50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 2

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Part Two is all about manly men doing manly things: slipping on the leather in 'Ghost Rider' and 'The Crow', greasing up for battle in '300' and sipping Victorian absinthe in 'From Hell'... only 'Barbarella' can save us!

40. Ghost Rider (2007)


Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

Caged heat
With lines such as ‘Your souls are stained with the blood of the innocent: feel their pain!', ‘Ghost Rider' is a ridiculous, overblown but completely watchable romp through one of Marvel's more cheesy comic-book series. What takes it beyond standard comic-book fare is the way it coolly fuses Faustian iconography and the mythology of the American western, whilst still packing in the great effects and action scenes you'd expect from a comic-book adaptation. All this without even mentioning Cage's completely bizarre performance, becoming almost a parody of the laconic, drawling Nic we know and love. Even amid the blazing CGI, the film's best moment might just be Johnny Blaze barking ‘You're stepping on Karen!' when someone interrupts him listening to the Carpenters' ‘Superstar'. Mad. BR
Watch the film retooled as a Benny Hill skit

Read the Time Out review
300.jpg

39. 300 (2006)

Directed by Zach Snyder
This! Is! Homoerotic!
Where 'Sin City' put comic-book grids on screen in the most literal manner, Larry Fong and art director Isabelle Guay (who gave 'The Fountain' its distinctive look) pulled of the tricky task of evoking the feel of reading a graphic novel while creating a visual experience that's proudly cinematic. Surprisingly, tellers of the world’s oldest last-stand yarn, in which around 300 Spartans (plus countless doomed slaves, but let’s not quibble) really did hold off a Persian army, have only one other film to compete with, 1962’s 'The 300 Spartans'. That shamelessly cast the Greeks as clean-cut American boys off to stem the faceless Eastern tide (ie the commies), but it did at least have nuance and some depth. Sadly, '300' carries barely a performance that isn’t hamstrung by a one-note declamatory style or which can overcome the limitations of a script that struggles to develop the source material. Amid the almost constant clash and thunder of battle/weather/man-hugging, those faults are barely apparent, but in the film's few quiet moments, actors, writers and director are left horribly exposed. As a technical feat and as a spectacle, this is one of cinema’s great triumphs; as a film, it’s something of a Pyrrhic victory. PF
Watch the film's most memorable line of dialogueThe Crow.jpg

38. The Crow (1994)


Directed by Alex Proyas

Everybody's heard about the bird
Gaining a certain notoriety at the time of its release due to the fact that its star – Brandon ‘son of Bruce' Lee – was killed while filming one of the stunt set-pieces, Alex Proyas's ‘The Crow' still lives large in the heart of many a black-fingernailed Cure fan for its noirish twist on traditional superhero heroics. It's that old tale of a young couple feeling the first pangs of true love, and just at a crucial moment in their relationships, a gang of liquored-up nunchuck-wielding street punks descend and give them a proper thrashing. After he's been pummeled into jelly, Brandon lies dead on the roadside only for a crow to inject him with the spirit of life (and crows) so he can turn into a lank-haired, topless vigilante who looks like The Joker's emo-inclined kid brother and roundhouse some heads in the name of righteous retribution. The iconic scene in which Lee sets fire to a trail of petrol in a back alley was no doubt the catalyst for a thousand drunken garden party accidents, but the film still excites for its expertly handled (and bracingly violent) fight scenes and proved that comic book movies didn't just have to be for da kidz. News is that Nick Cave is in the process of writing the screenplay for an updated version, surely a perfect meeting of author and material. DJ
Watch one of the many fan tributes to the film here
Read the Time Out review

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37. Tank Girl (1995)


Directed by Rachel Talalay
There's a riot goin' onMad Max meets the make-up box in a Riot Grrrl romp through a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by fashion students, cop-killing kangaroos and – because if this is dubious, rickety '90s sci-fi, there's really only one name on the Rolodex – Malcolm McDowell as leader of that axis of pure-brewed evil, the Water & Power Department. The result is at first agreeably anarchic, but you soon begin to wonder whether all the mayhem is actually being orchestrated toward some end or merely a by-product of the entire production going headlong into meltdown. By the end the countercultural chaos has given way to a formulaic fistic finale, but for a while there we slipped the surly bonds of genre convention and flicked snot in the faces of the cinematic gods. ALDWatch some deleted kangaroo sex here Read the Time Out review


The Rocketeer.jpg

36. The Rocketeer (1991)


Directed by Joe Johnston

I packed my bags last night, pre-flight...
Not a classic by any means, Joe Johnston's art deco adventure still works as a solid early attempt to give the shoulder-padded fashions and paranoiac political concerns of 1950s America a twinkly eyed, fx-heavy overhaul. The film stars floppy fringed who-he Billy Campbell as out-of-work stunt pilot Cliff Secord, who is saddled with a mysterious package containing a rocket pack designed by Howard Hughes. Using it to innocently piledrive through cornfields and washing lines (as you would), it takes no time whatsoever for the moustache-twirling matinee idol Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) to hear of Cliff's little discovery, and before Cliff can use it to indulge in any ‘Porky's-style mischief, he's being pursued by Neville's private army of Tommy-gun toting hoodlums. Based on the original graphic novel by the late Dave Stevens, who is now primarily known for his perv portraits of alterno-pin-up Bettie Page, the film certainly posits interesting ‘what if?' questions about the technological advancements of the age and what would happen if they were to fall into the wrong hands (the Bel Air branch of the Nazis, of course). And the question of why the rocket doesn't burn its user's legs clean off is never addressed. DJ
Ever wanted to see a bizarre mash-up of this and the 'Shawshank Redemption'? Watch here


Read the Time Out review Friday Foster.jpg

35. Friday Foster (1975)


Directed by Arthur Marks

Wham! Bam! Here comes Pam!
Foxy fashion photographer Friday Foster finds herself in the frame after witnessing an assassination attempt in a middling Blaxploitation also-ran starring Pam Grier and Yaphet Kotto. Based on the syndicated comic strip – the first to feature an African-American female lead – it purports to be a heady mix of catwalk couture, timely political comment and balls-out action, but the knock-out cast (which also includes Eartha Kitt and Scatman Crothers) have their work cut out overcoming the dreary locations, bush-league stunts and unconvincing hepcat dialogue. ALDWatch the trailer here

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34. Asterix at the Olympics (2008)


Directed by Frédéric Forestier and Thomas Langmann

Gauls
with ballsLike ‘Tin Tin', Goscinny and Uderzo's celebrated Asterix comic books should lend themselves perfectly to film adaptation. Unfortunately, none of the Asterix films thus far have managed to successfully recreate the world of the authors' plucky anti-authoritarian Gauls. This, the third live-action version to star Gérard Depardieu as Obélix, the dim-but-powerful menhir-carrying Gaul, is arguably the most accomplished of the bunch, both visually and structurally. It's also rather funny, in a Mel Brooks kind of way. True, Clovis Cornillac makes a bloody awful lead and Depardieu looks mostly bemused, but there's hilarious support from Benoît Poelvoorde as Brutus and Alain Delon as a camped-up Caesar. A follow-up – ‘Asterix in Britain' – is currently in production. DA
Watch a scene from the film Read the Time Out review

Barbarella.jpg

33. Barbarella (1968)


Directed by Roger Vadim

In space, no one can hear you cream
The original bande desinee of 'Barbarella' featured a space vixen with a curious resemblance to Vadim's first wife, Bridgitte Bardot, so it wasn't a huge stretch for the director to cast his new squeeze, Jane Fonda, in the film role of the intergalactic sex voyager. Vadim's previous movie with Fonda, the interfamilial incest(ish) melodrama ‘La Curee', was almost unknown in the US in 1968 so audiences expected more of the sweet-cheeked, eager Fonda of ‘Barefoot in the Park' rather than the atomic-hot zero-g strip show that kicks off this kitsch masterpiece. Jean-Claude Forest's comic strip was produced in the early '60s but it would have been impossible to release a film far-out enough to live up to the work in the pre-psychedelic era. The calendar in the fur-trimmed den of Barbarella's phallic spacewagon may show the 41st century but this world of bouffant hairdos, oil lights and trippy lounge music is most definitely 1968. Forest's script reflects all the pleasures and anxieties of the age – political violence, drugs, female empowerment, recreational sex and the co-opting of the counter culture – and as the plastic-corseted astrotrix encounters angels, rebels and flesh-eating dolls on her mission to track down the renegade professor Durand Durand, we begin to get the feeling that this film may not be as dumb as it looks. Then Barbarella breaks a sex-piano with the force of her orgasm, and we begin to wonder if, after all, it is exactly that dumb. PF
Watch the saucy trailer here

Read the Time Out review

 

Constantine.jpg

32. Constantine (2005)


Directed by Francis Lawrence

To beat the devil
Cynical, sardonic, morally shaky, John Constantine is a man for our times. He may have transformed from the blond Scouser of the DC/Vertigo funnybook into a floppy-haired hunk of Hawaiian driftwood, but the old hellblazer's journey to the big screen was otherwise painless and resulted in a fresh, original film that boasts some nut-grabbing special effects and an intriguing cast of transmigratory oddballs that includes the lead singer from Bush, Tilda Swinton as a cross-dressing Angel Gabriel and Peter 'I'm ACTING!' Stormare as a camp, lisping – and, of course, European – Satan who looks like he's stepped straight out of a Duran Duran video. A huge crossover hit, ‘Constantine' was a rare but welcome example of Hollywood trusting in the source material and finding there's a massive audience for comic-book movies that don't pander to some imaginary common denominator by diluting beloved characters with wiseacre sidekicks, hearts of gold or a set of humdrum, extraneous motivations. ALDWatch Stormare's slavering Satan here

Read the Time Out review

From Hell.jpg

31. From Hell (2001)


Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes

Saucy Jack!
The real Inspector Frederick Abbeline, head of the Jack the Ripper investigation, was a career policeman and faintly dull old duffer who retired to the seaside and died peacefully in his nineties. 'From Hell' author Alan Moore's Inspector Abbeline was a middle-aged, rather puritanical flatfoot. The Hughes brothers' Abbeline is Johnny Depp crunked up on absinthe and opium, subject to hideous visions, troubled by the death of his wife and heading for an early grave – and all the better for it, despite Moore's laudable purism. Depp is a dab hand at conjuring heroes-in-crisis and here he's given full reign to indulge all his wild-eyed tics and cold-sweat jiggers against a believably dirty, tumultuous London that's as raucous, violent and edgy as the directors' native Detroit. In another context the hysterical mysticism that plays just below the surface could well have capsized the whole adventure, but in an Alan Moore adaptation that kind of woozy tricksterism is right at home; what’s surprising, and admirable, is that a pair as grounded in hard-knock realism as the Hughes brothers would have the nerve to retain such an esoteric narrative strand. Despite a contrived feel to the 'happy' ending, fans of Moore should feel well served by the overall miasma of grotty hopelessness that gives 'From Hell' a greasing of faithful credibility. PF
Sample Johnny Depp's cockney drawl in the trailer

Read the Time Out review

See 30 through to 21

Author: Derek Adams, Adam Lee Davies, Paul Fairclough, Tom Huddleston, David Jenkins and Bethany Rutter


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