Monday, April 4, 2011

Superhero trailer park

I remember one of Stan Lee’s Soapbox columns from the late 1990s where a reader wrote in to ask which Marvel Comics properties, if any, were being developed as movies. The list old Stan reeled off was truly staggering—everything from big-name properties like the X-Men and the Hulk to relatively small potatoes like the Black Panther and the Sub-Mariner. For those of you not old enough to remember the bad old days, let me provide a little perspective. I used to get together with a couple of friends in junior high school and do weekend superhero-movie marathons—and a good half of the bill was made-for-TV specials of indifferent quality. I grew up pretty much liking the 1990 version of Captain America because it was still a cut above things like Nick Fury: Agent of Shield starring (ugh!) David Hasselhoff.

Now, of course, it’s a whole new world.

I still can’t get over the fact that they made a Daredevil movie (and I’ll never get over how badly it sucked—Mark Steven Johnson, you’re on my list). Seeing X-Men on the big screen made me like the character of Wolverine for the first time in … well, ever. Ye gods, they finally untangled the rights to Spider-Man and made three movies, only one of which stank, and they’re making yet another. And DC Comics hasn’t fared too badly—Superman Returns bombed and The Spirit is the only movie I’ve ever walked out of (and I refunded my companion’s ticket by way of apology), but even the snoozefest that was Watchmen can’t eclipse Christopher Nolan’s Bat-extravaganzas.

This is a long way from a weekend movie binge where top billing was split between The Shadow and The Phantom (although I still like that last one enough that if I can write a role for Billy Zane into Masks, I will).

And now we’re facing what seems like an interminable summer of yet more superhero flicks. So I thought I’d weigh in on what looks good and what I’ll be sitting out. I rate superhero movies on the basis of overall story quality (plot, characterization, etc.), overall movie quality (caliber of writing, direction, etc.), and comic-book correspondence (whether and how the movie is faithful to the comic-book original, and whether that was a good idea). For comparison purposes, Batman Begins is an A+; Jonah Hex is an F.

1. Thor (May 6): Okay, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a huge fan of the character. Basically, the only Thor comics I’ve read with any relish were written by J. Michael Straczynski, and even those are uneven. But this big-budget Norse mythological extravaganza, about the prince of Asgard being banished to Earth and ending up in the New Mexico desert, looks a bit promising. Chris Hemsworth seems to have real presence even in the face of hokey dialogue, Anthony Hopkins is chewing the scenery for all he’s worth, there’s a lot of wacko hat action going on, and I can’t see anything particularly stupid that director Kenneth Branagh has done with the concept or the script. Bonus points for pretty cinematography and the line in the trailer: “Oh, no. This is Earth, isn’t it?” Projected grade: A-

2. X-Men: First Class (June 3): The trailer they’ve released so far has played things pretty close to the vest, but this movie seems to have wandered a long way from the comics that inspired it. Following the early years of the Magneto-Professor X relationship from X-Men seems like a solid story—the conflict between their philosophies was always central to what made the comic work—but putting kiddie X-Men in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis a) screws up the timeline of the later films (Cyclops has only aged, what, ten years by the time the supposedly  near-future X-Men rolls around?) and b) doesn’t seem to add much in the way of character or weight. Projected grade: B-

3. Green Lantern (June 17): I’m calling it now—bad, bad, bad. Ryan Reynolds may be trying to invent himself as the superhero movie guy, but I haven’t yet seen him pull it off. His Deadpool in Wolverine was more irritating than amusing, his Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity just would not shut up, and I don’t see him improving in the role of a test pilot recruited into an alien police force. Judging by the trailer, this movie has a serious problem balancing goofy Ryan Reynolds comedy with kickass cosmic adventure, and the adventure is losing. And is anybody else creeped out by the fact that he transforms into Green Lantern with a pose reminiscent of a subway flasher? Projected grade: C

4. Captain America: The First Avenger (July 22): I am so, so torn about this. On the one hand, I want to smack whoever cast Chris Evans as the World War II wimp turned super-soldier. I saw Fantastic Four, guys—he showed all the acting ability of a plank, and his personality seemed to be set permanently on “lech.” I do not want to see this guy carrying the shield, period. That said, Joss Whedon apparently did a script polish on this one, and the man knows his superheroes, and I’ve heard good things about Hugo Weaving’s sinister Red Skull and generally good things about Sebastian Stan, who plays Cap’s sidekick Bucky (and you’ve all heard me go on about him). So this one gets my dollars, at least at a matinee price, though I may live to regret it. Projected grade: B+

5. Cowboys and Aliens (July 29): Yes, this is based on a comic book. Shut up. On the plus side, they’ve got Harrison Ford in a movie whose whole concept is wrapped up in its title. The trailer looks decently creepy and well-balanced, with an intriguing main character in the desperado (Daniel Craig) who survives an alien abduction. And there’s director Jon Favreau of Iron Man fame. On the minus side … cowboys and aliens? Really? There had better be one hell of a story here. Projected grade: B-

6. Conan the Barbarian (August 19): Not technically a comic-book movie (Conan was a pulp hero first), but close enough. And no, I don’t see this going anywhere good. They’re remaking an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick with Jason Momoa of Stargate Atlantis, and the release date’s been pushed back to August, well-known as the month where summer movies go to die. Projected grade: D


  1. Yes, but that was before this trailer. ...

    It may not suck

  2. I have seen the trailer. I remain unconvinced. Ryan Reynolds remains my key objection.