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    The Decade According to Multiversity: Comic Book Movies

    By | November 30th, 2009
    Posted in Columns | % Comments

    For the first day of our The Decade According to Multiversity project, we’re going to look at the best comic book movies of the decade. The ascension of comic book movies as not only a viable genre but an incredibly profitable one not only was a major news story for the decade in comics, but movies overall. The decade saw a hugely diverse list of titles being adapted, from works as unknown as A History of Violence or Ghost World to ones as well known as Sin City or Watchmen. It also saw a wide variety of quality, bringing us some good (Spider-Man 1 and 2) and some truly horrendous (Spider-Man 3) films, but perpetually giving us as comic fans something to talk about.

    Without further ado, our list of the best comic book movies of the decade. Make sure to leave a comment with your favorites as well.

    1. The Dark Knight

    David: The Dark Knight, in my mind, is the only choice possible for best comic film of the decade. To me, comic movies should not be slaves to their source material, but take all of the best elements from the decades of their existence and build a new universe around those concepts. Basically, a good comic movie in my mind would do essentially what Marvel did with the Ultimate universe originally — a streamlined reimagining of their existing universe.

    The Dark Knight did that incredibly well, as it followed up Christopher Nolan’s (also) excellent Batman Begins and improved on almost every facet. You had Christian Bale giving us the best Batman ever, a cast loaded with strong actors in almost every role (come on now, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine as Lucius Fox, Jim Gordon, and Alfred respectively? Absurd.), and Heath Ledger giving one of the most impressive performances of the decade as The Joker, embodying the chaotic essence of the Clown Prince to the point you really could not see any of Ledger in there. It was just The Joker maniacally traipsing around Gotham, smiling as the city burned.

    All this would not have been possible without the steady hand of Christopher Nolan, a man who realized that at its core Batman’s story is one of justice and of those who strive to rob the world of peace. That realization and the creation of Gotham City as a living, breathing organism, rife with criminal elements and seedy corners, were paramount in making this as not just the best comic movie of the decade, but of all time.

    Matt: Yes, the number one comic movie of the decade is the Dark Knight. Surprised? I didn’t think so. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who believes this isn’t the single greatest comic movie of all time, at least from a logistical standpoint. Many times with comic book films that are adaptations of a character (versus a set story or graphic novel) you either have something that is over the top or underwhelming. You do not often have a movie that hits a perfect balance between the preconceived notions of a “comic book movie” as well as a generally “good” film. Sure, you can make a movie that is 100% faithful to the comic book (i.e. Sin City), but if people don’t like the story from when it was a comic, chances are they won’t like the story as a movie either. It is hard to find create a film adapted from comic books that hits the right notes with everyone, both fan of the book and casual film-goer alike.

    This is where you have the Dark Knight. Not only is it a fairly successful adaptation (give or take some nerd criticisms I have with characterization and plot elements), you have a very compelling thriller picture featuring an all-star cast and an incredible director/writer. Take out all the super heroics and you have a crime movie that could be just as compelling if Batman were simply a normal police detective. That’s why the Dark Knight is so incredibly successful as a film. Forget the clown make up and the pointy ears and the growling (honestly, Bale’s voice work alone should have gotten an Oscar nod), and you have a Grade-A thriller by a master storyteller.

    Continued below

    I will be 100% up-front about something though: before the film came out, I was an avid trash talker of it. The Dark Knight is by far and large the second most hyped up superhero film of the decade, the previous of which was Spider-Man 3, and we all remember how that turned out. I had the feeling that it could not be even remotely half as good as people assumed it would be, and furthermore I was not impressed by any of the trailers. Everyone was discussing how epic the Joker seemed like he would be, but having read a lot of Batman comics as a kid and having a very set image in my mind of who the character was (even beyond Morrison’s explanation in Arkham Asylum), and I did not find any element of Ledger’s Joker appealing.

    Here’s another shocker for you: to be perfectly honest, I’m not a very big fan of Batman. The reason for this is a bit silly, but Batman is to me the single most overrated character in all of comics, besides maybe Gambit. Everyone “loves” Batman, especially people who have never actually read a comic book, and the amount of Batfans I have met who don’t know anything about Batman (the whole “gun” issue is the worst thing I’ve had to discuss) upsets me. So I have a predisposition to be more critical towards anything Bat-related Of course, as soon as I left the theater (saw it in IMAX too!), I turned to my friend, who knew all my previous complaints about the trailer and my low expectations, and I flat out said, “Well, I think we need to go find me a plate of crow, because I’ve got some eating to do.” A ridiculous statement and reference, I realize, but the point remains the same. A copy of the Dark Knight on blu-ray in the limited edition Batpod case now firmly rests in front of my TV at all times, and I’m a believer in the Dark Knight.

    Gil: It’s very easy to see why The Dark Knight is the top movie of the decade. No other movie this decade (comic book or otherwise) captured the imagination of the public at large. The viral marketing was pulled off beautifully, and it helped bring in massive numbers for The Caped Crusader. Fact: The Dark Knight’s gross sales in theatres were worth roughly a third of the overall gross of all six Batman movies put together.

    Brandon: What is there to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said?

    The haunting performance of Heath Ledger is something that can never be duplicated when it comes to the silver screen version of the Joker. I was one of many who felt that this was a terrible casting choice and was expecting a giant fail. When the first pictures and trailers hit I knew I was wrong. When he died I knew we were in for something otherworldly and maybe even awkward to view.

    It was all as expected and more. The moment that sold it in the end though for me was when Joker pulls his magic trick in the beginning. I knew the movie was going to live up to its hype. Frankly, this is one movie that has too many great parts from one star to list. The cocktail party invasion, the nurse outfit, and so much more made this the most enjoyable and riveting comic movie of the decade.

    2. Iron Man

    David: Iron Man is the best type of summer blockbuster. It’s brainy, it’s fun, and it’s respectful to its source material. Best of all, it features one thing that every other comic movie adaptation lacks: a pitch perfect performance as the titular hero by Robert Downey, Jr. For all intents and purposes, Downey, Jr. was Tony Stark. He was the living, breathing embodiment of the Marvel Universe’s resident genius playboy with a penchant for private planes and Patron Platinum, and his ability to effortlessly bring that character to life is the crux of the entire film.

    That the rest of it was a stunning looking, well acted (credit to Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges in particular), and often quite funny is the icing on the cake. While it didn’t have the transcendent power of The Dark Knight, it belongs up on the Mount Rushmore of comic book movies if only for how well it brought the main character and his world to life.

    Continued below

    Matt: Can you think of a single movie that took us all by surprise as much as Iron Man? Yeah. I don’t think so. Iron Man is such an odd shining star of a movie because absolutely no one thought anything of it. In fact, when I went to see it, I was only doing it because I’ll see any comic book movie ever, regardless of what I think of it (saw Ghost Rider opening night). The cards were definitely stacked against it: you had Robert Downey Jr as the star, who everyone had thoughts on due to his whole “controversy” (despite the overwhelming amount of not just good but GREAT movies he’s been in); you had Jon Favreau directing, who had previously starred in movies like Swingers and directed movies like Elf; and did I mention the main character in the movie was Iron Man? Yeah, he makes a cool Avenger, and his solo title is pretty good if you’re into comics, but I’d be hard pressed to find a comic fan who didn’t have a bit of bad taste in their mouth towards Iron Man after the events of Civil War (I actually talked to someone who refused to watch the movie despite it’s good reviews just because of Civil War). I repeat: the cards were stacked against it.

    Yet, here we are. We’ve all seen Iron Man, we all LOVED Iron Man, and we all can’t wait for Iron Man 2! I would say that, aside from the Dark Knight, Iron Man is the only upcoming film that absolutely no one has any stigma towards. We know the cast and director work, and we’ve put utmost faith in them off one single movie. Iron Man is very much the sleeper hit of all comic-dom, because even people who didn’t know who Iron Man was would come out of the theater talking about how good the character was. Of course, we now live in a post-Dark Knight world where comic movies are judged in a completely new light, and even though Iron Man came out BEFORE the Dark Knight, it already had a certain stigma due to it’s fantastical origins. However, Jon Favreau managed to take the character, update him into a believable modern setting without alienating comic fans too much, and essentially concocted the most believable superhero film that wasn’t called The Dark Knight! That’s an incredible feat, if you ask me.

    The best part about the Iron Man film, however, was that it is the only comic book movie in the history of comic book movies to actually pay tribute to the intense universe that it stems from. See, as great as a movie like Dark Knight may be, there is no way you’re ever going to see that movie have a guest appearance by Superman for a heart to heart between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight. And as much as I enjoy the Spider-Man films for what they are, he somehow NEVER manages to swing by the Baxter Building. Yet in Iron Man, not only do you have constant references to SHIELD, but the post-credits section has a fan favorite appearance from Ultimate Nick Fury himself, Samuel Jackson, which gets us prepared for the single biggest movie cross over event in the history of films — The Avengers. Throw in RDJ’s appearance as Stark at the end of Incredible Hulk, the return of Jackson as a main character, and the introduction of the Black Widow (another big member of the Avengers, at least in the Ultimate sense which it looks like the Avengers film will be based on), and you’re primed for a step in the greatest direction a comic book movie could ever take. Comic book films should have been up to the idea of crossing over since they were first being made, but Iron Man is the first movie to take the initiative and try it out.

    So in the discussion of best comic films of the decade, if Iron Man isn’t on your list, then you’re just nuts. I’m sorry, but there’s no ways about it — Iron Man is simply one of the greatest super hero films ever made.

    Continued below

    Gil: My personal favorite on the list, as this is a well deserved ranking. It didn’t have the brute numbers that TDK had, but I would consider this one of the most faithful adaptations ever made, this side of Superman: The Motion Picture. Robert Downey, Jr. shines in a role seemingly tailor-made for his life. Tony Stark could be played by no one else. What could have been a lame villain in Obadiah Stane was pulled off very well, and brought a new sense of dread to an otherwise forgotten character. Jon Favreau certainly knew what he was doing, and now I can’t wait for Iron Man 2.

    Brandon: This was another movie where some questioned the casting. I knew the choice of Robert Downey Jr. was perfect. In his real life Downey Jr. had battled his fair share of addictions and had done so while being a rich playboy. I mean the man IS Tony Stark. The armor was spot on as well. The gorgeously done armor in this movie has got to be the closest costume from page to screen. Its movement
    and the way it was built up in the movie were all perfectly done and amazing to view.
    Lastly, let’s not forget that appearance by Nick Fury at the end of the movie. Talk about game changer. That one scene changed the way people viewed superhero flicks. No more one and done. Now it’s time for the superhero universe to form on screen as it has done on the age.

    3. Spider-Man 2

    David: In many ways, Spider-Man 2 was the point in the history of comic book movies when filmmakers realized that those that belong to this genre could make movies that do not fall into the pitfalls of banality of those that existed before it. While the Singer X-Men movies and the first Raimi Spider-Man film were great in their own regards, they each had their own issues that kept them from being good movies instead of good comic book movies.

    What Raimi did was take everything that worked from the first movie so well and built on it and everything that didn’t work and took it out. Arguably the greatest divide between the two films exists in the villains. Gone are the histrionics and insanity of Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn (while I love Dafoe, he was often a bit much), replaced by Alfred Molina’s frequently restrained and well drawn performance as Dr. Otto Octavius, or as well know him, Doctor Octopus. The creation of this villain and his reasoning for doing what he does feels entirely organic, which allows the plot as a whole to shine because of it.

    It of course helps quite a bit that Molina is such an exceptional actor, and overall this movie is filled with fully capable actors. It’s also directed in full Sam Raimi style, bringing the awkward and the ridiculous as well as giving us stellar action and tense drama. It’s as great of a move in the right direction for the future of comic movies as Spider-Man 3 was a move in the wrong direction.

    And that’s saying something.

    Matt: To be perfectly frank, Spider-Man 2 is my favorite superhero film. It always has been and always will be, no matter what comes out (note: Green Lantern could easily beat it… sorry Spidey). While I think the first and third installments in the Spider-Man movies both need some tweaks to better, when it came out Spider-Man 2 was very much the perfect comic book movie. See, I am of the firm belief that my superhero flicks do not need to be based in reality. I’m very much willing to accept them as unbelievable feats with pushes in the direction of non-believability. I don’t care about realistic heroes. What I want from a comic book movie is a film that takes a storyline I am familiar with and I enjoy and re-imagines it in a way that is enjoyable. Spider-Man 2 took one of my favorite Spider-Man storylines, in which Parker gives it up, and weaves it into the film mythos rather seamlessly. I’m all for superhero films creating their own stories with the characters, because heck, with every new character title that comes out, we have a new story. But for a movie to try and adapt an established storyline and do it poorly? That’s what grinds my gears with superhero films. Spider-Man 2 is the first film that comes to mind when I think of a properly adapted storyline.

    Continued below

    It is also the only one of the films that really hits Spider-Man as a character. Spidey is my favorite character and has been for a long time, and he has a very specific way to him. What is universally the first thing that comes to people’s mind who know Spider-Man when you ask about him? The banter. Spidey always trash talks his opponents and makes humorous anecdotes. It’s pretty much the best part about reading the Spider-Man books, really. And what did the Spider-Man movies very much lack? The banter. Except for the second one, that is. The second one featured the trade mark humor of the Spider-Man comic books without all of the over dramatic events that take place in the third movie and all the just plain ridiculous things that take place in the first. Spider-Man 2 actually hit a perfect chord for the character, and if you’ve seen the extended cut of the film you would be hard pressed not to agree, especially after watching the extended elevator sequence after Spider-Man first “loses” his powers.

    Now, everyone has a bad taste in their mouth and an awkward look at Spidey after the last film. It’s understandable. We all expected one thing and were treated with another. But Spider-Man 2? This is still a very great film and a wonderful entry into the world of comic book adaptations. You’ve got a relatively faithful storyline adaptation, great new villains (Alfred Molina as Doc Ock, despite the lack of his foreign ancestry playing into the role, was a stroke of genius), a main character that matched the comic books, awesome fight scenes/special effects (the train sequence? Still amazing), and an all around great story with amazing replay ability for home viewing. I think that a lot of superhero movies can be a bit too dense to just put on when you’re home, but Spider-Man 2 is light hearted enough despite it’s overall serious nature due to the dramatic undertakings that befall our hero to put on anytime, and always be entertaining.

    Gil: If there’s one thing comic book movies excel at, it’s sequels. Sequels generally outshine their predecessors, due to not having to set the status quo, it’s already there. Spider-Man 2 is one of the best examples, because while in the already excellent first move, they had to tell his origin. Origins can be cumbersome, especially on-screen. Well, there’s no origin here, save for the appearance of Dr. Octopus and his evil tentacles of doom. The movie does work really well if you watch it like you’re reading a comic book, where the fantastic happen on a daily basis it seems.

    Brandon: Spider-Man 2 is by far the best of the Spider-Man movies that have come out to date. It didn’t have the slowed down pace of the first due to the origin but also didn’t have the factors of the third movie that made it too much for one movie. The Spider-Man film franchised peaked with this movie. Until Iron Man this was probably the best Marvel movie of the modern era.

    4 (tie). X-Men 2

    4 (tie). Sin City

    6. Batman Begins

    7. Spider-Man

    8. 300

    9. V for Vendetta

    10. Justice League: The New Frontier

    Individual Lists

    David

    1. The Dark Knight
    2. Batman Begins
    3. Spider-Man 2
    4. Iron Man
    5. Spider-Man
    6. X-Men 2
    7. Road to Perdition
    8. V for Vendetta
    9. Sin City
    10. Superman Returns

    Continued below

    Matt

    1. Sin City
    2. Spider-Man 2
    3. X-Men 2
    4. The Dark Knight
    5. Iron Man
    6. Justice League: The New Frontier
    7. Ultimate Avengers
    8. 300
    9. V for Vendetta
    10. Wolverine

    Gil

    1. Iron Man
    2. The Dark Knight
    3. Batman Begins
    4. Sin City
    5. Spider-Man 2
    6. X-Men 2
    7. Spider-Man
    8. 300
    9. Superman Returns
    10. V for Vendetta

    Brandon

    1. The Dark Knight
    2. Iron Man
    3. Spider-Man 2
    4. X-Men 2
    5. Sin City
    6. Batman Begins
    7. 300
    8. Watchmen
    9. Spider-Man
    10. Superman Returns

    What do you think is the best Comic Book Movie of the Decade? Let us know in this poll! If you select other, leave a comment as to what movie it is!


    //TAGS | The Decade According To Multiversity

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).

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