Comic book films are starting to become McDonald’s of the cinematic industry, particularly when it comes to Marvel films. They’re not terrible and sometimes they’re quite good but after copious viewing, they tend to leave a rather jelak sensation in our mouths. I love McDonald’s as much as the next guy but hey you can’t spend all day eating mass-produced fast food. That stuff will kill you. And don’t get me started with all the cinematic universes cropping up. You’re never just watching a standalone film anymore when it comes to DC and Marvel films. They’re always trying to set up future projects, shoehorn fan service or make arbitrary callbacks to the events of previous films. You had no business being in Infinity War, Red Skull! How did you even survive the vacuum of space?! I digress, the point is comic book films can start to feel a tad redundant after awhile. Thing is though, they no necessarily have to be borne from the big budget mega-blockbuster studio template about good guy stops a bad guy.
They can be historical period dramas. They could have characters of questionable moral standings. They can have all the blood and gore that couldn’t find in your sanitized mass marketed films. They can be just as great as the traditional comic book film without having to conform to its standards. Good news is their plenty of them out there and we’ve curated some films we think you’ll eat right up. Put your DC-Marvel cold war on hold because these are our picks for ten fantastic comic book films completely unrelated to both franchises.
10. Wanted (2008)
In a time before soft X-Men film reboots and bald caps, James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie were lighting the silver screen of fire in the storm of bullets and mad profanities that is Wanted. Wesley Gibson is a loser in every sense of the word. He has a dead-end job with an awful boss. His girlfriend is cheating on him with his best friend. To top it all off, Wesley also suffers from frequent panic attacks. Yup, things for Wesley are not looking great. That all changes when he realizes that he’s part of something larger than his shitty war. It all begins when an assassin named Fox saves Wesley’s life and brings him into the world of the Fraternity. An organization dedicated to being doing fate’s dirty business by killing certain individuals to maintain order in the world. Wesley soon learns that he’s a son of a renowned assassin and his panic attacks are actually symptoms from his ability to slow down time in his mind. Gibson is a living weapon of fate.
Initially unhappy with the first draft of the script, Millar insisted that the film maintain the spirit of his original work, mature content and all. The film would be a hard R and it sure benefitted from it. Wanted is an undeniably badass film from start to finish. Call it over-the-top and cheesy. Call it vulgar and violent. I call it a great time. The film vividly elaborates on its source material via creative use of slow motion and beautiful bullet-time sequences that will have any fan of John Woo nodding with approval. This is McAvoy at his most raw and abandoned, relishing every moment he has as the office mouse turned take-no-shit killer, Wesley Gibson. Some of these lines without the right sort of panache can seem tacky but when coming out of McAvoy’s mouth, they are ever quotable. Exhilarating, strangely comedic and highly entertaining, Wanted will leave you begging for more.
9. 300 (2006)
Based on Frank Miller’s fictionalized historical epic chronicling the war between ancient Greece and the Persian Empire is Zack Snyder’s 300. When it first came out, it was unlike anything we had ever seen before. In the time of 481 BC, the Persian Empire was pushing further and further into Greek territory. The god-emperor, King Xerxes demanded that all of Greece bent the knee in submission to their new Persian overlords. One nation however refused, the brutal, military state of Sparta led by King Leonidas. After sending a strong message to Xerxes along with a few foreign emissaries to death, Leonidas gathers three hundred of Sparta’s bravest and noblest men on a mission to end this war once and for all. On their journey, they shall face the full might of the Persian Empire all while donning nothing more than their helmets, capes and swaying loin clothes.
Say what you want about Snyder’s storytelling style and the man’s obsession with slow-mo but one thing that cannot be denied about the man is his visual flair. The man made it his objective to create a shot-for-shot adaptation of the scenes and panel’s Miller’s original graphic novel. He competently emulates the stylistic and outlandish elements of the novel without compromising the graphic content of the book for the sake of a wider audience. The Battle of Thermopylae is still to this day one of the most memorable fight scenes in the history of cinema. The way the camera lingers with each kill the Spartans make as the motion speeds and declines, taking time to really gives us a sense of how they’re truly masters of war. It ebbs and flows like a river blood on screen, expertly choreographed and all done in a single shot! This is pre-Man of Steel Snyder at his best when he worked around tight established narratives and kept his eye on the prize.
8. Rurouni Kenshin (2012)
Now, we couldn’t possibly have a list of the best alternate comic book films without giving some love to our brothers over in the land of the rising sun. It can be hard to find a manga to movie adaptation that nails the spirit of material just right. Sometimes you get hot garbage like Warner Bros’ live action rendition of beloved manga series Fullmetal Alchemist. But sometimes you strike gold with films like Rurouni Kenshin. Much like the manga, the film tells the tale of Kenshin Himura, a seasoned warrior renowned for his role in the war of the Meiji period to establish the authority of a more centralized government. His bloody deeds have earned him the title of Battōsai (aka Manslayer). After winning a decisive victory for the imperialist, Kenshin retires to Tokyo to find peace and tranquillity. His past, however, cannot be laid to rest. Kenshin finds himself having to battle against a group of a rogue industrialist who has built their very own samurai army along with amassing deadly new weapons. Kenshin must find a way to curb this evil while keeping himself from returning to old ways.
As a fan of the anime and manga series, let me just say the film is a joy to watch. It nails the characters here perfectly. Takeru Satoh’s depiction of Kenshin is as close to manga as it can get. The film’s dedication to fleshing out Kenshin’s checkered past and lighter, goofier attributes makes a wonderfully well-rounded character. The rest of the cast isn’t slacking either. Emi Takei as Kenshin’s protective and strong-willed love interest and Munetaka Aoki as the brash street fighter Sanosuke Sagara inject a healthy dose of camaraderie and drama into the mix. As for the fight scenes…holy crap, where do I even begin? The swordplay and technique here are second to none. Not since Crouching Tiger have I seen such immaculate and intricate bladework. The film even tries to realistically reenact some of the more flashy moves we’ve seen in the anime, having the characters’ have their own individual style of combat. A wonderful addition that further illustrates the various personalities that inhabit the world of Rurouni Kenshin. With dynamic katana-play and an engaging plot, Rurouni Kenshin will be sure thrill both fan and non-fan alike.
7. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)
Director Guillermo Del Toro has always been a dabbler of the weird and macabre. When’s he not making your childhood a lot creepier with Pan’s Labyrinth and bringing all your fan fictions of Creature From The Black Lagoon come true, he’s working on everyone’s favourite demon with a heart of gold, Hellboy. In his latest instalment of the Hellboy film series, paranormal investigator Hellboy and his team of oddities will confront their toughest challenge yet. When Elven Prince Nuada wishes to reignite the war between elves and mankind once again, it is up to the agents of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) to put a stop to him. Nuada has found the means to resurrect an indestructible weapon, the mechanical Golden Army, to finally finish the war started in a forgotten time. To defeat this formidable foe, Hellboy must overcome his own personal demons and find a way to reconcile his past and present to ensure his future.
If you liked Men In Black, then you’ll definitely get a kick out of this. Del Toro’s love for articulate practical creature design and fantasy settings truly bring the world of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics to life. Sharing this world with humans are beings the likes of nature gods, frightening tooth fairies, talking fish men and gaseous geniuses. And they all look so damn beautiful. Ron Perlman as the snarky, hotheaded Hellboy is always fun a blast to have on screen. He’s kinda like the Shrek of the comic book world. He’s a little rough around the edges but you know there’s more to him than just macho front he puts up. Even if you’ve haven’t had the chance to catch up with his previous adventures in Hellboy, you’ll quickly get the picture with Golden Army in the first few minutes of the film. Though it aches me to know we’ll never have a sequel to Golden Army, we’ll always have this wondrous adaptation to keep us company 2019’s reboot of the character.
6.Sin City (2005)
If you thought DC films were grim, wait till you get a load of this one. Making an appearance on our list is yet another one of Frank Miller’s seminal works, Sin City. Forsaking linear storytelling and a singular plot, Sin City is instead a collection of grim tales about the inhabitants of the gloomy, crime ridden Basin City. There’s one about a grizzled police officer trying to put away a serial killer and rapist named Roark Junior, only to have him return in a form that can only be described as putrid. Another one includes the story of a man being framed for the death of a prostitute and seeks out vengeance against those who’ve done him, and his lady loves dirty. Just a heads up, this one has Elijah Wood in his most unsettling role yet. Just the thought of it gives me the hibby jibbies. There’s even one about a war between mobsters and killer prostitutes that has someone’s head exploding. All throughout the film, these stories are stitched together by crooked connections, systemic corruption and this damned city. Welcome to Sin City.
Mirroring Miller’s graphic novel art style, the film is shot in black and white with only a few scenes breaking away from the monochromatic colour scheme. It is a love letter to the noir films of the 40’s and 50’s. Everything from loose cannon cops to sexy dames to monstrous mobsters makes up the dramatis personae of this sickly anthology filled with fury and misery. It should be noted that Quentin Tarantino co-directed this film, meaning Sin City is not for the squeamish. The violence in the film border into the sphere of the cartoonish at times, leaving some in need of a sick bag and others begging for more. One particular subplot titled “The Yellow Bastard” will certainly leave a mark on viewers, that’s for sure. If you can stomach the film’s ultraviolence and at times lude content, you’ll find that there is a sombre beauty to Sin City. One that begs you to take a closer look before cautioning you to take a step back.
With most comic book films from the US of A getting picked up for film adaptations, not a lot of love is given to the comic book properties from the UK. Based on a story featured in Britain’s most popular comic book anthology series 2000AD, Dredd sees to correcting this injustice with its latest rendition in 2012. In the world of Dredd, America is ravaged by a thermonuclear war, leaving most of the country as an irradiated wasteland. One of the few places left to live in this toxic hellscape is the overpopulated, crime-infested metropolis of Mega-City One. Due to the city’s lack of manpower to enforce the traditional executive and judicial system, the city employs the use of Judges, highly armed officers with the authority to deal out sentences. The greatest of them being the cold, didactic Judge Dredd. On the same day, he has to show a rookie, Cassandra the ropes, he’s sent to deal with a powerful drug dealer named Mama. She has taken an entire apartment and block and it’s up to Dredd and his psychic sidekick to bring Mama in and order to the block.
Not unlike our earlier pick on this list, Dredd makes full use of its R rating to show us some spectacular scenes of violence. At times, the film can be likened to that of a ballet, the way Karl Urban’s Dredd swiftly executes his assailants with deadly accuracy and grace. The slow-motion utilized in the film compliments the film’s more gratuitous nature. The presence of the hallucinogenic drug Slow-Mo in the plot provides an excellent excuse for it to play with colour saturation and speed, bringing some truly unforgettable shootouts in the film. Lena Headey as the ruthless Mama gives Cersei Lannister a run for her money. A worthy foil to Urban as the stoic Dredd who gives an authoritative and, arguably, the most accurate portrayal of the character. Sorry Stallone but Karl Urban is definitively Judge Dredd and Dredd is a superb action film.
Ever wondered what it’d be like if you became a superhero? Regular Joes and Janes just slapping on an old rubber suit and heading out into the street trying to some good. Well, we’ve got the answer for your right here in another one of Mark Millar’s most popular graphic novel film adaptation, Kick-Ass. Dave Lizewski is just an ordinary kid in high school drifting on by through life. He doesn’t have an epic tragic backstory. He wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. He’s just some guy who likes comic books a little too much. One day, he gets involved in an insane accident that leaves with a strange disability, he can’t feel pain. Seeing this medical condition as somewhat of a superpower, he takes to the streets in a green suit to fight crime. A fight in which he defends a man from getting killed by three thugs earns him viral status and soon the world knows the vigilante known as “Kick-Ass”. The world including a pair vigilantes known as Big Daddy and Hit-Girl, and the local ruling crime family. Kick-Ass is about learning what it means to be a real-life superhero.
Millar has shown that he has a strong propensity for taking average and relatable characters and placing them in extraordinary positions in life and Kick-Ass is no exception. What makes his so heroes so compelling and distinctive from that of the Marvel breed is their relation to our reality. Kick-Ass isn’t set in some cardboard version of New York waiting to be destroyed, everybody from villains to civilians is part of a living, breathing ecosystem. This permits the film to be able to juxtapose the naive ideals of heroism next to the ugly reality of society, which the film often uses to both comedic and dramatic effect. Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the rookie hero Kick-Ass along with a stellar cast of Nicholas Cage, Chloe Grace Moretz and legendary “McLovin” actor Christopher Mintz-Plasse all work with perfect comedic timing and great emotional depth to bring each of their characters to life. It’s films like Kick-Ass that paved the way for films like Deadpool to enter the game and for that, we salute it.
3.Scott Pilgrim Vs the World (2010)
Comic book writer Bryan Lee O’Malley has not only seen great success in his comic series, Scott Pilgrim Vs the World but also when it was adapted into a video game in 2010. It came in the form of a 2D side scroller beat em up that had mini cutscenes to move the story along. That very same year, visionary director Edgar Wright brought O’Malley’s property to the big screen in a truly unexpected way. He incorporated elements from the comic series and video game to bring us life action version of Scott Pilgrim with an arcade-inspired aesthetic. It’s an adaptation of the original and another adaptation! Needless to say, it was eye-bleeding goodness. If you’ve been following our Netflix recommendation series, then you pretty much already know the plot of the film and how I feel about it but in case you haven’t, here’s a quick recap. Scott Pilgrim is unemployed garage band douche. He falls for a really rad but complicated girl, Ramona Flowers. Scott wants to get with Ramona but Ramona’s seven evil exes aren’t having it. Scott will do battle with them for the sake of his lady love.
Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, all I can really say is…go watch it! The dialogue in the film is snappy and hilarious. The characters here are all so colourful and interesting. Some of the actors even play exaggerated versions of their real selves. I’m looking at you, Chris Evans. And the visual effects are something else man. If you like fun, poppy action then this is the film for you. Where else can you see a flaming katana sword fight, music monster brawl and a vegan telepath? The answer: nowhere. On another note, one thing doesn’t nearly get enough credit is the music in the film. The music, both from the score and the in-movie bands, are absolutely stellar. The soundtrack here was produced and contributed by musical titans like Beck, Radiohead’s Nigel Godrich and a crap ton of other alternative bands. Whether cruising down the street or grinding against Dark Souls, Scott Pilgrim’s theme will have nodding with approval. Scott Pilgrim vs the World is smart, fun, heartwarming and an all around great film.
2.Ghost World (2001)
Moving away from the more visually oriented films on our list, the next candidate is a film that exemplifies an element of comic books that are often overlooked, the script. A good script can give significant context to the panels in a page while also working in tandem with the images on paper to create a cohesive narrative. In the world of graphic novels, the graphic tends to take precedence over the literary aspect of the medium. In 2001’s Ghost World, however, it’s all in the dialogue. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, the film follows best friends Enid and Rebecca dealing with life after high school. Enid has to attend a remedial art class in high school to graduate from high school due to her art teacher insisting that she has yet to truly create something of social value. The two girls begin seeing a personal aid by the name of Seymour, who they eventually form a bond with. It’s summer for everyone else and it’s limbo for the two girls as they try to figure out what they’re gonna do for the rest of their lives.
In spite of its bare bone premise, Ghost World’s jet black humour and razor-sharp social commentary make it one of the most transgressive comic book films out there. It’s not all witty, vulgar banter or bitter diatribes though. This slice of life picture bears a deeply troubling and inquisitive nature about our place in the wider scheme of things. In a world full of lonely people, is there anything of true worth that can offer to mean to our existence? Is there a real “me” or do we all eventually change to the rhythm of social convention? These are just some of painful, poignant questions that will confront viewers here. Actress Thora Birch as the too-cool-for-school high school flunks Enid serves as an excellent conduit for us to hash out these issues. Juxtaposed to Enid would be a young Scarlett Johansson, the traditionally beautiful blooming wallflower. I’m not completely sure whether there are too many coming-of-age comic book films out there but if they’re anything like Ghost World, heaven knows we more.
1.My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Though notably smaller in terms of budget and scale in comparison to some of the other films on this list, My Friend Dahmer is a comic book film of stunning quality. Bet you didn’t see this one coming and to be honest, neither did I. Based on a graphic novel by artist John “Derf” Backderf, supposedly a friend to real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, the chronicles Dahmer’s troubled years through high school. It offers us a picture of the would-be killer’s dysfunctional home life with his mother and father constantly fighting along with some telltale signs of Dahmer’s macabre attraction to the dead. By far the most fascinating component of the film has got to be Dahmer’s interaction with his schoolmate chums, Derf, Neil and Mike. Initially drawn to Dahmer due to his frequent pranks imitating muscle spasms, the three soon develop an unlikely friendship with the young man. Dahmer tries his best to find solace in his newfound friends and yet he finds himself hollow inside. As if he has yet to find his true station in life. Also spoiler alert, for reality I mean, he grows up to murder men and violates their corpse after.
Like Dahmer to Derf, the film has a powerful magnetic effect on its audience. At times, it plants its feet firmly in the realm of autobiographical drama. Then it will suddenly break into the domain of dark comedy. All the while, there is a creeping dread in the background. What My Friend Dahmer, the novel and film, offers us is more than just the prolonged prelude to a slasher flick. The best way I can describe the affair was as I was watching a darker version of Napoleon Dynamite. There is an element of juvenile joviality to Dahmer’s life that always seems dance under the shadow of his horrid future. At times, it almost feels like he’s a victim. Playing no small part is actor Ross Lynch as the awkward and disturbed Dahmer. Lynch applies an almost laser-sharp like focus in his role. He manages to be quirky without being absurd and distant without seeming apathetic. Nothing could be farther than the conventional Marvel or DC flick and there’s nothing quite like My Friend Dahmer. A fine way to cure your anyone’s superhero fatigue any day of the week.
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