FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS
DC vs. MARVEL: THE MOVIE EDITION (Part 1 of 2)
With Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Welcome to another edition of Friday Night Knife Fights. We have a terrific bout in store for you tonight, as it’s DC vs. MARVEL: THE MOVIE EDITION. I’m joined tonight, as always, by L.L. Soares. L.L, you ready?
(L.L. SOARES, wearing boxing gloves, delivers a right hook to MA’s chin, knocking him off his feet.)
MA (getting back on his feet and dusting himself off): Nice punch. Anyway, it’s DC and Marvel that will be battling, not us.
LS: Too bad.
MA: With the explosion of superhero movies that have burst onto the scene in recent years, it’s time to decide which comic company is faring better on film, DC or Marvel? This debate will concentrate solely on the movies based on DC and Marvel comics, rather than the comics themselves. That’s a debate for a different day.
So, let’s get this rumble rolling. What’s the best movie version of a DC comic? You can choose more than one favorite if you’d like.
LS: Best DC Movie? Probably the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, BATMAN BEGINS (2005) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). They’re not perfect, but they have a level of intelligence and moodiness to them that really work. I also really liked 1980′s SUPERMAN II, for reasons I’ll discuss later in this installment.
I really liked WATCHMEN (2009), based on the DC miniseries by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, too. I’m a big Alan Moore fan, and the movie pales next to its source material, but strictly as a movie, it was actually really good. I also liked the adaptation of another Alan Moore series, V FOR VENDETTA (2006).
MA: I agree with your choices, except for V FOR VENDETTA, which I wasn’t crazy about.
LS: Well whoop-de-doo.
MA: For me, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) is by far the best movie version of a DC comic. But I also like BATMAN BEGINS (2005), BATMAN (1989), BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN (1966), SUPERMAN II (1980), SUPERMAN (1978), and WATCHMEN (2009).
LS: I’m not a big Superman fan, but I am a big fan of SUPERMAN II (1980), mainly for the performance of Terrence Stamp as General Zod. The one thing I always thought was baffling about the Superman movies is that Lex Luthor is the villain in EVERY SINGLE MOVIE. Even the latest one had Kevin Spacey playing the role instead of good ol’ Gene Hackman, but once again, the bad guy was Lex.
MA: I’ve never understood this either.
LS: Superman has all kinds of other villains they could use. But in SUPERMAN II, while Lex is in it, the real baddies are the three criminals from the “Phantom Zone,” who come to earth to fight Superman. And General Zod is the best of the three. Stamp is just terrific in the role, and his quote “Kneel Before Zod!” is actually a cool catch-phrase.
MA: I agree. I like Stamp as General Zod, too, and SUPERMAN II is also my favorite Christopher Reeve Superman film, and a big reason it’s my favorite are the villains.
There are a lot of Batman movies on my list, but interestingly enough, neither Christian Bale (Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT and BATMAN BEGINS) nor Michael Keaton (Batman in BATMAN  and BATMAN RETURNS) impressed me all that much as Batman. Adam West did his campy thing in the 1966 version, and strangely enough, even though West’s performance, as it was in the 1960s TV series, is high camp, I’d have to say he remains my favorite Batman. Keaton’s overshadowed by Jack Nicholson’s Joker in his first movie, and then by Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in his second, while Bale is simply serviceable in the role of the caped crusader. Of course, THE DARK KNIGHT is owned by Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, though the film is so good there’s much more to like than just Ledger.
LS: I think that in the movies, almost anyone can play Batman. Once he dons that costume, Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is kind of one-dimensional. That’s why I don’t think any actors have really stood out as Batman so far. The costume is more iconic and effective than the person inside it, if that makes sense. I don’t even think Bruce Wayne is all that interesting either. The Batman movies seem much more interesting for the villains than the hero. Batman always had great bad guys. At least the movies have exploited his “rogues gallery” more than the Superman movies have.
MA: And while Christopher Reeve was constantly knocked for his lack of acting ability way back when, before his personal tragedy which eventually claimed his life, I have to say that as the years have passed, looking back, Reeve is the definitive Superman, though I really do enjoy George Reeves’ TV Superman from the 1950s as well, but I think Christopher Reeve’s comic timing as Clarke Kent lifts him above his TV counterpart.
Reeve’s performance as the Man of Steel in both those Superman movies is a large reason why I like them so much.
LS: Oh, I always liked Reeve. Maybe he wasn’t the best actor in the first one, but even then he’s not that bad, and as the series went on, he really became the best Superman. The funny thing is, I thought Brandon Roush was really good as Superman in the SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006), and was a good choice to take over the role, and yet, because the movie was considered a disappointment at the box-office, he won’t get another shot at playing the character.
MA: I didn’t really like SUPERMAN RETURNS, but it wasn’t Roush’s fault. You’re right. He made an excellent Superman. One of the reasons I didn’t like it was because Lex Luthor was the villain again!
LS: There’s something else that’s interesting about Batman and Superman in the movies. On the surface, Superman is a story about outer space and Batman is a story about inner space. What do I mean by that? Well, Superman is from another planet, so he is literally from outer space. And he seems more “external” for lack of a better word. His dominant power is probably his super strength – and he’s constantly using it to perform amazing feats. Batman epitomizes “inner space” – the workings of the mind. His origin is steeped in psychology. Bruce Wayne often invents new weapons and outsmarts bad guys using his brain. Most of his villains are clinically insane. Everything about him points toward the brain. And yet, in the movies, Superman – the alien – seems more relatable and human, while Batman is more distant and untouchable.
MA: I would agree with that assessment, but we’re supposed to be debating Marvel vs. DC, not Batman vs. Superman.
LS: Sorry about that. It was just something that came to mind when comparing the movies.
MA: Moving on to Marvel, what’s the best movie version(s) of a MARVEL comic?
I’ll go first this time.
I would go with IRON MAN (2008) as the best Marvel version. I thought Robert Downey Jr. carried that movie on his back with a first rate performance, and having Jeff Bridges in the role of the villain didn’t hurt! IRON MAN was a well-made movie that satisfied from start to finish. It was a film with a definite edge and attitude. It’s also a lot of fun.
Other Marvel notables include: SPIDER-MAN (2002), SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011)
I also liked X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) a lot.
LS: My picks for the Best Marvel Movie include the first two X-MEN movies (2000 and 2003), which are very good, as is the first IRON MAN.
I’m not a big Spider-Man fan. The character is even more whiny and angst-ridden in the movies than he was in the comics! But I do think the second SPIDER-MAN movie (2004) is the best of that bunch, and that’s totally because of Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus!
But my favorite Marvel movie is PUNISHER: WAR ZONE (2008).
MA: Yeah, I liked PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, but I wouldn’t list it as my favorite.
LS: I just think it’s so over-the-top, so violent, that I don’t think Marvel will ever let one their characters get that “out of control” again on film. I like the pure chaos of it.
Since the first X-MEN film, Marvel movies have maintained a certain level of quality which is much different from decades ago, when Marvel-related movies were mostly low-budget and cheesy.
MA: Yes, I remember those days, when we only saw Marvel in low-budget TV movies. I guess there was the INCREDIBLE HULK TV show (1978-82), but I never liked it very much.
Okay, let’s switch to the worst movies. What’s your pick for the worst DC movie?
LS: It’s easy! It’s a tie between BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) and BATMAN FOREVER (1995), the two Joel Schumacher Batman movies. I think he was trying to go for the campy feel of the Adam West 60s TV show, but they completely miss the mark, and are abysmally bad.
MA: You got that right. They’re awful. But I actually don’t hate BATMAN AND ROBIN as much as I do BATMAN FOREVER, mostly because in BATMAN FOREVER I didn’t enjoy either Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face or Jim Carrey as the Riddler, while in BATMAN AND ROBIN I actually didn’t mind Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.
My picks for the worst DC movies are BATMAN FOREVER (1995), SUPERMAN III (1983), SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987), and SUPERGIRL (1984). My least favorite is a tie between BATMAN FOREVER & SUPERMAN III. At least Supergirl was cute!
Okay, now we’re moving on to the worst MARVEL movies, and I’ll answer my own question.
I’ve got two, DAREDEVIL (2003) and HULK (2003). Both of these movies were dreadful.
LS: The third SPIDER-MAN movie (2007) is beyond bad, and it’s a complete waste of Venom, who easily could have been spun off into his own movie if done right – he’s a great character. But the movie just squandered him. The film versions of DAREDEVIL and ELEKTRA (2005) are also incredibly bad, to the point of being difficult to watch.
MA: Yeah, I forgot to include SPIDER-MAN 3 on my list, although I liked it better than DAREDEVIL and HULK.
LS: I might be one of the few people on the planet who actually liked the first HULK movie. I’m such a huge fan of the character, that I found various aspects of the movie to be very interesting, and I liked Eric Bana as Bruce Banner a lot. I just think director Ang Lee over-thought the whole thing and tried to make too much of a meaningful “art film” (for lack of a better phrase) out of something that wasn’t as lofty as Lee’s intentions. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious and trying to do something that blows us away, but Ang Lee’s HULK movie fails in the long run. But I liked Bana, I like the way the Hulk looked in the movie and how he fought the military (and those goofy giant dogs).
While the second HULK movie was more satisfying in some ways, because it was more in tune with the comics (he fights a villain from the comics, The Abomination – even if they changed him almost beyond recognition–and things were primed for the coming of another villain, The Leader), it also seemed more by-the-numbers. It was more the kind of movie that comics fans would expect. Ang Lee tried too hard, and the second Hulk movie was too safe, although I did like Edward Norton as Banner. The best HULK movie lies somewhere between the two – something more ambitious than the second one, but not as dense and sometimes impenetrable as the first one.
MA: All right, then.
That about wraps things up for Part 1. Be sure to join us next Friday for Part 2 when L.L. and I will decide, who has fared best in the movies, DC or MARVEL? The second part should be quite the knock-out.
LS: I’ll say. (Punches MA in the face again, once more knocking him to the ground.) Gotta love it. This has been FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. We’ll see you next week for Part 2.
(MA gets back up, and he’s now dressed like a boxer. His face bloodied and bruised, he staggers aimlessly in background.)
MA (doing his best Stallone voice.): Adrian! Adrian!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares