It’s been an interesting decade for comic book films, with plenty of ups and downs. Here’s a look at the best and worst comic book films of the decade:
Top 10 Comic Book Films of the Decade
1. The Dark Knight
While Batman Begins rebooted the franchise, it was Nolan’s The Dark Knight that reinvented the franchise, elevating it to cinematic excellence. Gotham, for once, feels like a living city. Absent are the Burton-esque fronts, and frames packed with gothic throwbacks. There is Ledger’s brilliant turn as the Joker, his take on the character being both unique and defining. To know that we will never get to revisit this level of performance is quite discouraging. The rest of the film is packed full of excellent supporting performances. The Harvey Dent/Two Face arc is rendered with perfection, although admittedly it would be nice to see Two Face return in the future. In all, this is the definitive Batman film. Period.
2. The Incredibles
I neglected to include this film in my Top 25 Films of the Decade list, and I assure you it was an oversight. Brad Bird’s animated take on superheroes is a cornerstone for this generation’s comic geeks. It’s the cinematic counterpart to the gateway comics of my youth. While a simple yarn about a super powered family could have been sufficient for most, Bird and Pixar are never complacent with settling for the simple or the obvious. Instead, we are given a reflection on family, fatherhood, and the sacrifices inherent in parenthood. It goes without saying that Pixar makes great family friendly movies, but it should be overstated that they also make great cinema that also happens to be family friendly as well.
3. Spider-Man 2
Raimi’s second foray into the Spider-Man franchise was, quite simply, the best superhero film of the decade. That is until Nolan swept in with a sequel of his own that completely bumped Raimi’s effort down a few pegs. But, despite this bump Spider-Man 2 still remains one of the decade’s best. We finally get the conflict necessary to make the Peter Parker / Mary Jane Watson story arc take shape, and we’re given more allusions to the pending confrontation with The Lizard. Tops amongst all of this is the delicate balance of the Green Goblin story arc in support of a brilliant performance from Alfred Molina as Doc Ock. Hands down, his was an excellent portrayal of the villain, and had Heath Ledger not turned in his brilliant Joker performance, Molina would have easily won the title of Best Adapted Super Villain of the Decade. It’s still damned good nonetheless.
4. Sin City
They said it couldn’t be filmed. Then Robert Rodriguez went ahead and fought for it anyway. He even managed to woo Frank Miller, who had ultimately sworn off of working with the Hollywood machine, into joining the project. That said, Miller is best in doses (especially cinematically, see The Spirit below), and partnering with Rodriguez seemed to provide the right mix. Who could’ve predicted that Rodriguez would be the one “reigning things in” in this collaborative effort. He’s usually the one going off the rails at every turn, wading in the balls out deep end with glee (see Grindhouse). Anyway, for fans of the graphic novel, this is about as good as it gets. You can feel the pulp, you can smell the pages. This is a comic book movie for comic book lovers, and it’s drenched in excellent performances.
5. Iron Man
I seriously underestimated this film when it was released. Not only is it a good turn in terms of comic book adaptations (for the most part, the characters come to life in a world that is for the most part believable), but it is also a harbinger of what could be. Imagine if Marvel were to put this level of care and craft (and vision) behind other “Avenger films.” They could accomplish the ultimate coup — a comic book crossover film. Let’s face it, the ultimate undiscovered country in the world of comic book cinema is the team up, or the crossover. Comics can hardly span an issue without a cameo or a crossover these days, and many of the better books out there are the result of years of comic book crossovers (Avengers, Justice League). So, while the future may look a little grim (please let Iron Man 2 rock), for now we have Favreau’s excellent experiment with Tony Stark, and aside from a rather flat role for Pepper, it’s a pretty good ride.