- Matt Linton
Comics-to-Film Recap - 2017
2017 might be the biggest year in comic to film adaptations, with ten released between February and November. Among the films were Hugh Jackman’s final and finest appearance as Wolverine, the fifteenth, sixteenth, and SEVENTEENTH installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first female led superhero film in the modern era, and a film intended to be the culmination of DC’s own cinematic universe. While I haven’t managed to see all of these films, I’ve seen a respectable eight out of ten, so I wanted to take a look back at the year that was.
The Lego Batman Movie (February 10) – Starting off the year on a good-ish note was the spin-off (directed by Chris McKay) from the unexpected 2014 hit, The Lego Movie, starring Will Arnett as the narcissistic and totally dark Batman. The plot is, honestly, forgettable (seriously, I’ve completely forgotten it) but the movie is a love letter to nearly every iteration of the Dark Knight, from the multiple comic book interpretations to the Adam West TV series, as well as the Burton, Schumacher, and Nolan films. The cast itself is stellar, as well, with Michael Cera (Robin), Rosario Dawson (Batgirl), Zach Galifianakis (the Joker), and Ralph Fiennes (Alfred), along with a sprawling Lego universe. Ultimately, the film didn’t entirely work for me, and what worked about Batman in The Lego Movie started to wear a bit thin in this one.
Logan (March 3) – Up next is possibly my favorite of these adaptations. You can read Shelby Cadwell’s review of Logan here. I have a complicated relationship with the Fox Studios X-Men films. I’m a huge fan of the comics, and while the movies usually work for me the first time around, I’ve tend to like them less and less each time I revisit them (and seriously hated X-Men: Apocalypse). James Mangold’s Logan is the exception, as it features amazing performances by Jackman (who completely owns the role), Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier, and Dafne Keen making her feature film debut as Laura. The movie borrows heavily from the Western genre, and is bleak and heartbreaking.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5) – Director James Gunn returned to follow up another unexpected hit, with this sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). This film expands that universe, adding Ego (Kurt Russell) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) to the returning gang of outlaw superheroes. I’m in a minority in that I enjoyed Vol. 2 even more than the first film, as I felt it managed to be bigger, funnier, and (having already established the characters and their relationships in the first movie) more emotionally resonant. And, granted, it’s the most toy-etic concept ever, but Baby Groot is the most adorable thing ever.
Wonder Woman (June 2) - In my review, which you can read here, I gave Wonder Woman a B, and I stand by that despite really enjoying the film. Patty Jenkins created a solidly entertaining and occasionally inspiring film that’s bolstered by the performances and charm of Gal Gadot (Diana) and Chris Pine (Steve Trevor), but it’s weighed down by less-than-engaging villains and now-standard third act issues. And none of that takes away from the importance of the film or the extent to which Jenkins and Gadot stick the landing when it comes to presenting the character of Wonder Woman on the big screen in her first film.
Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) – Spidey returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following his introduction in Captain America: Civil War (2016). As I said in my review I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, and director Jon Watts adds a bit of an 80s teen movie pastiche to this take on the character that completely hit my buttons. Tom Holland is fantastic as both the nerdy Peter Parker and his wisecracking alter ego, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture instantly becomes one of Marvel’s best villains. It’s a light and fun movie that never quite goes off the rails, even managing to include Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man just the right amount.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (July 21) – Luc Besson’s sci-fi epic, based on the French comic series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières is one of two comic book adaptations I missed this year. While the visuals looked incredible, the trailer didn’t grab me, and I’m really not a fan of either of the leads (Dane DeHaan from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Cara Delevigne from Suicide Squad). Based on the box office and critical reception, the film didn’t really grab viewers, either. I plan to check it out eventually, but in a packed year I’m okay with having skipped it in theaters.
Atomic Blonde (July 28) – As I mentioned in my review of the film, I really wanted to love this movie, but ultimately found it more frustrating than anything else. Based on the graphic novel The Coldest City by Antony Johnston and Sam Hart, the movie is stylishly shot and edited by David Leitch (who worked on the John Wick), and features some stunning action set pieces and strong performances by Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. However, it also some of the most needlessly convoluted storytelling for what is essentially a simple plot. It’s worth checking out for the action, but I wouldn’t go in looking for anything else.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle (September 22) – This is the second of the two adaptations I missed in theaters, though this one came down to timing more than anything else. Director Matthew Vaughn follows up his adaptation of the Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic book series with this film, bringing Taron Egerton’s British secret agent to the United States. The consensus seems to be that this sequel doesn’t work quite as well as the previous film did, but it’s still high on my list to check out over the holiday break. While Shelby also wasn’t able to watch this yet, you can see her thoughts on the original film here as Part 3 of her “Masculinity in the Millarverse” series.
Thor: Ragnarok (November 3) – I loved this movie, the third in the Thor series, and first by writer/director Taika Waititi (What We Do In the Shadows). It’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year and I’d easily watch it again right now. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) are probably the best they’ve been in the roles, Cate Blanchett (Hela), Karl Urban (Skurge), and Tessa Thompson (Valkyrie) are great, and Mark Ruffalo’s Banner and mo-cap Hulk nearly steals the show (and likely would have, if not for the inexplicable brilliance of whatever it is that Jeff Goldblum (the Grandmaster) is doing). Aside from a few moments where the laughs step on the emotional impact of the story, the balance of humor and pathos worked perfectly for me. It’s also bright, colorful, and oh-so-80s, complete with a synth score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh. Oh, and you can check out my full review here!
Justice League (November 17) – And then there’s Justice League. I have a lot of thoughts about what led to the critical and commercial bludgeoning this film took, and I don’t entirely disagree with the response, though I thought the film was better than I expected. As I wrote in my review, given the late-in-the-process replacement of original director Zack Snyder (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) with Joss Whedon (The Avengers), the movie was more coherent and entertaining than it had any right to be, while still not managing to be, well, good. How you feel about the movie may rely entirely on how you felt about the previous direction of the DCEU, as this is a deliberate and often obvious course correction to lighten up and more closely follow the Marvel template. It does that, but essentially does it without most of the charm, confidence, or authenticity of those films. Basically, it’s the not-so-cool kid trying a bit too hard to be like the more effortlessly cool kid. You’re rooting for them, but you kind of wish they’d just figure out their own thing.
All in all, this has been one of the best years in comic book adaptations (and that's without even getting into the television side of things). Next year doesn't look to be slowing down, as we'll be getting Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and the Wasp from Marvel, The New Mutants, Deadpool 2 , and X-Men: Dark Phoenix from Fox, Venom and the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse from Sony, and Aquaman from DC/Warners. It remains to be seen if those films will match the quality we've gotten in 2017.