Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Top Ten Comic-Book Movies? Well, not quite. But close.

First of all, none of the Batman movies are better than the original Superman, which is one of my favorite movies (despite the descent into deus ex machina at the end). I also think Superman is better than Spiderman, which is really good but nearly derails at the climax. Both those films share the same strengths: wonderful opening halves that establish their characters' "mythologies"; I think that Superman has the stronger second half.

If I'm going to include a Batman film on this Top Ten list, and I would, it wouldn't be Batman Returns because as good as that film is -- a great improvement over the original Batman, which is one of the most overrated films I've ever seen -- I give the edge to Batman Forever, in which Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones provide over-the-top villainy that balances Val Kilmer's understated Batman/Bruce Wayne wonderfully. (Full disclosure: I don't hate Batman and Robin as much as everybody else, but it's still not very good.) I do give Batman Returns credit for the best line in a Batman movie, for when the Christopher Walken character says to Catwoman, "Can I get you anything? A ball of string?"

The X-Men could have been the finest of all comic-book films to date, except it's too short and skimps on the character development to detrimental effect. With another half-hour of character time, this could have been a very fine film. As it is, it feels like a Cliff's Notes introduction to the X-Men; it's as if the producers said, "We know we're making sequels, so let's just get the introductory film out of the way ASAP." But the casting is probably the best of any comic-book film.

I loved Dick Tracy, and yes, I love Flash Gordon -- one of the most cheerfully goofy films ever made. I just can't watch that movie and not have a good time, what with Max Von Sydow's scenery-chewing ("I like to play with things a while before annihilation"), Timothy Dalton's quiet irony ("I knew you were up to something, Aura, but I confess I hadn't thought of necrophilia"), and the film's sheer exuberance, complete with soundtrack by Queen and special effects that are unlike just about every other gonzo-scifi flick out there. Flash Gordon actually looks like its comic-book origin material. (And how can anyone not grin when a big-ass army of guys with wings confronts an art-deco, phallic-shaped spaceship? I mean, what's not to like in a movie with stuff like that?)

Popeye is just a horrid, horrid film. To me, it is the cinematic equivalent of fingernails-on-a-chalkboard. As for the other films on the list, I haven't seen them.

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