I originally started writing this in November of 2019. Simpler times. The entertainment news had been focused for several months on the popularity and success of the film Joker and the response that Martin Scorcesse and Francis Ford Coppola had been offering via interviews (and an interesting piece that Mr. Scorcesse wrote in the New York Times).
At the time I had been feeling that the Internet is a dark place, whose true purpose is to rob all of us of happiness and joy. Because of this I decided to write a response, of sorts, to the numerous posts/interviews/articles and regurgitated forms of these things that just won’t go away.
I want to focus on matters related to comic book movies that I feel most of us can agree on and find joy with. I have written in the past about the difficulty with comparing films in different genres, that I find it unfair to compare an action film with a drama because their aims are different. I feel this to be true as well with comic book movies. Which is not to say they are all the same or have the same goals. Hellboy and Ghost World are both adaptations of comic books (graphic novels but let’s not be precious here) but clearly they differ in their goals. In general Marvel and DC Comics that are adapted to films are similar in their aims – mainly to be entertaining to large audiences and to be blockbuster films.
With that hopefully out of the way I’ve tried to put together a short list of the films/actors/things that I feel we can all find a bit of joy and happiness in.
- John C. Reilly in Guardians of the Galaxy. I could stop right there, I think most of us would agree that John C. in anything is a positive thing. In this particular film he’s a beacon of goodness. My specific example is him comforting Chris Pratt’s character about having a “code name” and how it isn’t that weird. I love him for this and I love the film for poking fun at the outlaw name of Starlord. Which if you didn’t read the comics first – be honest most of us did not – you wouldn’t know why he had chosen the name. Once you do it’s hard to mock him for it.
- Wesley Snipes as Blade. Whichever blade film you like best I think we can all agree that Wesley Snipes is great as this character. The fact that these films were made before comic book movies proved themselves to be profitable, let alone that they are R-rated films about a half-vampire, vampire-hunter – is something to celebrate. Also the number of inscrutable lines the Mr. Snipes delivers in these three films are a further joy. The Honest Trailer for the trilogy singles these out and I think with good reason – I don’t always know what he’s saying (or trying to convey) but I like how he says what he says. [minor point – in the first Blade film Kris Kristoferson (who should be noted as the wonderful mentor/father-figure that he is in his role) puts gasoline in Blade’s car, spilling it over the back of the vehicle before finding his mark. A car friend of my has forever loved this movie for this very detail and I felt compelled to mention it here. For me it seems weird but he loves how perfectly waxed the vehicle is so…]
- Robert Downey jr. as Iron Man. While everyone was in agreement that Sir Partick Stewart had to be Professor Charles Xavier I think few people speculated about the perfect Tony Stark. How the fates aligned to make this occur to the people it did, when it did and then provided them with the courage to go through with making the film is nothing short of inspirational. The casting of Robert Downey jr. as Iron Man is perfect. Not only did it prove him to be a reliable actor again but it provided him with a role that feels custom-made. The films brought AC/DC to a new generation of music listeners (and made some remember how great the band is) and generally made everyone watching feel warm and fuzzy all over.
- Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Another improbable event in the world of studio filmmaking. A first attempt that many, including Mr. Reynolds, openly decry. Leaked test footage that convinced the previously mentioned negative leaning Internet to rally and change a studio’s mind. The rest, of course, is history. In six year’s time Ryan Reynolds went from being an actor many mocked for his serious roles and others shunned for his comedic into a blend of both that seduces all of us with his funny and clever marketing – for everything he’s involved with. Whereas Robert Downey jr. made the role of Iron Man his own Ryan Reynolds seems to have merged with the character of Deadpool – to emerge victorious in all walks of life. It’s inspiring and disturbing (in a positive way – was Bill Nighy actually correct in thinking Pokemon and humans should merge together to evolve?).
- Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. I can’t think of another example of a relatively unknown actor being cast in a leading role (in comic book movies) and exceeding every expectation like Ms. Gadot did. She was the best part of Batman V. Superman and watching her standalone movie feels like injecting honor and courage and goodness into your veins. Reading (and seeing) the stories of children everywhere being inspired by Wonder Woman after the film’s premiere truly warmed my heart.
- Jason Momoa. If you’ve seen my previous post I think I’ve already made it clear how much I like Jason Momoa. Given that his early roles were playing villains (or gruff, difficult men) it is a joy to watch him playing a character like Aquaman, who not only becomes a hero but has a relatively good time doing so. He’s big, he’s funny and he doesn’t sit around brooding. It’s a welcome change in the world of comic book movies and for me it was an unexpected surprise. That he’s also using his celebrity for good and has an interesting YouTube channel is just another layer of goodness heaped onto an already large pile.
- Spiderman into The Spiderverse. This film is filled to the brim with joy and wonder. It’s different, it’s fresh, it has fun with the notion of Spiderman (giving the world a Jake Johnson Spiderman is not something I ever thought we needed, but, hey, it’s great) and I think has given millions of people a Spiderman they prefer. For a character and a franchise that many people had burned out on, knowing that more films were coming but not necessarily caring anymore, to be given something as exceptional as this is truly joyous and worth celebrating.
- I would be remiss if I did not include Tom Hardy as Venom. The term anti-hero is used more than I would like regarding film and usually when I hear it I am not sure if I would agree. It is wholly applicable to Mr. Hardy’s version of Venom. The film is a welcome departure. The scope is smaller, it isn’t the culmination of multiple storylines involving dozens of characters over a ten year period. Just the story of a somewhat scuzzy reporter who gets infected by an alien that sometimes eats people. It’s a strangely joyous film given the events that take place, all because Mr. Hardy chose to play the character in the manner he did. I am grateful for it. Venom easily could have been a horror film or a toothless comic adaptation with a PG rating trying to please and failing everyone. It’s weird and awkward and brought me some happy moments.
There are many other examples that come to mind regarding excellent casting or fun films but I wanted to try and narrow this down to examples I feel most of us can agree on. Whether or not you want to call these films cinema is up to you. These actors, these films, have brought me some joyful moments and I look forward to the next installments (where applicable) for more.