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Top five movie adaptations of comic books

By Mike Riga

Section: Arts

November 30, 2007

1130071.jpgSo while we’re all anticipating the upcoming sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and the Watchmen adaptation, let’s take a moment to look back at what the latest comic book-inspired movie binge has brought us. It has brought us total and utterly unfaithful and terrible adaptations of comics like Judge Dredd and the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. We’ve seen visual power trips like the unintentionally hilarious 300, and some just general big time let-downs (The Incredible Hulk and every Spiderman movie come to mind).

However, regardless of how true the filmmaker keeps to source material, comics have provided a literary blueprint for many a movie, some of which have been excellent. There have been attempts at morbid dramas, like David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, or some intentional romps into cliché and goof like Ghost Rider and the Fantastic Four series. However, here are five of my favorite recent comic book adaptations that have found themselves on the big screen.

5. Constantine

For a movie as critically panned as this one, I ask the reader to look past the source material. Certainly there are the discrepancies between the Hellblazer comic the movie is based on and the movie itself, most of all replacing a blonde, grumpy, British lead with Keanu Reeves (casting Reeves at all was probably not the best choice).

At the same time, however, director Francis Lawrence provides an action-packed, murky, and visually interesting thriller, with great supporting turns from Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Rachel Weisz, and scene-stealer extraordinaire Shia LeBouf. The movie also keeps the interesting dynamic between heaven and hell going, and its depiction of Hell as well as Satan himself, is well-thought out and executed. It’s not a perfect movie, but fun nonetheless.

4. Sin City

Yes, it’s graphically violent, and most certainly not for everyone (or a large percentage of everyone for that matter), but Sin City is a totally absorbing experience. One of the signs of a successful film is its ability to transport the viewer into a world that is different from the one they know. Director Robert Rodriguez pulls this off using the latest in CGI and green-screen studio technology.

Following a series of lowlifes and noble scumbags in the murderous Basin City, the film is beautiful, gloriously and intentionally unrealistic, and full of eye candy, weapons, ridiculous stunts, and some great acting from an ensemble cast along the way. If you don’t like blood, guts, and sex stylized and deconstructed, don’t watch this movie. If you do, you will love Sin City.

3. Hellboy

Let’s get this straight; Hellboy is one of the most lovable superhero’s out there. A big cuddly red demon, which devours vats of spaghetti in one meal and loves kittens, Hellboy, played with a gruff, goofy, and lovable bravado by Ron Pearlman, exudes screen presence. Where movies like Sin City get by on frowns and action, Hellboy plays like a monster version of Indiana Jones, with adventure, humor, and romance. We don’t just get Hellboy fighting evil dog zombies, but we also get to see him toss little pebbles from rooftops at his ex’s new suitor and match wits with Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor. It’s just a fun movie from director Guillermo del Toro, who would later move on to greater things, such as last year’s amazing Pan’s Labyrinth. If you are looking for just a great, cornball, popcorn film, Hellboy is it.

2. Road to Perdition

Many of you probably never thought the Tom Hanks crime and family thriller originated as a graphic novel, but it did. Following up his Oscar-winning film, American Beauty, Sam Mendes gave us this. What “this” is is a story of a father (Hanks) and son on the run from the father’s employer (Paul Newman), a mob boss. Hanks, who is the handy man for Newman, is pursued by Newman’s son, a spoiled, murderous brat, and a psychopathic assassin, played by Daniel Craig and Jude Law, respectively. The movie not only has great character depth, something Mendes has always been masterful with, but also has moments of nervous tension as pursuers meet pursued, tempered with small tender moments between father and son. It’s a brilliantly put together movie, with two or three scenes so well executed by the director that they should not be missed.

1. Batman Begins

The pinnacle of all superhero movies to this date, Batman Begins is the first Batman movie to stay true to the brooding, dark nature of the comics. Bruce Wayne, now played by the world’s best young actor, Christian Bale, is shown becoming Batman, and this allows director Christopher Nolan to expound upon the detailed nature of his hero’s psyche. There are no overtly comic quirks that plagued the Burton and Schumacher films, and the Dark Knight is portrayed as realistically as he possibly can be. You can almost imagine this film taking place in real life.

Gotham City is firmly realized, not as an industrial wasteland, or a bilious party town, but a dirty, working class metropolis peppered with interesting characters like Lt. Gordon (finally given respect by Gary Oldman) and the frightening Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cilian Murphy is creepy!). Overall, this may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it is hands down the best adaptation of a comic book to the big screen to this date, although my money is on The Dark Knight, where Batman meets his nemesis, the Joker, for the first time, creating some serious competition.

Comic book movies can be a lot of fun as pure popcorn entertainment, and can stretch from genres as wide as vampires (30 Days of Night) to outsider existentialism (Ghost World, American Splendor). Some comic book movie might even make you think. There are about 3 million more of these films coming out in the near future, so it is a good time to drop what you are doing and become a comic book geek while it’s still a subculture.

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