While 2008 was a high-profile year for movies adapted from comic books (Iron Man, The Dark Knight), 2009 had its own army of super properties arrayed on the big screen — nine notables all tallied, including the highly anticipated Watchmen. So, how did this year's movies stack up? We take a look back at 2009, identifying the winners and losers.
The first comic book movie to hit theaters in 2009 was, in fact, not really a comic book movie at all.... That is, until they produced a three-issue mini-series just ahead of the movie's release. (You gotta love the sneaky ingenuity of movie marketers!)
Push is about psychic espionage, where artificially enhanced paranormal operatives have the ability to move objects with their minds, see the future, create new realities, and kill without ever touching their victims. Does this sound at all familiar? Obviously the filmmakers, wanting to cash in on the current popularity of comic book movies, kidnapped ideas directly from Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. If you need any more evidence of this unabashed copy-cat move, get this: The movie stars Chris Evans, who played one of 2005's Fantastic Four. I suppose they couldn't get Hugh Jackman.
While Push isn't unwatchable, we're designating it a loser for being a second-rate rip-off of the mutant X-Men franchise.
The enormous hype for Watchmen began with the announcement it was finally getting made into a live-action movie. Fans had huge expectations. When Zack Snyder, the popular director of 300, took the lead, the noise got even louder. Surely he would do it justice. A disappointing $185 million dollars later, it's hard to justify all the pre-release fervor, but the fact that this movie even got made at all is quite the accomplishment.
Over the space of 20 years, several screenwriters, directors, and movie production companies took a swipe at making the "unfilmable" Watchmen, including Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. One by one, all of them eventually dropped the project, most saying it could not be made. And then when Paramount and Zack Snyder finally had the movie in the can, FOX sued for copyright infringement and a piece of the profits. Fans demanded that this movie be seen — they even picketed FOX headquarters — and the lawsuits were eventually settled.
For most, it was a satisfying adaptation. Even picky purists admit to enjoying the show. The only persistent complaint came from those who thought Snyder should've remained true to the comic's ending and included a giant, alien squid — a change Snyder said he felt he needed to update the story for modern movie-going audiences, and that having Dr. Manhattan behind the doomsday disaster didn't fundamentally change Alan Moore's message. If you have any doubt about the uproar this change caused, check out this popular viral video, in which Hitler joins the debate.
Squidless ending aside, this was an epic accomplishment on screen. For that, we've declared Watchmen a winner.
A hugely popular Japanese series, Dragon Ball is written and illustrated by the revered Akira Toriyama. It has had several incarnations in manga (comics) and anime (cartoons), and is wholly geared towards young males who like to punch and kick things.
The story follows the adventures of Goku as he trains in martial arts and searches the world for seven mystical objects (Dragon Balls), which can summon a wish-granting dragon. Along the way, Goku meets several friends and fights villains also seeking the Dragon Balls. If you think this sounds difficult to adapt into a live-action movie, then you are much smarter than the producers of Dragonball Evolution.
Japanese anime is already known for being highly stylistic, and the Dragonball franchise is one of the most wildly unrealistic, with characters sporting impossible, gravity defying hairstyles and engaging in over-the-top fight sequences, not to mention spending an enormous amount of time just screaming at each other. So, adapting this strange epic to live-action was, at the very least, incredibly risky. Some would say it was doomed to failure.
Despite the movie being universally panned, the series had enough of a following in Asia and the U.S. that it made some coin, and rumors of a sequel (or reboot) already abound. We'll see. Some movies are better left in animated form — a sentiment anyone who has seen Dragonball Evolution probably shares with us.
While purists had complaints, mainly with the alterations done to the character of Deadpool, they came in droves to support Hugh Jackman as their favorite Marvel comics mutant, Wolverine. Everybody likes Hugh! He's just such a nice guy, and he steps up and promotes his movies with such sincerity.
Clawing its way to $373 million in box office receipts, Wolverine proved that X-Men movies aren't dead yet. In fact, 20th Century Fox has breathed new life into the franchise by spinning-off single X-characters, and it looks like they will be holding onto the rights for quite some time. No sooner had the weekend box office take been tallied than a Wolverine sequel was announced. Later, we learned that a Deadpool movie starring Ryan Reynolds is being fast-tracked to spin-off city, and a Magneto movie has also been green-lighted.
With its box office, decidedly bright future, and the awesome Hugh Jackman, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely a winner.
Arguably the summer's biggest winner has to be the Transformers sequel. While Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was full of gaping plot holes, it was also the highest grossing movie of the year at $833 million worldwide. And in the end, money is one of the critical defining factors of what is and isn't a winner. Let's face it, the amount of coin that a movie makes ensures that it continues on with a follow-up, and possibly, a multi-film franchise.
The robots-in-disguise have come a long way since the first toy transfixed Japanese kiddies. Thanks in part to Michael Bay's two movies, everybody is now familiar with Autobots and Decepticons. Unfortunately for the flick, Bay is known for focusing on spectacle more than storytelling. But now that Optimus and Megatron are guaranteed a continuation of their saga, we're hoping for a new director — one more concerned with storyline rather than explosions and jumpy camera movements.
So, even though Transformers got critically panned for good reason, we're declared in a winner because it made money and has the legs for more sequels — not to mention Megan Fox's legs, which are reason enough, themselves.
There really isn't much good to say about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra beyond the fact that it has made $301 million at the box office. Here we have another example of a large and loyal following carrying a movie simply because its popularity crosses generations. But let's be honest: The movie has less going for it than the '80s cartoon.
Sure, ensembles generally don't have a lot of time for character development. Yet, apart from the familiar Joe handles, this movie could've easily been mistaken for an episode of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Even the special effects were just ... just ... bad. This movie didn't follow the mythology enough to merit the name G.I. Joe. The only thing that kept butts in the theater seats was Ray Park as Snake Eyes. Let's hope this bright light in the genre gets to star in future comic book movies. Can anyone say Iron Fist?
Ever since Kate Beckinsale slipped into skin-tight leather for Underworld, we've learned to appreciate her talents, but even the sexy shower scene at the opening of Whiteout couldn't save this stinker. Lack of loyalty to the source material, and too many tactless red herrings, put this movie solidly in the loser category.
Whiteout, the four-issue comic book mini-series, launched the writing career of novelist Greg Rucka. It's a smart murder mystery about a U.S. Marshal in Antarctica who must catch the continent's first killer. With a limited number of suspects on the entire land mass, the tale makes for an interesting read, and the remote locale is used masterfully to create a sense of bleakness and hopelessness that pervades the story.
Unfortunately, the movie didn't come close to the comic book, and it changed a lot of what made the series unique. Where the comic book created vivid, three-dimensional characters, we never connected with the movie's version. In the comics, the murder plot unfolds at a good pace, details come together, and it all wraps up nicely in the end. By contrast, the movie is disjointed and unsatisfying — at times teasing a supernatural killer á la The Thing — and it clumsily becomes obvious very early on who the real killer actually is.
As for the changes, there were some biggies. The protagonist, Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) was supposed to be a lesbian — but it must've been too taboo to translate to the screen. And guess who played the guy (who was supposed to be a girl) that was Carrie's love interest? None other than Gabriel Macht! That's right, the actor who starred in the worst comic book movie of 2008, Frank Miller's The Spirit. Now the poor guy has two bad comic book movies under his belt now. Can his career survive?
It pains us to pan a Bruce Willis movie, but Surrogates sucked. It was a lackluster borefest about a future where people live their lives through robot bodies. The story begins when someone figures out how to kill people through their "surrogate" and detective Tom Greer (Willis) has to solve the crime before the killer can commit cybernetic mass murder.
Sounds like a good sci-fi movie, right? Unfortunately, it was predictable and plodding, and thus, a loser. Think I, Robot without any of the action. In fact, the genius scientist who created the robots was the same actor in both movies, James "That'll do, pig" Cromwell. It's like Hollywood's imagination has died and they can't cast an actor unless they've seen him in a similar role.
Plus, with an $80-million production budget — and worldwide earnings of only $60 million two MONTHS in — it's looking more and more like a loser on all fronts.
The surprise winner of the year has got to be Imagi's Astro Boy, an update of the 1950's manga and the 1960's cartoon seen in the U.S. — a series that, incidentally, is credited with coining the anime genre. It's a delightful Pinocchio story about a robot that believes he's a boy, finds out he's a robot, and then has to rediscover his humanity while saving the earth from destruction.
The only computer-animated movie on our list, Astro Boy is in direct contrast to the previously live-action loser Dragonball Evolution. The lesson learned here? Keep anime properties animated. They are just too risky to develop with real actors doing more than simple voice-overs, and nobody wants to see Freddie Highmore in a pointy black wig.
The story is solid. The animation's first rate. And if that weren't enough, keeping this anime animated makes Astro Boy a winner.
Besides contributing to reelz.com, Jim Littler is the Webmaster of popular fansite ComicBookMovie.com.