Ho-boy. Here we go.
I'm sticking with the same rules in regards to superhero comics adapted for the big screen. I also have to apologize for posting this a day late. I was working on it last night and became tired and opted for bed over an incoherent second half.
The biggest challenge, except where otherwise noted, is that I haven't bothered to watch several of these again since I first bore witness to their malice. So some of these I barely remember at this point, except for a deep sense of melancholy when I try to recall my theatrical experience.
These are as bottom of the barrel as I can go and not somehow do an about face and grow to love the production for its awfulness. I've referred to the JLA TV pilot that never aired, and I kind of like how the only thing right about it is that someone thought to throw some cash around and hired Miguel Ferrer to play a version of Weather Wizard.
When discussing terrible movies a few days ago, Jason mentioned this particular gem, and I cannot disagree. I'm not sure the idea of Spawn in itself is bad, even if it does sound like a 14 year old's idea based on an inability to reconcile his love of death-metal album covers with wanting his creation to be heroic. The idea of turninga negative into a positive is one I can get behind, but...
in the comic and movie, Spawn is a rebelled agent of the devil. Rather than leading Beelzebub's forces on Earth, he uses his nightmarish powers, in a big ol' plot twist, for GOOD, fighting and hunting Satan's demons, who don't appear as metaphors, but as actual demons. I have to admit, once you actually show the face of THE Devil, you've sort of lost me. In fact, all of the "hell" sequences lost me, as they all looked like they'd been cooked up on an Amiga, circa 1993.
Aside from the premise, I'll be honest, all I remember about the movie is the following:
a) I was terribly embarrassed for Martin Sheen, who was, for some reason, in the movie
b) If I did not already have a deep disdain for John Leguizamo before, this movie sealed the deal
c) The FX were the sort of cheap CG one would usually see on Xena or other syndicated shows of the time.
d) I wanted to leave, but could not. Jamie had already decided to go hang out in the lobby, where she remained for the last 3rd of the movie, all the while I sat both despising the film and wondering when she'd come back so I could tell her we were leaving. A smarter person, she.
I've seen Spawn comics and the cartoon, and I admit, I don't get it. But aside from well rendered MacFarlane pencils, I don't know what I was ever supposed to get in the first place.
2. Judge Dredd
A cult-favorite in the US and, I understand, very popular in Mother england, this UK-based comic is about a utopian future in which "Judges" are police, judge, jury and executioner.
I'm not familiar with the comic to much of a degree, but I do know that it does not feature Rob "Makin' Copies" Schneider, or even David Spade.
The film was in trouble when Stallone decided this was his comeback vehicle, and hired some poor schlub out of nowhere to direct so he could basically dictate a great deal about the film, not actually have to direct, and not take ALL the blame if the movie tanked. Any relevance to the state of things in Thatcher's England that led to the Judge Dredd comic was missed entirely by the production, as we got, instead, to endure 2 hours of Stallone bellowing and moping.
I have no idea if it made money or not, but the movie received terrible critical review from everyone but my college-pal, Richard, who had seen it a day or two before and insisted I see this masterpiece right away.
The movie actually follows the Superman II/ Spidey 3 pattern of removing the costume for a big part of the movie and not letting them kick the crud out of thugs. Seeing someone lose their job or quit their job is NOT what people are generally paying to see at a super-hero movie. Especially the FIRST in a series.
The movie strips Judge Dredd of BEING Judge Dredd before the end of the first act.
Maybe the FX were okay. I have no idea. All I remember is being deeply unhappy walking out of the theater.
3. Batman and Robin
Tim Burton had abandoned the Bat-flicks after making two movies about a guy ostensibly like Batman, and who lived in Gotham City, etc... but who was pretty clearly NOT Batman (Batman can turn his head).
"Lost Boys" director Joel Schumacher took over the franchise and proceeded to chuck any goodwill Burton had built up with his loving, if off-kilter treatment of the franchise. It was a bold move in circa 1987 when Burton got Batman to disregard the old Adam West show (which most people identified as defining superheroes). Apparently squarely in the "this is stupid" camp, Schumacher must have thought he was helping when he dismissed Batman's motivation as childish and felt Batman was and always should be high camp, or not exist at all. A Batman for the 90's!
"Batman Forever" was the crummy third installment, which doesn't hold up well these days at all. It introduced a 20-something Chris O'Donnell as "The Boy Wonder", Robin, foisted Jim Carrey in tights upon us, and made an ass out of Tommy Lee Jones, who may have now seen Dark Knight and still be unaware he was playing Aaron Eckhardt's character.
"Batman and Robin" decided to expand the franchise and, developed in the late-90's "star power" era, added Alicia "I can't read" Silverstone as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon-- no, she was suddenly Alfred's niece for some reason. Silverstone generally looks and delivers lines as if marginally lobotomized, but apparently enough people liked her rack in that Aerosmith video that we were supposed to think she was a super addition to the franchise.
Look, in the 1990's, I had it in for Silverstone. She kept getting work when she was clearly not talented, and I still find "Clueless" a vapid and stupid exercise from which I think you can trace a direct line from there to The #$%^ing Hills.
There was also the unfortunate casting of George Clooney, who gets ribbing for being in this movie, but... seriously...? Clooney? The guy just stands there and grins like a geek and tries to deliver the dilaog as if any of it (and of it at all) makes a lick of sense.
And in comparison to his cast-mates...
Uma Thurman demonstrated her inability to vamp, deliver a line or be sexy as villainess, Poison Ivy. Thurman CLEARLY believed she was in an Adam West episode, and may not have been wrong. But it doesn't mean she was as good as Vincent price as Egg Head.
The newest Bat-villain, Bane, supposedly the Dark Knight's equal in the comics, was reduced to a mindless drone in his screen debut. And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger was given bot the role of Mr. Freeze, and an endless stream of quips and one-liners about ice. Most of which make no sense.
Luckily, the movie was both a financial bomb and the closest thing you can get to Hiroshima as far as critical reviews go. Its failure triggered the Bat-movie reboots under Chris Nolan.
Oddly, the movie is so mind-numbingly awful, I can't help but watch it when it comes on cable. From the "Gotham is a Fabulous Disco" set design, to the bat nipples, to the awful one liners, to the plot which makes just absolutely no sense, to the frequent toyetic costume changes and the endless amounts of money obviously poured into this trainwreck.
It is schadenfreude at its sweetest.
4) The Fantastic Four Movies
Did Fox want me to hate the FF?
A typical case of "the studio knows better what will work, rather than 40 years of success in your comic", the FF movie went deeply off the rails well before production began.
Oddly, these two train wrecks are movies one hears occasionally defended, and I can never imagine wanting to be the one whose critical thinking skills have failed them so completely, that somehow either FF film seems like a good idea.
The first failure was probably in hiring director Tim Story, who had done light comedies with Jimmy Fallon before taking on Marvel's second most precious comics commodity. Clearly, Story was much more into the idea of what sort of sight gags he could cook up around the FF's powers and physical irregularities than pounding out a solid story or paying any attention to what had made things work for 40 years. Ha ha... Invisible Girl has to get naked... Oh, good times.
Sure, both are kids movies, and the FF SHOULD be family friendly. But the FF comics have been kid and family friendly for decades without requiring the sound of a trombone coming in with a "wah-wah-waaaaaaah".
They managed to miscast, neuter and dethrone Doctor Doom. Not to mention change his background, abilities, motivation, etc... To absolutely no end.
FF2 is, amazingly, worse than FF1. At least FF1 had the charm inherent in the super-hero origin story. FF2 introduced the Silver Surfer, had the most obvious and embarrassing bachelor party scene of all time, needlessly employed Doom, and failed to give anyone in the FF anything to actually do except for stand around and stare at the Silver Surfer. Seriously, they don't actually DO anything in the entire movie but watch the other characters.
And, for comic geeks, the decision that Galactus was not a character, but a big, purple cloud... pretty lame, studio. Way to forget there's a whole act wherein the FF could have actually DONE something.
Word is that the cast figured out the studio wasn't too keen on the sequel when they hadn't already heard about a sequel within three weeks of the film's premier.
Possibly the most maddening thing is that FF1 came out so close to Pixar's "The Incredibles", a movie which demonstrated the spirit of what a family-centric superhero movie can be. It's a franchise I'd love to see get a second chance.
5) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
The first Superman film had fantasy, magic and wonder going for it, as well as strong performances, an astronomical budget and a director who didn't think he was on the set of "Three's Company".
Sadly, Superman IV lacked all of these items, but did give us a "Jon Cryser is: Hiding Out"-era Jon Cryer, Mariel Hemingway and Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man.
The frustrating thing about the movie is that you can see that at one point, it was an ambitious script, but something happened along the way, and they made the movie they could with the money they had, and the lack of talent, etc... associated. While its easy to shrug off the premise of Superman trying to remove the world's nukes as stupid, its also the most immediate logical question to bring up about a nigh-unstoppable god-man who is supposedly here to protect us. Why wouldn't he make a pre-emptive move on everyone on Earth to keep us from atomizing ourselves?
Obviously a complicated question, but rather than just answer it, the movie goes off the rails, cloning Superman into this guy.
Nuclear Man's weakness... he loses his power if he's not in direct sunlight. IE: his greatest fear is a good shade tree.
The FX in the movie are sub-par in comparison to the earlier installments, poor Margot Kidder is looking like somebody's mom who doesn't want to be there (but is back after the contract dispute that led to all the Lana stuff in Superman III), and has to endure a scene in which she double-dates Superman and Clark with Mariel Hemingway. realizing you are going to see what you think you're about to see gives you that same feeling you used to get when you realized you hadn't studied for a test or that you forgot to file your taxes on time.
Jon Cryer attempts to channel, I guess, some surfer-dude character or something. I don't know if that was funny when the movie was released, but it just sort of makes one sad now. Sort of like when you accidentally watch Power Rangers.
And, God bless Chris Reeve, because the man is still Superman despite the various obastacles of budget, directing (the only other recognizable film in the director's repertoire are the Iron Eagle movies and the Rodney Dangerfield opus, "Ladybugs"), possibly drug-addled co-stars, and who knows what else.
I could have NOT included the movie but (a) its a failure that ended a franchise and did damage to a genre, (b) its sort of joyless and kind of unwatchable.
But, again, its seeing the big ideas that Superman could and should be addressing, and seeing the numb-skull-edry that overtakes those ideas and crams them into the mold of a standard "I must fight my equal" punchout scene.
Superman III also has its flaws, but... honestly, this film is somehow even more disappointing. People have just seen it less.
Superman III. Aside from Annette O'Toole, who has twice graced the Superman franchise with her foxiness, the movie is a mess. But it is also the driver for re-shaping Luthor as a corporate tycoon as seen in the comics from 1986 - 2006. And, sorry, I actually like the Clark v. Evil Superman fight. As a kid, i remember having a sort of revelatory, deep-gut reaction to that sequence. Plus, it features DRUNK, ANGRY SUPERMAN. And that is awesome.
The Phantom. Slam Evil! said the poster. But this low-budget picture was more about slamming me with cliches and an oddly-cast Treat Williams. Sadly, what I mostly remember about the film is Kristy Swanson in tan adventure pants. Everything else is a blur.
I do recall being very excited that this very pulpy looking movie was coming out, and then THAT is what they did with it. Hey, I LIKE Rocketeer and The Shadow. No, really. I own them on DVD. So I don't know what happened here.
The Punisher - Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane. Both are bad, but Lundgren's Punisher is epically bad. And I say that as someone who used to pay to see Steven Segal movies in the theater. It oddly features a lot of Louis Gosset Jr., Italian-American stereotypes, the Yakuza, bad lighting and Dolph Lundgren acting as if he's on qualudes for 90 minutes. Thomas Jane's version missed the whole part about not being real specific about which mobsters the Punisher was taking on and re-located everyone to some resort town the Florida Keys or something. Its hard to believe anyone would be that upset when everyone looks like they should be enjoying a drink with a little umbrella in it.
Captain America - the Tv movies and the 1990ish feature The 70's TV movies of Cap needlessly rewrite Cap's origin and sort of make him a walking gun for the cops. They're just... sort of half-assed, but do feature Cap as a van-owner. and that I can get behind. The 1990's movie gets the WWII and freezing bits right, but gets literally every other detail wrong, including the choreography of the action, any pacing whatsoever, and not casting Ned Beatty as a central figure to the movie. It all looks like the budget was probably roughly what I was making that year in the allowance dollars given to me by the folks.
GhostRider. I don't know if you could have made a compelling movie out of this comic franchise to begin with, but its tough to imagine me wanting to sit through that movie less than I wanted to finish watching this one.
Catwoman. Oh, God. Well, this is actually probably worse than anything above, but I'm not looking back now. I also didn't finish watching it. What you can say is that it created a job for someone at Warner Bros. whose responsibility it is not to accidentally damage anymore DC franchise items the way we saw with Catwoman. (Why do you think marvel is producing its own movies now?)
Elektra. It was like they sorta skimmed the Elektra comics, and decided that was too interesting, so they should go a different direction and make a sort of poorly paced and awkward movie. Couldn't finish this one, either.
Daredevil. Well, its unlikely anyone was really going to capture Frank Miller in his prime quite right for a movie, and sure enough... they failed. So, so many places where this didn't need to be as bad as it was. One day I really hope they try again with Daredevil because he should be a very movie or TV ready character. Just... not like that.
What I have not seen:
The Spirit (most recent or 1980's TV version)
TV movie of Dr. Strange
TV movie of Spider-Man from the 1970's
Corman's Fantastic Four
What I have seen:
SuperPup, which, to view it is to know madness...