When it comes to movies based on comics there have been blockbuster years (2008) and massively disappointing years (2009). 2010, it seems, was a bit of a rebuilding year. Some movies were Losers (literally) while others kicked ass. And for the first time in a while, the success story of the year wasn't on the big screen. Here's how the comic-book move phenomenon breaks down for 2010...
To a certainty, Josh Brolin can be commended for one thing: he doesn't shy away from a challenge. And this year he may have earned himself a dubious honor: he's probably stolen the crown for "Worst Comic Based Movie of All Time" from the likes of Howard the Duck and Batman & Robin. Jonah Hex represents a disastrous attempt to bring DC Comics' disfigured bounty hunter to the big screen. The production was plagued with difficulties that saw director Jimmy Hayward getting armchair quarterbacked by producer Akiva Goldsman and "consultant" Francis Lawrence. The result was a crap-fest as ugly as it's lead character, and a potential career-ender for young Hayward.
An attempt at adapting DC/Vertigo's outstanding military-grade heist comic by Andy Diggle and Jock, this move shed the story's smart writing and political commentary and keptthe big set pieces. Thank's to director Sylvain White's herculean feat of making the movie's low budget look, well, at least twice as big as it is, the movie isn't a complete bomb. Still, it pales in comparison to the Summer's other two wildly entertaining military-squad-with-a-grudge films The A-Team and The Expendables.
Loved by critics, hipsters and comic-industry devotees, but shunned by just about everyone else Scott Pilgrim is this year's hearbreak kid. The love/rock/action movie from Edgar Wright is justly adored for its inventive story-telling, much of it inspired directly by the out-of-the-box techniques comics creator Bryan Lee O'Malley employs in the source material. Add to that a deep bench of bright young comedic talent and a heartfelt story and you should have a blockbuster. In theory. Perhaps with so many elements to love, so many of the same elements can also inspire confusion, irritation or even hatred. Whatever the case, people stayed away in droves and the film fell far short of its production budget. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World will likely live on for decades with a growing cult following, but for 2010 it's hardly a winner.
So maybe most of us comic readers out there didn't really even remember Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's comic RED. And Maybe nobody was really clamoring for a movie about "grumpy old CIA agents". So who can blame us if we half-expected Robert Schwentke's adaptation, starring Bruce Willis, to come and go quietly the way last year's Willis/comic book pic The Surrogates did? Surprise! RED turned out to be an enjoyable lark and a box office champ to boot. Largely positive reviews and good word of mouth gave these old-timers legs that the likes of the bankable Jackass, Saw and Paranormal Activity franchises couldn't keep up with.
It came as little surprise that Marvel's Iron Man 2 is the year's comic-book movie box office champ. The original was infinitely enjoyable and this one upped the stakes with character actors Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke taking over the villain roles. Add to that Marvel upping the shared universe aspects with appearances and nods from War Machine, Black Widow, Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Thor and you've got a movie that's bursting at the rivits with spectacle. But where it's long on dazzle, it's short on the story and characterizations that made the first film so endearing. Never the less Iron Man 2 is highly watchable and a cash box powerhouse, and one of the year's winners.
When a genre starts to run dry, the best way to keep milking it is with a strong dose of counter-programming. So Matthew Vaughn's modest-budget adaptation of comic creator/carnival barker Mark Millar's Kick-Ass may have come at the perfect time. With conventional comic fare fizzling in 2009, Kick-Ass opened this year swinging, casting foul-mouthed fuck ups as heroes and opening the world's eyes to the appeal of homicidal ten year-old girls. While it would be impossible for any movie to live up to the relentless hype that Millar heaped upon this one, it came pretty darn close. The box office offered a good return on the modest budget, and critics generally embraced the movie. For us, it was front-to-back the most entertaining of the year's crop. And – speaking only of theatrical releases – Kick-Ass is our 2010 Comics2Film winner.
But, remember. That's "speaking only of theatrical releases," because now review of comics-based fare could be complete without mentioning...
Frank Darabont's adaptation of Robert Kirkman's comic did for Zombie TV, what the comics did for zombie comics. The six-episode run of the show took the spotlight away from cheap, flesh-eating thrills and made sure the characters are at the forefront, making us care about them and wonder how we'd hold up in the face of a zombie apocalypse. AMC's tentative commitment allowing only for a six part first season is the the one thing we have to complain about the show. Thankfully the net quickly greenlit a longer second season. The show is already striking out in a different direction from the comics, and we can't wait to see what happens next!
So 2010 brought a respectable crop of comics-based fare to the masses, but hardly offered the blockbuster sizzle of previous years. Never fear: 2011 is shaping up to be a major-league superhero slam with Green Lantern, Thor and Captain America on the horizon (not to mention Green Hornet sneaking in early and looking to be a surprise hit). We'll be there watching!