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Comic Reel-lief
The Reel-lief Reviews Top 20

By Ian Wilson
05 June 2008 — Five more films have been given my seal of approval, with one existing film being graded even higher in retrospect. Did 30 Days of Night suck the competition dry? Will Will Smith will his way into the top spots with either Men in Black or I Am Legend? And are Iron Man and The Return of Swamp Thing the new bookends of this chart? Read on, unless your memory is particularly good!

In this, my five-at-a-time update of all the comic book movies that I've reviewed in Comic Reel-lief, I am gradually compiling my definitive opinion of how comic book adaptations rank against each other. And whilst I made what I thought were definitive adjustments to my scores last time, I've come to realize that half a point is going to go a long way in distinguishing the better films of the genre. I shall make the case for doing this with the film that I upgrade slightly. And don't worry, it isn't Spider-Man 3!

Again, for length issues, I have chopped the reviews that preexist to the bare essentials and left the meat of the column for the incoming entries. Any films that sit on the same score are then ranked by personal preference. Hopefully this way, I will be able to compile as accurate a reflection of my preference of comic book movies as possible. And as that previous sentence hasn't been grammatically highlighted by Microsoft Word, it's onwards that we go!

01. X2: X-Men United — 9.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 28

Well, that didn't really prolong the suspense, did it? X2 is the film I've bumped up by half a point. Yes, this is partially realized due to the awesomeness of Iron Man, but X2, to me, remains the film to beat in terms of what I've reviewed so far. Iron Man is great, but it doesn't hit home quite as deeply as this film here. There isn't a weak link in the cast — not even Halle Berry. The story is deep, action-packed and straightforward enough. And there's an interesting villain in Brian Cox's General Stryker. Five years on, I still struggle to think of a better film in this genre, even if the latest Marvel movie has come very close.

02. Iron Man — 9.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 216

To be pushing a film like X2 is compliment enough; the fact that this is an origin film so far up the chart can only bode well for Tony Stark and company. The central performance of Robert Downey, Jr. is flat-out amazing and will quickly tell any moviegoer who hasn't picked up an issue of Iron Man what they need to know about Stark's character. Ably assisted by the supporting cast, Downey weaves a story of a callow playboy turned hero following very modern-day international problems and how a genius can set his talents to preventing such events happening again. With a snappy script, non-distracting CGI and some very cool moments throughout, Iron Man gives Marvel Studios good reason to be excited at the moment.

03. Men in Black — 8.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 198

Over 10 years on, Men in Black remains a great film without really being thought of as a CBM. Will Smith cements himself as an A-lister with his absolutely hysterical turn as a streetwise fish out of water whilst Tommy Lee Jones is similarly hilarious in deadpan mode. A great onscreen partnership always helps a film, but when you add a hideous villain (Vincent D'Onofrio looking neck-less), a sharp script and special effects that continue to hold up, Men in Black virtually delivers in every way. Sadly, after giving the audience an excellent start for a franchise, the film suddenly ends after just over 90 minutes and ends with the partnership of agents K and J dissolving, replacing Tommy Lee Jones with Linda Fiorentino. Regardless, MIB is action-packed and hilarious, and despite its brevity, remains one of the most successful CBM translations.

04. V for Vendetta — 8.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 21

Visually stunning, well-acted and certainly British, V for Vendetta's adaptation is much better than creator Alan Moore gives it credit for.

05. Stardust — 8.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 175

An adaptation of the comic adaptation of Neil Gaiman's fantasy novel, Stardust charms throughout with a delightful love story and a well-done handling of the many different strands of the plot.

06. 300 — 8 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 167

Whilst many CBMs enter into the conscious of the general public, 300 goes a step above that with its stylization, towering central performance from Gerard Butler and graphic violence. A great film that feels marred by its brief slaughter of the remaining Spartan heroes at the end.

07. 30 Days of Night — 8 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 175

Unsettling and horrific, 30 Days of Night conveys the comic's very fine premise and pries good performances out of Josh Hartnett and Melissa George as a sparring couple brought back together by a month-long Alaskan vampiric feeding. It's a great concept and it translates well to the screen, with the vampires looking particularly feral and vicious — barring a cameo girl vampire who speaks English. Despite Ben Foster's chilling performance in the first hour, his demise made little sense. Still, there are much worse horror films out there that specialize on Hollywood starlets getting gorily killed off. This is more subtle and, dare I make the pun, chilling with an ending that is very atypical of films — yet true to the source material. As such, this film scores pretty highly.

08. X-Men — 7.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 21

Possibly suffers from comparisons to its superior sequel, X-Men is a very good origin film although it only concentrates on a handful of mutants, and few of them besides Wolverine and Rogue are particularly developed. Still, an important CBM in the grand scheme of things.

09. I Am Legend — 7.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 198

Although it was a novel first, this is another comic book adaptation starring Will Smith. Unlike MIB, this has the unique selling point of being almost exclusively Smith's film. The actor proves to be more than up to the job, giving a towering performance throughout. Like Men in Black, the film isn't overly long. Despite that, the final third sees the film lose its way following a grief-stricken Smith basically trying to go down and take as many vampires with him as possible. From there, the film becomes something completely different and very Hollywood-esque. It's a shame because the first two-thirds were very engaging, showing off some great effects and Smith's acting chops.

10. TMNT — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 100

The Turtles in their most mature form to date — CGI, as it happens. Like the above film, TMNT starts really well but the end majorly underwhelms. Still, very much worth seeing if only to watch the Leonardo / Raphael tension finally come to fruition.

11. Spider-Man 3 — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 99

Despite having three years of production time, Spider-Man 3 is a very rushed and underdeveloped film. It certainly retains many of the appealing aspects of the previous two films, but the regression of Mary Jane, the 20 minutes of Venom that we get and a cameo from Exposition the Butler is, at best, very frustrating.

12. Blade — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 16

The movie that started the revival of comic book movies properly. Very much an action film of the 1990s, it suffers from various clichιs, but Snipes does his job well and the gritty story holds its own.

13. Ghost Rider — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 94

A good central story, some great effects and a focused performance from Nicholas Cage, not to mention Peter Fonda, Ghost Rider suffers from most everything else. Still, the good just about outweighs the bad and it's certainly worth watching once, if not repeatedly.

14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 94

To Turtles fans from the height of their popularity, this film will be a personal favorite, and hey, I bloody loved them when I was five. But now I'm 22 and trying to write objectively. As such, the acting's poor, the story doesn't make a lot of sense and the best thing about the film is the Turtles themselves.

15. X-Men: The Last Stand — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 42

Word to the wise, if you have a successful franchise and predetermined release date set in place for the third film, don't let Brett Ratner get his hands on it, or you'll just end up with a bit of a mess. Too many new mutants and most of the ones from the original are either depowered or killed off. The film had its moments, don't get me wrong, but a real letdown from the aforementioned (and praised) X2.

16. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — 6 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

A bit better than the original, but all the things that were good about the past film were made worse whilst the mistakes were made better. As such, the film offers little more than the introduction of the Silver Surfer and Galactus; well, a giant cloud called Galactus anyway.

17. Fantastic Four (2005) — 5.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

A straightforward origin film, although outside of the Ben and Johnny shenanigans, nothing really sets it apart from any other blockbuster. For a CBM, there's very little action (not counting Johnny Storm's thrill-seeking), and Alba's clearly miscast in her role.

18. Superman Returns — 5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 72

Nice as it is to see Superman back on the screen, the wholesomeness he embodies is removed as he drinks beer with Jimmy Olsen and stalks Lois Lane's family. Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Sam Huntingdon lift the film up with their performances, but the story is lamentable, which seems odd after having two decades to get it right.

19. The Fantastic Four (1994) — 3 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

This unreleased picture is a B-grade movie through and through. Thusly, it features terrible acting and effects, as well as a nonsensical subplot where Alicia Masters is shoehorned into proceedings. Despite this, the origins remain very true to the source material, and the whole film has a certain charm about it which the more modern updates lack.

20. The Return of Swamp Thing — 1.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 216

Whereas the above film had charm, this film — which received a full theatrical release — is nonsensical from beginning to end. Granted, some comic characters are going to be hard to pull off and Swamp Thing is one of those guys. In this film, the protagonist is actually Abby, who appears here as Dr. Arcane's stepdaughter. To her credit, Heather Locklear does pretty well with the way her character was written. Otherwise, the other actors either appear clichιd (Dick Durock in the Swamp Thing suit), bored (Louis Jordan as Arcane) or ridiculous (the rest of the cast). Even Sarah Douglas, who played Ursa in Richard Donner's Superman films, can't transcend the weak dialog she's given. Add in some random monsters and an annoying couple of children who don't add anything other than slight comic relief, and you have a mess of a film — even when it adds in ideas from Alan Moore himself. It seems hard to think of a worse film than this, although I've yet to review quite a lot of past stinkers, so you never know.

So there we have it, another five films added to the list. This is likely to be updated sooner than you think as my next set of reviews will be both Hulk films in June, Wanted at the end of the month and then both Hellboy films to boot. In the meantime, if you have differences of opinion on the placement of certain films, let me know in the usual manner.


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