Thursday, January 3, 2013



Faster than a speeding bullet we’re back to the countdown with the best theatrical offerings that DC Comics have ever produced!


In today’s era of multiple superhero movies each year, it’s hard to remember back to 1978 which gave us SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE…then the eleven years before Tim Burton’s first Batman offering.  Two superhero movies in spanning all that time.  Yes, I know there were three Superman sequels…but they all suck.  

People who have fond memories of Superman II should rewatch it to realize that it doesn’t hold up.  Richard Lester’s ham-handed comedic directing (with fired director Richard Donner’s material) doesn’t work for anyone over 10 years old.  The special effects are weak…seriously who can’t tell that those are flying dolls traveling through a miniaturized set?  And the climactic fight(s)?  Well, one of them involves Superman introducing a bunch of new hokey powers: cartoon throwaway shield, zero-gravity hand ray, and the power of illusion!  Then of course the earlier fight in the city of Metropolis which involves the most over extended sequence wear the citizens of Metropolis, all of whom are so annoying that I was routing for their subjugation to Zod, are being blown around town and laughing and having a meery good time.  What a horrendous movie.  And for all its hype, the Richard Donner cut…suffers as well for other reasons.  Of course, both versions of Superman II don’t have Richard Pryor or Nuclear Man…so in that regard they are successes.

However, two years before all the horrible Superman sequels, 1978 brought us an incredible superhero movie that truly made audiences believe that a man could fly.  And wow did flying look fun!  The casting of every character in Superman: The Movie is perfect!  I’ll argue that no other superhero movie has succeeded so solidly in both casting, costumes, and general sets appearance.  Metropolis is New York City!  Luthor is a fiendish villain with a great plan!  And Superman is…SUPER!

Considering how much material Richard Donner needs to cover, the pacing of this movie is fantastic.  The first hour gives us the destruction of Krypton, Jor-El’s reasoning for sending his only son to Earth, the villains of the Phantom Zone, young Kal-El’s landing on Earth, life in Smallville, the death of Pa Kent and his message (thank you Glenn Ford for 10 minutes of a movie that still resonate with such power decades later), the construction of the Fortress of Solitude, and the introduction of Metropolis!  Wow!  Amazing!  I know people are holding out hope for Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel…but man, that’s a lot of work to live up to. 

Superman: The Movie also delivers a 10-minute sequence that still rocks today.  Superman’s first night in Metropolis: saving Lois Lane, catching a helicopter, thwarting a jewel thief, stopping a bank robbery, saving a cat, and rescuing a crashing Air Force One.  Great cinematic stuff!  If I’m ever channel surfing and this segment is even close to airing, I always stop to watch and am never disappointed.


Watch the movie HEAT with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and then watch The Dark Knight!  Both are the top films of the cop-criminal and hero-villain genres…and I’d argue that the one with the masks and capes is a better effort and I love HEAT.

Christopher Nolan knocks an utter grand slam with his second dive into the world of Batman.  The studios were so confident with Nolan that the movie didn’t even need to have Batman’s name in the title!  There are so many levels taking place in The Dark Knight that it’s easy to lose sight of the social and political commentary and just focus on Batman chasing the Joker and Two-Face.  But go back and rewatch the movie and you’ll see it’s filled to the brim with topics for discussion.

Anyone who hopes to write or a direct a superhero movie needs to watch and learn how Nolan manages to succeed in handling two supervillains (and never loses site of his hero).  So many other films have tried and failed when it comes to the use of multiple enemies for the hero, The Dark Knight is the primer for great implementation.  First, the Joker is shown simply as a force of nature.  He’s the shark from Jaws.  You don’t know why he arrived and why he does the things he does.  You don’t need that information.  All you need to know is when he is on screen really bad things are going to happen – and you’ll be captivated the entire time.  His persona is summed up perfectly as Alfred explains to Bruce Wayne, Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn." Then there’s Harvey Dent’s fall from grace and emergence as Two-Face.   Powerful stuff with incredibly gross CGI that is too realistic for its own good.  With these two villains, you fear for Batman and every single person in Gotham City.

The success of The Dark Knight is that it stays down to Earth on such a grim and gritty level that while watching a movie where people wear costumes, you can actually find yourself thinking, “If superheroes exist, this is what it would be like.”  At times it’s almost too dark.  Often people I talk to say the reason they don’t like The Dark Knight is because they want their Batman more family friendly and cartoony.  This is why I love The Dark Knight.  Because we’ve already had umpteen versions of Batman as a comic book character from comics, to cartoons, to the 1960’s TV show, to the Burton movies.  It’s easy to lose site that Chris Nolan is the first one to give us a truly grim visage of what life behind a mask can do to both a person and the city is strives to protect.  It’s not pretty but it’s damn original and entertaining!

There’s far too much for me to cover as to why I love The Dark Knight.  For my tastes, it’s the single best example of Batman in any genre ever!  Batman sums it up nicely with, “Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded...”

The Dark Knight is one helluva reward!

Had my Top 10 list been written three years ago, Superman: The Movie and The Dark Knight would have been ranked #3 and #2 respectively.  Just shows that in the last few years a couple of movies have come out that really shined a powerful light on the superhero genre from comics to movies.

The NEW Movies #3 and #2…are just around the corner…

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


CRASH!                 WHAM!

Let’s keep things rolling along with my personal selections of the best superhero from comic book to big screen Hollywood offerings.

I’m not a huge fan of origin stories.  For me, the origin comic book is the most boring read ever.  There’s too much set-up…Who is this person?  How did they get their powers?  How did they develop their costume and identity?  What will their initial adventure (and pitfalls) be like?  Blah Blah Blah!  As a comic book reader you normally have to wait until issues 3-5 to truly get a firm grasp on how successful a concept and characters are going to be.
Superhero origin movies are much the same (and once you see my full list you’ll chuckle that picks #5-#10 are all origins) but they have the benefit of being able to cram more into a two hour movie than a mere 25-page comic book.  For me, I’m never nervous that a movie can successfully pull off an origin story because there have been so many good ones.  The real shock is when the superhero franchise can pull off a thrilling second or even third adventure (there should be a lot more Spider-Man 2's than Iron-Man 2's).

It really shouldn’t be this hard.  I mean James Bond didn’t have an origin story (until 2006’s Casino Royale in a sense) and look at how many adventures he went on that were perfectly delivered in movies.  So, why then did I have to sit through Batman & Robin, Spider-Man 3, Superman IV:The Quest for Peace…etc.  If you can tell a good origin...then the rest of the stories should be the more exciting adventures!

Here are two origin stories/movies that get a whole lot right (and then follow it up with better offerings)!


Batman and Robin may be the worst superhero movie ever!  This movie worked so tirelessly to destroy the Batman franchise from the casting of George Clooney, to the horrendous dialogue (every line from Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy is riddled with cringe worthy moments), to the nipple costumes and neon-lit Gotham City, and of course to the fact that Batman was once again reduced to having such a ridiculous amount of gadgets and costumes (and thank God he had those bat-hook lines which seemed to be the only thing that could save his life…over and over…).  Watch the movie and you’ll see two hours of director Joel Schumacher exclaiming, “THIS IS HOW YOU KILL A BATMAN FRANCHISE!”

Then amazingly director Christopher Nolan came around years later and said, “This is how you save the Batman franchise.  You tell an adult story with good characters, solid plotting, and you take the audience on an adventure.”

I saw BATMAN BEGINS on opening weekend (an opening weekend that financially paled in comparison to the first four Batman movies) and I remember leaving the movie with a smile on my face but fearfully thinking, “Wow, I pray people forget Batman & Robin and go and see this movie because this is how Batman is meant to be showcased on the big screen.”

The movie solidly delivers Bruce Wayne’s origin and motivation, his training, the explanation behind his use of the bat-motif and his gadgets, and sends viewers along on a roller coaster as Batman learns the ropes while forging a partnership with Lt. Gordon and battling the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul.  I think that’s worth repeating, director Christopher Nolan gave people a great Batman movie and his choice of villains were Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow!  You know the majority of people were thinking, “Where’s Joker, Riddler, Robin, and Catwoman…?”

I love the look of Gotham City in this movie.  I love the casting of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, the under-appreciated Rutger Hauer, and Gary Oldman (so much that I’ll overlook Katie Holmes and that annoying Joffrey from Game of Thrones too).  I love that Batman uses detective skills as well as darkness, gadgets, and fighting ninja-like abilities to battle the forces of evil.

Batman Begins is the second best Batman movie ever produced.  If you haven’t seen it recently, go check it out…it holds up spectacularly.


A Word War II superhero movie that has to bridge the path between blockbuster movies Iron-Man and the upcoming team-up The Avengers.  Captain America had every reason to fail and yet, it’s a grand slam!  Marvel Studios were spot-on in their choice of director Joe Johnston (or Rocketeer fame) to recreate the origins of the “first” Avenger and then manage to weave a tale that helps delivers him from the 1940’s to present day.

Next to Spider-Man, Captain America may be my favorite superhero.  What’s not to love?  He’s patriotic, a natural leader, a fighter, a strategist, and he throws a shield!  AWESOME!  As a child in the 70's I remember watching two horrendous made-for-TV Captain America movies - seriously am I the only one who remembers CAPTAIN AMERICA: DEATH TOO SOON...?  A disastorous movie where Cap (played by Reb Brown - whose acting chops were so bad he might as well have been performing Othello at a senior citizens home) had a motorcycle that he burst out of his "rockin'" 70's van (YES a VAN) to battle Christopher Lee and generic thug villains who looked like they stumbled right out of a Six Million Dollar Man episode.  Captain America's plastic shield was so poor and wobbly it looked like a strong breeze would veer it off course.  I watched these movies...over and over and smiled thinking, "Captain America is so cool!"  That's how cool his superhero factor is!  Captain America can strive beyond Reb Brown's "acting".

If you’ve ever read any of Captain America’s comic books (especially the early WWII stories) then what you see on the screen are those very same stories.  I loved the look of the shield(s), the Nazi-esque HYDRA agents, and the villainous Red Skull.  The montages tell enough of the story while cleverly leaving gaps for future sequels to plug in additional back storylines.  Bonus points for the use of Bucky and his “disappearance” to set up 2014’s Winter Soldier.

For a movie that came out in 2011, Captain America feels like a solid 70’s era-blockbuster.  It had me smiling the entire time I saw it.  The use of CGI to make Steve Rogers a weak human with a heart of gold is exactly how special effects should always be add to a movie, not to serve solely as the movie.  The best scene in the movie is when Dr. Erskin sits with skinny little Steve and he tells him what is important on the inside...and how it will never change no matter what happens to the outside.  This is a great parallel when viewed with the film's villain the Red Skull.  Cap’s finale battle aboard (and in the sky around) the Red Skull’s plane had me on the edge of my seat.  His ditching of the plane into the frozen waters…and subsequent “death” almost had me in tears.  This is a strong movie, and if you watch it back-to-back with The Avengers (which is really a Captain America movie) then you can see a solid story arc of a truly great American superhero.

Movies #5 and #4…sooner than you’d expect…