Comics 101 is a series I’m doing which focuses on different facets of the Comic Book industry as a whole. Each article can be read separately without having to read other articles first so you can read at your own pace, or if you wanna read them all in order then hit that button at the top right of the page. The purpose of these articles is to make comics more accessible to people who aren’t too familiar with them. This article will be talking about the films based on comics, which is where most people begin with these characters and stories.(Including me) So let’s get to it!
(Real quick though, obviously I can’t mention every single film that we’ve had over the years so please excuse me if I skip over any of them.)
Throughout the years we’ve seen multiple different versions of some of our favorite characters on the big screen. Currently, Batman and Superman still have the most on screen appearances but characters like Spider-Man and Iron Man are definitely catching up to them. Why do these characters work so well on screen and why have some been almost oscar worthy and others have been almost unwatchable? Well that’s what I’m here for.
The films of DC’s Heroes go back to the classic Batman and Superman Serials of the 1940’s. Different characters starred in different serials as the popularity grew but it all unfortunately withered away following the end of World War II and the death of George Reeves.(The actor who played Superman.) Most of these characters wouldn’t see the screen again until the late sixties where we got Adam West as Batman in the film which spawned the T.V. Show(But we’ll be talking about those next time)
DC did really well on the big screen with the success of Superman in 1978 which was highly praised and got three sequels and one spin-off with Supergirl. I still love the first Superman movie and I will say that it’s the best live action version of the character as of this writing. The second film was a lot of fun as well but it struggles with itself due to director/producer power struggles and the third and fourth films are better left forgotten. Batman in 1989 did just as well as the first Superman and also got three sequels which I struggle with because, yes I grew up with all four of these films but as I’ve gotten older I’ve also realized that even the ones we thought were good just weren’t as good as we really thought.(I’d be happy to do reviews of these if anyone would like my opinion on them.)
1997’s Batman and Robin was and still is widely considered to be one of the worst superhero films of all time and because of it’s failings it would be eight long years before DC would release their next big film : Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins.
In 2005, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan gave us Batman Begins. In the film, we get to see Bruce Wayne in a very realistic setting. This Batman is one that could happen in real life so all of the villains in the trilogy are grounded in reality such as Ra’s Al Ghul, A toned down Scarecrow, Two-Face, Catwoman and a Venomless Bane. This would lead to two sequels : The Dark Knight, (which is widely considered to be the greatest comic book movie of all time) and The Dark Knight Rises (Which isn’t looked on as fondly as it’s predecessor, unfortunately. But it was just really hard to top that greatness.)
These films were widely considered a turning point for comic book movies as a whole with Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Michael Caine, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and the rest all giving Oscar caliber performances and with Screen writing that was as air tight as you could make it. The Dark Knight never wastes a single scene, every single one in there is there because it needs to be. Seriously, go rewatch Dark Knight and then watch any other movie and the Dark Knight has more scenes that actually move the story along. It’s a masterpiece of Filmmaking and should be carried down and talked about for years to come.
Also, it has this scene which is one of my all time favorites…as in film in general, not just comic book movies :
In 2006, Bryan Singer released Superman Returns. It wasn’t well received by many critics and fans and I was among that number until recently. It’s honestly not as bad as I originally thought, it just isn’t as good as it could be or should be.
Throughout the next few years DC released dud after dud with films like Jonah Hex and Green Lantern. It wasn’t until 2013’s Man of Steel that they would have a successful film that wasn’t Batman related…which is kinda funny cause it immediately lead to them making Batman V. Superman : Dawn Of Justice to attempt to follow the powerhouse success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. This latest DC Cinematic Universe that they’re trying to build has hit quite a few snags in the last month, let alone the last year. I’m a solid DC Comics fan but I agree with most people that their films are falling short, I have hopes for Wonder Woman but I wouldn’t be surprised if this fall’s Justice League is the last DC film that we see for a while.
Unless they let me write them…
The 1960’s were a great time to be a fan of Marvel with their merchandise, television appearances and comics being everywhere but much like the roaring twenties it all came to a screeching halt in the mid 80’s for Marvel. While their comics were on the rise, their films had been commercial and financial flops at the box office with films like Howard The Duck and The Punisher they kept trying to get back to where they had been with their shows but they couldn’t find any big studio that wanted to help them which resulted in the 90’s versions of Fantastic Four and Captain America. Both of which were never properly released in theaters and considered to be genuinely terrible films. With their films flopping under their guidance they began to sell off their film rights to any studio that they could just to keep the lights on. This was a terribly low point for Marvel and this act of selling, in the mid 90’s, would go on to still have ramifications almost 20 years later. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Now it’s around this time that we see Marvel just start bombarding us with films. After the early success of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man we then got a plethora of sequels and spin-offs which lead to incredibly high points such as Spider-Man 2 and incredibly low points such as Elektra.
The Spider-Man franchise was really great for their first two films and then the third one just fell off the deep end unlike any other. Although many people complained about him I always really liked Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, I fully understand that I’m in the minority of that discussion and I also understand everyone’s complaints about him but I think he manages to pull off Peter Parker very well. After Spider-Man 3 was a critical disaster, the following reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 was headed up by Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. Both this film and it’s Sequel were met with lukewarm responses from a critical standpoint but no one had a bad word to say about Garfield or Stone who were brilliant in their roles.
The most successful of these Franchises would have to be 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise but once again it was plagued with High points like X-Men : First Class and low points like X-Men The Last Stand, X-Men Origins : Wolverine and X-Men : Apocalypse. These films have all been carrying on through the years and they’re still going strong..which I am both happy and sad about but we’ll get to that momentarily.
Many different studios besides Fox all owned different properties which is why we never saw any crossovers for a long time until in 2008 they released their first film which would take Marvel leaps and bounds beyond what they were already at : Iron Man. The Iron Man film was the brainchild of Producer Kevin Feige and Director Jon Favreau, Favreau gave us an amazing first film and Feige began working on the rest of the building blocks that would become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the following four years, Feige headed up the concept of Marvel creating their own studio and building The Avengers Team on screen by showing their different films for Hulk, Captain America and Thor while having characters like Black Widow and Hawkeye make small appearances in the other films before they all came together in Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, which was also the first official Marvel Studios Film.
Avengers was incredibly well received and since then Marvel has only gotten better. With a backing of new and old fans Marvel has had the freedom of building up their roster of Characters which gives us Powerhouses like Black Panther but also gives us the more odd choices like Guardians of the Galaxy. They earned our trust by handling these films with the attitude of building the best possible story. Which also leads to this scene which is another one of all time favorite scenes in film :
They cut it off a bit soon but they both survive and Bucky actually saves Steve from Drowning.
Marvel has just connected everything so beautifully that we can enjoy multiple different cameos of other characters that it truly feels like Marvel Comics come to life and that’s why we love them so much.
Now, the main reason I have issues with Fox is because they won’t release the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four back to Marvel. Now you might be thinking : “well they’d lose money.” Well tell that to Sony. Sony allowed Spider-Man to be in Captain America : Civil War with their merger and because of it everybody wins. Each company gets a percentage of the profits and we get to see Spider-Man with the Avengers. It’s perfect for everyone!
Now if only we could get X-Men in there…
And I don’t even like the Fantastic Four that much but I know that they can be a lot better than those last three awful films so give them back to Marvel too!
Yes, I hadn’t forgotten about the Film versions of some of our favorite Independent Comics(Any comic that isn’t from Marvel or DC) There’s many out there but I’m just going to be looking at two of the biggest ones in this article.
The first major one was The Crow in 1994, it’s dark aesthetic and the brilliant performance by Brandon Lee is what makes this film work. Eric Draven isn’t really a hero. Instead he’s basically just a man on a revenge quest. It was a great film overall and definitely deserves a viewing.
Another major comic book adaptation was SIn City which was almost shot for shot from the comic during the first film and it connected the stories well and made you want to know more about this world of wild characters but for some reason the second lost a lot of what made the first one great. Mickey Rourke as Marv will always be one of my favorite performances and he’s great in both films and honestly makes them worth it.
I’ve never actually seen either of the Judge Dredd films but I plan on checking those out soon. Also, yes, I refused to mention Spawn anymore than I had to.
What makes one great?
We’ve covered a lot of different films in this article and I skipped over quite a bit just so I could hit the big points in the history but we’ve mentioned really great and really bad versions of these properties. So what makes one great? Well I think that for a lot of people Comics and their characters mean different things to different people and that’s why these productions are difficult unless they’re taken with a serious attitude. The greatest danger that we face is the concept of people taking over these productions and either not caring about the source material or caring about it for the wrong reasons. This is what I think certain companies forget while they’re coming up with their stories. They focus so much on what will work with audiences that they forget why they’re doing this in the first place. I will admit, fans are the hardest people to please and I believe that as long as the characters are true and the changes that are made don’t change who they are then that adaptation can still be a good film. Every comic book film is going to take some liberties but it’s more about the characters and who they are than if the costume looks cool.
In closing, these films mean a lot to me and to a lot of other people. They’re what we typically start with and it’s why we love these characters. Everyone has their moment when they truly became a comic book fan and mine was the first Spider-Man film and because of that, Spider-Man will always have a special place in my heart. What was your moment?