The iFanboy 2008 Summer Movie Wrap-Up

 

Though July has yet to breathe its dying breath (it inhales the scent of watermelon and exhales firecrackers), the summer movie season has already drawn to a close. At least for comic book films. But before we synchronize our Watchmen countdown widgets, let us pause for but a moment to remember the season that was. Join me in licking a communal index finger and browsing through the scrapbook pages of Summer 2008: The Best Year For Comic Book Movies Since 1996 (when Billy Zane’s The Phantom came out).

2008 offered five comic book films this year and that lineup was bookended by what many consider the finest films of the Marvel and DC universes respectively. The films that came between ranged in quality, but each garnered acclaim from one corner of the comics community or another. I’m mincing words here because Wanted makes up 20% of this landmark season’s blockbuster buffet. It’s not really my confection of choice, but let’s not throw the baby out with the baklava. Not only did Tinsel Town serve up some of the best sequential art adaptations this year; it also gave us the best portrayals of some truly iconic characters.

Iron Man

When I heard that Harry Connick Jr. was tapped to play Tony Stark I had instant reservations. Then I re-read the press release and agreed that Robert Downey Jr. was one of those lightning bolt casting choices, a fail-safe against nearly any foul-up of production. Downey would deliver the arrogance and the swagger, but also the boyish charisma of the eccentric billionaire, even if other elements didn’t line up. We were bewitched by this one pretty early, and once those first trailers hit, the seduction was complete. It was more than just Tony Stark (“No gang signs. Just kidding.”). Iron Man was jousting with jets. We wanted that suit for our own. I’ve only recently thrown out the Doodle Pad blueprints I had tacked up in my basement and returned the Power Wheels battery to my cousin.

The movie itself is notable for a couple of reasons. It launched the new wave of Marvel movies, which are slowly linking together to create a MegaZord which we know now to be the Avengers movie. It is also widely regarded as the best film from the Marvel universe to date. As I hovered at the urinal after the screening, I wondered whether I’d enjoyed this one more than Batman Begins. I ultimately decided that it was perhaps Marvel’s Batman Begins. Different in tone, of course, but a comedic match in terms of quality and caliber of performance. An apple to an orange. And then I flushed and washed my hands with the purple soap. Don’t use the air dryers; they just suck up the bacteria from the floor. You might as well ask the guy in the next stall to rasp the alphabet over your palms.

The Incredible Hulk

When I think about Ang Lee’s The Hulk, often considered the misunderstood Hulk these days, I flash to Nick Nolte’s mugshot. They’re forever linked in my mind. If I probe further into the recesses, I can find more nuggets of worth. When I get to Jennifer Connelly I sort of pause and lose myself in a mental Shangri-La from which I vow never to return. Then when we embrace on that Himalayan terrace, I pull back her veil and there’s Nick Nolte’s mugshot again, hair matted and lips puckered. So, you know… it’s mixed.

As for this new Hulk, this retcon-riffic brawler, I think the masses were a bit more accepting. It’s not a perfect film, but, then, it’s not so easy being green. The Hulk is a difficult character to nail down because he’s equal parts skull-crushing destruction and soul-crushing guilt complex. It’s easier to portray the gray in comics (no pun intended), but with a summer blockbuster you’re essentially catering to a wider audience with more specific wants. The Incredible Hulk, more than its predecessor, did a very good job of balancing either form of crushing. And though the role isn’t nearly as fun as Stark, Norton offers a remarkably understated Banner. This film also features part two of the ongoing Avengers Initiative serial, with Downey stepping in for one of the most crowd-pleasing and timely cameos in movie history. Like so many Lincoln Logs, the Marvel Movieverse and its Avengers are assembling.


Wanted

…came out in late June. We really liked Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption and the Nolan Batman films. Angelina Jolie does a lot of charitable work for the United Nations.

……

…………

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

It’s no secret that I am a real Dark Horse fanatic these days, and much of my zeal can be attributed to Hellboy and its sister series B.P.R.D.. I’m also a huge admirer of Guillermo del Toro (search for pictures of the Hellboy II signings at NYCC and you’ll probably see me in the crowd, breathing into a brown paper bag). So this was a big one for yours (mostly) truly.

Ultimately, I think this is a successful film, and one that I look forward to enjoying again and again. Much has been said about the tone and style of this film leaning more towards del Toro than Mignola. To me, it feels like a return to the era of Jim Henson (another personal hero). This is very much in line with something like Dark Crystal. The Troll Market, while somewhat claustrophobic, is a time capsule to a period of fantasy filmmaking that has been all but abandoned in recent years. As a child of the 80s, I always thrill to see elements like puppetry or traditional animation utilized to tell stories like this. It’s a simple fairy tale, yes, but when done so well, and with the injection of del Toro and Mignolaverse elements, this felt like such a rich and textured world. The loosest of adaptations perhaps, but it does nothing to diminish what we already have and does endeavor to provide something different.

And they got Johann pitch perfect, even if his role in the scheme of things was so very different from his place in the comics. Maybe that’s the mark of a successful adaptation. Not that it succeeds in areas where it parallels with the original, but that it succeeds in those areas where it strays.

The Dark Knight

I think we all knew.

The Dark Knight really did have everything going for it. A time-tested auteur at the helm, one of the most talented ensembles you could possibly shepherd into frame, and a first outing so water-tight that the pedigree was already established. But let’s not kid ourselves. This was Heath’s movie. Always was and always will be. He gobbled it up and it was all the better for it. His portrayal of The Joker was a cocktail of Hannibal Lecter, Stanley Kowalski, and Bugs Bunny, and from his first “magic trick” I was never sure how something so disturbing could also be so delightful. Whatever it is, it’s a dark kind of magic that will endure.

 

 


If The Incredible Hulk shrugged off any associations with its previous incarnation, The Dark Knight grounds the Schumaker films into the pavement. Grit and realism replace black light paint flamboyance. It was deliciously dark and sinister even if so many of its scenes were cast in the light of day. And the score! The “Why So Serious?” theme, that low, menacing buzz, is up there with the Jaws theme for dread-inspiring tones, an anti-fanfare if ever there was one. Nolan set Batman in a very real Gotham and gave us a superhero film where our protagonist is set upon by dogs in the final reel. It’s all the more interesting when we compare it to the finale of the summer’s opening salvo. Tony Stark, cheekily resigned, says, “I am Iron Man.” The truth in a genre with characters so dependent on lies.  

It was the summer of secret identities, of mantles assumed or denied.

And Billy Zane was nowhere to be found.

So, what are your thoughts on the season that was? How do you rank the five big comic book blockbusters? And what were your favorite moments? For me, it was probably between Tony Stark calling the assembled press to sit on the floor for a more casual powwow as he ate his burger or that fantastic shot of The Joker seen above.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some flossing to do. Popcorn kernel right behind the canine. Damn.

 


Paul Montgomery may have given up on his Iron Man armor, but he’s still working on his Joker venom. Just one more drop of Ecto Cooler and… aha… ahahaha…. ahahahahahahahahh!!!!! Bwahahahahaha!!!! You can… ahahahaa… reach him at… ahahahaha…. paul@ifanboy.com

 

Comments

  1. So long Summer 2008 movie season, I hardly knew ya.

  2. But… what about Punisher: War Zone?

    Nobody?

    Yeah, me neither.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Punisher: War Zone is, of course, a Christmas film.  

    Stuff that in your stocking and smoke it, December 8th.   

  4. from the look of the trailer I think I’ll need to smoke something to get through it.

  5. Why is it so hard to make a good Punisher movie? I don’t want to judge a movie before I see it, but I have zero hope for War Zone. Punisher, if anything, should be the easiest comic book adaption due to it’s realistic nature and concept.

     Feh.

     Hulk was fun, Iron Man was better, Dark Knight was a revelation.

  6. I loved your review of Wanted. Spot on, sir.

  7. The picture of the loom almost made me spit.  It was touch and go for a bit, but I managed to swallow my water.

  8. Wait, are the summer comic-book movies over already?!? Damn, what are we going to do while we wait for Watchmen? The Mummy? Nah, how about THe Dark Knight in Imax? Now we’re talkin’.

  9. very nice Paul.

  10. @AngryChris- "Hulk was fun, Iron Man was better, Dark Knight was a revelation."  An admirably succinct and accurate summary. 

    I imagine the summer of comic book movies as a college party.  Iron Man is the jokester, the comedian.  He’s the guy who always knows the best drinking games and makes the party more fun just by being there.  Incredible Hulk is the jock who got drunk before arriving.  Always cheering and yelling and fist-pumping, but say the wrong thing or look at his girl and he’ll make you "take it outside."  Hellboy II is the cheerleader – beautiful to look at, but kinda shallow without substance.  Sure, she has her moments of glory, but they’re few and far between, and they come in between body shots.  Wanted wasn’t invited, but overheard Iron Man talking on the phone and assumed he could come.  Nobody has the heart to tell him otherwise.  The Dark Knight is the coolest kid on campus.  All the guys want to be him, all the girls want to have his babies.  He’s funny, charming, emotionally deep and quite the looker.  If everyone else at the party was half the partygoer he is, it would be the greatest party the world has ever seen.

  11. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    @Doski – Wanted was that weird kid who always brought a loom to the parties.  

  12. Here’s my ranking, parts of which i’m sure many people will disagree with.

    1) Dark Knight – would it make sense to pick anything else as number 1? I think not.

    2) Hellboy – I know a lot of other people liked the original hellboy but I wasn’t crazy about it. It was okay but with only a few cool things to look at and very flat and basic action sequences Del Toro hadn’t come into his own yet. With this sencond one I was blown away. Better editing with action sequences, fun character interactions, and a whole market place of monster designs. So Good.

    3) Tie between Iron Man and Hulk – I loved Iron Man but I didn’t fall apart over it like many did. Some bagged on Hulk but I had too much fun to care. These are both in the same notch for me and hear the phrase "super soldier program" in Hulk got me so psyched for Cap and Avengers.

    5) Wanted – I could give or take this movie. It wasn’t great but I don’t think it was terrible either. I wasn’t as bothered by the whole loom of fate thing as much as I was by the wandering plot in the middle. One thing I Can say though is that I feel it ended pretty damn well.

  13. Nice review Paul.

     

    There was so much good in these flicks, it’s hard to choose a favorite moment or scene.  I don’t want to praise one film for fear it diminishes another and there’s so much quality out there that it isn’t fair.

     

    Ledger’s Joker was as close to perfect as we’re ever going to see.  Norton’s Banner nailed the inner struggles of a man possessed.  Downie’s Stark captures the boyish charm and carefree attitude of the character to a tee.  Nothing short of brilliance all around.

     

    I guess what it all comes down to is…well…having this much quality is a great problem to have and one I’m hoping to have again and again.

  14. I have to say I’m glad that ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Dark Knight’ were such different movies because I don’t feel the need to compare them.  I loved the way that TDK imagined the world of Gotham; I loved the way Iron Man brought the character of Tony Stark to life.  I can’t say right now which one’s going to stick with me longer, but I’ll be perfectly happy if they both do.

    (Loved Norton in Hulk, thought the rest of it was forgettable; haven’t had a chance to see Hellboy yet, have no desire to see ‘Wanted.’ )

  15. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    One more favorite moment:  

    In Dark Knight, when the truck flips, the kid 7 rows behind me going, "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!!!"  pause  "Awesome." 

  16. Here is what I keep saying over and over in my head… Where is the DC followup for next year?  I don’t count Watchmen because it is not part of the main universe.  Marvel has Wolverine only right now, but it would not shock me if something else appears by the end of the year for release next year.  Marvel "deserves" the lull of one movie anyway after having 2+ movies coming out several years in a row.  DC has not done that.

    I think this is where big corporation fails DC Comics.  Time Warner is dropping the ball with this, which should not be a real shock, but this is "easy" money for them.  There are no third parties to deal with.  They own every leg of the process of getting a comic book movie out the door, yet hit more road blocks than one would imagine.  There is always talk of the Green Arrow movie, but I haven’t heard much of that movie in months.  Maybe Comic-Con will change my mind, but if The Watchmen is all Time Warner can muster, then I am not confident at all in seeing more than Batman and Superman up on the big screen.

  17. "Angelina Jolie does a lot of charitable work for the United Nations…"

    A+ Paul, A+

  18. To me The Dark Night was easily the best.

     I see the Dark Night as what we should expect from Iron Man 2. The first Batman was great and really set the grounds for a great world and TDK took off running and was amazing. Tony Stark was set up and now the next movie should blow us away.

  19. DK was the best movie of the year so far for me. Without question. It was the "Empire Strikes Back" of the Batman franchise. That said, I don’t want ever other superhero flick to take a page from this (well, except when it come to real stunts over cgi where possible). Iron Man was a great flick too, but it was a fun, less complex action flick. It did the job it was suppposed to do, without being something so serious like DK.

    Like comicbooks, I love variety in my movies. I want Batman to be just for me. An adult and dark film. I want to be able to take the kids to Iron Man. What a blast that was! Just looking over and my son (6) and seeing his jaw drop when Iron Man was trying to get away from the jets was worth the price of admission. Seeing Hellboy 2 with my wife, who loved the fantasy aspects. These films we more than just comicbook films. They offered something for everyone and, in my case, everything for me.

    Thanks for the article Paul.

  20. Iron Man and the Dark Knight blew me away, and i also enjoyed the Hulk and Hellboy 2.  Great summer for movies and although there are no more Comic movies coming out, i still got my X-files to look forward to

  21. Is there anyone else who has yet to see Dark Knight? Anyone? [crickets chirping]

  22. This was by far the best batch of hero flicks that we have seen in any given summer. So much so that I fear we are going to see a bunch of sub-par movies coming out in an effort to mine the super hero gold mine. I am excited and wary at the same time.

    I am excited because we now know that the Avengers has started rolling and I expect that Marvel (now being in control) will at least be able to stem any hideous film efforts. But I think the other properties are fair game. I am wary cuz God knows we don’t need another Catwoman movie.

    What I DO want is some kind of HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime to do a series based on a property.I would prefer it to be a "R" rated street level type of hero ala Daredevil, Green Arrow, or something in that arena. If they take it seriously with solid writing, in todays comic friendly environment, we can have a piece of work that could stand out, and be as successful as the Sopranos… hopefully.

     

     

  23. @Unobob  — Wasn’t there talk of a ‘Preacher’ series on Showtime a while back?  Not that that’s really a superhero property but it is comics.

    I doubt we’ll ever see R-rated content with franchise characters for Marvel or DC, though.

  24. Wow, Paul, you’ve saddened me almost as much as the previews before Batman did. Lets see: Brendan Frasier – YUCK, Leo tha Caprio – looks so silly trying to dress like a big boy and James Bond – No. It’s as if you just handed out the last of the presents on Christmas day.

    (#1) Dark Knight – The Dark Knight really brought it. Never in my life have I went to see the same film three times during opening weekend. The scene with Joker hanging his head out the cruiser window really captivated me. Something about the way he shook his head, the car swerving and the camera panning back and forth. I don’t think they were playing any music at the time. It should be noted that every time shit started to hit the fan it was dusk (Nolan made a point of filming dusk sequences) and "Why So Serious" would play, aside from that scene.

    (#2) Iron-Man – Heath Ledger wasn’t the only actor to lose himself in character this summer. Robert Downey Jr. played Tony Stark like it was nobody’s business. Iron-Man gave us a reason to believe Marvel found its stride, Punisher War Zone gives us reason to believe otherwise.

    (#3) The Incredible Hulk – I might have gotten to enjoy this one a lot more if I didn’t have to hear a comparison to Ang Lee’s film everytime someone mentioned it. Yes, I’m guilty too. Check out this comedy troupe clip spoofing Nolte (http://youtube.com/watch?v=q29CY76Mo9U). It has to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and it might get the mugshot out of your head.

    (#4) Hellboy II – This movie was pure eye candy. From start to finish there was always something on screen worth seeing. The story never really gave me a chance to settle in though, and before I knew it it was over.

    (#?) Wanted – I didn’t see it and I most likely never will. I hate Anorexia Jolie and I don’t like anything that slightly resembles The Matrix.        

  25. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Call me Sinbad, but I don’t know if you need to go blue and have an R rated Daredevil or Green Arrow.  I don’t think Dark Knight was really that much of a compromise.  It’s a hard sell because so much of it is toy sales and toothbrush sales and peanut butter cup sales.  So the draw of a Showtime or an HBO isn’t so much the adult content factor, it’s the standard of writing.  Shorter seasons and more overall reverence for the writing process.  

  26. Bring on Whiteout!

     

    Paul makes pretty words. Nice job. 

  27. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Thanks, Chris!  

    Rats, Whiteout technically comes out in the summer.  Only a couple days before that infernal Equinox!  Look what you’ve done to our credibility, Neseman!  We’re ruined! 

  28. Like we were gonna have a 2008 Comics Movie discussion without me mentioning my man Rucka’s movie!

    I remember asking him last year why they weren’t releasing Whiteout in the Summer because watching a movie set in the Antartic would be perfect for the hot months. His answer, "I think there’s a couple big time movies slated to come out around then…"

    I think I understand what he meant now…

  29. I don’t understand , all of my "real life"  friends loved Wanted and myself included.    But a large number of people here hated it.  HATERS!!!!!!.

  30. It really came down between Iron Man and Dark Knight for me this summer, but Iron Man had the handicap of being an origin movie (bleh). I probably enjoyed Iron Man more then Batman Begins, though and I have high hopes for Iron Man 2, providing they give it enough time to be done proper. Perhaps Favreau can have his own crack at something of Dark Knight‘s caliber, because Dark Knight was just epic. My only worry is if they even have anywhere to go after it. Hellboy 2 was 10x times better then the first and Incredible Hulk was a successful reboot. Only movie I didn’t get around to seeing was Wanted; I’m sure I’ll catch it when it rolls back around on the dollar show.

    tangent: Punisher doesn’t work as well on the screen as the page because it’s already a genre very well and successfully populated by other more brutal properties. Give Punisher the one thing the other Dirty Harry knockoffs don’t have, let him gripe with Wolverine while knocking the crap out of Rhino and killing Stiltman, and at least you’ll have something different then every other "angry-man-with-a-few-guns" formula. Not sure how it’d work, but it would be different, at least.

  31. The Dark Knight was so much better than anything else that you cant compare them

    But of the other movies Iron Man was overrated, Hulk in my opinion was better than Iron Man even though it was only a slight improvement over the 2003 version,Wanted?, and Helboy II came out way to close to Dark Knight for me to care

  32. Dark Knight all the way.  It pains me to say it but Bale is a better Batman than Michael Keaton, even though he beats his mom.

  33. Wait.. Wanted put out "Loom of Fate: Home Edition"? That’s awesome! Forget Burger King in Iron Man, that is some marketing.

  34. @PaulMontgomery

    Im not saying we have to have Matt Murdock in threesomes. When I say "R" I mean language wise. IMO its hard to have what’s supposed to be a grim and gritty part of town, and all of the bad guys are saying "shucks" and "darn" and dialog like "Darnit! He ‘messed’ up my whole perfect heroin operation! We need to ‘friggin’ kill that ‘bum’. I want him ‘freakin’ dead!’ 

    Think the MAX line of books from Marvel. Not the comics at the back of Penthoue. 🙂 

  35. @Unobob  I think swearing as ‘realism’ is overrated.  Though you almost had me on ‘Matt Murdock in threesomes.’ 

    Wait, did I say that out loud?

  36. @ohcaroline– haha careful, you know Matt’s girlfriend’s track records..

  37. @Kimbo  Well, I wasn’t actually volunteering. . .

  38. 24 hours and counting until TDK!!! Then I’ll throw in my (probably not overly interesting) two pence!