Worst. Comic Book Movies. EVER.

Posted: May 7, 2010 in comic books, Jeff Holland, reviews, Threat Quality
Tags: , , ,

It’s probably not going to shock anyone that we here at Threat Quality Press are downright jazzed about Iron Man 2. Hell, I’ve even grown out my Tony Stark Goatee. (Shut up!)

So of course it’s getting some rough early reviews.

What bugs me is the bad reviews all say the same as the good ones: it’s a mix of great character moments and way-huge action sequences – like that’s a bad thing. In the best and worst examples, that’s what superhero comics ARE!

The story description (the stress of being Iron Man takes a physical and psychological toll on Tony, just when competing industrialists and crazed Russians are trying to subvert his technology) is exactly what I want a superhero movie to be: a few great character moments couched in slam-bang action sequences (see: X-Men 2). This is precisely what like ¾ of Iron Man comics stories are about, after all.

Now, I realize people want different things from a movie than they do from a comic – after watching Sin City and Watchmen, I myself am usually a proponent of the “Your movie adaptation doesn’t have to LITERALLY ADAPT the comic” school of thought – but…

What does it take to please people?

The demands seem to be higher for movies based on comics (superhero comics especially). And nowhere is this more evident than the bevy of “Worst Comic Book Movie” lists readily available online.

There are three problems with these lists.
1) It’s too easy. People seem to forget that before, say, 1998’s Blade, there were only three “good” ones – Superman, Superman II and Batman (and you can LIKE Batman Returns, but…it was stupid. It was incredibly stupid. Dude: armed penguins. And most damning? Batman didn’t have a whole lot to do).
2) It’s still a relatively small genre. Let’s face facts, this is really just one small sub-genre of “action movies.” It’s like picking “The worst kickboxing movies.” There aren’t a lot, and if you’re looking to make an interesting list, you’ve got to get pretty esoteric. (The “Generation X” TV pilot? Is it that fun to pick on an aborted pilot for a canceled comic book series from 15 years ago?)
3) It’s incredibly subjective. How do you objectively weigh whether a movie starring a biker from hell with a flaming skull for a head is actually worse than a movie where a possessed Spider-Man shows his evilness by awkwardly dancing down the street?

All this boils down to metrics. By which I mean, where’s the baseline by which we measure “awful comic book movies”?

Don’t worry – I got this one.

For a movie to be truly awful – that is, of no redeeming value – a movie that not only isn’t very good, but causes seething anger in the viewer for having eaten two hours of time without the benefit of at least being visually interesting, intriguingly weird, or unintentionally hilarious? You have to adhere to some strict standards.

So I say, for a comic-based film to reach “Awful Comic Movie” levels, it must both:

1) deviate seriously from the concepts that made the source material worth adapting in the first place
2) offer the palpable feeling that the people involved in front of or behind the camera clearly hate, don’t understand and/or are astonishingly indifferent about being involved with the project.

Which means you can leave out stuff that’s merely mediocre (I maintain the real problem of the Tom Jane Punisher movie is he was working WAY too hard to take down a guy who was already losing his shit over some basic mindgames), or kinda goofy (look, I don’t care if Ghost Rider was stupid, you only have like a one-in-five shot of getting “flaming-skull hell-biker” right as a concept), or bad but well-meaning adaptations (From Hell only bares a passing resemblance to the Alan Moore book – but on its own merits, it’s an okay film), or even pure batshit lunacy (The Spirit actually IS a horrible movie, but it’s also a fascinating inner look at a big creator’s crumbling psyche).

You have to choose the movies WORTHY of your hatred. Because they hated you first. They didn’t care about the characters or concepts. They didn’t even have the strength of conviction to make a case for the weak, bastardized or outright alien ideas they put in their place.

Batman & Robin (This is pretty much the king: somewhere between Arnie’s copious ice-puns, Schumaker’s insistence that Bruce Wayne “Get over his issues already,” and Clooney’s admission that he played Batman as gay, and you have a perfect example of a movie that just could not give a shit about the material it was working with.)

Catwoman (Well, for one thing, it has nothing to do with the actual character; for another, it decided “leather-clad lady cat-burglar” somehow wasn’t a strong enough concept, and instead favored “lady possessed by cat-spirits fights against cosmetics manufacturer.” To bring in female viewers, I guess? Perhaps what bothers me most is there’s probably a really good “Catwoman-by-way-of-Sex-in-the-City” script that never got developed.)

Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Disappointing mainly because it heavily utilizes one of the best Reed Richards comics moments – written by Warren Ellis, at that! – while continuing to make the most important Fantastic Four character basically irrelevant. No fault of Iaon Gruffoud – and no, I’m just winging the spelling (frickin’ Welsh!), but…you’re an actor. There’s no way you could have made “The Smartest Man in the World” interesting?)

Spider-Man 3
(Every time this is on FX, I think, “This can’t be as bad as I remember it.” It is! But outside of “Evil Symbiote-Possessed Dancing,” half-assed ret-conning, and a script overstuffed with mostly-superfluous characters, I mostly remember it for all the lead actors giving the most BORED PROMOTIONAL INTERVIEWS EVER.)

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
(Everyone has a problem with this one: Connery hated the director, the director hated the script, the script seemed to hate the source material…and the whole thing hated the audience. And Alan Moore hated everything, but that’s a whole other issue, I think.)

(Because I’m not familiar enough with the source material, and have never seen the movies, and yet, I still know these are awful):
Howard the Duck (Because when you think “Cartoon duck satire,” naturally George ‘Your hu-man emotions intrigue me’ Lucas must be the guy in charge of the adaptation.)
Judge Dredd (I still recall a dreadful Wizard interview where Stallone proudly explained how the director wanted to make it a serious, dark, strange movie, but was voted down by Stallone’s view of, ‘C’mon, it’s a comic book, man!’)

So now it’s your turn: What is the comics movie that you goddamned hate, and why? (And if it’s Daredevil, you need to come to the table with something better than “Ben Affleck waaaaa,” because seriously, he did the best with what he had.)

Go nuts.

  1. braak says:

    I saw this movie at midnight! Here’s the thing: it had a few shortcomings, especially noticeable because the tone and style is the same as the first movie. And when Iron Man did it, it was new, and some of the novelty has worn off.

    So, it’s got some shortcomings — some of the dialog is corny, the plot isn’t perfect (by which I mean: it wasn’t bad by any stretch, but it could have been a lot stronger), the climax of the climactic fight leaves a little to be desired.

    But there is literally no moment while I watched this movie in which I did not have fun. It is THE MOST FUN I have had at a comic book movie, and possibly th most fun I’ve had at a movie, period.

  2. Mary Jones says:

    I’m looking forward to Iron Man II. I mean, really, the most important thing is whether it’s fun. That’s what I really want from a comic book movie–is it fun? Good–let’s go. Is it not fun? Ok, then is it at least ridiculous? Because Spider-man 3 is terrible, but I, unlike a lot of people I guess, enjoy the emo-Parker just for the sheer ridiculousness, stupidity, of the scene. But if it’s boring, that’s a crime. And the Superman movie from a few years ago was frankly just boring. Spacey’s Lex Luthor wasn’t bad, but it was kind of 50%-Hackman, which just made me wish I was watching the original movie.

    I know it goes without saying that adapting Alan Moore’s works to film has pretty much always been a failure, but I still get mad when I think about Watchmen. So. Goddamn. Mad. And I’m not a purist, but there was so much wrong about that movie–not just the casting of Ozymandias, or the changed ending, or the sex scene, which actually forced me to close my eyes, or the rape scene (which just felt like really disgusting porn, and not the awful event it is in the book).

    I mean, the whole idea is that these are masked vigilantes, not Supermen, other than Doctor Manhattan, but in the movie they’re depicted as having super strength, super endurance–I mean, they put the Comedian’s head through a marble counter-top (IIRC), and he keeps fighting? The point is that the only superhero in existence is DM, and he’s used as a weapon by Richard Fucking Milhouse Nixon. And because he’s a superhero, he’s almost completely detached from human feeling, so much that he lets New York be destroyed. That’s brilliant. That’s anti-Superhero, beyond good and evil, etc. But everyone else is a guy running around in a costume solving crime. And why would people do that? It’s not a new question, but I like the way it’s presented in the book–but the movie doesn’t care. The movie doesn’t show the horror of the pages and pages of dead bodies outside Madison Square Garden, or show any of the discomfort with the use of violence that you get from Laurie and Dan after the alley fight–they enjoy it in the movie. It doesn’t fit their characters. And that’s when the movie really turns south–that’s when it gets infuriating.

    And the less said about whoever played Laurie the better.

    And for Christssake, stop using “Hallelujah”. Thanks, Hollywood, I’ve actually started to dread the song. (And another thing, if one more person says that Jeff Buckley wrote the song, I’m going to start putting heads through marble counters.)

    And what pissed me off more was that it wasn’t completely awful so that I could enjoy it for being awful–there were flashes of a better movie within the dreck. The first half hour (excepting the ridiculous fight with the Comedian) is actually really faithful to the source, while dealing with the earlier masked heroes in a way that made sense for the movie. And the casting for Rorschach and Night Owl II was great, they really fit the parts. And that made me even angrier, because I could see where I would have done things completely differently, and come up with a better film.

    And damn it, I’m still curious about the supplementary stuff on the DVD, like the Black Freighter and Under the Hood, but I don’t want to waste my money and get even angrier, because my doctor already yelled at me about my blood pressure. But still, I want to see it.

  3. Dennis says:

    Mary’s all talk, I was blabbing about that Jeff Buckley song from Shrek for a minute and no heads went through any marble counters.

  4. Mary Jones says:

    I thought threatening you with a knife was sufficient.

  5. Mary Jones says:

    Also, you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.

  6. Erin says:

    @Mary Jones: If you have Netflix, both Under the Hood and Tales of the Black Freighter are available on instant view. They’re not spectacular, but they’re worth seeing. Personally, I really enjoyed Watchmen, despite the fact that every single criticism you offer is 100% right. It adapted most of the plot but none of the spirit. For me, the experience of sitting in a theater and seeing a world where superhero were that intertwined with history forgave a hell of a lot of bad film-making, though.

  7. Erin says:

    @Holland: I’m completely with you with Batman Forever and Catwoman. Rise of the Silver Surfer was definitely an awful movie, but I don’t consider it as bad as X-Men 3, Blade: Trinity, Electra, or Daredevil.

    Since you requested some substance to Daredevil-bashing, I’ll elaborate. Although Affleck wouldn’t have been my first choice for the role, I didn’t actually mind the casting. My real issues were with the script. Sure, the outline was right, but the characterization just felt WRONG. That woman, who inexplicably had some martial arts training, but deep down was a nice, kind, loving human being… that wasn’t Electra. The vigilante who throws criminals in front of trains… not Daredevil. It was like someone skimmed a synopsis without actually reading the comics.

    And it’s not as if it holds up on it’s own: even setting the source material aside, nothing made sense. Seriously, they couldn’t even decide whether Matt Murdock was a defense lawyer or a prosecutor. Add to that an astonishingly dull visual style and boring fight scenes, and there’s not much to like.

    Although… they did all right with Kingpin. And I’ve got no complaints about Foggy Nelson. But overall… bad movie.

  8. Mary Jones says:


    It adapted most of the plot but none of the spirit.

    Yes. Yes, yes yes. That’s a much more succinct way of putting it, with much less foaming at the mouth.

    I’ll check out those on Netflix–I kind of feel like I haven’t seen all of Watchmen without checking those out.

  9. Jeff Holland says:

    @Mary Jones: You may enjoy my review of Watchmen last year, which is startling in its reflections of your own critiques:

    @Erin: …Yeah, okay. Those are some pretty big issues. I’m willing to deal with the “Daredevil lets a guy get run over by a train” simply because it’s clearly meant to show Matt at his lowest and most frustrated, but…yeah. That was maybe a bit much.

    And as much as I love Jennifer Garner…she was so far away from the right choice for that role. But I do maintain: there’s no GOOD way to do that role in a movie. I mean, Elektra as a character is fucking BAFFLING.

    The “Is Matt Murdock a defense or prosecuting attorney?” question is apparently explained better in the director’s cut, but I’ll be damned if I actually BUY that thing. So…I dunno, maybe we should watch it next time it comes on FX and figure it all out on our own? (On the plus side, it apparently gives Ben Urich a little more time to shine!)

    FINE! Not a good movie. You win this round.

    But don’t you screw with my irrational enjoyment of Ghost Rider!

  10. V.I.P. Referee says:

    How lovely you should ask, since the recent promotional interviews given for the new “Gorillaz” release, has re-ignited my burning love for all things Albarn and Hewlett, which then got me to thinking: “Yeah, what the hell did those movie people do to ‘TankGirl’, anyway?” It was like “Cyndi Lauper” meets “Reality Bites”; a 90’s “Hey, I’m a spunky riot grrrl” mess stood in place of Jamie Hewlett’s grittier, snarkier work (the jarring combo of the stereotypically cutesy against hellcat antics). The weirdest thing? A few tweaks and I could see it working. Maybe that’s just the story of comic book films, art, everything of beauty: It’s sometimes a matter of millimeters, one cut scene or two final brushstrokes. Hmm.

    Oh–and may I suggest a posting on Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett and why they are both so awesome and clever and gorgeous and put some faux glitter stickers around it and thanks!

  11. V.I.P. Referee says:

    And I will defend “Constantine”.

  12. Mary Jones says:

    @Jeff Holland: read the review, and yeah, you’re absolutely right–this is probably the best we could have had. He took out the right bits (Black Freighter, etc.), which work in the book but would have made the movie unbearably long for people who haven’t read the book, and he was faithful in a lot of different ways, but the spirit was all wrong.

    And Ozymandias. It’s worse than Laurie–that’s just bad acting. But the characterization—

    OK, I’m repeating myself. Anyway, yes, the review is spot on.

  13. Lindsay says:

    @Holland In case Erin doesn’t return to this post, I’ll reassure you. We irrationally enjoy Ghost Rider too. I put it in the ‘maybe objectively bad but still super fun’ category. It’s a Western ghost story/superhero movie!

  14. Erin says:

    @Holland: You’re irrational enjoyment of Ghost Rider is nothing compared to my irrational enjoyment of Ghost Rider. Behold! I even defend the jelly beans:


    Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, I also enjoyed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but that’s an even harder sell.

    On an unrelated note, your post reminded me that I want to watch Superman 3 and 4, as well as Supergirl, to see if they’re really as bad as everyone says. I haven’t seen any of those in 20+ years.

  15. braak says:

    Man, I fucking hated Ghost Rider.

  16. Gabe says:

    How soon we forget the afterthought/tax writeoff that was Wolverine.

  17. braak says:

    Since someone apparently looked at this post recently, I feel compelled to chime in once again, by saying:

    Thanks to HBO, I have now re-watched Wolverine a couple more times, and my god, it gets worse every single time. I had initially defended it as simply “Not Very Good,” but the more I watch it, the more startlingly awful it becomes.

    By the way, everyone note that this post was written before “Jonah Hex” came out, and that horrible thing may actually topple “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” as The Most Wrong-Headed, Pointless Comic Book Movie IN THE WOOOOOOORLD.

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