The comic book film genre is one of fluctuating quality with questionable fad status, yet one thing seems staggeringly clear – as long as they keep making money, they’ll keep making them. With the Dark Knight Rises and the Avengers campaigning for the summer crown, you don’t need to show your X-Men merit badge to forecast many more years of superhero cinema. Yet realistically, the well is running dry. While tights may be taking studios to the bank today, will the excitement retain when there are no more household name brands to harvest?
The Incredible Hulk and up-and-coming Amazing Spider-Man prematurely prove that reboots aren’t all decades away, but they simultaneously show recognizable source material is disappearing quicker than Schumacher when questioned about bat-nipples. With the Amazonian princess and scarlet speedster on the slate, what happens when Wonder Woman and Flash fly by and we’re left with bottom of the barrel obscurity? Antman is everything but big and Dr. Strange just isn’t magical enough to reach Hogwarts revenue. These properties may take a deeper dive than Hollywood’s inevitable Aquaman attempt. So when all the mainstream top tier titles have expired into insipid sequels and redundant remakes, what can the superhero really do to maintain mass appeal?
You make up your own. The enduring survival of innovative comic book-themed films lies within creator-owned properties. Once all our commercial protagonists of truth and justice have to resort to re-imaginings, originality falls exclusively within the indie realm. Tank Girl, The Crow, and the Hellboy franchise are just a fraction of the independent comic industries big screen ventures, but in honor of Chronicle being newly released on Blu-Ray and DVD this week, I’m doing a very special list of some of the best and worst comic book-themed superhero flicks that never actually happened to (originally) be comic books.
THE GOOD – Quality:
Unbreakable: It may feel like you need a flux capacitor to recall the time when M. Night Shyamalan was being hailed as the contemporary Hitchcock. Only Haley Joel Osment’s sixth sense could see what’s left of his cadaverous credibility, but don’t let that bury M. Night’s early treasures. At first glance, you may not recognize anything overtly fantasy about Unbreakable. It lacks the flowing capes and bright spandex that’s come to be the shtick of the trade, but the entire plot is quite literally the psychoanalysis of the superhero genre.
Through the character of Elijah Prince (Samuel L. Jackson), M. Night has effectively broken down the mass of superhero pop-culture into an equation. Inflicted with Osteogenesis Imperfect (brittle bone disease), Elijah sought childhood solace within the pages of the comic books. Due to the exposure his ailment granted, he came to theorize that his new-found hobby may in fact be the last remnant of the very real existence of supermen – a sort of being placed here as guardian of the innocent. If someone as frail as the picked on Mr. Glass could exist, couldn’t there be an opposing extreme to counterbalance the spectrum? It was just a matter of finding them.
Though they may have become gaudy and exaggerated when churned through modern commercial machines, herculean individuals are often represented throughout human history. Supported by archetypal mythologies, ancient civilizations universally told pictorial stories of heroics attributed to otherworldly abilities. What we call the superhero, they called Gods. Comics are the descendant of primitive art-forms like archeological cave drawings and hieroglyphics, it shouldn’t be surprising that legendary staples like Thor and the Valkyrie are still employed within them today.
Unbreakable is a social commentary on social commentary. It calls attention to the unsung fact that comic books are indeed a medium vastly surpassing the general belief that they’re predominately children’s entertainment. It reflects the inner working of Joseph Campbell that’s rooted within the mythos. Superhero aficionados everywhere should proudly categorize this film among their superhero film collection.
Recommended “Good” Viewing:
– The Incredibles
THE BAD – Camp:
Darkman: Before the beloved cult director shot his web into the critically acclaimed original Spider-Man film franchise, Sam Raimi took a very campy swing with someone a little less able to…um…stick around. Aiming to acquire the somewhat obscure Batman-inspiration, The Shadow; Raimi was continually denied the rights and production by studios that apparently felt Alec Baldwin was the way to go. Seems like Shadow’s power to cloud the minds of men really does work. Consequentially, Raimi answered with his own creation.
Borrowing from classic black and white monster films and serial heroes of the 20’s and 30’s, Darkman is heavily flavored in over-the-top cliches. Very much in keeping with Raimi’s pre-blockbuster days of shlock fun, Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is hideously burned in a Mob-hit laboratory arson. Fortunately he just so happens to be a scientist in the process of creating synthetic skin to aid burn victims. What are the odds? That’s like some riddle themed villain being named E. Nigma!…oh wait. To save his life, doctors preform a novel operation in which his nerves are severed in order to spare him the pain…but at the cost of uncontrollable emotions and mood-swings. Darkman? More like Bi-polar man.
A seeming combination of the H.G. Wells Invisible Man meets pulp fiction vigilantes, the Darkman now is bent on madness-stoked vengeance. Becoming a master of disguise by utilizing his synthetic skins, he frames and murders his way through the goons responsible for his disfiguring downfall…but only for 99 minutes at a time, the skin-structure unable to hold up in direct light any longer. What progresses is 96 minutes of pure cheese-riddled and audience winking satire that is worthy of the obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo and a stuffed pink elephant.
Recommended “Camp” Viewing:
– The Toxic Crusader
– Sky High
THE UGLY – Painful:
Pumaman: Superman 4 suddenly looks Shakespearean by comparison. The way I see it, who am I to compete with Mystery Science Theater 3000? So if you’re the masochistic type who’s fond of disco and Aztec bling…behold what can only be the proudest career moments of the late Donald Pleasence.
– Superhero Movie