The comic book movie has come a long way from the old Adam West Batman movie (hilariously bad, but still not what Batman is, though some might argue that point), today we have Iron Man, The Dark Knight, X-Men and so on. Most comic movies now are treated with more respect than they used to be. However, the main problem to most of these beloved franchises is the movie studios. Often times they move in to ensure that they can get the biggest bang for their buck, and shove in things to ensure it draws a crowd, regardless of if it harms the story or not. So here is a sampling of the big comic book movies that have have rocky roads, ups and downs, and my personal thoughts on them....
The Batman Series (old and new):
When Tim Burton began, he crafted a dark and Gothic movie that captured the feel of Batman really well. However, this movie's success let the studio give Burton more control, and this is the opposite end of the spectrum, where an actor or director is given too much control, because then we got Batman Returns. I must admit, I do not like Batman returns at all, while yes, it has a bigger budget that allowed for a better designed Batsuit and other such improvements...the story just got too dark and ugly.
Sadly, due to this, the studio's heavy hand and knee jerk reaction activated and they replaced Burton with Joel Schumacher, one of the worst directors around in my opinion (mainly due to what he did to Batman). Not wanting a repeat of Batman Returns, Joel 'mainstreamed' Batman and made him more kid friendly. While the movie is watchable, it's no where near the classic standing of the first Batman movie. This movie was again a hit, and the studio gave more control to Joel for this one and resulted in possibly the worst superhero movie ever made. Again, the knee jerk happened and this pretty much killed the Batman franchise for nearly a decade until they decided to try again, this time in a more serious tone, similar to the first Burton Batman.
As such we have been given two incredible Batman movies. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are two movies that have really hit what Batman is on the head. While losing some of the style of Burton's films, the movies did great justice to the saga of Batman. We can only hope that for the next movie, the studio doesn't muscle in to have things done 'their way', and we can also hope that the director doesn't get a big head and go overboard. While super hero comics have alot of over the top stuff, in the movie you must balance the effects, and powers with a story that people can enjoy and follow. Also, I hope they don't make another Catwoman movie. Ugh.
The Superman movies suffer and long and rough road. The first movie was a serious take on the Man of Steel, and the director made a great film. The second one began this decline when Donner (the director) was fired due to the big wigs wanting the film to be campier while Donner wanted it to be more serious. Thus after a second director finishes Superman II, we get Superman III and IV....horrible movies that are just bad. Again, this is what happens when the powers that be get more control. However, this also results in Superman's next movie being put on hold for many many long years, just like Batman. In the end, we get a good, is somewhat long and drawn out sequel that discards Superman III and IV, Superman Returns.
Superman Returns is not so much a sequel as a tribute to the first two movies and reintroduces Superman to a new generation. While I thought this was a good movie (some minor complaints but that's for another post), this movie was deemed not what the studio wanted, and from what I've read, they're wanting to reboot Superman....I just hope they don't knee jerk and go all dark like the Dark Knight since it was a box office hit. My main reason is that Batman is dark and Gothic, Superman is not. Supes is triumphant and uplifting, he's the Hero's hero. He's what other heros strive to be, not some brooding anti-social character. But, in the end, only time will tell.
And then there is the Fantastic Four series. While not an overly excellent series, nor a bad series, the FF movies fall into the middle of the road really. There is supposed to be a never before seen movie filmed back in the day that was so bad it was never released...and I'd hate to think of a movie that was worse than these two. Like I said, they're competent, but popcorn flicks. There is no attachment to them, and while the second one was alot better than the first, the Silver Surfer being the only likable character one can become attached to, the rest is just mainly one liners and effects shots. The Thing is probably the most likable of the Four, and The Invisible Woman is nothing but eye candy, not giving a chance to show off how smart the character is supposed to be, it's all about her looks. Torch is just a jerk, and Mister Fantastic is boring and not really given anything to do but shot off his power in often humorous ways. The movies are shallow and leaning towards camp with the humor, which is ironic seeing as the Fantastic Four are scientists.
I read that they're supposed to be rebooting the franchise, and the supposed Silver Surfer sequel won't happen. Maybe the reboot will be good...might be bad, who knows? The second FF movie was superior to the first, the characters moving more in the direction they were supposed to go, but still falling short. Maybe if they had made FF3, they would have finally gotten it...but I kind of doubt it, due to their placing as a summer action flick and little else. I would have loved to see the Surfer movie, as JMS of Babylon 5 fame was supposed to be writing it...I think that movie may have been awesome if they didn't let the suits ruin it, or get some substandard director (Boll, Bay).
The Spider-Man movies:
This is the last on my list to talk about, and this one is more personal for me, as I was always a major Spider-Man fan, he was my favorite comic to read when I collected comics. The decision to put Sam Raimi as the director was, in my opinion, perfect. His sense of humor in his work complemented Spider-Man well, who was the everyday guy in the superhero world, and a joker in the superhero world. The first two movies are excellent and really well done, managing to hit big points in the Spider-Man story as well.
However, as with the case of alot of series, the suits move in. In Spider-Man 3 we see them muscling in to include Venom in the movie, and adding more clutter to an already busy film. If you left out Venom and focused on the Harry/Peter feud and on the new villain Sandman, the movie would have been awesome. Sandman is great and given alot of screen time to help establish him as a troubled guy who did the wrong thing for the right reason. Venom on the other hand, that whole sub-plot with Eddie Brock was just tacked on to try and add more 'bam' to the movie when it wasn't needed.
And now the studio is rebooting Spider-Man already, when 3 wasn't bad, and made them money, but they couldn't get Raimi to get on it fast enough for them, so rebooting...and I'm afraid the humor and everyday look at Spider-Man will be lost to an emo whiney style of superhero, making him full of angst...basically what the whole Venom plot did in Spider-Man 3. I have hope that the next Spidey movie will be good...but who knows anymore? We'll find out when it's released.
That's my view on those series, and kind of a view of the superhero comic book movies in general. While I left the X-Men series off, I view that should be looked at on it's own due to so many movies being out now and even more to come, and they have an odd flow to them. Really, in the end, the studio shouldn't force things into the movie, really the only thing they should do is keep the director in line so they don't go overboard either, it's a balancing process. Because when the right balance is achieved, a good movie is made, when one side tilts further than the other, then we get alot of problems, especially in how they handle the source material. So in the end, you could end up with Superman III, Spider-Man 3 on one side, or Batman & Robin on the other.
It's up to the personal choices of the viewer, but this is how I see it.