50 essential comic-book movies, with Edgar Wright: part 6

It's the top five, home of spiders and octopuses, demons and elves, bike gangs and bulbous psychics and one very opinionated young record collector...

5. Akira (1988)


Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo

The future begins. And ends. And begins again.
For most of us in the West, ‘Akira' was our first mind-expanding peek into the world of anime, and it took our breath away. We'd all been exposed to ‘Battle of the Planets' and ‘Cities of Gold' as kids, so we were familiar with the style, the detailed but motionless backdrops and jerky, overexpressive foreground action. But substance-wise, this was something completely unexpected: ‘Akira' opens with a nuclear explosion and only gets wilder. There was a lot else here we were familiar with – the look was a bit ‘Blade Runner', a bit ‘2000AD', and those of us who had already graduated to William Gibson and cyberpunk had some kind of handle on where we thought writer-director Otomo was going. But ‘Akira' still managed to wrongfoot viewers at every turn, throwing in gang warfare and organ harvesting, mysticism and military malfeasance, cryogenics and berserk, grotesque Cronenbergian body horror. It may not have made complete narrative sense – and it definitely paved the way for the low-rent, exploitative likes of ‘Urotsukidoji' and ‘Fist of the North Star' – but ‘Akira' was and remains a key moment in the development and acceptance of world animation, and a singularly strange, compelling experience. TH

Edgar Wright says:

‘"Akira" is just fantastic, it really stands up. I saw it at the British premiere at the Watershed Cinema in Bristol in 1988 or '89. I saw it with my brother, and unbeknownst to us, Simon Pegg was in the audience, six years before we actually met! The first Japanese animation I remember really loving as a kid was "Battle of the Planets", and I didn't know it was Japanese but I knew there was something different about it. Japanese animation is interesting, it's like the cartoon equivalent of spaghetti westerns – they don't have the same money the Americans have, but they make up for it in style. There are a lot of things in "Scott Pilgrim" taken from Japanese animation. We took a lot of those same stylistic short cuts.'Click here for a sneak peek at the forthcoming Hollywood version
Read the Time Out review
Spider-Man 2.jpg

4. Spider-Man 2

Directed by Sam Raimi
Six or eight arms to hold youHaving avidly followed a career making 1,000 mph lo-fi genre epics in which no camera angle was too obtuse and no special effect too outlandish ('Evil Dead', 'Darkman', et al), it’s no wonder a vast, grease-coated army of basement-dwelling Games Workshop clubcard holders were eager to see what Sam Raimi would make of the juicy rites-of-passage material afforded to him by Stan Lee’s 'Spider-Man' comics. Yet few would’ve thought that he would pull it off with such élan, starting up one of the most unabashedly enjoyably and exhilarating comic book franchises ever to grace our multiplex screens. His first sage move was the casting of Tobey Maguire, who had already forged a neat typecast for himself as a perpetually befuddled bundle of teenage nerves in films like ‘Wonder Boys’ and ‘The Ice Storm’, and as such made for a snug fit in Peter Parker’s Spandex leggings. Then there was Kirsten Dunst as feisy wannabe thesp Mary Jane Watson, whose affections were (initially) just out of the reach of Parker, belonging then to nemesis in the making, Harry Osborn (James Franco). The first film was a little rough around the edges, but pasted over the cracks with its abundance of heart. The second hit the ball out of the park, over the freeway, across the state lines and deep, deep into the ocean. But while the casting and direction really suited the material, it was the happy-go-lucky tone that Raimi managed to whip up between each F1-paced effects set-piece that really made this a comic movie to treasure. And just outside the perimeter of the central love-triangle lurked lurked one hell of a bad guy, namely Alfred Molina’s scenery-chewing Doctor Octopus. So, memo to the people whose job it is to boot up a new sequence of Spidey pictures: bonne chance! DJ

Edgar Wright says:

‘In a lot of these cases, part two is the one that really works. "Spiderman 2" is simply the best Marvel comics adaptation. It totally nails the look. The action scenes, whether it's the train sequence or the scene in the bank, or Doc Ock's breakout in the hospital, it's Sam Raimi, [cameraman] Bill Pope and Marvel Comics all coming together perfectly. And unlike some of the grittier films, it embraced the colour of the '60s Marvel comics in a way that made it really glorious.'
Watch one of the lightning-paced effects set-pieces
Read Time Out reviewHellboy II.jpg

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Lock and load for the Elvish comeback special
Building upon the solid, stylish, supremely strange world he conjured up for the first ‘Hellboy', del Toro really let rip with a sequel that ramped up the scope and bombast of the original without allowing the intimacy and pathos of Big Red's thorny metaphysical predicament to fall by the wayside – and found room for some choice Barry Manilow ditties to boot!

Ron Perlman's winsome, lovelorn demonic beastie is the same old lovable lummox, but this time out he gets a much more acutely realised crew of wingmen, with Abe Sapien moving up through the ranks to fully-fleshed (or should that be ‘fully-fished'?) sidekick, Selma Blair's pyromaniac emo hottie required to do more than pout and moan, and the sniveling ‘Rushmore'-lite exposition vortex that was rookie FBI agent John Myers replaced with the disarming Teutonic charm of disembodied know-it-all Johann Krauss (delicately voiced by shy, retiring wallflower Seth MacFarlane).

But it's the baddies that make this second installment so satisfying, nudging the film from great to something close to comic book alchemy. Luke Goss is perfect as the vengeful Elvish prince who not only attempts to awaken the fearsome Golden Army and wrest the world from the ravages of man, but also begs some searching questions as to Hellboy's chosen place in the world. It's a beautiful judged performance, and when he and his psychically linked twin sis eventually meet their ends with the line 'We die, and the world is worse for it...', you'll be choking on your Adam's apple (or weeping into the folds of your lovely dress). ALD

Edgar Wright says:

"Hellboy 2" I really liked. I've never read the comics, so I watch "Hellboy" as a Guillermo del Toro fan. He really creates his own universe, and it's just beautiful. On a production design level it's just absolutely staggering.'Watch the ‘Hellboy II' blooper reel here
Read the Time Out review

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2. Ghost World (2001)


Directed by Terry Zwigoff
The bitch is backA masterful brew of teen guttersniping and slowly percolating anxiety that managed to be at once melancholy, socially relevant and painfully funny, director Terry Zwigoff's first foray into fiction filmmaking (following his sublime documentary profile of Robert Crumb) resulted in this cult comic book classic based around the acerbic doodles of hip Chicagoan malcontent, Daniel Clowes. Leagues above modern, faux-alterno haughty fair like ‘Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist' and ‘Juno', the film sees a perfectly cast Thora Birch rocking an iconic bob-n-spex look as alt culture magnet Enid, whose summer holiday spent attending art classes forms the backdrop for a story about a crucial, character-building period of her life that also allows her to reassess her relationship with level-headed best pal Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson). Enid's militant non-conformity allows the film to function as a sardonic hymn to the outsider, and its observations on the general dumbing down of art and culture (the scene in the club where a band of young white upstarts called ‘Blueshammer' play a track called ‘Pickin' Cotton Blues' really sums up everything that's wrong with modern music) allow the film to work as a clarion call to preserve and remember the people and places that our culture originally grew from. A brilliant movie, still. DJ

Edgar Wright says:

I loved "Ghost World" for its performances, but I felt like it had lost some of the beauty of Daniel Clowes's artwork. I love the performances, they're fantastic, and it's a funny, very sweet film. Maybe it was a deliberate choice to make it seem more naturalistic, but his artwork is incredibly beautifully composed and stylised, and they didn't really go for that. Great movie, though.' Watch a scene with the nunchuck wielding madman, Doug
Read the Time Out review

See what the number one film is here

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





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