A short history of black superheroes on film

With Black Panther opening this month there’s a massive wave of excitement at a high profile black superhero having their own big budget film but T’Challa isn’t the first black hero to get on film.

First up is 1997’s Steel.

I know the trailer looks shite but trust me, the film is much, much worse.

Next up is Michael Jai White in Spawn, also from 1997 and marginally less shite than Steel, though not by much.

The less said about Halle Berry’s Catwoman film the better.

There’s also the likes of Hancock and err, Meteor Man to be briefly mentioned and discarded.

There are of course the odd one’s out with the first two Blade films which were actually really good. The first one apart from being a bloody good action film had much to say about class and race in its own wee way.

And the sequel was all about Guillermo del Toro having a shitload of fun.

Sadly, the third film was rubbish so moving on, can you see now what if you’re white there’s plenty of superheroes that look like you on the screen, but if you’re not there’s a small handful of mainly rubbish films and the odd two that stand out so for a large section of the population, Black Panther is a big deal.

We’ll no doubt see companies turn out more films featuring black heroes, and indeed, the Black Lightning TV series  is doing some good work but before we don’t see films like Black Panther as unusual there’s still a load of work to be done.

I’m waiting though for my 200 million dollar Brother Voodoo film.

My top 20 Comic Book films-9-Batman Returns

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers, 15Danger: Diabolik, 14The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13A History of Violence12Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 and 10, Barbarella.

At #9 it’s a film from when Tim Burton made good and interesting films, it’s Batman Returns.

Image

This is the sequel to Burton’s first Batman film (more of which later on this list) and it’s also the film which showed that violence, sexual deviance and penguins can make a summer blockbuster.  It’s also only nominally a Batman film, as it’s really the story of The Penguin and Catwoman, with Batman popping up every now and then to justify it being a Batman film, though it does spend a lot of time concentrating on Michelle Pfeiffer in a skintight suit, which can’t all be bad.

Batman Returns is also one of the few times either in the comics or in the mainstream that the bizarre sexuality of people dressing in rubber to fight, or commit crime, then there’s Danny De Vito’s grotesque Penguin which is still one of the sickest villains in a summer blockbuster made for all the family you’ll see.

It’s not a perfect Batman film, that’s still waiting to be made, but it’s a great Batman film with Michael Keaton again showing that he’s a perfect bit of casting as Bruce Wayne/Batman, except he’s underused as Burton concentrates on the villains, which includes a great panto turn from Christopher Walken as well as the previously mentioned two baddies. It doesn’t manage to capture the lightening of the first Burton film, but then again, few films over the last 25 years have, but again, I’ll get back to the first Burton Batman film soon enough….

So, Batman Returns. Great fun, some dodgy penguins, rubber suits, and mentally scarring violence. A great kids film all round!

Next time, more mutant fun and games…

My top 20 Comic Book films-14-The Dark Knight trilogy

I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!

Previously, in this list at #20, X Men19The Crow18Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16The Avengers and 15, Danger: Diabolik

At number 14 it’s a trilogy, which is cheating a tad, but bollocks. It’s my list so it’s Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, with Batman Begins up first.

Image

When Batman Begins came out in 2005 the best most people hoped for was a half decent Batman film, which is pretty much what Batman Begins is as it rips up everything that Batman had been cinematically beforehand and starts again, which was the best idea after the mess of Batman and Robin.

It takes a more ‘realistic’ approach to Batman which in itself is daft as treating superheroes as ‘realistic’ means taking them far too seriously. You need an element of camp, or at least, some self awareness that it’s a film taken from a comic which thankfully, Batman Begins has as it resets the cinematic Batman to something close to the 1970’s depiction of Batman by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers.

Batman Begins should be a better film than it is, which isn’t to say it’s a bad film but there’s an awful lot being crammed in which means like a lot of superhero film origin stories the last act ends up being a mess and this is the case here as Batman has to defeat a countdown set by the baddie or Gotham will be destroyed!!!

It does however establish Batman as a strong cinematic presence again, not to mention the promise of something bigger for the inevitable sequel.

And the sequel hit, and showed just how to do the brooding superhero right. OK, it is about 15 minutes too long and at times is far too pompous for it’s own good, but a remarkable performances by Heath Ledger as The Joker and some splendid direction by Christopher Nolan sets this film apart from the mass of chaff that the superhero film has become.

Image

 

Had I done all three films separately The Dark Knight is well and truly in my top ten.  It’s almost perfect until of course the last reel where Batman has to defeat a countdown of Gotham is destroyed!!

Even that though makes sense in this case as it’s a moral point that’s being made that works within the context of the film rather than to artificially create a Big Climax at the end of the film because the script needs it and the producer has ten million bucks spare.

So The Dark Knight is the closest we’ve come to a ‘realistic’ comic book film. It sets up a final film in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy perfectly and there’s simply no way that the same people who did this film could balls up a final film could they?

The answer we go to the question was ‘actually, yes they could’.

Image

 

The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a bad film. There’s parts which are excellent and Christian Bale shines along with a perfectly cast Ann Hathaway as Catwoman, but it’s ultimately a big mess of undercooked bollocks with plot holes the size of Jupiter in it. It’s also got some of the most embarrassing attempts at shoehorning modern politics into it, with Bane’s group (a honestly wasted opportunity of a villain)  being a crude metaphor for the Occupy movement and Bruce Wayne being a crude metaphor for the 99%.

In fact all the political statements are the equivalent of drawing a cock on a picture of  Maggie Thatcher’s head and turning round looking at the mirror smugly as if you’d done something that’s going to bring the system down from the comfort of your sofa!

The sixth form politics annoy, as does the pointless build of Bane as this amazing supervillian only for him to be dismissed in a way that makes much of what happened pointless. Then there’s the massive stretch of imagination that it takes to believe a broken back can be fixed in a few weeks, not to mention that when Bane is in control of Gotham and has it sealed it, not only can Bruce Wayne come and go and he pleases (after he’s recovered from his broken back) but the streets are clean, so Bane must still be paying the binmen to do their job.

And of course the end is Batman has to defeat a countdown set by the baddie or Gotham will be destroyed!!!

It’s a poor ending to something that promised so much after The Dark Knight, but sadly failed to deliver. As a trilogy it yet again shows film has a problem with a satisfying closing film, but there’s so much in these three films to enjoy, especially in the middle film. After this, Nolan was involved in the craptastic Man of Steel, so I hope that he finds form again soon because he really is a quality filmmaker.

Next time, join me for a history lesson…