This past year comicbooks fans were treated to at nearly a dozen comicbook-themed films that were based on their four-color heroes, and this was actually considered to be an off year as far as comicbook characters were concerned, as many of the more well-known "A"-list characters are due to appear in 2012. Needless to say, not all of these films involved over-muscled men and women in spandex who settled their differences with their fists, but all of them have a very strong connection to the world of comics. As can be expected, they all achieved various degrees of success.
Starting out with a pair of films that blew through the nation's multiplexes barely causing a ripple we have Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, and Priest. In the first (based on an Italian comic brought to the States in the ‘90s by Dark Horse) was about a man fighting the demons of Hades, was largely ignored by comicbook fans as well as movie audience. Priest (also mostly ignored by film-goers) proved to be something of an odd duck as the film apparently differed widely from the comic from which it was spawned. According to reports, the comic was apparently a western not the sci-fi thriller that was the film. Plus, in the comic, the character Priest fought fallen angels not vampires - which could account for its poor performance.
Among the other films in this category we had a number of more well-known comicbook characters including: a man live up to his father's legacy by fighting crime (The Green Hornet), an ancient Norse, Asgardian godling sworn to protect the earth from an other-worldly menace (Thor), a pair of men who gathered together a group of abnormally-powered individuals for the greater good (X-Men: First Class), a man overcome his own fear and self-doubt so that he could rise to the level of intergalactic hero (Green Lantern), a man who allowed himself to become wrapped in his nations flag to become an iconic hero of the ages (Captain America First Avenger), and an impossible matchup of the Old West and extra-terrestrial aliens (Cowboys and Aliens). We (while technically not originally based on comicbooks) we were also were invaded by alien robots (Transformers) and were revisited by an ancient barbarian (Conan the Barbarian).
In The Green Hornet, Seth Rogen andplayed playboy turned crime fighter Britt Reid and his driver/mechanic Kato who want to clean up LA with the help of Cameron Diaz as Reid's girl Friday, Lenore Case. Even though this film took some hits from fans as to its less than serious nature, it was actually quite a good film and held up well under viewing. While it was somewhat disconcerting seeing Kato as the more capable of the costumed duo, it can be viewed as both poetic justice and karma, as in the past he was always seen as merely the helper because of his race.
In Thor (based on the Marvel Comic character), the Norse godling, and son of all-father Odin is an arrogantly powerful warrior whose reckless actions reignited an ancient war between the gods and the titans which caused Thor to be cast down to Earth to live among humans as punishment. Once on Earth, Thor discovered what it took to become a true hero when a villain of his world sent the forces of Asgard to invade Earth. The film worked quite well as it remained faithful to the comicbook source material (even though it played fast and loose with the actual Norse legends). Still fans generally felt that it was a tribute to the original Jack Kirby work on which it was based.
X-Men: First Class (like X-Men Origins: Wolverine) went back to the origins of the crew of mutants that we've all already met in their previous films. To be sure, this film recounts the origins of the film version of the X-Men, rather than their comicbook counterparts. Still that mattered for naught, as the film expertly melded the character's fictional history with the real-life events of the Cuban Missile Crises. The film had Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr as a pair of young men who were working together, in an attempt to stop a worldwide threat. Unfortunately, during the process, a permanent rift developed between them, which began the eternal war between Magneto's Brotherhood and the Professor's X-Men.
From DC Comics came Green Lantern which - depending on weather the viewer was a DC or Marvel Comics fan - either worked quite well or was something of a disappointment. A fearless test pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) comes into passion of a alien's powerful ring that translates willpower into a powerful energy force. Jordan takes on the moniker of a Green Lantern and becomes inducted into intergalactic squadron of "space cops" that have been tasked with keeping peace within the known universe. Now he has to stop a powerful force form engulfing the Earth. Again, many fans felt the film fell flat due to the lack of a "punchable" menace.
Generally lauded as perhaps the best of the comic book films, The First Avenger: Captain America took theaters by storm over the summer as it melded pride in America with a traditionally-themed WWII action fest. The basics of the story revolve around when a spindly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turned him into the Super Soldier known as America's ultimate patriot, Captain America. Perhaps the most highly-anticipated aspect of this film was that it rounded out the membership of Marvel's 2012 launch of The Avengers, which is slated to combine many of the company's movie franchises into one monster film.
Cowboys and Aliens proved to be something of an unexpected gem as it took a largely unknown comic and translated it into a fun mash-up of the old west and a sci-fi alien invasion. Directed by Iron Man's Jon Favreau, the film was based on Platinum Studios' 2006 graphic novel, offered perhaps the wildest mash-up of genres ever served up in either film or comics. The concept was so wild, and the execution of the film was so flawless that it virtually defies description but proved to be wholly original, and thoroughly entertaining.
Rounding out the "comicbook" films of 2011 were Transformers and Conan, and while neither was actually based on characters that originated in comics, both have such a long history with the medium, that we have included both here. Transformers was the modern-day equivalent of bread and circuses and we as a reviewer couldn't have been happier. It was much better than the middle film of this trilogy, and wound up being two hours of giant robots blowing stuff up and mindless testosterone-fuelled violence, what could be a better way to spend an evening in the dark during the Summer months? As for Conan, it took some heat as it didn't star Arnold Schwarzenegger, but we found the film to be not only entertaining, but closer in content to the stories we read in the Marvel Comic while growing up.
Looking forward to 2012, we know that we are in for a real treat as several of the "A"-list characters are hitting the silver screen as we can expect to see The Avengers, the return of Men in Black, the reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man, and the final chapter of the Batman trilogy in The Dark Knight Rises. Then there is the film John Carter based on the Edgar Rice Burrows character, which also appears to be a winner. With these and others, 2012 looks like it will be another banner year for comics.