Thursday, January 26, 2012

What are the best comic book and graphic novel adaptations of all time?

When it comes to comic book movies, the only thing you can say with absolute certainty is that they’re usually big in scope and larger-than-life.

What do I mean by that? Well, frankly, comic book movies stem from a genre that doesn’t always translate to the big screen well (or tackle reality with aplomb, for that matter). In other words, just because fans find it entertaining on the page doesn’t mean it’s going to be entertaining on the big screen as well.

When it comes to adapting a comic book to the big (or small) screen, you have to find a balance.
If it is too cheesy, then you risk turning your film into ‘Batman and Robin.’

If you take yourself too seriously, then you risk turning your film into something akin to ‘Watchmen.’
If you try to be too stylized, you might become another ‘Elektra.’

Essentially, you have to find that perfect juxtaposition between character development, casting, believable dialogue and charisma. A hook doesn’t hurt (nor does a hot leading man). Just being honest.

Believe it or not (and I’m sure most of you do), the dialogue in comic books is generally pretty heavy handed and impractical when it comes to translating it to the big and small screen. It’s a tightrope that a lot of directors have fallen off of.

So, what have been the best comic book adaptations?'

10. 30 Days of Night – I know, this is technically a graphic novel and not a comic book movie, but I figure they’re close enough together to be considered the same genre. Anyway, the ‘30 Days of Night’ graphic novel collection has been an underground favorite for years. When I heard about the premise of the movie, I immediately went out and caught up on the series. As a horror movie fanatic, I was thrilled with the graphic novels and even more thrilled with the big screen outcome. Josh Hartnett is usually one of those actors that doesn’t exactly blow me away – but he did in this movie. It’s kind of like rock and roll meets blood sucking fiends – and that’s a collaboration I can get behind. Besides that, with ‘Twilight’ turning vampires into fuzzy little brooders, I was totally up for a reminder of what vampires truly should be.

9. Spiderman 2 – I don’t really like Tobey Maguire. There, I said it. I have always liked Kirsten Dunst, but Tobey Maguire is just not an actor I gravitate towards. That being said, the second ‘Spiderman’ movie couldn’t have succeeded without him. Sure, it’s Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock that really carries the emotional heft of the movie, but Maguire, Dunst and James Franco are no slouches in the drama department either. It’s really too bad the third movie couldn’t gain on the momentum that was set up with this one – but not every franchise can be perfect. Thankfully, the Spiderman franchise had one almost perfect installment.

8. Ironman – I resisted seeing this for a long time. I don’t know why. It’s not that I’m not a Robert Downy Jr. fan – because I am. It’s not because I’m not a superhero fan – because I am. Either way, though, I didn’t see this movie until like a year after it came out. What a disappointment to finally see what I had been missing. ‘Ironman’ was funny, sexy and engaging. Everything a true comic book movie should be. The sequel wasn’t quite as good as the original, but in the grand scheme of things, it was also a solid production.

7. Thor – This movie took me pleasantly by surprise. Actually, I wish I had seen it in theaters instead of catching it on Blu-Ray months later. Chris Hemsworth makes an interesting debut as the volatile God of Thunder. He’s both charming and roguish – something that women generally can’t resist (it doesn’t hurt that he’s ripped and his shirt clings to him in a way that can only be described as appealing). It’s Stellan Skarsgard, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Tom Hiddleston that balance the story out, though. This is one of those movies that manages to prove, with the right amount of humor and spot-on casting, you can create magic in modern times – even when you float between two different worlds.

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – On the half shell, the heroes four haven’t been popular for a number of years. That being said, when this movie first came out all I felt was love. A Donatello and Michaelangelo fan for as long as I can remember, I couldn’t help but love the campy atmosphere that surrounded this movie (or the awesome T-U-R-T-L-E power that fueled the M.J. Hammer rap song). Sure, this is an example of when campy comic books could have been a disaster – but for the first movie, at least, this didn’t happen. Now the second and third installments? Those were comic book disasters.

5. A History of Violence – Viggo Mortensen manages to succeed in just about everything he does. Whether it’s being a smartass lawman in the old west, rightful heir to the Middle Earth throne or as a quiet man trying to maintain a quiet life despite a past littered with regret – like in ‘A History of Violence.’ Mortensen really can do no wrong in this movie. This is a comic book movie that proves that the genre isn’t only about spandex and cod pieces. It’s also about real emotions, real battles and real pain. Mortensen was ripped off when he didn’t get an Oscar for this role.

4. The Walking Dead – This is small screen magic. I know that show producers were trying to capitalize on the loyalty of horror fanatics – and they did manage to do that. What they crafted, though, is a thought provoking and well acted ensemble that shares a lot with Stephen King’s ‘The Stand.’ Yes, there’s gore and action, but there’s also gravitas, symbolism and characters that live in a gray world instead of black and white. That is the true strength in the show. When morality dies with humanity, what is the true evil?

3. Sin City – This is an example of stylized filmmaking working. I think any movie that makes me think Bruce Willis is semi-talented has to be considered a feat of modern movie magic, but ‘Sin City’ actually manages to almost transcend the genre. Benicio del Toro also manages to anchor the action while a bevy of beautiful women that aren’t always considered solid actresses (yes Jessica Alba, I’m talking to you) are featured but don’t detract from the story’s monologue. That is the true feat, after all.

2. Superman 2 – This spot could just has easily gone to ‘Superman: The Movie.’ They’re both stellar movies with solid casts and strong scripts. It’s the second film, though, that manages to find the franchise’s true pathos. It takes a common premise – what happens if you get everything you thought you wanted – and then turns it on its head. Essentially, are you willing to give up what you want for the betterment of others? Christopher Reeve and Gene Hackman are spectacular in the film, as is the menacing Terence Stamp. It’s too bad that movie producers didn’t follow this model when they did the next two movies in the franchise.

1. X2 – I liked the first movie in the X-Men franchise, I did. I was generally pleased with the casting – who didn’t fall in love with Hugh Jackman? It’s really the second movie that expands the universe and manages to interweave true emotion into the storyline, though. Jackman’s conflicted Wolverine is still the central character, but it’s Anna Paquin’s Rogue, Shawn Ashmore’s Iceman and Aaron Stanford’s Pyro that actually manage to center the ensemble. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen also wow as the elder statesmen fighting for different outcomes – but still having to rely on each other. The movie’s ending – a fantastic special effects marvel – also has the strength of killing off a core character and still giving fans hope at the same time. It’s too bad the third movie in this franchise completely eradicated any good will this movie garnered. But, for a brief time period, this was the king of the comic book hill.

And, as usual, honorable mentions go to ‘Hellboy,’ ‘The Crow,’ ‘Kick-Ass,’ ‘Captain America,’ ‘Road to Perdition,’ ‘Superman: The Movie,’ ‘Batman,’ ‘Batman Returns,’ ‘The Hulk’ television series, ‘V for Vendetta,’  and ‘X-Men: First Class.’

What do you think? What are the best comic book adaptations? Did your favorite make the list?

Click here for the worst comic book adaptations ever.


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