by D.W. Lundberg

Tuesday, March 16, 2010





Whap! Biff! Pow! Any film that's been adapted from a comic book, comic strip or graphic novel qualifies as a Comic Book movie. While genre films had been popular before (Superman in 1978, Tim Burton's Batman in 1989), it wasn't until the Noughties that they gained any real momentum, when the success of Fox's ensemble X-Men (2000) had studios clamoring for their next blockbuster franchise. Titles ranged from the well-known (Spider-Man, Hulk) to the barely-heard-of (The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Would it surprise you to learn that not all Comic Book movies are about superheroes? Subgenres also include Comedies, Period Dramas, even Science-Fiction. And they're not just for kids anymore.

The Top Five:

5. Sin City (Robert Rodriguez / Frank Miller, 2005)

A unique, one-of-a-kind experience (though admittedly not to everyone's taste), taken almost shot-for-shot from Frank Miller's seminal graphic novel series. The cast acted out scenes, on minimal sets, with backgrounds added digitally during post-production to match Miller's panels. Then the images were converted to stark blacks and whites, with colorized objects dotted throughout the film. The result is one of the most visually striking movies I've ever seen. Director Robert Rodriguez seems liberated by the process; as usual, he shot and edited the movie himself, but here, unlike the gee-whiz, Hey-guys-I'm-making-a-movie mentality of his Mariachi and Spy Kids trilogies, he's got such firm control over his environments that the effect is breathtaking. And while I don't think there's really much to it beyond its visual style, as an exercise in literal book-to-screen translation, it's to kill for.

4. Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)

Pity poor Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) – he just can't seem to balance his personal life with his duties as a superhero. He's failing his college courses, the love of his life (Kirsten Dunst) is getting tired of his excuses, his best friend (James Franco) blames Spider-Man for the death of his father and won't let it go. Add a new villain into the mix (Alfred Molina, nicely cast as Doctor Octopus), and it's no wonder Peter comes up impotent. Sam Raimi's super-sequel is yet another leap forward in the evolution of the Comic Book movie: leaner, zippier, more elegantly-structured than the "origin story" that preceded it. Plus, by the end of the movie, Peter Parker will be elevated to the level of pseudo-tragic hero – the drama's been heightened. My favorite bit: Doc Ock's early hospital rampage, a killer throwback to Raimi's Evil Dead days.

3. Road To Perdition (Sam Mendes, 2002)

Yes, it's based on a comic book. Adapted from the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins (with illustrations by Richard Piers Rayner), Sam Mendes' sophomore screen effort is a somber revenge tale set around 1930s Chicago, about a hitman who flees with his 12-year- old son after they've been targeted by gangsters. Not a superhero in sight – and yet the movie owes more to its source material than you might think. Like a comic book, the plot is told largely through images. Mendes and his cinematographer, the late, great Conrad L. Hall, bathe the film in lush visual motifs – fractured perspectives to show the disconnect between fathers and sons, the presence of water signifying death. Still, it's the stars who provide the movie's biggest emotional fireworks, with Tom Hanks, Jude Law and Paul Newman (in his final on-screen appearance) as mobsters compromised by their own moral codes.

2. Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

Christopher Nolan revives Warner Bros.' dovetailing Batman franchise after an eight-year hiatus, to show us, for the first time, how Bruce Wayne overcame fear and tragedy to become Gotham City's greatest protector. The result is that rarity among Comic Book movies, an origin story in which the psychology of the hero – why he does what he does – is every bit as exciting as the action. Better yet, Nolan captures the mythology of the Dark Knight in ways we've never seen before, from the origins of the costume and gadgets (great fun) to the fight scenes, framed tight and close-up to mimic the shock and awe of Batman's enemies. Christian Bale is the definitive Caped Crusader - witty, intense and terrifying as both billionaire playboy and avenging alter ego. At last, we meet the man behind the mask.

1. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

I know what you're thinking - figures, right? But Christopher Nolan's follow-up to Batman Begins has an epic power that's hard to shake. This is a Crime Drama dressed in cape and cowl, a morality tale about the nature of heroes. More than that, it's the first film with comic book characters in which choices have consequences. At its heart, The Dark Knight is the story of three men - Batman (Christian Bale), police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) – pushed to their limits by an evil they can't control. More like evil incarnate: Heath Ledger's Joker is a force of nature, anywhere and everywhere, and he's accompanied by a single, ominous musical chord (courtesy composer Hans Zimmer) whenever he's poised to strike, like the shark from Jaws. This Joker gets under our skin precisely because of what he represents - he's the embodiment of all the fear and vulnerability we've felt since 9/11. The movie, too, raises ethical questions about the lengths to which our heroes must go to halt terror in its tracks. No small feat for the Comic Book movie of the decade.


Phew - that one took forever. Here's hoping our next entry will come a little quicker. Stay tuned for the next week or so - Documentaries are up next! (Don't pretend you're not excited.)


  1. I couldn't agree with you more. I loved Sin City! I thought it was visually stunning. You forgot to mention that Tarantino directed one of the segments in the film though. What was his paycheck - $1.00?

    Spiderman 2 is the only one on this list that I didn't like. Just not a big Spiderman fan, I guess. I just don't see the appeal.

    Road to Perdition is a great movie! After American Beauty I was intent on following Mendez to see what he would do as a follow-up, and needless to say he didn't disappoint me.

    Not much to say about Batman Begins except that I loved it!

    The Dark Knight should've been nominated for, and won, the Oscar for Best Picture and Nolan for Best Director. Cristopher Nolan has climbed to the top of my favorite directors list ever since I saw Memento. He now ranks up there with Tarantino, Scorsese, and Fincher. He's AWESOME!

    Great picks, Darin! And yes, I DO think you're an eloquent writer. Keep up the good work, man!

  2. Well, I'm familiar with three out of five! That's not a bad percentage! Ever since I saw the old Spiderman movie as a child, I've wanted to be Spiderman and I appreciate the fact that Spiderman 2 is on the list. What can I not say about Batman Begins?! After all the other Batman movies that took too much of a comic book twist and became something more of a joke than anything else, Batman Begins is like the first breath a Navy Seal takes after having to swim the length of an olympic size swimming pool twice underwater! I loved every aspect of this movie-especially the why and how he does what he does section. The Dark Knight was such an amazing movie that I am a little afraid that the next one will not be as good, but absolutely hope there will be one! It was the movie that pulled me back to the "full-price" theaters after almost 10 years of dollar theaters! And I'm cheap, that's pretty big. So, thanks for the list and I'll trust your opinion for the other movies I haven't seen. Keep writing sir!