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Friday, October 25, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Thirteen (2009)

WATCHMEN



            Watchmen is one of the most iconic and influential graphic novels ever made and often considered the best graphic novel of all time. It was originally published in 1986 and 1987 as a limited series. The artist was Dave Gibbons and the writer was the legendary Alan Moore. Gibbons served as a consultant on the film, but Alan Moore refused to have to anything to do with it or even be credited.
            The film had been in production for quite a long time. Terry Gilliam was at one point attached, but he declared the work to be “unfilmable”. Then Darren Aronofsky was supposed to direct, but that fell through as well. Eventually, the job went to Zack Snyder. He had previously directed the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead and the adaption of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300. However, his style over substance method of filmmaking was inappropriate for a work such as this.

            The graphic novel is amazing, but the film fell far short of its potential. One major reason for this is that Watchmen is inextricably linked with its medium. This is illustrated by a quote from Moore where he states, “What I'd like to explore is the areas that comics succeed in where no other media is capable of operating.” Furthermore, Gibbons called it a “comic about comics.”
            The adaptation got the visuals right, but was misguided and perhaps too literal. There was also way too much in Watchmen to put into a single movie. Really, it needed to be a series of films or a miniseries.

            Snyder was very faithful to the graphic novel, except for the ending. In the comic, a giant squid that is presented as an alien attacks New York City. In the film, Ozymandias causes a series of explosions that bear Dr. Manhattan’s energy signature. Therefore, the world is united against Dr. Manhattan. The theatrical version also omitted the story-within-a-story that is Tales of the Black Freighter. The story was included in an animated version for the DVD.

            Some of the performances in Watchmen were great. The best was given by Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was also excellent as the Comedian. However, some of the performances were subpar, especially Malin Akerman’s.
            Watchmen premiered in more theaters than any other R-rated film. Unfortunately, it still didn’t do as well as expected. The budget was sizable at $130 million and the global box office was only $185 million. Reviews were mixed, giving it a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes.


X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE



            Easily the worst film in the X-Men series so far was the 2009 film X-Men Origins: Wolverine. In fact, I’d rank it among the worst comic book films, period. The film was a prequel to the X-Men trilogy that solely focused on Wolverine. You know, just in case the previous three didn’t revolve around him enough.

            This was Hugh Jackman’s fourth time playing Wolverine. This made him the first actor to play a superhero four times since Christopher Reeve. Counting his cameo in X-Men: First Class, he has now appeared as Wolverine 6 times, with a 7th coming in 2014. The closest actor to him in terms of superhero portrayals is Robert Downey Jr. with 5 appearances as Iron Man and a 6th ahead in 2015.

            The prequel was directed by Gavin Hood. At the time, he was mainly known for Tsotsi, but he was also the director for the upcoming adaptation of Ender’s Game, starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.

            X-Men Origins featured the first appearance of a few notable X-Men. One of these was fan favorite Deadpool. Deadpool was created in 1991 by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza. However, the film version of the character was quite different from the comics, upsetting many fans. Many referred to the character, played by Ryan Reynolds, as “Deadpool in name only”. One of the main complaints was that they sewed up his mouth. Seeing as Deadpool is often referred to as the “Merc with a Mouth”, this was somewhat of an odd decision.

            This film also featured the first appearance of Gambit. He was intended to be in the trilogy but kept getting cut out.
            Despite being a terrible movie and getting critically lambasted, X-Men Origins was a box office success. $373 million was the final tally, more than doubling the budget of $150 million.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Twelve (2008)

THE DARK KNIGHT

                The Dark Knight is unquestionably one of the most influential comic book films ever made. It showed that superhero films could be serious, critically acclaimed films.
Before TDK, comic movies could get a good critical reception, but were still generally seen as just entertaining popcorn films. Christopher Nolan changed that. His film got 8 Oscar nominations, the most ever for a comic book adaptation.

It won in two of those categories, one being Sound Editing. The other win was Heath Ledger for Best Supporting Actor, one of only two posthumous acting wins in Academy history. It was also the first time a comic book movie had won an acting Oscar or for that matter, any major Oscar at all.
The Dark Knight did not get a nomination for Best Picture, however. This ended up being one of the most notable snubs in Oscar history and was considered emblematic of AMPAS being out of touch with the average filmgoer. Next year, the Academy switched to 10 nominees for the Best Picture category and many claimed that The Dark Knight was responsible.

TDK was equally successful commercially. It had a moderately sized budget at $185 million, but it made over a billion dollars. It was the fourth film to reach this mark. Right now, it’s the 17th highest grossing film ever. The Dark Knight also made more than any other comic book film besides its sequel The Dark Knight Rises, Iron Man 3, and The Avengers. It solidified Christopher Nolan's reputation as one of the foremost filmmakers of our time.

This film was such a cultural phenomenon that other comic book films are often compared to it even to this day. When the first trailers for Iron Man 3 were released, many fans thought they were trying to put out a tone similar to The Dark Knight. Iron Man 3 ended up bearing little resemblance to Nolan's film. 


Like the first film in the eventual trilogy, The Dark Knight was faithful to the source material in some ways, while differing in others. Two graphic novels that were cited as major influences were Alan Moore’s 1988 one-shot The Killing Joke (drawn by Brian Bolland) and The Long Halloween. The Long Halloween was published beginning in 1996, was written by Jeph Loeb, and illustrated by Tim Sale.
The Joker is vaguely similar to the source material, but some details have been changed. In the comics, he is permanently white due to falling in a chemical vat. This incident is never alluded to in the film, and there’s a scene showing the Joker without his white makeup.

The other villain in the film is Two-Face, played by Aaron Eckhart.  Again, Nolan’s version is vaguely similar to the comic counterpart. However, Two-Face doesn’t really have a split personality in The Dark Knight, which is sort of the hallmark of the character. Originally, he was just going to be Harvey Dent in this film, only to be scarred in the third one. Instead, his storyline was condensed into one film.

The Scarecrow, another member of Batman’s rogues gallery, plays a minor role. This made Cillian Murphy the first actor to reprise a part as a Batman villain on film.


IRON MAN 


          Another very influential film of 2008 was Marvel Studios' Iron Man. This was the first film from Marvel's in-house studio and the first installment of what would go on to become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was the first major example of an interconnected superhero universe on film.

          The MCU would go on to include 7 films to date, with an 8th coming this fall. These include 3 Iron Man films, a Hulk movie, Captain America, and Thor. And last but not least, the massive hit that was The Avengers. Needless to say, a connected universe proved lucrative. But none of it may have occurred without the success of Iron Man.

          A somewhat unlikely director was chosen in Jon Favreau. Originally an actor, Favreau wrote and directed his first feature film, Made in 2001. Made was a crime comedy starring Favreau and Vince Vaughn. His only other directorial effort before Iron Man was the 2003 Will Ferrell comedy Elf. This is not exactly the resume that would usually lead to getting a superhero blockbuster. Favreau went on to direct Iron Man 2 and Cowboys and Aliens.

         Iron Man was a huge commercial success. It was moderately budgeted at 140 million dollars. The opening weekend of $100 million was almost enough make that back. The final tally ended up being $585 million. The reviews were very good as well.

        Undoubtedly, the main reason for the film's success was its star, Robert Downey, Jr. He perfectly portrays the wisecracking Tony Stark. The rest of the cast was solid as well. Downey has good chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow as his love interest, Pepper Potts. Jeff Bridges is awesome as usual as Obadiah Stane, the villain and Terrence Howard is not bad as James Rhodes. However, in the sequel he was replaced by Don Cheadle.

       Iron Man also featured a cameo by Samuel L. Jackson in an after credit scene. He plays Nick Fury, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fury was originally white in the comics, but in the "Ultimate" universe, he looks exactly like Jackson. The after credit scene set up the "Avengers Initiative", hinting at the future team-up. The scene was written by famed comic author Brian Michael Bendis.

      Overall, the film was pretty faithful to the source material. One of the few major deviations was changing the location of Stark becoming Iron Man from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Also, Jarvis is a butler in the comics, but in the film JARVIS is the name of Stark's talking AI system.
     

THE INCREDIBLE HULK

       The second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would end up being The Incredible Hulk. This version of the Hulk was unrelated to the 2003 Ang Lee film Hulk. It's also not an origin story like so many other superhero films and relates the accident that made Bruce Banner the Hulk in the opening credits.

       The movie was the fourth directed by Frenchman Louis Leterrier. He had previously made Transporter, Transporter 2, and Unleashed. He would go on to direct Now You See Me and Clash of the Titans. The Incredible Hulk is Leterrier's best effort, although I haven't seen his most recent film, Now You See Me.

       Edward Norton was chosen to portray the title character, and the excellent Tim Roth plays his nemesis, Emil Blonksy AKA The Abomination. In the film, he doesn't really go by this moniker but is simply referred to as an "abomination" at one point. Liv Tyler played the love interest Betty Ross and William Hurt filled the role of her father, Thunderbolt Ross.

      The only connective tissue to Iron Man was a post credit scene involving Tony Stark talking to Thunderbolt Ross. After this, viewers would expect some sort of after credit scene in all the Marvel Studios' films.

      The character of the Hulk went on to appear in The Avengers. However, Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. This was unfortunate in terms of continuity, but probably worked out for the best. Norton gave a rather serious performance as Banner and might not have fit in with the more lighthearted tone of The Avengers. It also might have been difficult balancing Norton's ego with the rest of the main cast.

     The Incredible Hulk gave a decent showing at the box office, but was still slightly disappointing. It failed to double its $150 million budget, making only $263 million worldwide.


THE SPIRIT

       Next we have The Spirit, based on the comic by legendary writer and artist Will Eisner. Eisner started writing in the 1930s and became well known for his work on The Spirit. In the 1970s he started working in longer forms, eventually leading to the conception of the term, "graphic novel". He continued to publish work up until his death in 2005.

      In the 1970s, William Friedkin  was considering making a film out of the character of The Spirit. The film fell through, however.

     The Spirit comics are awesome, but unfortunately the film was atrocious. It was Frank Miller's first solo directorial effort after co-directing Sin City with Robert Rodriguez. Miller unwisely chose to apply the high contrast, green screen aesthetics of that film to Eisner's world.

     The flick was massive flop. It only grossed $39 million globally, far less than the budget of $60 million. The critics were very harsh as well. It has an abysmal 14 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.

      Perhaps Miller should have learned a lesson from the Sin City film and realized that he should have stayed true to the source material.


WANTED

     Wanted is a comic limited series published in 2003 and 2004. It was written by Mark Millar with art by J.G. Jones. The filmed adaption was released in 2008.

     It was directed by Timur Bekmambetov, his first American film. Previously he was known for the Russian language movies Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch. He went on to direct Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

     I haven't read the comic, but apparently the film is not faithful to the source material. The comic was more focused on supervillains.

    Wanted was quite successful. It made over $340 million on a budget of about $75 million. It also received mostly positive reviews from critics.


HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY

    Guillermo del Toro returned to the director's chair for this sequel. Most of the cast returned including Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, and Doug Jones. David Hyde Pierce, who did the voice for Abe Sapien in the first installment, did not return. Instead Doug Jones provided the voice as well as the body for Abe. Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame also provided a voice.

    Whether or not Hellboy II would even be made was in doubt. But del Toro had just come off the success of Spanish language film Pan's Labyrinth. This allowed him to go to work on the second Hellboy film.

    The movie was decently successful. It doubled its $80 million budget and got decent reviews from critics.


PUNISHER: WAR ZONE

    This film was considered a "soft reboot" of the first Punisher film. It didn't contradict anything that happened in it, but didn't really have any strong connections to it either. The origin of The Punisher wasn't redone, but Thomas Jane was replaced by Ray Stevenson.

    The director was Lexi Alexander, who also made Green Street Hooligans. However, he didn't do a very good job here as the film ended up being pretty terrible. It made a measly $10 million worldwide, far below its modest budget of $35 million. The critics also blasted War Zone. It has a rating of only 27% on Rotten Tomatoes.
    
   
SPEED RACER

   You may not think of Speed Racer as being a comic book property, but the characters first appeared in manga form, so it qualifies. The manga was first published in 1958 and the U.S. TV show first aired in 1967. A live action version was in development since 1992.

   The movie adaptation was directed by the Wachowski brothers. This was the first film they made after The Matrix trilogy and their first that wasn't rated R. The cast included Emile Hirsch, Christina Ricci, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, and Matthew Fox.

   The film flopped spectacularly. It made only $93 million globally, not enough even make back its budget of $120 million. Reviews were mostly negative as well. However, I feel that Speed Racer was unfairly maligned. It had some really amazing visuals and was solidly entertaining.




Saturday, October 19, 2013

Machete Kills 6/10

MACHETE KILLS

DIRECTOR: ROBERT RODRIGUEZ


Machete Kills is somewhat disappointing. It's definitely a step down from the raucous fun of the first film, but still a mildly entertaining effort. Machete was more anarchic, whereas the sequel seems almost formulaic.

Robert Rodriguez returns to direct, but I think most of his fans were more eagerly anticipating his Sin City sequel. Danny Trejo comes back as the title character, as do supporting actors Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez, and Tom Savini.

There were several newcomers to the cast. Perhaps the best was Demian Bichir who you might know as Esteban Reyes from the TV show Weeds. He's also appeared in films such as Heat, Savages, and Che. He gives an excellent performance here as a crazed revolutionary threatening to blow up Washington D.C.

The other standout is Mel Gibson as the film's true villain (his first role as a bad guy). He seems to be one of the few having fun here and his slightly over the top performance is spot on. Charlie Sheen also joins the franchise as the President of the United States. This seems to just be a bit of stunt casting, as he's largely on autopilot. Sheen was credited by his real name, Carlos Estevez, for the first time.

This is  also the first film role for pop star Lady Gaga. She's decent, but her performance is nothing special.

Overall, the film just has a been there, done that kind of feel to it. There's not much here that wasn't done better in the first movie.


The critics haven't been good to Machete Kills. As of October 19th, it has a paltry 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and slightly better 41 on Metacritic. The IMDB rating is 6.3.

The box office performance hasn't been much better. It has only made a little over $5 million so far.

RATING: 6/10