As of Thursday night at 8pm when the Marvel Comics adaptation “Iron Man” hits theaters, summer will have officially arrived. From the previews it looks promising, but previews can be deceiving. This list is born out of love for comic book movies, but they can’t all be “Spider-Man 2” or the “X-Men.” More often than not, when they’re not done correctly, you end up with a movie like the ones on this list. I haven’t seen the low-budget, direct-to-video “Captain America” from 1990, so that one is not on here. But this sweet action scene from it is here. And this first one technically isn’t either, but it stems from a feeling I have. Here are the 10 Worst Comic Book Movies Ever.
(And for the flipside, our Top 10 Best Comic Adaptations from a few years back.)
10.5. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Like I said, it’s just a feeling. Have you seen the trailer? Ugh. Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” wasn’t perfect, but its unique and virtually unheralded editing-to-look-like-comic-panels idea was unique and he got the brooding tone of the Hulk perfectly. From what I’ve seen of the upcoming June version, I’m worried. Edward Norton is the perfect choice for Bruce Banner, but the director is Louis Leterrier, whose previous credits include “The Transporter” movies. And now, a public dispute between Norton and the studio over the final cut tells us that all is not rosy in Hulkland. Everybody complained that the CGI Hulk from 2003 was terrible, but it looked way more expressive than the green guy in the new trailer, who’s ridiculously rippled and has a weird, smallish face. And the two giants (Hulk and the Abomination) lunging at each other in slow motion? Looks like a bad “Matrix” rip-off or, dare I suggest, “The Transporter.” Things are not looking good.
10. Daredevil (2003) /Elektra (2005)
One of Marvel’s most beloved and complicated characters, having been successfully re-vamped by no less than Frank Miller and Kevin Smith at different points, made it to the screen portrayed by Ben Affleck in a tight, yet still awkward-fitting red leather suit. “Daredevil” has an unconvincing origin story too similar to Batman’s, and Mark Steven Johnson’s bland screenplay and direction show the cracks way too often for a superhero movie—almost as often as the unintentional laughter that you may be prone to while viewing it. Ironically, the film was successful enough to spawn a spin-off featuring blind lawyer Matt Murdock’s mysterious gal pal Elektra (played by Jennifer Garner, who would eventually become Mrs. Affleck), despite the fact that she was killed by Bullseye (Colin Farrell) already. In her own film, she is resurrected by sensei Stick (Terence Stamp, who should bring his own General Zod back to life instead) to fight an ancient evil group called the Hand, whom apparently nobody talks to. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) “Elektra” was so lame that they actually cancelled its accompanying videogame. Both movies, however, have 2-Disc extended Director’s Cuts available on DVD for severe masochists.
9. Spawn (1997)
Computer animation hadn’t advanced far enough to make the really weird visuals in this Todd MacFarlane adaptation look convincing yet, but you can’t blame ‘em for trying. A unique look is about all this incoherent Faustian mess had going for it. It’s hard to get involved in the moral dilemma of Al Simmons (Michael Jai White), who returns to Earth after death to seek revenge on the man who killed him, when everything is toned down for a PG-13 rating. If someone crafted a “Spawn” story that was strong enough, I’d say this franchise was due for a reboot. If so, please keep John Leguizamo, the only one having fun in a movie where everything should be played up for its gothic ridiculousness. The tone is all over the place and character motivations that were meant to be complicated are merely left unclear by first-time director (and Industrial Light & Magic veteran) Mark A.Z. Dippe, who went on to direct the TV movie “Frankenfish” and straight-to-DVD release “Garfield Gets Real.”
8. Fantastic Four (2005)/ Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)
When I originally heard that this classic Marvel comic book was coming out as a feature film, it was rumored that the producers would set it in its original time period, the 1960s. That had me pumped. The four astronauts who are bombarded by cosmic rays on an experimental rocketship and crash land on Earth with superpowers almost seemed like they could be real. Why? Because astronauts in that decade were real-life superheroes and international celebrities, just like Reed Richards and company. Too risky a financial move, the studio ultimately decided against it and hired director Tim Story (“Barbershop”) to direct. He helmed both movies, which feature a laughable Jessica Alba and poor Michael Chiklis (so good as Vic Mackey on FX’s “The Shield”) buried under blocky Thing makeup. Today’s world is too cynical for these government celebrity-heroes born straight out of the space race, and the dated rapport between the dysfunctional family of the Four would have seemed more natural has the film been set in its proper 1960s setting. As it stands, they are both just cheesy, forgettable superhero pictures.
7. Ghost Rider (2007)
Mark Steven Johnson (“Daredevil”) strikes again, giving Marvel’s fringe-tastic flaming-skull motorcyclist a truly boring and arbitrary film adaptation. This one would have been better set in the 1970s, when daring stunt performers like Evel Kneivel captured the American imagination. Instead, we get Johnny Blaze, who seems like a relic who plays state fairs, a silly cat-and-mouse courtship between Nic Cage (trying really hard to play younger) and Eva Mendes, and a sloppily laid-out set of “demon possession” rules–complete with a sleepwalking Devil (Peter Fonda, who looks like an inspired choice on paper) and an emo-goth wannabe bad guy named Blackheart (Wes Bentley) who wears long trench coats and hangs out with “The Lost Boys.” Sometimes the special effects are almost convincing and they are always are fun to look at even when they’re not (did I mention that Blaze is a flaming skeleton who wears a black-leather coat and rides a motorcycle?), but using digital VFX to illustrate the inner possession “battle” at the end between Ghost Rider and the hell spawn baddies is just plain lazy. Nothing is less suspenseful than people convulsing while their skin is overtaken by CGI—except maybe this entire film.
6. The Punisher (1989)/(2004)
I read recently that another “Punisher” movie is planned (starring Ray Stevenson who was so good in HBO’s “Rome”) and I can’t for the life of me think why. They already did such a great job with the first two! Dolph Lundgren (best known as Drago from “Rocky IV”) tackled vigilante assassin Frank Castle, better known to comics fans as “The Punisher,” in the midst of Schwarzenegger fever. It seemed like any high-octane action flick with a burly dude, a strange foreign accent, and some quippy one-liners was a hit at the box office. Not this one. So in 2004, they rebooted it with Thomas Jane and featured a campy-ass John Travolta as the villain. The appearance of Travolta trying to be evil by way of Hugh Hefner and Tony Manero is funny enough, but the addition of some slapstick later in the film lightens, for the moment at least, what is an overbearingly grim and depressing movie. I wish Stevenson all the luck in the world, because nobody has been able to make revenge quite as boring as “The Punisher” films.
5. Superman III (1983)/Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)
These two put the nail in the coffin of the Superman franchise for almost a good twenty years. As a fan of the original Richard Lester cut of “Superman II,” it is sad for me to admit that Lester’s1983 sequel, starring Richard Pryor of all people, is such a fantastic misfire. Pryor is a half-witted computer genius who accidentally splits Superman in two, forcing a face-off between Clark Kent and the Man of Steel (both played by Christopher Reeve). This film all but abandons the mythology of the character (and abandons Lois Lane completely) while trying to squeeze in a subplot with Supes’ Smallville pal Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole). Synthetic kryptonite, a lame villain (Robert Vaughn), and a lot of failed gags essentially put this series to rest. Reeve, however, got Gene Hackman and everyone else back on board to help Superman rid the planet of nuclear weapons in installment number four. Reeve co-wrote the screenplay, and I’m sure he meant well, but having a Nuclear Man created as a clone from hair that was attached to a missile thrown into the Sun by Superman is a bad, bad idea. It’s almost as bad as Nuclear Man’s look—he’s a moussed, tanned bumblebee wearing a crooked “N” on his chest. And if you thought movie special effects couldn’t regress, wrong; there was virtually no budget for the movie either. Jon Cryer played Luthor’s new wave Duckie-like nephew and reportedly Reeve took him aside just before the release and confessed to him that it was going to be “terrible”.
4. Blade Trinity (2004)
The Death of a Franchise, Part Two: The first two “Blade” movies were guilty pleasures—dumb and typically plotted action films, but visually exciting, with just the right dash of humor. Wesley Snipes (currently prepping for a real-life “trilogy” of his own) was dead serious in his role as the part-vampire vampire killer, while Kris Kristofferson played the grizzled old vet/smart ass sidekick with the requisite amount of authority. But by the time of the series’ third movie, these characters had nowhere to go. Enter Ryan Reynolds (cursing up a storm as the poor man’s Jason Lee, but with dialogue so bad even Kevin Smith would have tossed it out) and Jessica Biel (sexy as she wants to be). Reynolds is a constant annoyance—you can tell he thinks that he’s so good that the series will eventually spin off his character. Thank God that didn’t happen. Even the special effects in “Blade Trinty” are awful, which is a shame because Guillermo del Toro’s quadra-jaw-splitting monsters from the second film really upped the ante. Here, everything is a montage, obscured by flashing lights, close-up camera angles, and bad 90s-style techno-goth music. Wrestler Triple H is also on hand to throw around some Styrofoam “rocks,” and Parker Posey does her best to liven the undead, but it’s no use.
3. Batman and Robin (1997)
The Death of a Franchise, Part Three: Before George Clooney became the symbol of the effortlessly cool Hollywood leading man, he toiled around in junk like the generic romance “One Fine Day” with Michelle Pfeiffer, and this—the second Joel Schumacher “Batman” film and the only one featuring—you got it—rubber nipples. Val Kilmer was lucky enough to have a hit song by Seal and Jim Carrey as the Riddler for big box office draw to buttress his installment, but 1995’s “Batman Forever” also took the series entirely away from Tim Burton’s brooding goth leanings and moved 100 percent towards Schumacher’s campy style (complete with ice skates and glowing, fluorescent dance sequences). If “Batman Forever” was the first date, then “Batman & Robin” is full-on legalized gay marriage, bringing Chris O’Donnell’s Robin front-and-center and introducing Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl. Depending on which way you look at it, the movie is either a massive departure from the character-as-intended or the first movie to call it like it is. Hardcore fans of the Dark Knight don’t like acknowledging Robin’s very existence, yet here he was, thrusting his tights straight into the spotlight and right onto Taco Bell cups everywhere. As if to distract the audience from the sheer stinkiness of a script by future Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), Schumacher crammed “Batman & Robin” full of villains, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ridiculous Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman’s laughable Poison Ivy, and pro wrestler Jeep Swenson as the masked Bane. What any of this had to do with anything, I’m still not sure. Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo), and Bill Corbett (Crow) make the whole mess bearable with their recently released, fan-written “Batman & Robin” MP3 commentary track from RiffTrax to be played with the DVD.
2. Catwoman (2004)
With the proper frame of mind, one can at least enjoy “Batman & Robin” one way or another. I don’t know if that’s at all possible with this movie. In addition to giving her actual superpowers that the character never had, the makers of “Catwoman” also changed her name and everything catty about this supervillain’s nature. What made Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt—and Michelle Pfeiffer, for that matter—so much fun was their rambunctious and (pardon the obvious pun) catty nature. This Halle Berry vehicle sucks all the life and humor from her, has nothing to do with Batman, doesn’t take place in Gotham, and has the gall to rename Selina—I’m not kidding—”Patience.” Of course, this moniker is so one-name French director Pitof can give his feline lead some “real girl power” courtesy of some Egyptian God. But he mistakes ferociousness for character, and Catwoman doesn’t do anything for herself really. She exists as a mindless sex object trying to take down an evil cosmetics company—an irony that doesn’t really work as social commentary. The movie won Worst Film, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Actress at the Razzie Awards (for which Berry and the film’s writer good-naturedly showed up to accept), but supporting actress Sharon Stone was robbed of her deserved Worst Supporting Actress win for her over-the-top histrionics.
1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
While “Catwoman” may be a more acclaimed bad film, this movie (which received nary a Razzie nomination) sits proudly atop all others on this awful, awful list for one reason: It may be the biggest waste of fantastic, inspired source material ever. As bad as these other films are—let’s face it—they are not exactly based on award-worthy material. This miserable failure of a film is adapted from Alan Moore’s Eisner-winning series, a fantastical pastiche of classic characters from famous turn-of-the-century writers like Bram Stoker, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H.G. Wells. Moore’s famous disgust with this and other movie adaptations has led to his taking his name off of all future film projects based on his work. Here’s the strange part: This absurdly creative, well-researched, dark, and rollicking literary amalgamation was stripped of everything that made it original in the first place when the filmmakers retained only the basic premise of “famous characters who unite.” They added some (Tom Sawyer, Dorian Gray) and took away others (Fu Manchu), and fashioned around them a dumbed-down, formulaic storyline. Two writers eventually sued the studio for stealing their similarly-themed screenplay and inserting the plot into this “League” adaptation. The movie looks dull as well, bathed in blurry grays and blacks everywhere to cover up the lack of concrete art direction or maybe disguise that they had run out of money. Even if this weren’t based on such a colorful, vibrant comic, the movie would suck of its own accord for so many reasons. I’ll let my original review say the rest:
I can’t imagine anyone thinking that this “League” was good. Director Stephen Norrington should be made to watch his own “Blade” over and over again, so he could at least figure out how to have fun with a comic character again. And Sean Connery should fire his agent for letting him star in such an insipid mess. Did he even read the script? Was there even one? Or did they decide to go with the premise of the League and simply improvise the rest? There is an ending that suggests a sequel, but I guarantee it’ll never be made. When word gets out on this stinker, it’ll be lucky to cover the cost of that fake smoke effect. Terrible dialogue, terrible plot, terrible set design, terrible CGI effects, terrible insult to the book, terribly unintentionally funny, terribly joyless proceedings all around.
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