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Comic Reel-lief
The Reel-lief Reviews Top 15

By Ian Wilson
13 December 2007 — Did 300 score a perfect 10? Does a Neil Gaiman-approved Stardust adaptation move past Alan Moore's estranged V for Vendetta? And do any Fantastic Four movies break the Top 10? Unless you're a super-fan who can remember every audio contribution I've ever made, read on!

In this, my five-at-a-time update of all the comic book movies that I've reviewed during Comic Reel-lief, I am gradually compiling my definitive opinion of how comic book film adaptations rank against each other, so that hopefully, when fuller, it can lead to discussions and / or debates. For now though, I have added all the films I've reviewed since TMNT, with the exception of 30 Days of Night, in keeping with the cycle of fives.

For length issues, I have chopped down the reviews that were featured in The Reel-lief Reviews Top 10, leaving the meat of the column for the incoming entries. Also note that I am using the rankings that were adjusted in the original Top 10 column — if you want to see how they were adjusted from the original podcast scores, check the initial list via the columns link on the main page.

01. X2: X-Men United — 9 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 28

If not for a few niggles, this film would be just about flawless. Everyone should see this movie — twice!

02. V for Vendetta — 8.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 21

A standalone CBM set in Blighty and adapted by the team behind The Matrix movies. Due to the source material, it's far more intelligent than you might think and an enjoyable romp that demands repeated viewings.

03. Stardust — 8.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 175

Not the most obvious entry into the genre, especially when you consider some of the films beneath this one. But it came from the mind of Neil Gaiman and the novel was adapted into comic book form by DC, so it more than qualifies for inclusion. It may even be the film's lack of comic book conventionality that helps it so much, as the main protagonist is a naοve romantic, roaming around a world he doesn't understand nor has the basic skills to negotiate his way around. He is like the viewers, who in turn are trying to figure out the magical world that director Matthew Vaughan has crafted out of... Scotland. It doesn't have the production values of the Lord of the Rings, but then, Stormhold is set in a guarded part of England and the film never feels like a low budget picture due to its very starry cast. You can certainly argue with the layout and pacing of the film, which affects the film quite a bit, but nothing else really distracts from the fantasy. Well, if you don't count Ricky Gervais mugging to the camera.

04. 300 — 8 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 167

One of those great films that enters into popular culture, 300 is both a unique film and a very good one in many ways. If one turned their brain off completely, it'd probably rank as a 10, but that would be forgiving the film's lack of depth, which it would need to push it above its current score. As it is, 300 is a slickly made, wet dream of a movie for people who enjoy stylized imagery, Matrix-like action sequences, naked flesh and memorable quotes that have been used on various TV shows and Internet sites. The cast plays their parts well, and the Sin City-esque filming against a green screen brought out the qualities that Frank Miller bestowed the original work. The relevance of 300 to the CBM world is significant too; not only did it make a load of money (despite the lack of stars, a name director and the obscurity of the comic it was based on), but it allowed director Zach Snyder to pursue a dream project — a film version of the highly acclaimed Watchmen. An important film, therefore.

05. X-Men — 7.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 21

Where it all began. The best actors quickly assert their characters as staples of the franchise and Anna Paquin has a major role, so I love it. A few teething issues to deal with, but it's not hard to see why this film helped usher in the CBM renaissance.

06. TMNT — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 100

The Turtles turn CGI. Divided, the brothers are forced to mature and bond in the face of a supernatural plot. The real joy of this film is the Leonardo / Raphael rivalry boiling over — the events surrounding the resolution, however, disappoint.

07. Spider-Man 3 — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 99

The weakest of the Spider-Man trilogy. Normally that would still be a glowing recommendation... if the cramped script hadn't disappointed so many fans of the previous films. Thomas Haden Church and Topher Grace particularly shine with the material they're given, although the core three characters gain less credit.

08. Blade — 7 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 16

The man who helped usher in CBMs to the public consciousness — Wesley Snipes! His performance as Blade in a fairly by-the-numbers 90s action flick helped this film transcend the idea that all CBMs were as bad as Batman & Robin: for that alone, this film deserves high praise!

09. Ghost Rider — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 94

A surprise hit from earlier in the year, Ghost Rider takes an implausible tale and gives it heart, if nothing else. The special effects are good, but the story and rogues gallery (save Peter Fonda) sum up the reason why this film barely gets off of the ground.

10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 94

Yes, it's the Turtles. Yes, they were huge in the late 80s / early 90s. But unless you bring the geek part of your brain to this, you aren't really going to enjoy very much. The puppetry was admirable, but the performances that didn't come from mutated animals don't help endear the film to outsiders.

11. X-Men: The Last Stand — 6.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 42

Damn, what a letdown. After two intelligent films starring the right amount of mutants, Brett Ratner comes along and turns the third film into a mutant clusterfuck. There are good bits, but the film's far too short to effectively explore them.

12. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer — 6 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

When the best of the Fantastic Four films achieves a six, you know that the franchise isn't up to much. The thing is, had Tim Story just expanded on what made the first film above average whilst including the added improvements that this film delivered, Rise of the Silver Surfer would have been so much better. The original film wasn't the best film ever, but it at least laid the foundations for a franchise. Here, most of the foundations were ignored to tell a different story. And whilst I liked the story, with both the Fantastic Four moving on from the last film as well as the addition of the Silver Surfer, it didn't feel like it was being told in the same universe. Doom's return was disappointing, to say the least, and Ben being the happy-go-lucky member whilst Johnny broods simply didn't work for me, especially when you get to see Michael Chiklis out of the Thing costume. However, Jessica Alba made leaps and bounds in her acting from the first film, so that we actually felt for Sue at the end — not as much as the film would have liked, but not to the extent where it spoiled the end either. The Silver Surfer, meanwhile, was very cool, and whilst his fight with Big Daddy Cloud Galactus was slightly confusing, his presence was welcome. Again, not much better than average, but not an unworthy entry.

13. Fantastic Four (2005) — 5.5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

The origin of the franchise, Fantastic Four does one thing right: it lays the origins of the Fantastic Four out in a straightforward manner, even if it takes liberties with certain things, such as von Doom's origins. After that is a stream of pleasant mediocrity. The greatness of the dialogue between Johnny and Ben is brought down by the tiresome, clunking relationship of Reed and Sue; helped in no part by the hopelessly miscast Jessica Alba, whose "acting" left a lot to be desired. Some effects looked great, others looked terrible — mainly Reed's stretching effects. The tragic poignancy of Ben's situation is undermined by his willingness to trust Doom, when the very first line is Ben calling Doom a narcissistic jerk. It's very hit or miss, altogether. Doom's progression owes more to Willem Dafoe's descent into the Green Goblin, and Sue is incredibly unsympathetic throughout. But Reed Richards is sympathetic, whilst the Ben and Johnny dynamic is (for want of a better word) fantastic. It did well enough to start a new Marvel franchise, but if you're looking for something as good as the Spider-Man or X-Men franchises, Fantastic Four isn't the way to go unless you really turn your brain off.

14. Superman Returns — 5 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 100

It took the best part of 20 years to bring the Man of Steel back... as a stalker, to assassinate Lois Lane's character, to have Lex Luthor create an island in the middle of the sea? Fair play to Routh, Spacey and Huntingdon (Jimmy Olsen) for breathing energy into the proceedings, but the script still wasn't nearly good enough.

15. The Fantastic Four (1994) — 3 / 10
— Earth-2.net: The Show 129

Criticize the overuse of CGI all you like; if there is no budget for good special effects, your film is going to look horrible. And this low-budget Fantastic Four is proof of the pudding. Never mind the fact it was put into production solely to maintain the film rights and was never intended for release, this film came out five years after the Tim Burton's Batman and wasn't inspired to aim for something as grandiose as the top grossing film of 1989. That's not to say the studio was trying to make a good movie, just a project to justify the rights. It's a shame though, because the cast, who were unaware their project would never make it on screen, applied themselves well to what is a mishmash of a story with some terrible dialog and a subplot that involves Alicia Masters being kidnapped by a deformed sewer dweller. The origin story is about as faithful to the comics as it can be, whilst the whole film runs solely on charm. But you can't overlook the flaws. The actors will never win a single Oscar in their lives, Johnny's "Flame on!" effects are cartoonish (in that they are animated) and Doom ranges from the menacing overlord of the comics to a "Drat, and Double Drat!" comedic villain. It's certainly worth a viewing (something I wouldn't normally say of something rated so lowly), but don't expect anything great — or even fairly good. It's a charming film, so I like it in that sense, but otherwise, there's little too it.

That's my ongoing list of CBM reviews. Remember, I've yet to officially review entries of the Batman, Superman and Spider-Man franchises, so if you're aggravated that a film like Ghost Rider is still in the Top 10, just wait patiently! The next installment will include 30 Days of Night and three Batman films.

Until then, cheerio!

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