Comic Book Movies: Then and Now

As promised, today I will take a moment to look back at comic movies of the past, and where we are now. I was originally just going to sort of compare and contrast, but don't you think it would be more fun if I instead  reviewed the history of unsuccessful comic book movies along the way? I promise it will be fun.

The best movie ever made.

Some movies were not meant to be good.
You see, comic movies (and even more so superhero movies) were not always considered mass-marketable. Really that only happened in the past ten years, with the exception of Batman and Superman movies. I don't want to lead you to believe (or give you the impression that I believe) that producers and studio bigwigs respect comic intellectual properties, that would be fanciful and ridiculous. What happened was that comics, or at least the idea of them, became somehow 'mainstream' when everyone decided that being a 'geek' was cool. The movie guys can smell the money now, and so we are up to our eyeballs in comic movies. This is mostly a good thing, because generally directors at least respect the source material... except when some quick cash in movie gets green lit and we end up with Elektra.

Follow me now, on a trip into the troubled, benighted past (Don't worry, I'll include the troubled, benighted present at the end of the post).

Yeah, this was a real movie.
Supergirl: Yeah, they made this. Christopher Reeve wisely ducked out of any involvement with the movie early on, guaranteeing that the movie received the lack of credibility it deserved. This movie focuses around a girl who comes from a Krypton pocket dimension and goes to Earth to recover a MacGuffin called the Omegahedron. Most characters that appear in the movie are conveniently related to characters from a real Superman movie. As is only appropriate in a movie where most of the principal characters are ladies, the real point of the movie is for the badgirl, who is a witch incidentally, to fight with Supergirl over who gets the guy that Supergirl likes. This man is the groundskeeper at her all girl's school that she attends for some reason. We fortunately don't have to worry about this very sexist movie having somehow contributed to the superhero glass ceiling.  This movie barely existed in the box office, netting in total less than 15 million dollars, which might seem like a surprising amount before you consider that the movie had a budget of over 35 million. Ouch Supergirl.

No he does not use Shaq Fu.
Steel: Yes, that's right folks. You see, in the late '90s Shaq and Air Jordan were riding high off of their popularity, and this resulted in a shotgun style product marketing campaign. This gave us some of the worst games ever made (Shaq Fu was bad, but was it worse than Chaos in the Windy City?) It gave us Space Jam, and also Steel. You might not have even realized that this movie was technically based on the John Henry Irons character from the Supermen comics of the early 90s. That would be because beyond the main character's name, there is no link between the two. Shaq plays a guy who invents and designs weapons and armor, but then after an accident paralyzes his friend and colleague, he resigns. He then uses his own designs to clean up the street as masked superhero STEEL, and stop gangs that have been armed with modified versions of his weapons. The entire movie was marred by its stupid plot, poor writing, and absolutely horrific performances across the board, including of course the second worst performance Shaq has ever delivered (the first obviously being as a genie that comes out of a boombox in Kazaam. I just threw up a little). Steel was a fine marriage of a ancillary character used in a stupid script, to make a bad movie. It's worth mentioning that Steel netted less than 2 million against a 16 million dollar budget, and Shaq almost won a Razzie for worst actor. He was somehow hedged out by Kevin Costner for his performance in The Postman, a movie which somehow grossed less in the box office than the aforementioned Kazaam (I can't emphasize enough the amount of bogus shit people say about The Postman and Kevin Costner in it. Really? It was worse than Shaq in Steel?)

Which Hulk is this even a poster for?
Hulk: Later, they would make a Hulk movie with Edward Norton, and that would be adequate at least. Before that, they made this crap sundae. I cannot tell you a single actor in this movie other than Jennifer Connelly without having to check IMDB. I guess Eric Bana was the Hulk, but I couldn't remember it and that was the biggest problem with the movie. The Hulk ended up just being some CG thing that smashed tanks, and there really was no screen presence established by the actor portraying him. In contrast, you got a good idea about who Bruce Banner was as a person in the Norton Hulk movie, and in The Avengers Mark Ruffalo delivered what I thought was an even better Hulk performance. This movie can be filed under  another common movie mistake, especially in superhero movies: special effects can't take the place of actors and interesting characters. Despite the lame writing and stupid plot, this movie somehow made around 245 million dollars in the box office, which makes me sad to even think about. I'm going to attribute it to a universal attraction to Jennifer Connelly and then forget about it.

Catwoman: This movie, in addition to being just plain shitty, is an example of a fascinating phenomenon that seems to happen occasionally in movie-making. Presented with a character that has a rich collection of background story, a deep sea of lore, and an enormous catalogue of published work, a screenwriter, probably with the help of some group-think addled executive producers, decides "to hell with all this shit, I'm just going to make something up! I know so much about comic books that surely, whatever shit I think up will somehow be better than decades worth of stories." I like to call this the Paul W.S. Anderson Effect (For those not familiar, the Resident Evil movies inspire a kind of feverish rage frenzy in me), and it holds here. Rather than use any version of Selina Kyle in existence we have Patience Phillips who works for a cosmetics company that produces magical anti-aging cream, but then they are bad and its bad or something and they kill poor Patience. But she is revived by a magic cat that is the Egyptian god Bast or something, and so she's Catwoman! I'm not going to talk about it anymore. It's bad, Hally Berry is bad, and everyone involved should feel bad.

I know, I didn't rag on Daredevil. Maybe next time!
I could go on and on with movies that were awful and based on superhero comics, but the point is clear. While recent years may have granted us a greater number of good comic movies based on superhero IPs, that doesn't mean we're safe from crap like Catwoman, a movie you'll note has a lot of the same things wrong with it as Supergirl. I don't think the attitude of the studios has changed much, I just think that they're swinging the bat a lot more than they were in the 80s in terms of comic book movies.

Join me Tuesday, when I try to review a movie where nothing explodes for the whole thing!

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