Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2020! While this has been, by many accounts, a terrible year, there were a number of fantastic comics released in 2020, and over the next ten days, we’ll be highlighting our favorites across 25 categories. If you want to give your thoughts on our picks or share your own, feel free to do so in the comments!
Best Film Adaptation of a Comic
One thing we really missed in 2020 was seeing movies in a theater. But movies still came out and a whole mess of them were based on comics. In fact, in a year without Marvel flicks, we got the chance to focus on other comic book movies. Some were good, some were bad, four were our very favorites. So here they are, our picks for the top comic book film adaptations of 2020.
Note: we know that this is coming out before the release of Wonder Woman 1984, and will consider that a 2021 film in next year’s Year in Review.
3. (tie) Extraction
A great action movie leaves the audience stunned in their seats, jaws agape, asking “how on earth did they do that”. Extraction is a film that begs this question over and over again. It’s raised most often during the now famous twelve minute long car chase/apartment shootout/roof chase/brawl. Directed by veteran Avengers stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, and lensed by four time X-Men DP Newton Thomas Siegel, the action in Extraction is just spectacular. The fighting is chaotic, intense and brutal, but most importantly it is clear. Despite zooms, whip pans and handheld sweeps, the sense of place and space is always easy to follow. This is the hardest part of making excellent action, and Hargrave has it mastered.
Chris Hemsworth is an able star as lead hero Tyler Rake. He’s the tough-but-likable action lead common to the genre. Hemsworth doesn’t bring depth, but he has more than enough charisma. He’s believable in the fights, and handles the dialogue scenes better than he has to. The script moves the plot to Bangladesh, instead of Mexico in the original graphic novel. The change works, and Bangladesh feels alive and full of life, a bustling city with real energy, which Rake has to navigate.
Extraction delivers all the gritty, high octane violence you could ask for. In a world of Atomic Blonde, The Raid, and John Wick, the bar for action flicks is high. Extraction manages to rise above it, seemingly with ease. -Ryan Fitzmartin
3. (tie) Bloodshot
When it was decided years ago that there would be a Bloodshot movie, we should have known that there was an economic shutdown on the horizon. I’m no expert on Bloodshot or Valiant comics, but I did keep a decent tab on their books and characters for a few years and one thing that has always been present in the fandom is the idea of a successful Valiant media universe. But even more present in the Valiant fandom is the idea that Valiant has the worst timing. So it shouldn’t have been any surprise that the year, even the month, in fact, that the first major Valiant film to release would be perfectly timed with the biggest economic shutdown in history.
Bloodshot made it to streaming pretty quick to help it bounce back, and it did so by delivering on great action, well-developed characters, and a fun viewing experience through and through. The characterization of Bloodshot, the character, is on-brand for who he is in the current Valiant universe and this seemed to work for both fans and newcomers alike. Vin Diesel did a great job of playing the part of Ray Garrsion. The missing memory and government experiment gone wrong angle work as well here as they ever did for Wolverine and Jason Bourne. The tight 90-minute action movie genre is one that has seen a renaissance over the last few years and Bloodshot does an expert job of tapping into that ‘trim the fat’ approach.
Bloodshot opened in March of 2020 to terrible box office returns due to the incoming pandemic, but it is a comic book movie that was overlooked during a crazy time. Hopefully, it doesn’t mean the movie is forgotten though. -Ryan PondContinued below
2. The Old Guard
It’s the rare adaptation—let alone comic book adaptation—that manages to improve on its source material. But that’s the case for Netflix’s The Old Guard, which takes Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s already strong graphic novel of the same name and breathed new life into it. That’s easier to do if you have Gina Prince-Bythewood at the helm and a stacked cast that includes Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Matthias Schoenaerts, but it also certainly helps to have the original writer on hand, especially if that writer can approach the work without an ego. Rucka did an outstanding job of recognizing the areas where his story of immortal mercenaries needed some touch ups. In fact, as a result of some of the changes, The Old Guard is often deeper and more philosophical than the graphic novel, filled out with richer characters that feel like fully realized human beings.
This isn’t your average Netflix programmer. Prince-Bythewood’s camerawork defies the trademark “made for Netflix” flatness that plagues a good number of the streamer’s original properties. She perfectly balances the emotional centers of her characters with some of the most entertaining action beats of the year. Just like its characters, The Old Guard it hits hard, moves fast, and has a warm, beating heart at its core. Here’s hoping this franchise will pick up another of its heroes’ traits—a nice long life -Reid Carter
1. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
2020 was not a great year for movies, let alone comic book movies: COVID-19 meant a year that was going to be dominated with blockbusters by female directors ultimately saw Wonder Woman 1984 playing second banana to Tenet. However, DC got the year off to a shining start with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which, er, struggled at the box office, despite being a fantastic film. So what happened? Was it the R rating? Or as some fans claimed, being too different from the source material?
It’s understandable some felt the movie’s versions of Cass Cain or Renee Montoya didn’t feel like their comics counterparts; that the costume design was too grungy; or objected to the title being used for what is really a Harley Quinn movie, but Birds of Prey offered a thrill not seen on the big screen until now, namely a Batman story without the sainted Dark Knight. It was thrilling to see an unsanitized take on Gotham City starring heroes with regular solo print adventures, but who have been underserved outside the comics, and in such a funny, fast and thrilling black comedy, no less. (It really shows how dirty Warner Bros. did Catwoman in 2004.)
For the record, I haven’t seen Suicide Squad, so this was the first time I saw Margot Robbie as Dr. Quinzel, and it is incredible how she conveys a cold, analytical intelligence lurking beneath the character’s screwball facade. The rest of the cast – Jurnee Smollett, Chris Messina, Rosie Perez and Ella Jay Basco – are all perfect foils, but especially Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress – a newbie trying too hard to be the Batman here – and Ewan McGregor’s Black Mask, who is a marvellously narcissistic, and genuinely frightening villain. Cathy Yan’s direction is incredibly confident, with some of the best fight choreography and music in recent superhero films (the sprinkler fight set to Halsey’s screamo “Experiment on Me” was a particularly dazzling acrobatic display).
Hopefully everyone involved will get another chance to explore the DCEU’s Gotham, even if it may have to be on HBO Max instead of theaters. -Christopher Chiu-Tabet