Note: I've decided for the purposes of this week to have the titles lead to their Amazon pages when applicable. So if you're interested in buying a movie, just click on their respective titles. -Duy
My Ten Favorite Comics-Based Movies (With a Zillion Qualifiers)
Travis Hedge Coke
So, Duy asked me to do a Top Ten list of live action comics-based movies, and what you’re reading right now is the result. It’s a really inaccurate result, because I had to pare it down to ten and I like almost everything. Do I stick to superheroes? Do made for TV movies count? Foreign? Animated were already out of the question, so I made up several other limitations just to make it easy on myself and prevent this from being nine Blondie movies and Cutey Honey.
1) Only one movie per character/universe. (No having nine Blondie movies.)
2) Movies I remember clearly. (Golgo 13, G-Men from Hell, or A History of Violence are out.)
3) Nothing that radically changed everything. (Men in Black.)
4) Nothing nostalgia prevents me from fairly gauging. (Supergirl, Batman Returns, or the Pyun Captain America.)
5) No trying to rank them past a top ten.
Which, in a deliberately scrambled order leaves me with the following as my current favorite ten comics-based live action movies. Some of these, I cannot even watch over and over, some I cannot swear are brilliantly executed on all fronts, but they are imprinted on my soul and memory as they stand right now, today.
2. BLONDIE GOES TO COLLEGE
Blondie Goes to College is the best of the Blondie movies, a series which probably has more live action flicks in it than any other comics adaptation. Blondie and her husband attend college, pretending to be younger and single, and inadvertently attract sexual attention, business attention, media attention, and then police attention. It’s unflinchingly goofy. A comedy with pitch perfect casting, brilliant timing, and absolutely no fat on it.
3. EKO EKO AZARAK
I knew, when I began whittling this list to size, I wanted to keep an Eko Eko Azarak movie, as the first three, at least, are all astonishingly good movies, but the first is strengthened and distilled by its fait accompli constraints. An adaptation of a then-twenty-year-old comic by a relatively new director, starring a teen model who didn’t even particularly want to act), the story of a mysterious high school student fighting evil magic by inborn mystic talent and fierce willpower is cored down so the skin and blood of the movie are all splayed out and what stands is the strong bones and the unblinking eyes looking back at us from a shorn skull erected in the dark of an abandoned room.
4. ICHI THE KILLER
The greatest Batman and Joker love story to ever be shot on celluloid? Experiment in making an audience collectively cry, laugh, and vomit simultaneously? This movie is everything Nolan’s Batman is sold as being, without flinching and cheesy now there are bats oh dramatic! moments. Takashi Miike RAWKED the shit out of Ichi the Killer. He took an already nutso, violent and comedic and twisty-witty comic full of madness and he monstered that bastard until it died weeping in orgasm, making those who love the movie feel even weirder about enjoying it or how they enjoyed it, than those who weren’t into it. Is it a black comedy about control, memory, and the selfishness of all things, from taking to giving? Is it a farcical examination of excess and freedom? Absolute gut-shattering horror? One hell of a fight movie? Bodyshot? Headshot? Killshot? Or the followthrough.
Avengers has a really simple plot, it’s pretty easy on characterization, everything is a highlight, yet it feels massive, it seems deep and wide, it still hits me full force on all fronts when I watch it again. It’s the Marvel movie. It’s self-absorbed superheroes fighting each other, before realizing things are bigger than their immediate, personal concerns, and teaming up to beat up an invasion that’s actually villains playing other villains into doing their dirty work for them. That’s two thirds of all Marvel comics right there in a quick, splashy summer blockbuster sprinkled over with Whedon touches and brought to life by a cast who really bring it home.
Iron Man is the first major American movie to capture how superheroics work in comics, without avoiding the comics-ness out of embarrassment or parodying it unintentionally by being an outsider’s idea of what comicbook superheroics is, but Avengers pared it down to the essentials. If Loki just wants to conquer his homeland again, why the theatrics on Earth and the dodgy allegiances? Because it’s theatrical. Where’s the military when this relatively small alien army invades? How can Black Widow out-think the God of Trickery? Why does Thor full on try to kill Captain America with his awesome hammer just because Cap is there? If Hulk can trounce Loki and is absolutely berserk, is unleashing him ever a good idea? It doesn’t matter. Hulk %(*#ing smash.
6. THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC
There are reviews that criticize The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec for having an ancient Egyptian mummy resurrected and speaking perfect contemporary French, that insist the injury Adele’s sister suffers would not have those effects, that complain about the inclusion of pteradons mummies, and broad comedy in the same movie, and how sexist it is that a woman in Adele’s situation (adventurer, writer), in her era (a fictional early 20th Century), with her temperament (driven badass with a good sense of humor) should experience sexism and bigotry by criminals, cops, and undead pharaohs who’d like to go sightseeing. I could probably just reprint a critical review and that, alone, should convince you to watch the movie.
7. CUTEY HONEY
Cutey Honey is brightly-colored, highly absurd, makes me laugh and cheer out loud, and the cries of anguish are soul-unsettling. Just like the comics, the tone jumps all over and it’s strengthened by that determined headlong rush through any feeling, any angle of approach, from camp laughs to cruel indulgence. Plus, the cast as super-charming and the direction is dizzying and fully aware of the narrative, emotional, and visual fields of depth that can be played like a seven piece orchestra and big goddammed amplifiers. Ichi was quality enough to keep any Batman or Punisher movie off this list (no matter how cool War Zone is), but it couldn’t corner the market on Japanese superheroes with childhood trauma. Cutey Honey isn’t a live action cartoon, it’s not a live action comic, it’s not even necessarily a movie movie. It is it’s own breed of color, hope, and a thousand gold bullets sprayed from single-fire guns while bridges explode and buildings grow like fiery drills from the earth. And the theme song is catchy.
8. THE CROW
Probably the only adaptation I think has ever been improved by softening the content, The Crow isn’t nearly the harsh, stark vengeance trip of the comic, but it’s got Hollywood heart, good lines, an amazing soundtrack, and some great action bits. Absolutely quotable movie (my friend wants his tombstone to read “This is the really real world. There ain’t no coming back.) Scumbags and atrocious bastards you want dead and want to die hard. Stuff explodes for little reason. There’s a latchkey kid, a hard-luck cop, and a stray cat. The hero is a wounded soul whose vengeance is tempered by his sentimentality just enough we can forget he’s totally not good at letting things go and kinda severely overreacts (and, yeah, over-acts – let’s pretend that’s on purpose). And, really, is there a better Western-style revenge movie about a goth zombie hard man that’s set in Detroit the night before Halloween?
9. MAISON IKKOKU (1986)
Maison Ikkoku is one of my favorite comics and this never-released-in-America movie manages to be better than the comic by transforming into a musical towards the end and forgoing slow development or attempts at gravitas in favor of a rollercoaster of goofballiness and prop-related comedy. Exceptionally romantic, entirely irreverent to the core material, the movie lives and breathes on its own terms, unlike its comic, unlike any other movie that came out that year. I am warmed by the memory of it, and want to see it again right now.
10. THE PHANTOM
A superhero who seemingly lives forever and punches evil so hard his ring leaves its bruise on them for all time. Not even an ounce of an attempt to prove this movie isn’t straight up for kids or has deep, serious artistic fiats to defend its existence. The Phantom has Billy Zane on a horse, mad pirates with skulls that shoot magic lasers, evil tycoons, killer aviatrix gangs, and is awesome.
These are my ten favorite movies under all these qualifications. This list may all change tomorrow, but I’d still want you to find these flicks and give them a go.