The Reel-lief Reviews Top 10
By Ian Wilson
11 July 2007 Greetings one and all! I have come to realize that I have recorded 10 comic book movie reviews on Earth-2.net: The Show. Wanting to contribute more than just my British tones to the Earth-2.net franchise, I've decided to formulate my own Top 10 list of comic book movies. This will be a work in progress, as I have yet to review quite a few films in the comic book movie genre films from the Spider-Man and Batman franchises, for example. Therefore, let me compile my Reel-lief Reviews Top 10 for the first time.
As I wanted to make my final movie ratings more official and less scatterbrained, I listened back over my reviews and compiled the marks as they stood. Then I decided whether the marks I gave were truly reflective of their quality, which often they weren't. Those that needed changing have been adjusted so that the framework for future reviews can be more accurate. From best to worst, the Reel-lief Reviews Top 10 looks like this:
01. X2: X-Men United 9 / 10
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Held up by many as the best example of a comic book movie, X2 was released in May 2003 and its success confirmed that Marvel would be making film adaptations of several of their characters, for better or worse. In a year when the disappointing Daredevil and Hulk were also released, the X2 built upon the first movie (a strong movie in its own right, as I'll get into further down) and made the entire film feel like a fully rounded blockbuster that left you wanting more, in a good way. With exceptional performances, a great storyline and some amazing special effects, it remains the benchmark that all other comic book films should aspire to. Why didn't it get a 10? There are niggles, such as where Cyclops disappears to for a good hour in the film and a few references missed, such as the conversation between Mystique and Nightcrawler, who have more of a history in the comic books. Even so, X2 is not just the best CBM that I've reviewed on Earth-2.net: The Show, but arguably the best film of its genre.
02. V for Vendetta 8.5 / 10
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Given that last year saw the eagerly awaited sequel to X2 and the return of the Superman franchise, it was somewhat surprising that a modern adaptation of a 1980s comic series set in Britain would emerge as the most superior CBM of 2006. However, V for Vendetta succeeded where others failed. It introduced a fresh set of characters and managed to be intelligent, humorous and stylish. Good performances from less flashy actors and some cool action scenes help the audience admire a film about a disfigured terrorist in a Guy Fawkes mask. Some aspects may have been underdeveloped, such as the less-than-intimidating curfew and what Natalie Portman did for the best part of a year. And the ending / unmasking was somewhat surreal. But saying the film was underdeveloped as a whole would be wrong when comparing it to other movies in the genre. The Wachowski brothers and director James McTeigue have realized this work to its fullest and the lack of an open-ended finish means that this can remain a standalone triumph.
The top two films have retained their original marks. However, this will not be the case as we move further down the list.
03. X-Men 7.5 / 10
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No matter how extravagant a trilogy or film sequence gets, if the first film is a stinker that doesn't draw in the punters, there will be no trilogy / series. X-Men was an important film; the Henry VII to X2's Henry VIII. For those of you who aren't very up on your English monarchical dynasties, Henry VII was the king who ended civil war in England and stabilized the country whilst his son and heir Henry VIII was a more popular, colourful king that history remembers more vividly. Sure Hugh Jackman kicked ass in X2, but no one would have cared had he not starred in the original; the biggest film on his résumé beforehand was a television adaptation of Oklahoma!. It kept Patrick Stewart in the minds of Star Trek nerds whilst introducing Sir Ian McKellen into popular culture the year before the first of the Lord of the Rings films hit the big screen. There was a problem in that some characters received minimal development (despite there being only 10 credited mutants in the film) and some characters were changed to the ire of comic readers (such as Rogue being a scared girl, and Sabretooth being a bit of a nonentity in terms of actual character). Despite that, X-Men is as solid a film as you could wish for to start a film series on, which has lead to the aforementioned X2, which is excellent, and X-Men: The Last Stand, which isn't.
04. TMNT 7 / 10 (originally 7.5 / 10)
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In that this was being put within the continuity of the last three Turtles films, this was a major surprise. Alright, it had slightly more artistic freedom as a CGI film; the drama could well have been lost in what is technically little more than a slightly enhanced cartoon. Anyone expecting to see Rocksteady, Bebop or Krang, however, will be disappointed as the plot had more to do with the split and reunification of the Turtle clan. Also unlike its predecessors, TMNT had both warmth and depth, not to mention a damn good story to boot. Okay, Donatello didn't get much of a look in again, and the ending was a bit horrible in my opinion. But you cannot argue with the Leonardo versus Raphael feud, especially their rooftop fight. For a film that set itself up to be unrealistic (partially by the CGI aspect; partially by the fact the main characters are mutated turtles), there is something about this film that connects with the audience in a big way. Be it sibling rivalry, or disappointing your parents, or having rebellious friends, this movie engages with its audience which is very rare for a film of its genre. It may be animated, and the best bits happen exclusively in the middle third of the film, but it remains funny, intelligent and entertaining.
05. Spider-Man 3 7 / 10 (originally 7.5 / 10)
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Films don't get more divisive than this one. In the red corner are Internet people and reviewers, in the blue corner are general moviegoers. The latter appreciate the entertainment, by and large, whilst comic fans and those that go through movies analytically found themselves disappointed. Make no mistake, this is the weakest film of the trilogy, although it certainly isn't quite "unwatchable by evolved man" as has been claimed elsewhere. Such a statement does down the touches that Sam Raimi once again brings to his series. Another exemplarily Bruce Campbell cameo, Harry's hallucinations around his dad's office, great acting performances and special effects means that this is more than deserving of a high mark. It just isn't up to the same high standards of the series. Whether it was Raimi or the studio, someone tried to have their cake and eat it by incorporating four storylines together: Peter / Harry, Peter / MJ, Peter / Sandman and Peter / Symbiote. In the past, Harry and MJ and one villain have made for two great films, but trying to get two villains (arguably three at some points in the film) together just didn't fit. The resulting script did its best, especially with the symbiote making "douchebag Peter" antagonize everyone, driving the storylines on, but Venom's appearance was too late in the film to be properly effective. The entire ending was cluttered and jarred; alright, it tied up the trilogy and if the core actors aren't coming back, then que sera sera. But it could have been done better, and that's not something that most people would have thought when coming out of the cinema after the past two Spider-Man films.
06. Blade 7 / 10
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Having the distinction of being the first film I reviewed for Earth-2.net-The Show, I have to say that I'm pretty fond of Blade. This film did pretty much kick-start the Comic Book Movie Renaissance that we are currently enjoying, after all. By following the original Batman template the hero is introduced, we meet the bad guy, and the girl, the hero's moves are showcased, the hero has flaws, bad guy ends up with the girl, explosive finale, someone isn't coming back for the sequel there's something typically 90s about this film. Well-cast in that Wesley Snipes kicks ass as Blade, Stephen Dorff makes a loathsome villain and Kris Kristofferson is surprisingly effective as Blade's mentor figure Whistler. Good enough to spawn its own franchise, Blade was also successful enough to save the Comic Book Movie genre a year after the disaster that was Batman and Robin. Even so, the potential had not quite been realized to put this above a simple action film perhaps the fault of director Stephen Norrington, who showed he wasn't much of a comic reader in 2003 with the release of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
07. Ghost Rider 6.5 / 10 (originally 7 / 10)
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As I said when I reviewed it, Ghost Rider owed a lot to Blade and I stand by that, especially as the ending was almost a carbon copy if you swap vampires for ghosts. Whereas Nicholas Cage isn't perhaps your first choice of blonde-haired stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider is an interesting film. It's underdeveloped, the plot holes are glaring and the villains are pretty awful, or ineffectual. And yet, the somewhat campy treatment of a dark comic hero works surprisingly effectively, owing mainly to Cage's central performance. The backstory was particularly strong with a younger cast and a villainous turn from Peter Fonda as demon Mephistopheles. So the elder Blaze is turned into an eccentric loner by Cage, who tries to deal with his newly bestowed curse. The action isn't great, but the effects are. When you consider how this is a hero that relies on CGI, the film's makers obviously devoted a lot of time to making the effects work for example, the scene where Blaze and Carter Slade "Flame On" towards the final battle is a very nice sight. If the production team had spent more time on the story, or in Blackhart's case, acting, then this film would be much better than the second-tier movie it turned out to be.
08. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 6.5 / 10 (originally 7 / 10)
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This is a film that has had a lotcoverage on Earth-2.net, not least in the Turtles Hundredth Episode Spectacular, so I feel that recapping my review at length would be a waste of typed words. Instead, I will justify ranking this geek classic below Ghost Rider and Spider-Man 3. The best actors come courtesy of Jim Henson's Workshop and, whilst not as campy as the cartoon series, the film is undoubtedly commercially driven. The Turtles stop at various points throughout battles to make punning quips which you do kind of expect for a comic movie, but not when surrounded by supposedly fearsome ninjas. I say supposedly because it's implied that half of them are disaffected American teenagers and if they aren't, then they're pretty incompetent if they can be knocked down by a turtle spinning around on its back. Still if you're anywhere between my age and Mike's age and can remember Turtles-mania in the late 1980s, it will charm you in ways you would never get if you were a young person nowadays. In its own way, there is nothing wrong with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but if you're not prepared to go along with the ride, which other films of the genre do not demand, then you will struggle to appreciate the 80s cult icons on the surface.
09. X-Men: The Last Stand 6.5 / 10 (originally 6 / 10)
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It's funny. Bryan Singer dropped out of this project to haphazardly reintroduce Superman into the public consciousness. Because whatever this film did not have working in its favour (the rushed script, multitudes of underdeveloped mutants, the short running time) The Last Stand could at least rely on strong acting performances from the usual suspects of McKellen, Stewart and Jackman in their respective iconic characters. There were nice touches throughout and an interesting dilemma posed by the slightly underdeveloped plotline of a cure for mutation. The additions of Kelsey Grammar as Beast and Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut were fun and benefited from exposure that other "central" mutants in this film (Colossus and Angel being two) did not. Indeed, for a film introducing lots of new mutants, the amount of time proportional to these characters was very uneven. The extensive use of Dark Phoenix was pivotal, although her defeat rang true of my central concern with this film: too many mutants were either de-powered or killed off. Whilst the Xavier Institute has always been about bringing out the best in young mutants, an X-Men film without most of the original cast will have to be handled much better than this. Brett Ratner has proven that it takes more than special effects to make a good entry to this genre, especially for a comic franchise as synonymous with quality as X-Men.
10. Superman Returns 5 / 10
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Yes, I did it. Come my next update, Superman Returns won't be on my Top 10 list and that really shouldn't be the case. The franchise was the original source of comic book movies (we're not counting the 1966 TV Batman movie here, for obvious reasons). Whilst the latter two weren't anything to write home about, the first two are classic films and it will be very interesting to see where they rank when I get around to reviewing them. So the idea of removing Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Revenue from continuity and setting itself five years after the second film was a very positive one, especially with Bryan Singer at the helm following his X successes (and commissioning House). Despite fears over casting unknown Brandon Routh in the title role, Superman Returns had an entirely different problem; the script. A script that had taken over 15 years of expensive development to produce, and they still got it wrong. The acting was fine, the effects were cool and when there was action, it was well done. But turning Superman into a stalker? Turning Lois Lane into a mother? Turning Lex Luther into a guy who wants to create planet Krypton in the middle of the sea? Ugh. The thing is, this isn't a terrible film, it just disappoints. Much more so than Spider-Man 3; even with that film having questionable character development, it wasn't a patch on this. The next film is meant to be more action-packed so I have hopes for the sequel, but this wasn't the ideal way to restart the Superman franchise.
And there we have it; that's how I rank the 10 films I have reviewed so far. I will update this chart after every five reviews on Earth-2.net: The Show to accurately compile my own ranking of every comic book movie under the sun. Meanwhile, look out for other written columns under the Comic Reel-lief banner that examines aspects of comic book films rather than individual reviews.
Until then, cheerio!