By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 29, 2013 at 10:04AM
Q: In honor of "Iron Man 3," what's the best comic book movie ever made?
The critics' answers:
"The best comic book movie ever made is 'A History of Violence.' It's so suspenseful and thought-provoking that most fans don't realize it's based on a graphic novel."
"The answer to this question became very easy last summer, when 'The Avengers' blew every other comic-book movie away in my mind. In addition to the typically Whedon-y jokes, the movie also explores the darker aspects of superheroism -- the idea that mankind can't settle for being outgunned, the idea that only unstable and thus team-averse people would do this kind of work -- with a deftness of tone that the 'Watchmen' movie wished it had matched. Only 'The Dark Knight' can challenge for the title, but Christopher Nolan's inability to shoot a coherent fight scene holds it back. Honorable mention to the Cronenberg graphic-novel adaptation 'A History of Violence.'"
"Richard Donner's 'Superman.' No CGI, just pure heart."
"What's most interesting to me about this question is the entirely different question behind it: Are 'comic book movies' and 'superhero movies' necessarily the same thing? In all honesty, when I think about Marvel's ongoing franchises and Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, comic books don't come to mind at all, even though that's where they come from. A comic book movie, to me, is one that not only takes its inspiration from a comic but also comments in some way on the form. In that sense, I think a movie like 'American Splendor' counts, and especially Warren Beatty's 'Dick Tracy' adaption. Not only is Dick Tracy a hero, but everything about the movie's production design is meant to remind us of its origins. I don't see that same thing happening (at least to that degree) in the deluge of big screen superhero movies we're getting every year now."
"I hate to sound like a crotchety old grandfather -- plus I'm sure several of the critics in this poll are going to choose the same film -- but my #1 favorite is Richard Donner's rendition of 'Superman' from 1978. I'm not any sort of expert on the history of Superman but I believe that this film strikes a perfect tone between modern fairy tale and actual adventure movie. The sweetness of Reeve is offset by the wonderful weirdness of the three villains, the supporting cast is fantastic, the tone is both reverent of the source material and slyly modern in its comedic sensibility, and (of course) it's a legitimately great action/adventure movie. Sweet for kids, smart for adults, and old-fashioned for the aging coots who actually do lover superhero cinema. More modern comic book films that I really like? 'Road to Perdition!' Intelligent, melancholy, legitimately suspenseful, gorgeous to look at (and listen to), and stocked with excellent actors. I still believe that 'Watchmen' is a really fascinating film, that 'Spider-Man 2' and 'X-Men 2' are better than their predecessors, and that 'The Avengers' is to a young generation what Richard Donner's 'Superman' was to me. What a huge ball of clever, kick-ass fun that whole Marvel series was."
"'The Rabbi's Cat' ('Le chat du rabbin'), adapted from Joann Sfar's comics, concerns an utterly fascinating and irritating cat which, after eating the rabbi's parrot, is now able to speak. It was the first New Directors/New Films 3D screening at MoMA last year. The cat is in love with the rabbi's daughter, discusses serious religious matters and insists on having a bar mitzvah. The title credits transport you to Algiers in the 1920s, but you might as well have landed on a wildly patterned orange purple Prada pantsuit. The nameless cat, with big green eyes, and movements that at times resemble a kangaroo, at others a deer, snuggles, reads Stendahl's 'Le Rouge et le Noir' out loud, discusses the Talmud, and is worried about his changing nightmares -- all in the first 15 minutes of the movie. How he gets to Ethiopia in a 1925 Citroen, meets Tintin, and tries to 'solve all problems through dialogue' is an impressive and entertaining undertaking."
"There are so many I love, from 'Akira' to 'Ghost World' to 'The Crow,' that it was really hard to select just one. It may even be cheating a bit because this one was a newspaper comic strip before being a comic book, but I always come back to 1980's 'Flash Gordon.' I loved it as a flat-out adventure as a kid, and I love the satire, innuendo and Fellini references as an adult. One or two of the effects have dated -- the lizard man looks hilariously terrible and the image of Earth at the beginning is an obvious fake -- but for the most part the visuals hold up, having been so stylized and bizarre from the get-go. It is also, thanks to a dispute between Sam J. Jones and the filmmakers prior to post-production, probably the greatest example of dubbing I've ever seen."
"I wish I was cool enough to say 'American Splendor,' which I love, but I have to join what's sure to be a chorus picking 'The Dark Knight.' Generally a superhero film is only as good as its villain and Heath Ledger surprised everyone in creating the most entertaining supervillain to date. His Joker is one of film history's best villains of any kind. On top of that 'The Dark Knight' features a master filmmaker working near his peak, with an intelligence not common in the genre. I love 'The Dark Knight.'"
"This was a tough one -- 'Batman Returns?' 'Fritz the Cat?' 'Akira?' -- but eventually I decided on 'Tales from the Crypt,' the 1972 horror anthology based on several spooktacular EC Comics stories. Each of the film's five chapters is a genuinely scary morality tale, acted out by a cast of stalwart British thespians and laced with morbid irony. A couple of their endings are so gruesome, in fact, that I can scarcely think about them without getting the chills. This is comic book horror done right, realized onscreen by director Freddie Francis with exactly the same lurid power it had in print."
"I'm going with 'The Dark Knight,' a perfect distillation of the superhero myth that blends Christopher Nolan's grimmer take on comic books with the medium's more colorful flourishes, best exemplified by Heath Ledger's Joker. So much has been said of Ledger's iconic performance, so I'll acknowledge some of the film's other strengths: its intense score; its crisp, IMAX-aided cinematography; Christian Bale's subtle, nuanced take on an increasingly weary Bruce Wayne; and the memorable action set-pieces. Rare is the movie that earns an audible, audience-wide gasp of awe, but I still remember sitting in a packed house on opening night, reeling not just at the shot of an 18-wheeler flipping end over end, but at Batman subsequently bouncing off a building with a tricked-out motorcycle. There are many good comic-book movies. 'The Dark Knight' is, to me, the great one."
"Assuming that we're not limited to superhero comics (though Enid is a superhero in her own right), I deem 'Ghost World' to be the best comic book movie ever made. Daniel Clowes' 'Eightball' is one of the only comics that I ever read faithfully, and I still look back fondly upon my love affair with the eight issues that made up a serialized version of 'Ghost World.' Sure, I was a bit apprehensive when it was announced that Terry Zwigoff would be adapting 'Ghost World' into a movie. Maybe it helps that my expectations were so low, but I ended up loving the movie adaptation just as much as the comic. But why is it the best? Well, because I find it to be the comic book movie that best captures the mood, tone and style of the source comic."
"Ang Lee's 'Hulk.' It's such a magical blend of ambition, expansive weirdness, and Greek tragedy. Its transitions and visual layout are the perfect synthesis of cinema and comic book. And the fifth act, where it starts out like a black box play and ends with an epic intergenerational battle that imprints itself across the sky? Transcendent."
"While superhero movies like Nolan's 'Dark Knight' trilogy, Singer and Vaughn's 'X-Men' films and Raimi's [first two] 'Spider-Man' films are great and incredibly entertaining, I believe the best comic book movie ever made is David Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence.' It's a film most people don't realize is a comic book movie and Cronenberg handles the material wonderfully. He makes the story his own but still keeps the essence of John Wagner's graphic novel. This is a comic book movie without capes and superpowers. It's just a thrilling tale about a man, his family and his haunting past. A masterful adaptation from a fellow Torontonian (I promise I'm not biased because of that) and the best comic book movie ever made."
"Well, I'm going to kind of answer the question and say my current favorite: 'Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World.'"
"'A History of Violence.' Or 'Road to Perdition.'"
"'Ghost World' or 'Danger: Diabolik.'"
"There's an important distinction to be made between comic book and graphic novel, but the only movie adaptation of either I care for are of the graphic novel type. Ergo, I'll pick Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence,' for remaining true to his aesthetic, striking an incredibly tricky tonal balance, as well as being commercially satisfying."
"I'm going to keep to your criteria of 'comic book' movie and not cheat and disqualify 'The Incredibles' and go with my favorite true adaptation of the medium, 'Watchmen.' I've never understood the hate towards this film as both a stand alone work and an adaptation. The novel is considered the greatest comic series of all time in some circles and I don't know how this adaptation could have been much more faithful. Snyder's ending makes more sense and works better than the interdimensional squid as well, giving the film a logical and realistic grounding that so many fans of comic book films demanded at the time of its release. The film even does a good job of subverting comic book films the way the novel skewered comic conventions. It's one of the best shot comic book films as well and Snyder puts together a hell of a cast the knocks it out of the park. While not my favorite movie to come out since its release, I don't know if any other film has found its way into my Blu-ray player more often since."
"I must say 'The Avengers' is my new favorite, beating out 'Watchmen' which beat out 'Spider-Man 2' when it came out."
"Truth: Who will join me in admitting that whenever there's a new comic book character to understand, they sigh and head to Wikipedia? But that said, for one summer I was obsessed with 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.' Not only did I memorize the movie and collect the comics, I bought three packs of 'TMNT' trading cards each morning at the drug store until I owned every single one -- 88 of them, plus 11 stickers. (Looks like I can sell my life's greatest accomplishment on eBay for $15 plus shipping.) The movie is flawed, sure, but it's better than you remember. There's a Jimmy Cagney joke, for christsakes. And for a 11-year-old in 1990, it was perfect. The characters were dead-on from testy Raphael and bimbo Michelangelo to geeky, Corey Feldman-voiced Donatello and Leonardo being, well, boring Leonardo. And I don't care how many quality movies he's made since: Elias Koteas will always be my Casey Jones. If Michael Bay's 'TMNT' remake has the dude-bro fun of 'Pain & Gain,' cowabunga."
"This question leaves a bit of wiggle room since it asks about comic books, not superheroes. There have been several great superhero films featuring all manner of capes and cowls, but if I'm going to pick just one that's based on a comic book, I'm choosing 'American Splendor.' Giamatti gets Harvey Pekar's bleak and grumpy demeanor just so, and to prove it, the film takes time to introduce us to the genuine article. There's the wonderful way it incorporates the original art into the narrative, and also pus the whole thing on hold while the actors involved rap with the people they're portraying. As Harvey would say 'ordinary life is pretty complex stuff' and the way 'American Splendor' understands that makes for a great film."
"This is a harder question than it seems, because some movies really try to capture the feel of a comic book, while others use comic book elements to do something more specifically cinematic. If I was going to go with the former, I'd probably pick 'Spider-Man 2' or 'The Avengers,' both of which are like comic books come to life. But I'm going to go with the latter and pick 'The Dark Knight.' Christopher Nolan's entire Batman trilogy is brilliant, but the second film in the series is pretty much perfect. Nolan uses the classic Bob Kane character as a means to explore ambitious ideas about good and evil, as well as society's need to have clear distinctions between them during times of crisis. 'The Dark Knight' is endlessly rewatchable, and you can find new layers to it every time. Plus, Heath Ledger's Joker is one of the best screen villains ever. Artfully made, thematically rich, and exciting as all get-out, this is a movie that even people who hate comic books can love. (For the record, people who hate comic books are not to be trusted.)"
"It's hard to confidently pick a favorite since these are the type of movies that I tend to see only once, but the first one that popped into my mind was 'Spider-Man 2.' I could watch Alfred Molina with those sentient robot-snake arms all day. Doc Ock and Oswald Cobblepot from 'Batman Returns' are my favorite villains by a mile."
"It may not be an insanely original choice, but I may have to go with 'The Dark Knight.' I briefly flirted with the idea that 'The Dark Knight Rises' could in fact be better, but I need a few years to sit on that one. 'The Avengers' comes the closest to bringing a comic book to life as a movie, but Christopher Nolan's second Batman flick is the best film overall to come from a comic book origin."
"I'm in the minority here, but I truly feel 'Batman Begins' is probably the best comic book movie ever made. I understand it didn't have the complexity or scope of 'The Dark Knight.' But it did have Christopher Nolan, elevating his game to new heights with an emotional and systematic reboot of an entire genre. Everything is real, everything is possible, and that slow build of characterization leads to a wonderful payoff once we finally see Batman. It also has a fantastic score and one of the best final lines in recent memory. It's my favorite of the three films and, I think, the best comic book movie of all time."
"Traditional pick: 'The Dark Knight.' Alternative: 'Ghost World.'"
"At what point do most measure the start of the 'comic book movie?' Is it Roger Corman's fast and loose interpretation of Marvel's 'Fantastic Four?' Is it Alec Baldwin tearing off his own prosthetic nose in 'The Shadow?' Or when Matthew Vaughn makes 'Kick-Ass' in order to prove he can handle 'X-Men: First Class?' Look no further than Michel Gondry's 'The Green Hornet.' Its production is as crazed as the original 'Iron Man:' originally a vehicle for Stephen Chow to write and direct, it then went to the duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg for a punch-up. Only the 'Superbad' crew weren't fans of a plot point where Kato (then Chow) would install a device in in Britt Reid (Rogen) and control him like a physics doll on crack -- or, the CGI-lination of 'Kung Fu Hustle.' Gondry, instead, took the fratboy comedy that Rogen wanted and gave it enough polish that it rivals the armchair psychology of Ang Lee's 'Hulk' but with as much style that it rivals and overcomes Matthew Vaughn's 'Kick-Ass' with the first instance of 'Kato Vision.' 'Hornet' goes into the realm of a family that nearly every hero deals with: seriously, who doesn't have daddy issues? Batman, Daredevil, Superman, Aquaman, Spider-Man, Iron Man -- according to the films -- etc. And it deals with the idea of escalation in Christoph Waltz' Chudnofsky tries to deal with the 'age' of costumed heroes and becomes so unhinged his own lackeys devolve from nuanced speaking roles to mooks that are designed to suck up The Black Beauty's bullets. Gondry's 'Hornet' is definitive of the time, so much as Mark Steven Johnson's 'Daredevil: Director's Cut' was instrumental in forming the mold. (If you can track it down, an original copy of the 'Daredevil' DVD comes with a 5-hour behind-the-scenes documentary which presents just how hard Marvel was trying to establish franchises)."
"Honestly, I'm somewhat surprised at how tough it was for me to decide what is the 'best' comic book movie. I'll confess, this isn't a genre I get particularly psyched about. And yet, there are quite a few of these movies I've not only enjoyed, but thought were pretty darn great. Richard Donner's 'Superman' kicked things off with a plucky bang and there's no question 'The Dark Knight,' especially thanks to Heath Ledger's heart wrenching performance, is a dazzler. Yet, to me, it's 'Batman Begins' that takes the prize. Christopher Nolan's take on the often comic tale is so dark, surprising and truly dramatic, this whole franchise evolves into something far more, well, interesting than I certainly had ever expected. And Michael Caine as Alfred? Could there be a more inspired choice than that?"
"Now, the easy answer to this question is Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight,' as it is one of the great American films of the 2000s, and easily the best movie ever made where the source material is a 'comic book.' But can we really call it a 'comic book' movie? The film understands the essentials of the Batman mythos it plays with to a certain extent, but part of Nolan's intent was to shed anything 'comic'-esque from the film, and root it firmly in reality. So it really does not feel like a 'comic book' movie, but a 'crime drama.' And it is a damn great one. But I have trouble considering it a 'comic-book movie.' So of the films based on comics that truly feel as if they are cinematic extensions of their colorful source material, the answer would surely have to be Joss Whedon's 'The Avengers,' which probably embraces its comic-book origins more than any other superhero film, while soaring to entertaining heights the genre has rarely seen. Of all 'comic-book' films that actually feel like comic-book films, it is the best."