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Comic book movies are the greatest gift Hollywood has ever given unto mankind, and I'll tell you why, because if I didn't, that statement would just hang there like a flaccid, weird penis on a fence post, all inexplicable and unusual and in need of justification. Beyond comic book geek culture, beyond the various subgroups of nerds who enjoy stories of men made of iron and spiders, a comic book movie represents how much we truly, as a people, value imagination.
The Avengers grossed exactly all the money ever. Even if you don't like the movie (which only means that you're a bad person and slightly dirty in the soul), it represents so much -- wonder and spectacle and fantasy. Those are great things. As great as boobs or gravy or boobs with gravy on them (in a way that is somehow less gross than what you're imagining).
While the latest crop of movies is generally enjoying a lot of positive buzz, there was also a time when comic book movies were all Daredevils and Spider-Man 3s, and the very act of watching them made your butthole clench and sputter like an angry old person viewing young people on the lawn. And the Internet, since that time, has made much of the "best" movies and the "worst" movies, all the while overlooking one key group of comic book films: the best worst movies. Good thing I wrote this article to fix that shit.
The year is 1978. A young Roman Polanski decides that molesting young girls and fleeing the country is better than molesting young girls and going to prison. Ted Bundy is arrested in Florida. Someone steals the remains of Charlie Chaplin from a Swiss cemetery. It's a pretty decent year for awful shit.
Somewhere north of Hollywood, maybe in a shack, maybe an opium den, someone hatches the idea to develop a Dr. Strange film based on the Marvel comic book about a sorcerer who looks like an over-the-hill European gigolo who's endured a lifelong struggle with denying his own sexuality.
The plot of Dr. Strange involves an evil sorceress, and Dr. Strange becomes the new sorcerer supreme to defend against her and other evil-type people. Jessica Walter, whom you may know as Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development, plays Morgan LeFay, so we can pretend, in retrospect, that if the TV show had been picked up, it would have featured the evil of Pop-Pop and Uncle Father Oscar.
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Pictured: Dr. Strange's mentor, Professor Ass Tapper.
As a Marvel movie of the '70s, this had no choice but to be terrible, but it's worth noting that when Strange is introduced about eight minutes into the movie as a mild-mannered psychiatrist with no knowledge of what's to come, he's also introduced as a doctor who routinely shows up late for work and bangs the nurses from the hospital while cracking jokes about buying them shitty perfume. Was Dr. Strange the origin of the term "some strange" in reference to obtaining illicit sex from someone whose name you couldn't care less about? I like to think so, and I like to think that this movie specifically is what brought it out.
Strange has to accept his fate and fight against not just Lucille Bluth but her twitching red/orange dildo of a boss, whose name may never actually be established, but which we can assume is Dildwar the Horrendous. Will Strange be up to the challenge? Will he continue to drink malt liquor and offer rides on his stellar, Magnum-level mustache? We'll never know, because the movie was broadcast opposite Roots, no one watched it, and it never became a TV show.
Before Captain America: The First Avenger made us all believe in the power of nerds injected with super-secret serums made from the blood of Jose Canseco, in 1990 he was born to shitty-movie stardom in a film with effects so special, they have to wear their own helmets.
In this version of the story, Red Skull is Italian for some reason and was kidnapped as a child by Nazis, because that's just how they do shit, and Captain America has flappy rubber wings on his mask for ears. It's pretty dope all around. Most people will tell you that this version of Captain America is the worst one, that this is the worst comic book movie ever (although I can't stress enough the existence of Daredevil, Elektra, and The Fantastic Four), and that this is, in fact, one of the most terrible films of all time in general.
There is a scene in this movie in which Captain America has been welded to a missile. As it's about to launch, he grabs the Red Skull by the wrist. The Red Skull, who is not welded to anything, pulls a knife and, without a second thought, cuts his own hand off to get free. He does not stab Captain America in the face or in the dick or even in the hand. He cuts his own hand off, because Red Skull is Red-iculousTM. And, possibly, horribly Red-tardedTM. Captain America then, while still strapped to the missile aimed at the White House, kicks it all the way to Alaska, in midair.
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"I can see Italian missile silos from my porch!"
Jump to the present, and the president of the United States is RoboCop's nemesis, Dick Jones. Captain America has been frozen under a light dusting of snow in Alaska for 50 years, and the Red Skull now wears makeup, so he's just the No Skull. Captain America steals two cars using the same lame gag and does more back flips than a gymnastics class full of 7-year-old girls, all toward the goal of preventing Red Skull from taking over the president with brain technology and/or blowing up Italy. No, neither of those plans makes sense.
The Red Skull only appears as a man with a red skull for about five minutes in the entire movie and, this needs to be said again, his first major act as a villain after beating the ever-loving shit out of Captain America in hand-to-hand combat and welding him to a missile is to cut his own hand off. And for the rest of the movie, he still has the hand, and it's never explained why. This movie cared so little for continuity that a character cutting his own hand off was something they were willing to overlook, because fuck everyone and everything, and that level of not caring is what was missing from movies like The Fantastic Four, which was awful because they tried so hard and failed. This movie didn't try to succeed at all, so it necessarily couldn't fail, and that's why you should probably watch it. Trust me, the ending is totally worth it.
Nicolas Cage is probably our generation's Orson Welles, in that his early career was just as noteworthy as the train wreck his later career became, and both seem like they whiled away their off hours consuming peyote buttons and Scotch.
It's fairly well-known that Nic Cage is an avid comic book fan and had been campaigning for years to play someone, somehow, including Superman, which obviously would have been as asinine as playing a guy who puts on a bear suit and sucker punches some lady on a hilltop before falling victim to a wicker dive helmet full of bees. Ghost Rider represented his first chance, so he jumped at it in the same way a starving man might jump on a pork chop without pausing to notice that it hasn't been properly cooked and maybe has feces sprinkled on it.
The result was a laughable if forgettable film that featured Nic Cage standing and pointing a lot more than you think is necessary in a movie and a really sad emo kid whose dad is both evil and Peter Fonda, which has to be upsetting. Contrary to logic, a sequel was made, and it featured this scene:
Speaking of movies no one cared about, this Justice League movie cast Charles Emerson Winchester III as the Martian Manhunter. That's like covering the smell of a fart with a skunk who is farting. Did that make sense? It will if you watch this movie. You could arguably spend some time trying to puzzle out whether he or Miguel Ferrer is the bigger star in this movie, and I suspect some of you will even spend time Googling both of these people because you've never heard of either of them and aren't even aware that Charles Emerson Winchester III was not a real person.
X-Men has a quick scene in which Wolverine makes fun of the idea of costumes and cracks a joke about yellow spandex, which is funny because, in the comics, Wolverine wears yellow spandex. Or something. They never really state that it's spandex, and I can't imagine Wolverine is going out and darning spandex for himself, but whatever it is, it's pretty form-fitting. Anyway, the valid point he makes is that, on film, you can't dress a character exactly like his comic book counterpart, otherwise you get that 1970s Spider-Man look, which is essentially a guy in footie pajamas. Or, for a little exotic erotic ball flair, the Justice League. Every hero in this movie looks like a fetish club reject. The Green Lantern may as well be breathing heavily and watching people whip each other. The Flash commands all the respect of an adult baby. Fire looks like a bored housewife who found a way to spice up her relationship with the mailman by pretending to be a fairy princess, and the Martian Manhunter looks like Frankenstein's first draft of the monster he came up with after a night of drinking absinthe and watching Igor shower.
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Google me yet? I'm a fuckin' hero!
The thing that puts Justice League above a merely terrible movie -- and let's be honest, this thing sucks like a Dyson -- is its insistence on trying to be cool and funny when it not only doesn't possess those qualities, but wouldn't be able to find those qualities if it mounted a million-dollar expedition into the mountains of CoolFunistan with highly trained Sherpa guides and a legendary map made by Bill Hicks himself.
The movie is constantly broken up by reality TV-esque interview scenes with the heroes as "normal" people, and for some reason they all live in the same Big Brother-style house and have wacky lives outside of their superhero lives because fuck you for wanting to watch this movie. However, appreciating it on that level kind of makes this movie awesome, because it's like no one at all involved in the movie had ever really heard of comic books before and they just decided it'd be cool to try to make this movie, in the same way you think it might be cool to eat a ghost pepper or watch the Octomom porno.
People rag on Swamp Thing as a prime example of piss-poor comic book movies, but they should really go see the far suckier Man-Thing if they're interested in how to make an unfun, stool-laced polyp of a comic book movie that takes place in a swamp. Swamp Thing and, to a degree, it's awesome sequel, The Return of Swamp Thing, were pretty great for terrible movies that clearly no one involved cared about on even the most perfunctory level.
Swamp Thing was awesome for two reasons, only one of which is Adrienne Barbeau. That's a boob joke for you older folks. The other reason was the fact that the movie was mildly popular, but not popular enough. Follow along here, this shit gets deep.
DC Comics started up a new Swamp Thing comic to try to make some money off of the movie release, and it didn't work -- no one bought the thing. Eventually they pawned the title off on Alan Moore, deranged Englishman and creator of V for Vendetta, From Hell, and The Watchmen, to do with as he pleased. Swamp Thing became the first comic to ignore the Comic Code Authority and use ultra-violence and swears and boobies to increase its awesomeness. This is what made Alan Moore famous and allowed those other titles to be written, and that is arguably what allowed Frank Miller to do what he does in comics with things like Sin City and The Dark Knight Returns. The same for all the other Vertigo comic book writers who created actual art: They made real stories that are imaginative and well-written and awesome, and that is what inspired people to start making good comic book movies instead of shitty ones, and that is why we even entertain the idea of comic books being more than goofy stories for kids today. Because Swamp Thing was an OK movie that wasn't good enough to make people want to read his comic.
After writing this, I discovered that I am not the first person to hatch this theory, so kudos to other people out there who actually spend time watching Swamp Thing and pondering its greatness while also enjoying Adrienne Barbeau topless. Boobs!