UPDATE: In celebration of The Avengers finally making it to the big screen this Friday, enjoy this repost of our Top 6 Essential Marvel Comic Book Movies that was written last year.
In light of Captain America arriving in theaters next week this writer will break down his biased and completely subjective look at 6 essential Marvel Comics properties to have been given the Hollywood treatment (for better or worse):
1. X-Men 1 & 2
The first two X-Men films are the epitome of what can be right about a comic book turned into a film. They, as best a 2 hour film can, follow some of the classic X-Men story lines that have been laid down over the history of the book. The films also featured stellar actors who fit so right in their roles. Everyone had dreamed of seeing Patrick Stewart as Xavier and these films delivered! The balance between story and action was ideal. Like a good comic the films creative teams knew when they had time to explore the characters and when they needed to kick into a faster gear. And just like the comics the films dealt with morality and ethical issues that seems cut and dry and some that didn’t. The mutant registration act, Magneto’s and Xavier’s versions of striving for justice in a world that didn’t treat them fairly. Where would you fall in the struggle if you were forced to choose?
I saw this at a theater in Indianapolis on the same weekend as Star Wars Celebration II and I think the film may have been better then the convention. This was one of the Marvel films that had been talked about for years. Stan Lee would write about it in the Soapbox section of the comics every month. But for years and years we had nothing. Finally when it was announced that they had worked through the issues of licensing we were given names attached to the property and a lot of comic fans were thrown for a loop. Sam Raimi was popular for his horror work but could he do a super hero film as big as this? Tobey Maquire seemed like a good fit for Parker but could he pull off the heroic Spider-Man part? When we finally got to see the film it was fantastic! Tobey knocked the Parker role out of the park. Kirsten Dunst was ideal as Mary Jane. Sam Raimi and his team told a perfect tale heavy in angst and the idea of doing what’s right. It was all we could ask for. In an interesting crossover between reality and fantasy the film also had early trailers and posters that had the Twin Towers in them and were digitally removed after 9/11. Look for them on that thing called the internet.
3. Iron Man
Remember the day Iron Man was announced? Yeah, I don’t either. Iron Man was one of those secondary properties, a B level Marvel character and neither I nor any friend read this book. I always wondered how Iron Man kept a solo title for so many years. The book seemed really dated and even silly for comic book standards. I knew it dealt with some serious issues but when I looked at Stark’s suit I couldn’t get any further. Then I heard Iron Man would have a film and it was going to star Robert Downey, Jr. who I thought was kind of past his prime. Then the trailers for this hit the internet and it looked awesome! I didn’t know what to make of it, I didn’t quite believe it but I had to see it. Iron Man came through on so many levels. The acting was great. Downey nailed Tony Stark. The story was well done. It all came togethe
r and when we found out it was the opening to a whole series of films leading up to an Avengers film you were left sitting in your seat plotting out the amount of time until the next film in this Avengers story arc. The rest of the Avengers films may not have touched Iron Man but this one was so good it will keep you thinking about the big film that ties them all together!
4. The Punisher (1989)
I probably just lost you with this pick but stay with me, it will make sense. In the mid 1980’s there was a lot of talk about Marvel properties being made into feature films. Most of the time it seemed like the beginning and end of everything you heard was Stan’s Soapbox in the monthly titles from Marvel. You kept waiting and hoping and catching rumors in a fan zine but nothing happened. Finally, after years of waiting and essentially giving there was an ad for The Punisher. If you are old enough you remember the days in the mid to late 80’s when The Punisher was a big character in the Marvel stable. The limited series was worth as much as gold in the Overstreet Price Guide. The regular series was strictly limited to 1 per person per purchase by New England Comics in their monthly ads. So there being a film with The Punisher should have been good! But it didn’t look good. It had Dolph Lundgren, who was a moderate name, and it was a Marvel character on the screen! But everything else about the movie looked cheesy and bad. But damn it, this was a Marvel character in a film and at the time it was all we had and for that reason this is a movie to remember (just don’t really try to watch it again).
Almost a decade after The Punisher we still had next to nothing to show for Marvel characters in film and along came this B level character in a big release film: Blade the vampire hunter. For everything that seemed to go wrong with The Punisher in 1989 Blade seemed to do right. Wesley Snipes as Blade looked cool. Snipes appeared like he could go toe to toe with a gang of vampires and come out on the winning side. Blade had a bumping sound track that people actually liked outside of the film. Who can forget the pounding base of that techno beat from the club scene in the film’s opening? Speaking of vampires, Blade had them in spades and this was a period in time when the vampire concept had yet to be ruined by paranormal romance stories. And finally Blade had one of the staple’s of successful Marvel films: angst! Blade was one of them but he isn’t like them. It wasn’t just like the character created by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan (Gene just passed, RIP Gene Colan) but it was close enough. Blade had 2 sequels that progressively got worse but this first one was a fun film to see.
6. The Hulk 2003 (Ang Lee)
A lot of people are really going to hate my pick here but there is a reason I stick with this film. First off, I can’t watch this film in one sitting every again, and I don’t recommend any of you do either. The story is too long, drawn out, and has parts that are just bad. You have to go way too far into the film before you see the Hulk and when you do he doesn’t look right. Some of the ideas that were in this film were disastrous – the gamma dogs didn’t work, the Absorbing Man like character didn’t make sense. So what the hell’s good about this film? The filming style and the way it’s put together. The split screen scenes stick in my head to this day and I have not seen this film in a long time. But when I saw how Ang Lee tried to recreate a comic book look on the screen I was sold on this film. It has a whole lot of negative but I believe he’s the only one who has tried to recreate the look of a comic page on the screen and for that I salute him and recommend this film.
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