Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Some comic book movies

[Moved up for purposes of shameless comment-trolling]

After watching the Japanese Avengers trailer, I went completely bananas and rented Blu-rays of Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man 2 (as well as Batman Begins -- I already have a Blu-ray copy of The Dark Knight). The Marvel movies are all so good! It's such an amazingly high level of consistency and quality, combined with a fantastic diversity of style. Really, it's amazing that the Marvel Universe is getting such a cinematically high-toned treatment (with all these Oscar-level actors, great directors etc.) The pressure to make each movie a hit on its own (rather than, say, simply as parts of a "Harry Potter" sequence or whatever) has created what the Avengers fusion retroactively makes into a series (or anthology) of movies of unusually high quality; they fit together like contrasting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The DC movies (from the 1970s through the 1990s), by contrast, are pretty weak stuff. I mean, Richard Donner's Superman remains a classic film, very well done, but by modern cinematic standards (and modern comic book movie standards, which have risen to ridiculous levels nobody could have predicted back then) it's pretty childish, with absolutely no attempt to reproduce anything "real" from the comic books. Also, there was no CGI, so rather than (for example) Kenneth Branaugh's amazing Asgard, we got a "Krypton" that was basically Logan's Run-level sci-fi, with "ice crystal" prop walls and obvious miniatures. (The rest of the Christopher Reeve movies are just awful--he's great, but what a bunch of crap!) And the less said about Tim Burton's Batman movies, the better (I feel vindicated in that I was one of the few people who hated them at the time and didn't understand why they were getting so much credit for being "dark" and "visionary" when they were just more Tim Burton toy-store fetishism and Nicholson's ridiculous performance that was as far from the Joker as you can get while using the same name). (With the "built-in smile" prosthesis...and remember him and his henchmen formation dancing to the Prince song? Heath Ledger didn't do any dancing.) I was a little overdosed on The Dark Knight, but watching Batman Begins again (which I'm doing right now) is getting me psyched for the third one. I'd forgotten what a truly fine movie it is.

If anyone had told me back decades ago that comic book movies would ever get even close to the artistic heights they've reached (as well as shaking off every vestige of their former "campiness") I would never have believed it.

P.S.: For those of you who dislike origin stories, I refer you to Tim Burton's Batman, wherein they just skip the part where he, you know, becomes a superhero. Christian Bale's first "I'm Batman" -- a full hour into the movie -- is so much more satisfying than Michael Keaton's "I'm Batman" in the first five minutes of Burton's silly version.

P.P.S.: Remember how Michael Keaton's Batman suit was made in such a way that he couldn't move his head? His entire neck and skull were fixed in place within that rigid cowl/collar piece--in order to look upward, he had to tip his entire torso backwards. That's got to be great in a fight, or while driving, or, really, doing anything. (Keaton worked it, though; he did lots of great silent-movie-style eye moves and sidelong glances, trying to make his immobilized neck look natural. Despite my dislike of those movies, I've always genuinely admired his performances.)

P.P.P.S.: While on the "costume" tip: Remember how, in Batman Returns, when he tore off his cowl at the end of the movie (to reveal his face to Catwoman), all the black makeup around his eyes suddenly went away? And, when Catwoman was doing flips, her high heels suddenly became flat shoes, and then turned back into high heels when she landed? Because, who cares! It's a Tim Burton movie!

P.P.P.P.S.: Ed Wood was pretty brilliant (and beautiful to look at). I'll totally give him that one.


JPX said...

I notice that you didn't mention the X-Men films. Do you believe that they are part of the current Marvel ethos?

Jordan said...

Well, they're not, is the thing, for basically business reasons. "Marvel Studios" is controlling all the movies I've discussed, whereas the X-Men and Spider-Man (and Fantastic Four) rights are owned by different corporate entities, and none of those movies are really all that good. I liked X-Men at the time, but the whole thing got so boring and dreary, and anyway there was just something kind of glum and cheap about even the first X-Men, you know what I mean? Like an overcast day in New Jersey. I can't explain.

I never really liked the Spider-Man movies, either, for similar reasons: the tone is all wrong, somehow. The reboot looks like it's much more my kind of thing. Martin Sheen is way better than Cliff Robertson; Andrew Garfield is way better than Tobey MacGuire (I really liked him in The Social Network; Emma Stone is way way better than "smooshed-face" Kirsten Dunst, and Sally Field is better than whatever old bag was playing Aunt May.

50PageMcGee said...

nothing i really disagree with here. good points all around, jordan.

there's this thing that happens with marvel titles -- and it's something i've worried about happening to the movies.

about 10 years ago, there was this reboot of all of the major titles. Spider-Man, Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, etc. all got a clean slate, each with a top of the line writer, with Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis leading the charge. the results were outstanding.

flashback 20 years earlier for a sec. most titles pre-frank miller and alan moore suffered from overly talky, schlocky dialogue. there'd be full pages of "dialogue" that you'd never hear any real person use. frames upon frames of people talking in expository paragraphs to themselves. shitty style, in short.

but here came this new talent-washing of the entire universe: Ultimate Marvel. and for a few years, there was almost nothing in the whole line that wasn't a billion percent readable and awesome.

a second wave of it hit, and Brian Michael Bendis kind of ran the whole show for a while -- so it all got even better.

then a third wave, and some new names entered the pantheon. j michael straczynski, brian k vaughan, robert kirkman, jeph loeb -- the results became mixed. some of the writers just weren't up to par.

i stopped reading everything in that universe about 4 years ago. wasn't into anything the new writers were doing.

that's been my fear about the movies -- that First Class, Iron Man, Captain America were going to give way to Ghost Rider and (take this with a grain of salt because I know some people liked these movies, and I frigging hate them) the Fantastic Four flicks, and the lesser talents with lesser imaginations would dilute the pool.

enter Joss. yay.

so long as Marvel cares enough to put their biggest projects in the hands of the most deserving actors and directors out there, the movies will continue to rock faces.

i'm not 100% convinced it'll last.

Jordan said...

Fitty, that's all very interesting. I'm currently involved in "research" of way-earlier comics (and I'll be posting some exhaustive observations about this over on my own blog pretty soon).

I've been going through a lot of Bronze Age stuff, which is kind of like listening to 'Seventies rock-n-roll; in each case, the big revolution is coming (Johnny Rotten; Sex Pistols; New Wave; Elvis Costello; Talking Heads) and a lot of "dinosaurs" are going to be left in the dust. The same thing happens with Miller and Moore and the birth of the "Modern Age" (at about the same time), but the result is similar: going back and reading (say) Neal Adams' Batman is as revelatory as going back and listening to Zeppelin. Yes, this is the "soggy excess" that precedes the necessary revolution, but as soggy excess goes, it's pretty damn good.

As far as Marvel is concerned, I've been absolutely spellbound by "The Amazing Spider-Man" (Volume 1), issues 1-82 (which is what I'm up to). That's 1963-1969; Stan Lee and Ditko (followed by Buschema and Romita). Oh my God, is it good. Probably the best single title I've ever read. The force, the power, the joy of the main circuit cable of the Silver Age (and the "Marvel Revolution") breaks down into dozens and dozens of the best single comics I've ever read, ever. I'll "clam up" (as Stan Lee would say) because, yes, I'm going to write more on my own blog. But reading the Spider-Man originals (set in the New York of the Mad Men era!) is like driving a vintage car; pure joy.

Landshark said...

Your research project sounds fantastic! In fact, I might have to copy it when classes end this summer, at least the part about going back through 1960s Spider-Man. Where did you find them? Libraries?