Monday, 28 January 2013

The 2012 Rankings: David

I can’t make a best of 2012.

I mean, I hate making such lists anyway, but even if I wanted to write up a "best of" list, I have not seen enough of the films of 2012 to be able to make it in any way meaningful. Or, rather, as meaningful as a subjective list of what any one person considers “the best” can be.
Still, it feels wrong for 24 Panels not to have a list of some sort to kick 2013 off with. As such, I (David) present my rankings of the comic book films of 2012, from least to best. I’m sure some of my choices are ones that some of you will not agree with, and I know that some of my choices are ones that other members of the 24 Panels crew will not agree with, but that’s fine. With any luck, this list will do exactly what I want it to do: get a conversation going.
So, without further ado…
6. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the cinematic equivalent of an early 90s Image comic. And if that sounds like a slam on the film, it is. Sort of.
When Dru, Will and I took a look at the first Ghost Rider film, we pretty much agreed that the main appeal of the character was his visual design. Everything else about the comic was fairly thin. The comic is little more than rehashed narratives told with the paper thin (at best) characters. Instead of looking at the weak source material as a challenge to be overcome, however, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance directors Neveldine and Taylor instead embrace the thin nature of the comic and create a film in which a cool looking character does cool looking things, narrative/thematic/any-and-every-other logic be damned.
And yet, I can’t be mad at the film, because it delivers exactly what was promised in the trailers: a trashy action film which cobbles together elements from more artistically and financially successful films. Yes, it is dumb; yes, it wastes the talents of Idris Elba, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Lambert and Anthony Head; and yes, the film continues Nicolas Cage’s career path towards DTV stardom. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it more than the first film. Plus, Cage and the directors at least seem to be on the same page this time with regards to the kind of film they are making, so it has that in its favour.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man 
It was the film I was least looking forward to this year, the film I expected to fail artistically overall.
Instead, Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man was a pleasant surprise, an engaging retelling of Spider-Man’s origin that mostly works, thanks in no small part to the fantastic cast Webb put together. Andrew Garfield makes Peter Parker his own, while Emma Stone is as charming as ever in the role of Gwen Stacy. Webb even manages to pull off the major miracle of getting a performance out of Sally Field that I actually enjoyed instead of hating with a passion.
Still, for all of its success, The Amazing Spider-Man remains a deeply flawed film. The story the film sets out to tell – that of Peter Parker coming of age and figuring out just who he is as a person – is often at the mercy of plot mechanics, from contrivances such as Gwen Stacy having a job that no teenager would ever have, to the magic-save-the-city device that has no rational reason for existing other than that the plot needs it. Likewise, Rhys Ifans works double time to try and make sense of a character whose actions are dictated by the plot instead of, well, character, and sadly doesn’t succeed.
Worst of all though is the supposed “untold story” of Peter’s parents that was the big selling point of the ad campaign. While I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy that the role of the parent’s was downplayed in the finished film, the whole element of the story feels like nothing more than a half-baked McGuffin to get the story rolling, with no real relevance to the film as a whole. Webb and crew have established a solid foundation for their series, but they will need to learn from their mistakes if they have any shot at rivalling what has come before.

4. Men in Black 3

Wait, wait, wait…a Men In Black sequel that not only isn't abysmal, but is actually good?
I’m as shocked as anyone, but yeah, Men In Black 3 actually is a pretty rock solid film. Yes, it is a formula film, but director Barry Sonnenfeld – working from a script by Etan Cohen - seems to have remembered what made the first Men in Black film work, ditching the crass and cartoonish comedy style of the second film and working overtime to give the film a real sense of heart. Sure, there are some flaws in the film – the whole of the story hinges on a retcon I am not entirely sure I like, and Jermaine Clement’s villain is a rather weak overall – but the relationship between Jay and Kay, the heart and soul of the Men in Black films, is as strong as it ever was. Smith in particular deserves credit for a performance which suggests that Jay has matured without losing the youthful attitude which made the character appealing in the first place, and yes, everything you have heard about Josh Brolin’s performance as the young agent Kay is true. 

3. The Dark Knight Rises

Easily the most divisive comic book film released this year (at least amongst us at 24 Panels Per Second), The Dark Knight Rises is a somewhat flawed but deeply ambitious conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which for me hits mostly the right thematic, narrative and emotional notes. Blending together elements from a whole variety of Batman comics, including Knightfall, No Man’s Land, and The Dark Knight Returns, as well as from the acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Beyond, The Dark Knight Rises tackles issues ranging to class tension to terrorism all while making Nolan’s final statements on the importance and dangers of myth and symbols. At times, Nolan and crew's reach exceeds their grasp, but the journey is worth taking, regardless of what your final reaction to the film ultimately is.

2. The Avengers
Marvel’s grand experiment in universe building reaches its climax in The Avengers, and boy, do they pull it off.
Written and directed by Joss Whedon, the film is a near-flawless work which manages to merge several distinct characters and their respective narrative spheres into a unified whole. In lesser hands, The Avengers could easily have been empty-headed spectacle, an action filled film with no story or soul that failed to pay off the promise of the five films which preceded it. Instead, the film is first and foremost a character driven work, with Whedon skillfully managing to given everyone their due, save Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (hey, something had to give). This remains true even when the film moves into its giant scale climax, which at this point should serve as the gold standard of how to pull off superhero action sequences on film.
Sure, The Avengers is not an overly complex work, or thematically deep. But as a piece of pop art, the film is a glorious success, a crowd pleaser that doesn’t sink to the lowest common denominator in its efforts to entertain. Can Marvel keep up this success? I’m not sure, but I am looking forward to finding out as the company moves into their “Phase 2” films.

1. Dredd

Dredd is not the most ambitious comic book film of the year. It does not push the genre deep into new territory. It does not offer overly complex of deep character work. At most, Dredd gets a bit playful with its use of 3D and slow motion.
But you know what Dredd is? It is one of the most fun, engaging, and old school sci-fi action films seen in years. If not for Skyfall, I would say Dredd was the most fun I had watching a film in a theatre all year.

Look, as anyone who has listened to the show or followed my Twitter feed knows, I am a major fan of the cinema of the 1980s, thanks in no small part to the decade's genre cinema. While the '80s produced more than its fair share of over the top, absurd action films and thrillers, the decade also produced a number of films with a particular hard edge, cynical, and matter-of-fact tone and style that has rarely been seen in the decades that follow. It is that tone and style which Dredd captures perfectly, ditching the "bigger is better" approach that guided the 1995 Judge Dredd film and has defined most action films of the past two decades. Dredd is lean and mean, and all the better for it.

Certainly, fans of the comic will find significant changes from the comics here: the Mega-City One of Dredd isn't the wild, anything goes playground of the comics, and the narrative of the film is an original rather than an adaptation of any particular story. However, the spirit of the comics is intact here, with Karl Urban perfectly embodying the faceless embodiment of facism as the titular character. Turning in equally fantastic work is Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, whom the narrative of Dredd truely centers on as she undergoes the evaluation from hell.

Dredd certainly isn't for all tastes. This isn't a mainstream crowd please like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises or The Amazing Spider-Man. But for film fans who have missed the days when action films had grit and grime that wasn't all surface, Dredd is the film you have been waiting for.

1 comment:

  1. I don't have time to write up a whole list, but as it turns out I saw 12 new films that were based on comic books in 2012. In reverse order (and with credits for the less well-known titles)...

    12. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
    11. For Love's Sake (dir. Takashi Miike, based on a manga by Ikki Kajiwara)
    10. Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack (dir. Takayuki Hirao, based on a manga by Takayuki Hirao)
    9. The Dark Knight Rises
    8. Justice League: Doom
    7. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One
    6. Men in Black III
    5. Superman vs. the Elite
    4. Dredd
    3. Wrinkles (dir. Ignacio Ferreras, based on a graphic novel by Paco Roca)
    2. Marvel's The Avengers
    1. The Amazing Spider-Man