The Evolution of Comic Book Movies

By Joe Strange


With the newest trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy released on Monday, and Xmen Days of Future Past hitting cinemas at the end of this week, now seems to be as good a time as any to take a look at the genre of film that is dominating the silver screen at the moment; comic book movies.

The 2000’s really saw the birth of the era of Comic book films, sure there were the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks in the 70’s and 80’s, and the myriad of Batman features, ranging from the surprisingly dark Batman (1989) to Batman and Robin (1997) which was awful, just awful, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennia that viewers really got a look into the super-life.

Blade appeared in 1998, and while the series continued until 2004 with Blade Trinity (which still holds the top place for my favourite swearing scene, thanks mister Reynolds) it would take a more familiar class of heroes to really bring in the crowds.

I mean Xmen (2000) already had a well known and successful cartoon show (with a bitchin’ theme tune) to prove how popular these characters were. But it was director Brian Singer’s approach to the ideas of discrimination and prejudice that made what was seen at the time as a childish product into a more mature and enjoyable series.

With the release of Spiderman two years later, and the incredible box office success that was, as well as a sequel to Xmen (X2) in the May of the next year, it looked like the genre could do no wrong…

Let us never speak of it again.
Let us never speak of it again.

The shiny leather clad, terribly scripted Daredevil was released in February 2003, and so marked the dark ages for comic book films. The next 5 years let loose a Pandora’s box of Spandex shite. We were ‘treated’ to a higgled and piggled version of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), an unnecessary spin off of Daredevil in the form of Electra, (2005) as well as the unwatchable Catwoman (2004) and the soon to be rebooted (not for the last time) Hulk in 2003.

It wasn’t all bad, 2005 saw Batman return in the excellent and down to earth Batman Begins, and Spiderman 2 (2004) still remains on of the best comic book sequels of all time. But we also had Fantastic 4, and a sequel nobody asked for. Ghost Rider saw Nicholas Cage do his best crazy in a contrived script that did the source material very little justice, and somehow bagged itself a sequel. And it wouldn’t be a superhero slag-fest unless I mentioned Xmen the Last Stand, which managed to bury the franchise so far into the ground that it had to be rebooted years later, the exact same can be said for Spiderman 3 a year later.

Then 2008 and Ironman came along, and out of left field came a director that no one quite trusted with a property not many really knew about, and it exploded. Critically and financially, it dominated. Robert Downey Jr’s return to the mainstream not only skyrocketed his career, but also launched one of the biggest film franchises of all time.

Two months later, the Dark Knight was released, and, like Ironman, was a critical and financial success, with Ledger’s performance winning a score of awards. In two films, 2008 proved to be the renaissance to this genre’s dark ages.

Since then it’s been a wild ride for Marvel and DC fans alike, as well as fans of graphic novels such as Watchmen and Kick Ass. DC paved the way for gritty realism in the Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, as well as Man of Steel (or at least as realistic as you can get when Superman is involved), while Marvel have managed to hit a chord with both casual viewers and big comic book fans.

Comic book movies are doing better and better each year (the praise for Marvel’s Phase 2 so far has been phenomenal) and with DC planning a Batman and Superman movie, Fox setting out another solo Wolverine movie as well as a sequel to this weeks Days of Future Past and the Marvel Cinematic Universe planned out until 2028, they really don’t show any signs of stopping.

I owe a lot to these films, not only have they been the source of many a conversation with both old and new friends, but they were also the gateway genre to my love of film, Robert Downey Jr’s performance in Ironman led me to watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which is still one of my favourite films, and is always a welcome addition to a movie night.


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