acting and some of the finer points is where this movie takes its hits. Thor’s human love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has an utterly unconvincing relationship with the title character, and it seems like Portman’s acting ability isn’t very solid when she can’t be buoyed by better actors around here. She was great in V for Vendetta, which had an All-Star cast, but pathetic in Star Wars where she mostly played opposite Hayden Christensen, who acts about as well as a child. Also, in keeping with the comics and mythology, the Asgardians were all Aryan, which they were not in the film. I understand you need some type of diversity, or at least you think you do, but this change simply was unnecessary. Tom Hiddleston as Thor’s adopted brother/main antagonist, is the main highlight of this movie, and his acting and character are both very well done. Definitely the weakest movie of the Avengers Phase One movies though. 6.8/10
Captain America The First Avenger (2011): Some people didn’t like this movie because they say it’s boring and nothing really happens. I say, shut up, it’s a great story with a great cast about a kid with great moral standing becoming what he deserves and being able to be a positive influence on those around him. What I love about Captain America is that his signature accessory is his shield. Unlike most other superheroes, he’s a defense first, don’t throw the first punch kind of guy. When brought to Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving), he is asked what makes him special, why he is the one to bring down Schmidt’s HYDRA/Nazi sect. To which Steve Rogers (Captain America, played by Chris Evans) replies, “Nothing, I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.” It’s this humbleness and “why can’t we all just be friends” attitude that makes him such a likeable character. With the support of Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Sebastian Stan, and Stanley Tucci, this is another underrated cast that comes through in spades. The film also presents a good WW2 vibe, and although can’t really be classified as a war movie, demonstrates a different side of war movies, such as the volunteering and politics involved in bond sales at home. The score sets the tone rather well to boot, and has a good 1940s feel to it. Joe Johnston solidly directs, with a solid, if not predictable plot, this is the perfect movie to be a set up for The Avengers and is one of Marvel’s best yet. 8.5/10
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): And finally, the film with all the acclaimed heroes in it. You’ve all seen it. You know how good it is. From Thor duking it out with Iron Man in the woods, to Captain America directing police and superhero traffic in the streets of NYC, to the Hulk thrashing Loki around like a rag doll, there’s a reason this movie is so popular and made so much money. The A-List superheroes gel well together (at least, eventually), in a well written, well directed epic put together by director Joss Whedon. My only issues with it are the overuse of CGI as the villainous army of Chitari, and the fact that Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) still seems rather lame. His only BA moment was shooting down a jet fighter with an RPG off the deck of his ship, and it would’ve been even cooler if he knocked it out of midair from downtown. They need to unleash the Jules Winnfield version of Samuel L into Nick Fury, and make him an actually interesting character. My final problem is the absence of Edward Norton thanks to the cheapness of Marvel Studios. Although Mark Ruffalo puts in a great performance as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, he simply is not Edward Norton who absolutely nailed the role in The Incredible Hulk. You could make more money with Norton in the role simply because as an A-Lister, he could spawn more standalone sequels and would be well worth the extra pay. That way you could reuse Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, William Hurt, and the rest of the cast from the original. As it stands though, thanks to Kevin Feige, the producer over at Marvel Studios, we’ll never see that come to fruition. The “others” in the cast, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/The Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye round out the star-studded cast, even if the “Non Tier – 1” heroes don’t put in as good performances. Thanks to The Avengers, Iron Man 3 made a stupid amount of money despite how terrible and ruinous it was. Hopefully, the standards of quality set forth by Whedon carry over to The Avengers 2 which is currently in pre-production. 9.5/10
Marvel Studios have put together some fantastic films, there can be no doubt. But, they’ve also put forward some truly dreadful ones. This, added to their standard of being cheap, may be their downfall. An Iron Man series with Terrence Howard and an Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton would have reaped major rewards for the company, who merely refused to enter into negotiations when quality actors asked for more money. One of the biggest things with Marvel, and one of their downfalls, is their contracts. They contract actors and actresses for “X” amount of films. And, when contracted, if the movies do great box-office wise, the actors will feel inclined to ask for a raise, in which the studio in all their contractual powers has every right to deny them their penance. This will cause actors to be upset with the company, and perhaps not renew their contracts when the time comes, either creating voids in roles or having to replace actors, which completely alters the movies. Instead of actors wanting to come back and asking to return to such a healthy project and work environment, they are turned down and away from working with them. For Marvel’s sake, I only hope that they pay the actors their due. Or else, without the right crew to work the right movies, Marvel has shown through a lot of the awful bombs they’ve forced through theaters, that they’re perfectly capable of ruining a franchise with one single film.
And it’s not just the actors, but the directors as well. Think about all the great franchises you know. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. The Dark Knight Trilogy. Back to the Future. Indiana Jones. The Hangover. Heck, Tranformers, even. They all share one common thread, that being that throughout the series the director stays constant. Sure, there are some franchises such as James Bond and Harry Potter that have different directors, but there are also some pretty bad and varying films all around those series. Bringing in a different director creates a whole different feel and atmosphere for each movie. For instance, you could tell that Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were directed by someone different that Iron Man 3. And Marvel, being the cheapskates they are, have only had once had director consistency in movies that were produced solely by them (they don’t solely own the rights to X-Men or Spider-Man). The reason they switched it up was probably because Shane Black was cheaper and did what the production studio wanted, rather than Jon Favreau who probably had actual ideas of his own (like making a cohesive and sensical movie). What they cared about is who can fast-track the next sequel and bring in as much cash as humanly possible. That recipe doesn’t make for quality films, it simply makes for big business.
This year, Marvel has two more works coming out, in The Wolverine and Thor: The Dark World. I predict that the former will be awful, while the latter is more of an unknown, and could go either way. Regardless, in typical Marvel fashion, I expect both films to rake in a stupid amount of cash that they probably do not deserve. Next week, we will see how DC handles matters in their filmsphere, and if they know how to manage and create movies better than Marvel Studios.