Comic Books, Superheroes, and Movies

The Avengers came out this Friday, May 4th, 2012. I haven’t seen it as of this posting, but I plan to soon. I’ve heard rave reviews and it’s a Joss flick, so I’m pumped about it (speaking of awesome Joss flicks, The Cabin in the Woods is amazing. Go see it now).

This is where the magic will happen.

Naturally, everyone else who doesn’t work weekends saw the movie already. Status updates assembled, and one in particular caught my eye.

Well.. after an entire decade of superhero movies.. one finally takes down X2 as the greatest.[…]

This took me by surprise. While I do like X2 as the best of the X-Men series, I hardly thought of it as the best superhero movie of the past ten years or so. That still rested with The Dark Knight.

When I asked this friend why X2 was his favorite, he explained that The Dark Knight doesn’t count as a superhero movie. His claim was that Christopher Nolan’s Batman is not a superhero, but rather a theatrical detective who is featured in crime dramas that aspire to be like Heat as opposed to a gateway into the DC Universe.

I can’t refute that claim. Technically, Batman has never been a superhero in the strictest terms. No super powers. Unless you count limitless money, physical perfection, and a genius-level intellect.

“Also, I never age. Death’s afraid of me.”

He also said that you never feel the graphic novel or comic book in Nolan’s films. If feeling like a comic book is what makes a movie a superhero movie, then I don’t like superhero movies. HULK was jammed full of comic book frames and it was awful.

But this got me thinking about all the other superhero movies I’ve watched over the years; whether they could be classified as superhero movies, or if they should be classified as something else.

In order to prepare for Assembly, I went back and watched what I’ll refer to as The Precursors:

Not a bad weekend.

As I’m watching, I realize that these and other films could be considered any number of things besides superhero movies. So I start running down the list:

  • Spawn
  • Blade
  • X-Men
  • Spider-Man
  • Punisher
  • Hellboy
  • Fantastic Four
  • Batman Begins
  • Superman Returns
  • Iron Man
  • The Incredible Hulk
  • Watchmen
  • Green Lantern
  • Thor
  • Captain America

Those are the big movies that are superhero-centric. They’re all named after the superheroes that are featured in them, which qualifies them as superhero movies. But like I said, they can all be thought of in different genres based on their content.

  • Spawn – Faustian tragedy in which a man sells his soul to the Devil in order to be with his wife again.
  • Blade – Action Horror involving vampires.
  • X-Men – Mutants serve as a metaphor for societal outcasts dealing with prejudice.
  • Spider-Man – Morality tale summarized by the tagline “with great power comes great responsibility.”
  • Punisher – Revenge thriller.
  • Hellboy – Supernatural action flick about choosing your own fate, despite your nature.
  • Fantastic Four – Fable about family and teamwork.
  • Batman (covering Nolan’s films) – Crime drama with a hard-boiled detective.
  • Superman Returns – Tale of real estate, heavy lifting, relying entirely on nostalgia, and destroying a franchise.
  • Iron Man – Redemption story that comments on accountability.
  • The Incredible Hulk – Modern-day Jekyll and Hyde dealing with the struggle against our primal urges and emotions.
  • Watchmen – Murder mystery/global conspiracy/anti-establishment tale warning about the dangers of escalating nuclear armament.
  • Green Lantern – Space Opera about discovering one’s purpose; impresses the importance of good casting choices by making poor ones (sorry Ryan Reynolds, I love you, but Nathan Fillion should have been GL and you should still get your own Flash movie).
  • Thor – Shakespearean political power struggle involving family betrayal and a love story.
  • Captain America – War movie that defines heroism with one little guy and a grenade.

So even though these can all be thought of as movies falling into different categories, the fact that they have superheroes in them and are, in fact, constructed around those superheroes makes them… superhero movies. At the very least, they’re comic book movies because they’re based on comic books.

There are certainly comic book movies that have no superheroes.

  • Road to Perdition
  • 300
  • Sin City
  • Constantine
  • Wanted
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

These fall squarely in the “not superhero” category. Except if you’re thinking of the book for Wanted. But I would still say that’s a supervillain story.

So we’ve covered superhero comic book movies and non-superhero comic book movies. The only thing left is the non-comic book superhero movies.

I could bring up The Incredibles, but let’s be honest, that’s Pixar’s version of Fantastic Four. Or Hancock, but *spoiler alert* it was terrible. Or Darkman, but I haven’t seen it.

The one I will bring up is the one I feel stands out from the others, not only in the non-comic book superhero category, but also from the filmmaker’s other efforts:

The same could not be said for M. Night Shyamalan’s career

If you like superheroes, comic books, and the “what-a-twist” endings of Shyamalan’s movies, this one is for you. Seriously, it’s a spectacular movie, and Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson are excellently cast. Add it to your Watch list.

You can disagree with me on any of the conclusions I draw about the  superhero/comic book/other genre categorization of these films, and I want to encourage discussion. Trying to figure this out was what inspired writing this post.

What do you think makes something a “superhero” movie, a “comic book” movie, or any genre of movie? Do you even care? Am I boring you to tears?

“This guy is such a dork.”

Dishonorable Mentions:

  • Daredevil
  • Ghost Rider
  • Spider-Man 3
  • Wolverine
  • Joel Schumacher