With two comic book hero movies out already and two more on the way later this summer, I wanted to throw my two cents in. Not all are great, but so far so good this summer. Go out and see Thor and X-Men: First Class
Some people think comic books are for kids or just for nerds. I strongly disagree. I could write a very long paper about the history of art and how it is storytelling and so on. I think this is becoming less common thought. The recent popularity of summer blockbusters that include comic book heroes is opening up a new audience of readers from all walks of life.
This is a list of my top 5 favorite comic book heroes, and after this summer all will have been seen in a love action adaptation. These may not be the best or most popular heroes, but they are the ones I read the most, I watch the most, and if I could be any one of them I would in a heartbeat. These guys also have something that some other more popular characters do not, they are all cool. Really cool.
James Howlett was born in Canada in the late 19th century. When his mutant power manifested and he ran away, he was unsure of his future. Over the years James killed, loved, and lost. He worked for the Canadian government and eventually for the Weapon X program. The program grafter his mutant bones claws with a near indestructible metal. His mutant healing power helped him survive this process. The Weapon X program also wiped his memory and he fled the experimentation with no memory and took on the name Logan. He had run ins with the Hulk, Spider-Man, and eventually joined Professor Xavier’s second generation of X-Men. It was under Xavier that he learned to control his rage and that he was ultimately a protector and avenger. He would eventually become a major part of the Marvel Universe.
Wolverine was a childhood favorite of mine. He was an antihero who kicked butt and took names. He wasn’t most powerful mutant, but he was rough and had passion. His constant loss and rage made him seem more real then a lot of comic book and cartoon heroes. The fact that he was manipulated most of his life and is now on a path of revenge is exciting and worthy. He was Jason Bourne before Jason Bourne even existed. His place in the Marvel lore is steadfast and he is loved by many. Hugh Jackman has played him nearly perfectly (I even liked origins). I am excited to see Wolverine grow and become even more interesting.
Wolverine: Weapon X (1994)
Wolverine: Enemy of the State (2005)
Old Man Logan (2008)
Born into wealth and love, Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him. He vowed to rid crime and evil from Gotham City. He has never and probably will never accomplish this mission, yet he still continues to fight. Batman is a symbol to instill fear into the evil and corrupt. He is a detective, hero, friend, and lover. He has a hard time with emotions as seen with his many sidekicks who take the mantle of Robin. His only tie left to his parents is his faithful butler and dear friend Alfred. Batman is the dark knight and caped crusader who will never stop living by the code he holds dearest: Protect the innocent.
Kids either liked Superman or Batman; I was definitely a Batman fan. He had cooler villains, he wasn’t indestructible, and he all kinds of cool gadgets. Batman has gone through many changes throughout the years, but he has always been mysterious and level headed. Of all the comic books and all the movies and cartoons and superheroes out there, Batman seems the most possible. I think that is a major draw with his character, you could realistically grow up to be like Batman. I think it is also important to point out how important his villains are. Mainly the Joker, he defines Batman. The compliment each other perfectly, one is a crazy person who kills on a whim and loves chaos, the other is a crazy person who dresses in all black, solves crimes, and always tries to achieve order.
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996)
Batman: Hush (2002)
Hal Jordan was a test pilot. He became the greatest hero in the universe. He was the first human chosen by a green power ring to become a Green Lantern, he was chosen because he had the potential to overcome great fear. He joined the Green Lantern Corp and saved the world and universe many times over. Jordan is one of the many heroes who becomes consumed by evil and then comes back from the darkness to be the ultimate hero. When his home city was destroyed by Mongul, he became enraged when the Guardians of Universe (masters of the GLC) and he gave into fear and unleashed the entity Parallax. While consumed by this evil he went on a rampage to remake the universe in his image. Fortunately he was stopped and exiled until he used his power to reignite the sun and ultimately redeem himself.
The Green Lantern is by far my favorite DC character. He has cosmic power, he has a ring that can do anything, he has a dark side, and he was originally drawn to resemble Paul Newman. Of the four GLs that are part of the silver and bronze age of comics, Hal Jordan is the most complex and interesting. He stands up and fights when he doesn’t believe in something and he is willing to put it all on the line for love. His greatest enemy is not Sinestro, even though that guy is brutal, it is himself. He overcomes doubt and has some self-esteem issues. You can relate to him, even though he wields the awesome power of ring.
Green Lantern Vol 2 #9: Battle of the Power Rings! (1961)
Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994)
Final Night (1996)
Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War Volumes 1 and 2 (2007)
Survived a Nazi concentration camp, became a brother to Charles Xavier, conquered fear, stood up to oppression, devoted his life to help other mutants, brought hope to an entire race. Max Eisenhardt (Erik Magnus Lehnsherr) is a radical individual; he has many deep wounds that will never heal. His closest friend and person who knows him best is Professor Xavier, yet his beliefs and values take precedent over that friendship. Magneto has used his hate, anger, and even passion to be a reluctant figure head for Mutants across the world. He never wanted to lead, he just wanted what was right and natural, and leadership was something that he happened to be born with. His powers over the magnetic field make him an impressive advisory to the X-Men and the governments of the world. He was introduced as a villain in 1963, but as time went on, he became a friend, partner, father, messiah, and icon to a planet filled with hatred of the unknown.
Many would argue that Magneto is a hero, but I believe he is highly misunderstood. Much the way that Karl Marx, Malcolm X, Che Guevara was and are. They have an ideal world in their minds where everyone contributes equally to a greater good and no one person or group of people rules over another. Unfortunately this world will never exist, over the course of the comics, Magneto realizes this. He becomes more mature and even sacrifices himself for the cause of Xavier. If you don’t read the comics, watch the movies closely, Magneto is not an evil man, yes he murders and destroys, but he is doing what he thinks is right. Not for world domination or money, but to create a better world. Even though they are not in continuity exactly, my two favorite stories involving Magneto are Age of Apocalypse and House of M. In A of A, he is the leader of the X-Men after Xavier has died; he leads the resistance against the Mutant oppressor Apocalypse, and ultimately becomes the savior to the world. In House of M he is seen as a tyrant who lives in a perfect mutant world, but he is reluctant and when he discovers that it is all a lie, he only wishes for Xavier to be brought back and the world to be as it was. Magneto is one of the most interesting characters in the history of comics and it is because he has conflict within himself.
X-Men Vol. 1, #1 (1963)
Uncanny X-Men vol. 1, #150 (1981)
Magneto Rex: Once We Were Kings (1999)
House of M (2005)
Norrin Radd was a scientist on a distant planet that sacrificed his freedom to save that planet. He did this be offering to help the planter devouring Galactus. He gained cosmic powers beyond imagination, but lost his home and love forever. It was not until the Silver Surfer came to earth and met the Fantastic Four that he remembered his home world and that he was honorable and had a choice, he could save lives. He defied his master and gained his respect. After the Surfer was “freed” he came to call his new home. He contributed to helping save it many times. He eventually grew home sick for Zenn La and left to explore the cosmos and had a great impact for good in the universe.
I love the Silver Surfer; I love him in comics, in cartoons, and even in that one movie. He has unlimited power, he rides on a surf board, and he is completely silver! He makes Superman look lame and he is always looking to make the galaxy a better place. I love the story of the Surfer and how he made the ultimate sacrifice for love and how it wasn’t until he felt love again that he was able to break free from Galactus. He has been portrayed as a harbinger of doom, a messiah, and hero, and outcast, and as a man. He is all of these things, but none of them define him. He is the ultimate character in my eyes, I find every story involving him to be poetic and deep, he is so human without being from earth.
The Silver Surfer: Parable (1988)
Silver Surfer: Requiem (2008)
I believe that other then my mother, women in movies helped me narrow down what I should do to become a good man. It helped me realize what kind of woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. This may sound sad, but I do not mean women like Jessica Alba, Katherine Heigl, or Megan Fox. These are the women I try to avoid. I mean the women I admire and make me laugh. I found my leading lady and each of these women helped with that.
There will be some that people think are missing; I can hardly stand Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, or Laura Linney. They just bug me in almost everything they are in. I see where people call them great, but I disagree. These are the women who stand out to me the most.
5. Cate Blanchett – Regal, funny, beautiful, etc. Blanchett has so many great qualities it is no wonder she played Queen Elizabeth twice. Most people know her for either that or for her role as Lady Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While these are great parts, I love her for her roles in The Missing, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Aviator. These movies stand out to me because she shows strength and courage in The Missing while being in a desperate world. Her comedic timing and chemistry with Bill Murray is flawless in The Life Aquatic and I hope Wes Anderson uses her again soon. The Aviator may seem an odd choice because she was only playing Katherine Hepburn (who will come soon), I think she played it perfectly and was by far my favorite part of the whole movie. I will stop there.
Other notable performances – I’m Not There,Babel, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
4. Ingrid Bergman – When the word legend is used to describe an actress this is one of the few times I agree. Ingrid Bergman is the leading lady of leading ladies! She is soft, determined, and doesn’t let men decide anything for her! Her role in Casablanca is probably the most important role of any character before the 1960s. She is the entire reason there is a story, not because she is a damsel in distress, but because she is deeply loved by a man who has hardened his heart. She is the only person who really knows him. Plus she is witty and terribly adorable in that film.
Other notable performances- The Bells of St. Mary’s, Notorious, Joan of Arc.
3. Natalie Portman – cute, upbeat, dangerous, and amazing. Portman really is able to be so many things and be them very very well. She has played a Queen, a Lady, a rebel, and psycho. She has depth of character that was first seen in Leon (The Professional) and most recently seen in Black Swan and Thor. Her choices of roles has been meticulous, it has paid off. She commands focus and awe in epic science fiction, romantic comedies, thrilling dramas, and comic book movies. Her career will be better than any woman before her.
Other notable performances- Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, V for Vendetta, Hotel Chevalier, The Other Bolyn Girl.
2. Katherine Hepburn- Smart, really really smart. Hepburn has an intelligence and air that makes you tremble and feel warm all at the same time. No woman has ever been as good in a romantic comedy as Hepburn was in The Philadelphia Story, she is sad, strong, confused, brutal, and absolutely lovable, she owns the show even with James Stewart and Cary Grant right next to her. My other favorite role of hers is in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? She is modern, motherly, holds convictions, and holds her own against Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier. I love her so much!
Other notable performances – Morning Glory, Adam’s Rib, The African Queen.
1. Kate Winslet- Master of her craft. Winslet is my favorite actress because of her performances in film, her work out side of film, and how she handles her personal life. She is classy or crass whenever the situation calls for it. She has been so much more then Rose in Titanic that I almost forget about that movie. My three favorite roles of hers are Juliet in Heavenly Creatures, Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Iris in The Holiday. These three roles are significant to me beyond her roles recognized by the Academy because they are unexpected and perfect. In Heavenly Creatures she plays a young woman who has a dangerous imagination and was obviously the acting of a future star. As Clementine we see her break out of her common casting and blow us away as an adorable, mean, neurotic to Jim Carrey’s quiet, boring, weak Joel. She was the star of the movie hands down. The less obvious choice here is The Holiday; it was one of my favorite romantic comedies of the last decade. She is so perfect in this movie, she starts out as the stereotypical lonely woman, and doesn’t take the usual path to turn everything around. She isn’t desperate, she is wonderful. Watch this movie, and you will even like Cameron Diaz…maybe.
Other notable performances- Sense and Sensibility, Quills, The Reader, Revolutionary Road.
Preview: Top 5 Favorite Comic Book Heroes
I am a firm believer that film is a director’s medium. There are tons of great directors that have literally made movies what they are today. People like Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz, George Cukor, and Alfred Hitchcock invented genres. Men such as Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg stretched imagination and curiosity. These are men who deserve to be honored.
This is a list of people who have been making film for a while and are perhaps past their prime. Not saying they will never receive an Academy Award for directing, but the chances are getting fewer. I will not reference people like Wes Anderson, Jason Reitman, Christopher Nolan, or Darren Aronofsky. I think they still have years of filmmaking ahead of them.
5. David Fincher – He barely makes the top 5 because he has been making movies for nearly twenty years and he has only been nominated twice. I think that since se7en his films have been flawless. Of everyone on this list, he has the likeliest chance of winning an Academy Award in the future.
In my opinion Fincher’s greatest quality is his ability to create atmosphere. He has an A-list crew that can translate his vision onto the silver screen. Just look at the sets, tone, and pacing of se7en and Fight Club and you will understand what I am talking about. When I watch Zodiac I become so immersed in the story I forget that it is nearly three hours long! He creates tense situation, witty timing, and dark emotions, and then he makes a sprawling epic like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The amazing thing is that he does so with apparent ease.
Watch any commentary on any of his films, even Alien 3, and you will learn what the modern director really is.
4. Ridley Scott – Another guy who has been nominated a few times but never grabbed the gold. I think Scott may still have a chance to receive an Oscar, even if it is just a “we-owe-ya-one”. How did he not win for Thelma & Louise! Not even nominated for Alien! No one had made the future of humanity look so grungy and real. I will not even start on Blade Runner, Matchstick Men, and Kingdom of Heaven (this happens to be my favorite Ridley Scott film).
I do agree that Scott is not always been consistent; he did direct G.I. Jane, Hannibal, and Robin Hood. These were not bad movies, but definitely not great. I will point out that his films have won Academy Awards, but he has never won.
I think Scott is still full of massive potential, and I believe he will show that in the years to come. He can make Science Fiction realistic, and then go to quirk and mystery. He can do a period piece that resonates with a generation and he has at least three of the greatest women characters in the history of film (Ellen Ripley, Thelma Dickinson, and Louise Sawyer).
3. Rob Reiner – This may throw some for a loop. Most would probably not mention him on a list such as this. I will list some of his greatest pieces; This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, and The Bucket List. See what I mean? I understand that comedy is a hard sell for the Academy, but Woody Allen won.
I could write a significantly large article about how Reiner shaped my romantic life, how he helped me connect with my parents, how he will be a directorial legend in my house. I will not do this. I will say that Reiner understand boys, very well. Stand by Me and A Few Good Men are excellent examples of how men and boys act in intense situations. He shows how men are goofy and can be jerks in This is Spinal Tap, When Harry Met Sally, and The Bucket List.
I do not believe Reiner is a master storyteller or anything of that nature. He is a wizard of making characters relatable and likeable. He didn’t write The Princess Bride, William Goldman did, but Reiner made you fall in love with that movie. Even when you are terrified of Kathy Bates, you are so interested in her.
I know Billy Crystal says Reiner is an actor’s director, and I agree. If he does make another movie similar to Stand by Me, he will most likely be nominated and could even win. He is in the twilight of his career, so we will just have to see.
2. George Lucas – For people who are not “film buffs” this may seem out of place. People do not realize he did more than just Star Wars (which he will never surpass). My favorite film that George Lucas directed is American Graffiti.
Lucas is stuck in his Star Wars/Indiana Jones money-making rut. Hopefully he will go back to making timeless movies like THX-1138 and Willow (I know he didn’t direct, but he mentored Ron Howard on this one). He is a great storyteller, who unfortunately does not have anyone around him who suggests he use some self-control.
Do not get me wrong. I love Lucas and I think he is vital to film history, and my own upbringing. I have hope that he will direct another movie that has no connection to things he has previously done, he had such incredible ideas and potential.
Some examples of George Lucas as a great filmmaker are Kagemusha, Body Heat, and Labyrinth. He only produced these films, but he was directly involved in them. Two of his “protégés” are Ron Howard and Lawrence Kasdan; both have surpassed Lucas as far as directing goes.
1. Alfred Hitchcock – This may be stereotypical, but there is a reason for that. He never won! He will never win. He has the most illustrious career of any of these men, he was true innovator.
The obvious films that should be recognized are Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest (which is my favorite), and Psycho. These, literally defined the way films would be made forever into the future. He was a master of showing you the bare minimum in order to make your imagination run wild. Hitchcock never received what he deserved. He created tone and atmosphere and he worked with two of my all time favorite actors; Cary Grant and James Stewart. Even with the lack of special effects, his films felt real and thrilling. He does simple things like put you in one room for an entire movie, and you believe it. He manufactures suspense in a corn field by having a plane dive bomb and gases you, and you believe it. This is what legendary filmmakers do, and he did it best.
Other films that should be more widely recognized are Rope, Dial M for Murder, To Catch a Thief, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and many more. Anytime you get a chance to watch a Hitchcock film, do it.
I am a big fan of animated feature films. I would say that animated films are the reason that I love the medium today. I grew up watching Disney’s Robin Hood, The Hobbit, and An American Tail. These and many others set my on the path to become the film-loving man I am today.
The myths and legends are told through animated films. Modern storytelling to children is done through movies like the Secret of Nimh and Sleeping Beauty. Fortunately cartoon movies have grown and evolved, they have surpassed many of the live action features that come out today. Studios like Disney, Dreamworks, and Studio Ghibli have made a library of continually quality films.
Here are my top five favorites, they may not be the best, but I enjoy them the most.
5. Titan A.E. – A science fiction adventure story in the class of Star Wars, Titan AE tells the story of a reluctant hero who must save what is left of the human race after the destruction of earth. The animation, story, and characters are perfectly positioned for any kid or adult who loves sci-fi epics. The voice cast includes Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, and John Leguizamo. This movie plays out as a heartfelt, action-packed story of love, betrayal, and the human spirit.
4. The Iron Giant – The last great hand-drawn American feature is The Iron Giant. Set in the 1950s amongst beatniks and the red scare, there is a story of an alien robot who crash lands in small town USA. A little boy befriends the robot that has been damaged and is activated as a weapon when attacked by the military. The boy and his family must save the robot and help bring understanding to the community. This story resembles classics like E.T. and Close Encounters, adults do not understand how to interact with aliens, little boys who watch sci-fi television do. The voice talents in this movie include Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr., and Vin Diesel. Brad Bird is the directing force behind this simple wonder.
3. The Incredibles – Another Brad Bird directed film, this one with the power of Pixar behind it, The Incredibles takes everything Stan Lee created with Fantastic Four and improved upon it. The story of a family of superheroes that must fight an egotistical villain, it is perfect. It is funny, exciting, and it’s about protecting the people around you by being honest with yourself. I grew up watching comic book based cartoons and am very familiar with Superman, Batman, Spiderman and the like, this movie is a wonderful depiction of that world. Great for children and adults, The Incredibles is a must see. The voice cast includes Craig T. Nelson, Jason Lee, and Holly Hunter.
2. Howl’s Moving Castle – Myazaki. In my opinion, the greatest animator of all time, he even surpasses Walt Disney. He has created such classics as Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo. This is my favorite of his films. It is about a girl who is transformed into an old hag by an evil witch, the girl then stumbles upon the mysterious wizard Howl and his fire demon Calcifer. They must combine their forces to defeat a growing evil. The thing this movie has more then any other animated feature I have seen is the deep fantasy that expects you to accept everything you see without asking questions. You sit in wonder as this masterpiece unfolds before you. The English dubbed version is voiced by Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Blyth Danner, and Billy Crystal as Calcifer. See this if you have the chance, but at least go add Ponyo to your Netflix instant queue.
1. Toy Story – This is the most sentimental of all the movies on this list. I hold it dear because I was Andy. I had a Wolverine action figure and a Luke Skywalker action figure that were my favorites, they are worn out and heavily used, but I still have them in the attic. I was 8 when I saw Toy Story in theaters and I remember being in awe, not just of the animation and the jokes, but of the entire story and real it felt to me. The journey of rivals becoming friends and discovering themselves in order to return their owner. John Lasseter developed the original story for The Brave Little Toaster and that eventually grew into what would become Toy Story. Pixar blasted onto the scene with a smash hit that set the bar extremely high for animated features to come, they have yet to disappoint. I plan on getting down my box of action figures soon, but for now my son is content wearing his Buzz Lightyear pajamas and being completely obsessed with all three Toy Story movies. The incredible voice cast for Toy Story includes Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, and Jim Varney.
Next Top 5 – Appreciating the Unappreciated: Top 5 Directors who have never won an Academy Award.