24 Dec 2019


The last ten years has seen comic book properties make an unprecedented impact on popular culture, primarily due to the the characters and concepts' cinematic interpretations. There have been high points, there have been low points, but here we present what we consider to be the best ten comic book movies of the decade...

Tom P: It’s easy to forget the impact Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy had before the Marvel Cinematic Universe went on to take a firm hold of the genre for the rest of the decade. The Dark Knight Rises presents a world weary Bruce Wayne, hidden away and struggling to find meaning after being broken from the events of The Dark Knight. Of course, it doesn't take long for him to resurface to face his past demons, embodied by an unforgettable Tom Hardy and Marion Cotillard. Anne Hathaway is terrific as duplicitous cat(woman) burglar Selina Kyle and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance adds real weight to the proceedings as well as giving us one of the finest last scenes of any of these films. The Dark Knight was about escalation but Rises is a film about legacy, mythology and, ultimately, conclusion, finally freeing Bruce Wayne from the cowl. For me, Ducard (Liam Neeson) sums the arc of the trilogy up pretty perfectly in Batman Begins: “A vigilante is just a man lost in the scramble for his own gratification. He can be destroyed, or locked up. But if you make yourself more than just a man, if you devote yourself to an ideal, and if they can't stop you, then you become something else entirely. A legend, Mr. Wayne."

Jo S: Thor: Ragnarok is Thor with the restraint collar off - director Taika Waititi (also featuring as my favourite character Korg - I'm very much hoping we'll see more of him in future!) brings his comedy experience to bear, allowing Hemsworth to play up the self-mockery, Hiddleston's Loki to be lovably rascally and Jeff Goldblum to, well, Goldblum to the max. Even Tessa Thompson, debuting as a stormy Valkyrie, laden with responsibility, gets a few tasty one-liners, and an adorable comradeship with the Hulk. Hulk himself is a brilliantly moody child, reminding me of that old joke, "What's green and sits in a corner?"* The trailer for this movie, with its 80s-styled titles, featured Thor roaring his excitement at meeting up with his old friend/colleague Banner in Sakaar's gladiator arena: it's a good marker for the tone of the movie itself, embracing a story more full of excitement and fun than the previous, darker Thor outings. Cate Blanchett as baddie Hela is almost muscled out of proceedings, though she clearly relishes the chance to rock the black eyeliner and giant antlers look. It's not Thor Lite, not at all, but Ragnarok shifts the character up a gear, deftly avoiding panto cheesiness (well, mostly), forming relationships that are developed further in later movies and providing a lively romp in the process.
(* It's The Incredible Sulk, obviously.)

Jo S: Black Panther is a trailblazer movie and a record-breaker in multiple ways: director and screenwriter Ryan Coogler is the youngest Marvel Studios film maker so far, the movie is the highest grossing by a black director, the first superhero movie to receive an Oscar nomination and the first MCU movie to claim an Academy Award (gaining three from seven nominations). With nearly every character a deeply important role model, this movie showed black heroes and culture in modern America, meticulously researched traditional Africa and then through into Afrofuturism, bringing to the forefront the power strength and beauty of all of these, whilst also drawing deeply and respectfully on the comics heritage of the characters. Reading my review from the time, it's clear how little we knew to expect from the movie: the glimpse of T'Challa seen in Captain America: Civil War gave few clues as to how much of the characters' backstory would be visualised in moving pictures but there turned out to be ample reference to source material for even the most particular of comics fans. For me, the lasting impression of Black Panther is left by its women. Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole don't just write a couple of strong female characters here: they make space for many strong women, from elite warriors to a majestic queen to a brilliant scientist to a humanitarian activist; this film must be almost unique in the comic book genre if not beyond in that. In terms of its long term impact, we need look no further than the sheer joy demonstrated by schoolchildren on hearing they would be going to see this movie - dancing on tables, singing and yelling with delight - this movie gives the under-represented hope and ownership, and holds a unique place in comic book movie history as a result.

Kenny J: When it comes to celebrating comic books in movie form, and geekdom in general, there arguably is no better film than Scott Pilgrim Vs World. Edgar Wright's loving adaptation of Scott O'Malley's seven volume comic is a funny and heartfelt take on the foibles of modern living. From video games to Amazon deliveries, obscure rock bands to veganism. This was the first time I'd seen Michael Cera, and his embodiment of the titular Scott is spot on, using his trademark awkwardness to great effect, bouncing off the far more assured Romona Flowers played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The rest of the cast are stellar too, featuring Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Brandon Routh as well as pre-Captains Chris Evans and Brie Larson. This is the film that takes all my passions and wraps them in a beautiful graphic bow. Production houses Double Negative and Mr. X both work wonders with the visual effects, overlaying both comicbook lettering and computer game design onto the fast-paced action - something that has become a bit of a calling card since Wright has made the move to Hollywood. Sure, the comedy is still here with witty one-liners, but the attention to the fight scenes is spectacular. 

Jo S: For me (and, I suspect, quite a number of the PCG), this movie was the eye-popping surprise of the year in 2018: obviously once I knew that my personally preferred porcine Peter would appear, I was 100% on board, but Into The Spider-Verse had something for absolutely everyone, a near-impossible heist to pull off. PG-rated and animated, you might be forgiven this movie was just for kids - until you saw the first few seconds, during which you immediately realised this was designed with old-skool comics fans absolutely in mind, just as much as the family audience. This film has been made by folks who not only love Spider-Man, but who also are entirely in love with comic books: Kirby Krackle whorls, subtly visible dots of old-fashioned newsprint, the style jumping from manga to noir to punk to classic, and speech bubbles and text sound effects popping up to comic effect with perfect timing. Cheeky nods to Spider-Man creators are slipped into billboards and contact lists and every one of the myriad Spider-Guys, Spider-Gals, Spider-Ham and Spider-Bot is given their own personality and an art style to match. It's a movie that gives so much: yes, it's perfectly accessible without a comics background but, for me, the joy of catching all those little Easter eggs and references will have me rewatching this as a classic for years to come.

Matt C: While it kickstarted the current superhero cycle and its dominance at the box office, 20th Century Fox's X-Men franchise has been erratic in terms of quality - for every X2 there's a X-Men Origins: Wolverine - and its effort to establish some sort of continuity unravelled dramatically over time as Marvel Studios took pole position and changed the game. Logan was the undoubted critics' choice, but it was Days Of Future Past that delivered the most thrilling and fun spectacle of them all, mixing up characters from two generations, the original cast handing the reigns over to their younger counterparts, allowing James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart to briefly share the screen together as young and old Professor X. Inevitably - and wisely - the entire enterprise hangs around Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, a major deviation away from the Claremont/Byrne source material, but given Jackman's gruff, charismatic performance as Logan - which was essential in helping the movie iteration of the X-Men gain a wider audience - it was the only way to go. With a budget that provided a broader canvas to unfurl the narrative and utilize concepts only hinted at previously (Sentinels!), some committed performances from not only Jackman, Stewart, McAvoy but also Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult, and action scenes that were as inventive as they were exciting (Quicksilver!) this was the peak that could never be matched as the franchise sputtered out towards indifference. Now back under Marvel Studios control, we will of course see the likes of Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey et al at some point in the not too distant future, but it will be challenge to make a movie as downright entertaining as this one.

James R: Endgame gave us the emotional payoff and grand finale, but Infinity War has yet to be outclassed in terms of story. Why? Well, I think the masterstroke from the Russo Brothers and scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely was to make Thanos the protagonist. Marvel have traditionally struggled with their villains, but with the Mad Titan, the film makers presented us with an obvious monster, but one made all the more compelling by his calm assertion that his goal of wiping out half the galaxy was the right thing to do. Then we had the culmination of a decade of films, a truly an unprecedented step and a sign of Marvel Studios' confidence: nobody has to be introduced or explained to the audience - the correct assumption is that you know these characters, and were finally going to see them all interact. Somehow, for a film with this many moving parts, every hero gets their own arc; some are more expansive than others but nobody gets ignored. I've said it before, but for those of us who are old enough to remember Stan Lee's ever-hopeful 'There are exciting projects afoot to bring these heroes to the big screen!' every few months in Stan's Soapbox, the experience of seeing, say, the Winter Soldier team up with Rocket Raccoon was crazy, and yet absolutely brilliant at the same time. Should it be counted as 'cinema'? I'll let other, more qualified people carry on that argument. All I know is Infinity War is a ridiculous amount of fun that had no right to be that good.

Matt C: Bearing little resemblance to the Civil War comic book series beyond the Cap vs Iron Man high concept, Captain America: Civil War remains one of the undoubted highlights of the 'Infinity Saga' because of how astutely it addresses the emotional baggage wrought from the previous eight years of interlocking movies. Ostensibly it's about responsibility and oversight - who gets to choose where heroes are needed, the government or the heroes themselves? - but dig a little deeper and its central themes reveal themselves to be friendship and sacrifice. Often incorrectly labelled as 'Avengers 2.5', this is still primarily a Cap movie because the brotherly relationship between Steve and Bucky lies at its core, with Steve's stubborn (but honest) belief that his lifelong friend can be redeemed jeopardizing his bond with Tony Stark, the latter prepared to hand over control for what his increasingly guilty conscience believes to be the greater good. It proved that the Russo Brothers could adeptly handle a large cast of characters (Black Panther and Spider-Man being added to the roster of familiar faces) as well as exhilarating action (the airport confrontation is a classic) but they eschewed the usual bombastic finale for an emotionally intense small-scale battle between Cap and Iron Man over Bucky's soul, showing their skill at keeping character at the heart of their storytelling. The kinetic superheroics were great but it was the flawed humanity on display that made this one of the best.

James R: Captain America: The Winter Soldier is still the most tightly plotted, ambitious (single entry) and downright cool MCU movie. It's the one where Chris Evans built on his terrific work in The First Avenger and truly became Steve Rogers, banishing once and for all the idea that his fratboy portrayal of Johnny Storm was all he was capable of. I'm still in awe of the central twist of the film - Hydra has already won! The Nazi knock-offs had become agents of disinformation, sowing mistrust and fear throughout society and, lest we forget, it's pretty dark; the line "Humanity could not be trusted with its own freedom... it needed to surrender its freedom willingly" is in a Disney movie! This should have been a meat and potatoes sequel: as is so often the case with Hollywood, sequels are merely retreads of the original. The Winter Soldier showed that Marvel were willing to take risks, and use the best of their comics to provide the narrative fuel for their films. Look, for example, how Thor: Ragnarok triumphed by performing a similar swerve with the God of Thunder. Finally, this was the movie where the super-team of the Russo Brothers, and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, first came together. Along with the production nous of Kevin Feige, they've taken comics movies to a place that was simply unimaginable fifteen years ago.  The Winter Soldier still stands as a pinnacle of Marvel Studios' movies - I'm willing to bet we'll be saying the same in another ten years.

Mike S: Rounding off the current phase of the MCU and taking us on a fabulous walk through Marvel’s greatest hits, the Russo Brothers claim the top slot (along with the three below it!) in spectacular fashion with Avengers: Endgame. If Infinity War was a full throttle, all-action piece of masterful filmmaking, then Endgame is a much deeper, more thoughtful offering, with the required big action scenes made all the more rewarding because the stakes have been raised and the cost clearly established. With a pared down cast for the majority of the film, we dig much deeper into the effects of loss upon our heroes and when hope finally arrives in true comic book fashion with a Quantum Realm/Time Travel conceit (anybody else hoping this paves the way for Kang the Conqueror?) it feels natural and provides an unexpected element of fun through the visits to various eras of MCU history. Added to this, the visual humour (Thor!) and the running gag about the ass of America allow levity into what could have become a far too grim and gritty outing. When the action comes, in the climactic act, it is furious, breathtaking and intensely satisfying, with everyone getting their moment in which to shine: even the potentially clumsy ‘girl power’ moment, while contrived, was, literally, marvellous. Ending with the emotional resonance of that coda, this film more than any other pushed the full range of emotions on the audience, from sheer unadulterated joy and giddy excitement to loss and tragic reflection: a true blockbuster in every sense of the word.

No comments: