I really hate using the old man adage of “back in my time”, because I’m not that old but I look at the comic book based movies and TV shows that are available and I continue to be excited. Even when critics and fan savage these movies and shows, I still retain a level of gratitude that we have them to watch in the first place considering where we came from. So as a little bit of a history lesson, let’s compare what we have now (warts and all) to what we had then.
The Fantastic Four
There have been three interpretations of Marvel’s first family on film. Although most only remember the version with Chris Evans and Jessica Alba or the rebooted version directed by Josh Trank, not many people know that there was another version of the Fantastic Four that was funded, produced and filmed, but never released. This version was produced by Roger Corman.
I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic to see an interpretation of some of my favorite characters from the guy who produced Slumber Party Massacre II and Munchies, but 1994 didn’t really offer too many comic book movie related offerings. Somehow a finished, rough cut of the movie made it out and I was able to purchase a VHS copy at a comic book convention. The story is really simple and is actually really faithful to the comics, which can be a bad things because it doesn’t allow for any kind of character development. The special effects are rudimentary and sub-standard.
What’s interesting is that the story behind the making of the 1994 film is more compelling than all three feature films. Do yourself a favor and check out the documentary Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s The Fantastic Four. It will give you a unique perspective on not only the production, but also the movie industry.
One would think that taking a character with no powers and very few supporting characters would be relatively easy to not only produce on-screen, but stay faithful to the source material. The Punisher has always been rooted in very human issues with an all too human anti-hero. There’s never really been a need for large set pieces or elaborate special effects. So it’s always been weird to me that the movies have been hit or miss.
In 1989, New World Pictures released their version of The Punisher with an estimated budget of $9 million. The film starred Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle and the plot had Punisher taking on the mafia and the Yakuza. As far as the character, Dolph Lundgren was pretty much spot on. His accent was a distraction, but he had the character down. Even the plot was in line with the character. What doesn’t work is that they seemed to turn away from the character visually. The easiest thing in the world that they could have done would be to have him wear the skull on his chest. Why they chose to ignore that core aspect of the character continues to baffle me.
When Tim Burton’s Batman film came out in 1989, Hollywood discovered the viability of comic book licenses as films. The by-product is that they also discovered latex suits. Case in point is the 1990 film Captain America. Released by 21st Century Film Corporation, the film stars Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers taking on an Italian Red Skull. The suit was weird-looking, the plot had holes you could fly a helecarrier through and the villains were laughable not only in their motivations but in their interpretations of the characters. Making the Red Skull Italian was bad enough, but the fact that even the italian accents were really bad makes it even worse.
The Marvel Netflix show did a lot to repair the damage from the 2003 Ben Affleck movie but not everyone remembers that the character of Matt Murdock/ Daredevil had his live action debut on the small screen in 1989’s Trial of the Incredible Hulk. For anyone who complained about Charlie Cox wearing all black on the series, feel free to send him your apologies when you see this.
One of the criticisms that the Thor movies get is that he doesn’t wear the helmet that he wears in the comics. In The Incredible Hulk Returns in 1988, Eric Allan Kramer played the character and kept the helmet on and you can see for yourself how that worked out.
Before we were graced with Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury on the big screen, Fox produced a Nick Fury : Agent of SHIELD film for television starring David Hasselhoff. While they tried really hard to add as many comic book characters they could including Baron Strucker, the execution was laughable.
Before Fox released the first Bryan Singer X-Men movie in 2000, Fox Television tried to experiment with the mutants on the small screen with the TV movie Generation X. Based on the comic book of the same name, the movie featured most of the characters from the book. While I give it credit for trying to stay faithful to the source material, it suffered from the constraints of the technology and the budget of a TV movie. The actors tried really hard, but they weren’t really given much to work with and the actor playing Sean Cassidy/Banshee could not pull of an Irish accent. Also taking into account that the film revolved around the team taking on a mad scientist who can enter people’s dreams, even Matt Frewer who played the villain Russell Tresh could not save this film.
I almost forgot about this one, but you all should experience it before the big screen version hits. Sometimes you have to let somethings just explain themselves.
So there you have it. Coming from a guy who clamored and salivated over the rumors of a comic book movie or TV show when I was growing up, I continue to be excited and grateful for all of the upcoming comic book movie releases, whether I’m a fan of them or not because we have definitely come a long way.