Tag Archives: Superheroes

Supergirl (1984)

"I just don't know...you sure you're not staring at my 'S'?"Both comic book and movie begin with Argo City, a civic center blown free from the planet Krypton with its gravity and atmosphere completely intact (take that, laws of physics). I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume that the Action Comics team threw in a few pictures with this story. Not so here. Opening with a “bang” is one of the first things to go out the window, despite this film’s nominal connection with the wider Superman franchise. After all, why show us something we can just talk about it? And have Peter O’Toole stand around, waving his magic wand?

O’Toole is Zaltar, Argo City’s apparent savior. See, in this version of the story, Krypton’s death blasted Argo into a funky, negative universe called “innerspace” (narrated by William Shatner). Zaltar’s the guy who figured out how to keep the air in and everyone’s feet on the ground. How? Magic of course, with a little help from the film’s MacGuffin: a shinny pokeball called “the omegahedron.”

More than a miniature Unicron, the omegahedron can “create the illusion of life,” power the entire city, provide oxygen and (we assume) nourishment for its numerous inhabitants, and do all of this from the palm of Peter O’Toole’s hand.

Wait. What is this thing (so vital to the city’s basic survival) doing in the palm of Zaltar’s hand, anyway? Oh, he “borrowed” it. I see. Wonderful. This can only end well. {More}

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

"Stop, or my mom will shoot!"The next industry Uncle Tom who calls Alan Moore out for his righteous hatred of Hollywood need only look at this train wreck. Do that, and understand that the pain you feel is nothing compared to what it might be if, say, you’d actually created this “property.” That’s the term they use. Not “story,” not “idea,” but “property.” As if the book were a piece of over-mortgaged real estate.

I have a lot of love for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and I’ll admit I would never heard of the book if not for this idiotic little film. That alone ameliorates my otherwise-all-encompassing hatred of it, and the system that birthed it. Movies like this make me wish the aliens from Independence Day really would hurry up and destroy Los Angeles with their incredibly slow fireballs.

This film is a throwback to the Golden Age of superhero movies. That was not a happy time, despite my choice of verbiage. Sure, Richard Donner’s Superman led the pack, but so did those crappy, made-for-TV Captain America movies. Remember Dolph Lundgren as He-Man? Or The Punisher? Have you forgotten that the era of Tim Burton’s Batman also cursed us with Joel Schumacher’s? I haven’t! {More}

Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

''Was that you, George?''Short and sweet version:

The defining, stand out scene of this whole movie (the one we all get our pictures from) turns out to be a dream sequence.

Long and painful version:

Remember when I called The Incredible Hulk Returns “a fine capstone” to the series? Well, that was the truth. It’s unfortunate no one at NBC realized this in time. Not very surprising, though. Happens everywhere. A decent little picture miraculously becomes popular (popular enough to snatch the fifth highest rating of any program aired in the same week) only to be sullied by a lackluster, assembly-line sequel.

Hot off the success of Returns, NBC rushed to make a deal with Marvel for future Incredible Hulk outings. And, wouldn’t you know it, less than a year later Trial of the Incredible Hulk roared and flexed its way to prime time. And as the talking head said on the news, right before the aliens blew up all those cities, “Indeed, God help us all.” {More}

X2: X-Men United (2003)

"Well...are you coming?"
"Well...you coming? You do have a movie to star in, you know?"

I went into this farce with no expectations.  In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a natural pessimist. So much of a pessimist I was prepared to write X2 off completely, like all the idiots I criticize for the blatant hypocrisy inherent in their dismissal “comic book movies.” Then the maintenance man comes by at nine in the morning, screwing my sleep schedule all to hell. And he tells me I should see this movie. It apparently “kicked serious ass.”

So off I go to Target. Twenty minutes, two cigs and one neutered anti-theft device later, I returned the proud (if ambivalent) owner of X2, second in what will no doubt be the epic superhero movie trilogy to end all epic superhero movie trilogies. For, like, ever.

As if. I say “ambivalent” whenever I’m faced with something like this…like almost any movie from the summer of ’03…with one notable exception…something that makes me feel anything but united. I love glitz and glamor as much as the next Red Blooded American Male, but I’m getting mighty tired of leaving a movie feeling hollow and gypped. After all, didn’t they used to make movies with something more than a few hundred million dollars of special effects? Something that engaged its audience? That challenged us? Was that just a dream? I swear they were still doing it a few years ago… {More}

Hulk (2003)

You know, straining too hard can cause a brain embolism.For various and sundry reasons, the Incredible Hulk casts a long shadow over my pantheon of superheroes…and what better time than now to examine each and every one in agonizing detail? It’s all because of that damned TV show. See, a long time ago, on a farm far, far away, my parents had a brief flirtation with mid-eighties middle-class status symbols. They got the VCR. They got the VHS. They got the satellite dish. One of those unwieldy, forty-foot fuckers that typified success for millions. Sure, go plant a ten foot tall metal tree in my back yard. Boy, that’ll really add value to the house.

By the time I came around, we got exactly two channels on the damn thing. Everything else was snow, bandwidth to bandwidth. Until the Sci-Fi Channel. One day, there it was: twenty-four hours of good ol’ fashioned science fiction programming. The Visitor, The Prisoner, The Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes, Battlestar Galactica…and The Incredible Hulk, every day at four, staring Bill Bixby. I’d get off school and bam, there it was,  Lou Ferrigno large and in charge. I developed quite the ritual around it, as I did with all the good shows. And like all the good shows, eventually, Hulk disappeared without a trace. {More}

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

It's the shadow of the Bat.
It's the shadow of the Bat.

This is more than a good movie: it’s the movie I watch at least once a year to remind myself why I watch movies. Produced by the same writers, directors, composers and cast as Batman: The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm is not only the best superhero movie of the 1990s, its easily the gold standard by which to judge all subsequent  superhero films.

Shame the thing isn’t better-known outside of the fan community. It’s unique among superhero movies of its age, both for its faithful importation of material already present in Batman comics and for its deft incorporation of new story elements that add depth and meaning to the source, reinforcing key themes without hitting the audience in the face with some overriding Message or a lot of heavy Exposition. Arguably the most mature American cartoon feature to date, it deals with grand questions of fate, free will and the psychological cost of living in the shadow of one’s past. Plus…it’s frickin’ Batman. Honestly, what’s not to love? Continue reading Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

Orgazmo (1997)

Huh...?
Huh...?

Few things are more informative than the obscure early work of now-famous creative types. Key themes emerge and patterns emerge…often so apparent that, even if my Unrated Special Edition tonight’s film weren’t plastered over with little stickers that read “From the Creators of South Park!”; even if I didn’t know what Trey Parker and Matt Stone look like; even if I had never bothered to read their credits on a single South Park episode, it would still be pretty goddamn obvious, and just as enjoyable to boot.

This sophomore effort from Parker, Stone, and (if the various commentary tracks on this disc are any indication) every friend they had in the world at the time, resounds with themes already touched on in the boy’s (and girl’s) first film, Cannibal! The Musical. Here, as there, expect a preference for gross-out humor and overblown Action movie plotting, dramatic music cues, some stuff that refuses to make sense, and a strangely ambivalent relationship with Mormonism. Meant to be a musical for all of five seconds, this saga of a pornographic, Mormon superhero may just be the best superhero film of the late-1990s, the nadir of Superhero Cinima’s Golden Age. It certainly satisfies the criteria laid out in Peter David’s October 2, 1990 But I Digress column in the Comic Buyer’s Guide, when he called a much more serious movie “the perfect super-hero film of all time.” {More}

The Crow: City of Angels (1996)

"Have you heard the good word of our lord, Satan?"This film might’ve had a chance, but I doubt it. Love may be stronger than death, but the love of sequels is stronger than common sense, particularly in Hollywood. So I’m not surprised this film turned out to be a pale imitation of its predecessor. Disappointed? Sure. But what did we expect from the man who wrote Dollman vs. The Demonic Toys? Or the man who directed…uck…the Cure’s music videos?

Conceived as an on-going comic book series, the first Crow film benefited from the cohesion a story must have if it’s to be a good film. Only an injection of syrupy, Hollywood sentimentality kept it from being a faithful adaption of its source, with all the problems that implies. Problems of nihilism, transcendental melodrama, and a worshipful respect for death that’s almost Mesoamerican. Problems that provide fertile ground for the true artists to do truly artistic things with J. O’Barr’s depressing little world. The Internet’s littered with them, and digging through the shin-level shelves of certain chain bookstores will also reward anyone in search of a good story set in this universe. You won’t find that here. But if you like gloss and hate originality; if you’re desperate to see a film the confirms all your worst expectations about what Hollywood is, and what horrible things it can do to even the best of stories…pull up a chair, brother/sister. Stay a’ while. {More}

The Crow (1994)

Have you accepted corvus corax as your Lord and Savior?I have a confession to make: as a Crow fan from way back. Before the Kitchen Sink Press Author’s Edition, I was there. Before the crappy TV series, I was there. Before Brandon Lee’s untimely and unfortunate death eclipsed almost everything else associated with this film, and the story it contains, I poured over J. O’Barr’s black and white catharsis of a comic.  And I loved it. To my teenage mind, this psychopathic little story seemed an expression of love. The kind of mournful, melodramatic love adolescents, and the perpetually adolescent at heart, believe is really all there is.

I even wrote my own piece of Crow fan fiction. And before you ask, no, you can’t look at it. It died a thankful and unceremonious death several computer crashes ago. I wrote it over the course of a month at age sixteen, the perfect time to write a violent revenge fantasy centered around the above definition of “love.” And in the course of writing it I discovered something O’Barr must’ve realized ?himself: that vengeance is not catharsis. In the end, it’s only vengeance. A ravenous, yawning beast that will not stop until its consumed everything it touches. Something this movie’s two screenwriters completely failed to realize. {More}

Blade (1998)

"And in this corner, weighed down by over fifty pounds of body armor and leather, it's..."
“And in this corner, weighed down by over fifty pounds of body armor and leather, it’s…”

This is a unique specimen, a transitional fossil. It combines the disrespect for an established comic book character’s cannon that defined the Golden Age of the American Superhero Film (which unarguably began with Richard Donner’s Superman) with the complete seriousness and penchant for eye-gouging special effects that went onto define the Silver Age, which would not out-and-out begin until two years after Blade fell off everyone’s radar screens. Everyone but we geeks, that is.

Fact is, we recognized a good thing when we saw one (unless we avoided this flick out of misplaced anti-vampire prejudice). And while it’s not the head-stomping, face-melting, game-changer we hoped it would be, Blade certainly proved something serious creative types (by which I mean, science fiction writers) had known for decades: treat your concept seriously the audience will follow, no matter how fantastically weird your concept might be. Then, as long as you can avoid curb-stomping your audience’s willing suspension of disbelief, it doesn’t matter how well known and beloved your main character might be…though hiring a well-known, beloved actor to play him never hurt anybody. Continue reading Blade (1998)