There's something about the end of the year, these days, that seems fitting for a review of comic books adapted for film. Never before has the tradition been quite as potent with 2008 producing a host of films including; The Dark Knight, Iron Man, Punisher: War Zone, Incredible Hulk, Hellboy: The Golden Army, Wanted, The Spirit, and a host of others, including features release direct to DVD, such as the acclaimed adaptation of The New Frontier.
Rather than try to hammer out a list of best films, we give you the C2C treatment of previous reviews on the site. Many more film reviews can be found at the bottom of the Secret Archive, but on selection here are some of my personal favourites.
Batman, for all those mistakes from the sixties and mid-nineties, puts in a dominant showing with entrants like; Begins, Dark Knight, the Tim Burton installments, and the theatrically released 1993 animated feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Other worthy franchise players include Spider-man, Superman, and two of the most crucial heroes to the modern films, Blade (Blade, Blade II, Blade: Trinity) and Wolverine (X-Men, X-Men 2, X-Men 3, X-Men Origins).
Despite a few undeniably questionable chunks in the script, I am also inclined to hold Ang Lee's maligned Hulk in much higher esteem than most, overlooking the negatives to find an incredibly positive force for superhero genre filmmaking.
Niche and international films like V for Vendetta, 300, Ghost in the Shell, Ghost in the Shell 2, and A Man Called Hero, all also come to mind as worthy cinematic entrants. Then there's the tangentially related heroes, like The Shadow, whose fictional life has spanned radio drama, pulp magazine, novels, serials, and the vastly underrated (and noteworthy) 1994 film; which attempts to consolidate the differing interpretations into a single retro identity.
By my watch, 2009 forecasts a double double-header of comic/gaming calendar checkpoints:
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
Director: Adrzej Bartkowiak
Projected Release: February 27, 2009
Starring: Kristin Kreuk (Chun-Li), Neal McDonough (Bison), Chris Klein (Charlie), Michael Clarke Duncan (Balrog), Taboo (Vega), & Robin Shou (Gen)
If the recent trailer is anything to go by, this is fixing to be yet another disappointment for Street Fighter fans [RE: Ultimate Battle]. The glaring error of judgment here, at least initially, appears to be a dated fear of representing the characters in their colourful and iconic forms. What might still be a fun, stylized martial arts movie, lacks anything connecting it to the twenty-year identity of Street Fighter. Even prominent characters, like legendary super-boss, M. Bison, is stripped of his grandeur, reduced to a cartwheeling thug in an array of business suits -- none of which, as yet, are even red. Other visual faux pas include casting Black Eyed Peas' second-tier butterface, Taboo, as the vainglorious and stunning Vega, and Robin Shou, (MK's movie Liu Kang), as a less than impressive Gen.
Despite early snap judgments, this one had a sense of potential about it, but the more we've actually seen, the less that's appeared to be true. We won't have to wait long to find out for sure.
Director: Zack Snyder
Projected Release: March 6, 2009
Starring: Patrick Wilson (Nite-Owl), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Malin Akerman (Silk Spectre), Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), & Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian)
One of the many mantras of the Infinite Wars is that almost anything conveyed on the page can be translated to screen by the right person. Zack Snyder proved he was right for Frank Miller's Spartan epic, 300, but even Miller wonders how he'll pull off one of the most revered comic book works in history. Writer/creator, Alan Moore, describes his opus as the unfilmable comic, and he's got a veritable army of sycophants shouting the same.
A combination of CG and economically used sets look primed to prove them wrong, however, at least if initial glances are to be believed. Among the many pieces of his masterplan, the promise of converting portions of the comic series into DVD exclusive extras, viewable seperate to the cinematic experience. A good compromise between a bloated reel, and an accurate adaptation.
Having convinced a portion of the audience to believe in the so-called "impossible," Watchmen's biggest obstacle will now be the rubbing hands of money men who smell a smash hit, and claim to have a right to benefit. Fox Studios is threatening the planned release date with lawsuits relating to a 1991 licensing agreement, but most recent reports suggest talks with distributor, Paramount Pictures, are proving fruitful. Financially, no doubt.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Director: Gavin Hood
Projected Release: May 1, 2009
Starring: Hugh Jackman (Wolverine), Liev Schrieber (Sabretooth), Danny Huston (William Stryker), Lynn Collins (Silver Fox), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool), Taylor Kitsch (Gambit), Daniel Henney (Maverick), Will.i.am (Wraith), Scott Adkins (Weapon XI), Kevin Durand (Blob)
With DC twiddling their thumbs to reconsider a flippant motion picture strategum; Marvel get a chance to relax for a year, producing only the long discussed X-Men spin-off. The success of Wolverine is said to have several potential projects riding on it, most publicly, a Wolverine sequel (featuring his years in Japan), and a WWII drama built around Magneto. Weighing heavily over the project is the mediocre reception of Brett Ratner's X-Men 3.
Trailers for the pseudo-prequel, which details portions of Wolverine's history dating as far back as his childhood in the 1800's, look slightly bloated. Like the X-Men series itself, some guest characters appear gratuitously stuffed into their roles, this time featuring many who were miraculously cut from the previous films (Blob, younger Cyclops, Storm, and Emma Frost).
Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth feels a little too subtle, trading the awkward lurch of Tyler Mane from the first X-Men film, for a touch of acting. Reynolds as a casual Friday Deadpool threatens to disappoint also, in a series that has a lot of catching up to do since it's vital 2000 debut.
Packed with backstory straight from the comics, this one could really go either way.
Will.i.am certainly looks more like his character than BEP buddy, Taboo.
Director: Gavin Hood
Projected Release: August 7, 2009
Starring: John Foo (Jin), Ian Anthony Dale (Kazuya), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Heihachi), Tamlyn Tomita (Jun), Holly Marie Combs (Michelle), Cung Le (Law), Luke Goss (Steve), Lateef Crowder (Eddie), Nathan Jones (Marduk), Gary Daniels (Bryan), Gary Ray Stearns (Yoshimitsu), Darrin Henson (Raven), Anton Kasabov (Dragunov), Candice Hilldebrand (Nina), & Marian Zapico (Anna)
With very little to go on, gaming fans might want to give a few months before they pack up their hopes and head home. First glance suggests another uninspired and flimsy adaptation of a game with stronger source material than most realise. Casting paints a picture of the clumsy, lazy, and TV-grade, but you never know what miracles might happen. Circumstances are everything.
Abbreviated to pick up on much more recent storylines, there should be an abundance of plot to pick up on and develop, but one has come to expect little. It will be interesting to watch marketting and development progress once Chun-Li hits screens.
No doubt we'll be talking more about each release in Season 2009 of the Infinite Wars, but for the time being, reflect upon the films that paved the way for this type of fiction.
Whilst on excursion, High School student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, altering his own DNA in a process that results in the proportionate strength, speed, agility and web-spinning of a spider!
After letting a thief get away, Peter's beloved surrogate-father, Uncle Ben Parker, is murdered by the man. Inspired by his uncle's words, Peter begins his career as Spider-man, living by the code that with great power, comes great responsibility.
His life as Peter Parker and career as Spider-man collide when his best friend's father, scientist Norman Osborn, goes insane after undergoing a treatment designed by his own organization to enhance strength. As the Green Goblin Norman comes to wage a war against Spider-man, and when he learns that he and Parker are one and the same, he inevitably goes after the ones Peter loves.
Man's insatiable thirst for knowledge is rivaled only by his damning addiction to destruction. So comes about the research of docile scientist, Dr. Bruce Krenzler, a geneticist working with Betty Ross and Rick Jones in an effort to harness the regenerative process found in nature.
Unbeknownst to Krenzler, his own DNA hides within it the secret of a past life, and the designs of a prerendered destiny. Having been experimented on as a child by his true father, David Banner, Bruce's blood contains within it the secrets to unlocking the hidden power that lurks beneath his human facade. A twist of fate accidentally produces the keys to unlocking Banner's hidden strength when he saves the young Rick Jones from a mechanical malfunction in a nano distributor machine.
With the net of his forgotten childhood closing in, Banner finds whenever he is stressed, angered, or afraid, the green-eyed monster within bursts free of his puny prison to become the incredible Hulk! With his secret exposed, Bruce becomes the subject of suspicion and fear, but even as forces conspire to destroy the Hulk, the true villain hatches machinations decades in the making.
Batman Begins (2005)
Having witnessed the murder of his parents by a desperate armed robber in a theatre back alley, Bruce Wayne grows into a man of great guilt and anger.
Channeling his rage, he uses his inhereted fortune to traverse the globe, escaping his celebrity status as a Wayne to face the criminal element on it's own terms, and take it on one man at a time.
During his time abroad Bruce Wayne is confronted by a man named Henri Ducard, who promises to foster his power and hone his efficiency to become a true force of justice. Representing Ra's Al Ghul and the League of Shadows, Ducard eventually reveals a plot to use Wayne as a pawn in the destruction of Gotham; something Bruce Wayne, now Batman, will do anything to stop.
Iron Man (2008)
Favreau/August Downey Jr/Toub/Tahir
Tony Stark: industrialist, inventor, playboy, sole inheritor of the Howard Stark empire. Tony continues his father's work, developing advanced mechanics and improving upon a range of technologies exponentially, with particular success in his father's area of expertise, the weapons sector.
With the world at his feet, Stark unveils the latest war tech from Stark Industries, travelling to Afghanistan to personally oversee testing of a cluster missile called The Jericho. The visit would prove life altering as Stark's US military entourage comes under fire from militant terrorists. Using stolen Stark weapons, the Ten Rings successfully abduct the inventor, and demand he design for them a Jericho of their own.
Imprisoned with Dr. Yinsen, Stark wakes in his cave prison to discover shrapnel from the Ten Rings' attack is lodged dangerously close to his heart. With the help of the doctor he develops an advanced "arc reactor" to power technology to prevent the movement of the shrapnel that could prove fatal. This miniature super-battery becomes the lynchpin around which the pair devise an invincible suit of armor, instead of the weapons of destruction.
Under the watchful eyes of Raza and his Ten Rings terrorists, the pair do their best to disguise their true work on the ultimate escape plan - Iron Man!
The Dark Knight (2008)
In a city gripped by crime, the emergence of a symbol to rattle the cages of the corrupt and greedy is a welcome rallying point for citzens besieged. The Batman is the dark knight the city requires, launching himself across the Gotham skyline in an incorruptable crusade against crime.
As he prunes away at the powers-that-be, things inevitably get worse before they get better.
A new breed of criminal, and insanity, coincides with his debut, beginning with the mad psychologist, Dr. Jonathan Crane, and his associations with the far reaching clan of eco-terrorists, the League of Shadows, led by legendary Eastern figure - Ra's Al Ghul. Their attack on Gotham City using a fear enducing toxin is a baptism for Batman, whose own past is linked with that of the League.
Though Dr. Crane escapes his reach, the Batman turns his attentions to the escalating dangers that grip a Gotham City in a vital process of change.
The Police Department begins a natural process of detoxification, struggling against a vaccum of power seized by organized crime boss, Sal Maroni, in the wake of Carmine Falcone's mental collapse. In response, a new Districty Attorney, Harvey Dent, joins the cause as a brighter counterpart to Batman, acting within the confines of a justice system in repair.
There are other personalities, however, that have come to Gotham City.
Other figures analagous to the Dark Knight himself, but dedicated to something much less specific. With a flair for theatricality, and an uncanny knack for mayhem -- the Joker has ushered in a responsive new era to the unstoppable vigilante -- equally as incorruptable, if not as purposeful. It is an ideology destined for collision course...