Director/co-writer Guillermo del Toro and his team wonderfully bring Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” comic book to the big screen in a 2004 film that has such top-shelf production design that it almost overshadows the story and characters. But not quite; Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is a likably gruff hero whose relationships with his adoptive father (John Hurt as Dr. Broom) and the woman he loves (Selma Blair as Liz) shine through.
Five minutes into “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (2011), it’s clear that this is a better movie than “Ghost Rider” (2007). A great car-and-motorcycle chase through the hills of Eastern Europe (where the film is shot) ends with Moreau (Idris Elba, doing a Marvel twofer that year with “Thor”) flying through the air over the side of a cliff, but delivering bullets to the enemy’s tires while falling to his apparent demise.
Written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, who also gave us “Daredevil” (2003), “Ghost Rider” (2007) is another slick Hollywood product from the era when seeing a comic-book superhero portrayed in live action had an intrinsic cool factor. But “Ghost Rider” is stridently paint-by-numbers, never off-the-rails incompetent in its production but never engaging in its narrative or themes. The best part about watching it is that I now have context for listening to the “Ghost Rider” episodes of podcasts that make fun of old movies.
Ifeel a little sorry for the “Fantastic Four” franchise. The 2005 and 2007 entries are competent children’s movies that failed to catch fire at a time when adult superhero movies were taking off. For the 2015 “Fantastic Four” – which I’ll call “Fant4stic,” based on the logo — director/co-writer Josh Trank (“Chronicle”) and co-writers Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg craft an adult superhero film, going for a brooding tone that would make Zack Snyder proud, complemented by dimly lit cinematography by Matthew Jensen. Unfortunately, this was a time when people were digging the comedic side of the trend-setting Marvel Cinematic Universe. This property can’t get the timing right.
Working from a screenplay by returning writer David S. Goyer, Guillermo del Toro probably didn’t know it at the time, but he directs “Blade II” (2002) as a trial run for “The Strain,” his 2014-17 TV series. The creature effects are strikingly similar across both projects, namely the next strain of vampires. In “Blade II,” their human mouths open “Predator”-style, and in “The Strain,” they reveal tubes that can strike from a distance — “Alien”-style, to the extreme.
The “Fantastic Four” franchise steps it up a notch for “Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007), which many superhero genre observers point to as 1) the best “Fantastic Four” movie and 2) evidence that the “Fantastic Four” franchise is pretty darn weak, if this is the best entry. The titular Oscar-statuette-looking demigod, performed by genre regular Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne, has pathos: He must create craters in the Earth to destroy it, because it’s what he was made to do by his planet-eating creator, Galactus. But he doesn’t like doing it.
It’s perhaps strange that “Blade” (1998) became the first successful big-screen enterprise for Marvel Comics, considering that he’s not one of the A-list superheroes, and the saga’s blood and violence target a niche audience rather than a mass audience. On the other hand, similar to how Marvel tested the waters with “The Punisher” (1989), it makes sense to start cautiously before launching A-listers like the X-Men (who hit cinemas in 2000).
July 21, 1969, had the moon landing. Fifty years later, July 21, 2019, had everyone talking about a batch of movies and TV shows that are – with the exception of “Black Widow” – well over a year away. NASA conquered the moon, and now the Marvel Cinematic Universe has conquered the Earth, as the Phase Four announcement at Comic-Con proved. Here are my thoughts on these five movies and five TV shows, along with “Go Bananas” Levels on a 10-point scale:
Fantastic Four” (2005) was hurt by coming out five years after “X-Men” and at a time when moviegoers had seen next-level genre films like “Spider-Man 2” (2004) and “Batman Begins” (2005). It’s a safe, predictable comic-to-screen adaptation compared to its rivals. On the other hand, the “Fantastic Four” comic (1961) predated “X-Men” and “Avengers” by two years, so I’d argue the film deserves a level of respect for effectively adapting the groundbreaking source material (something the 1994 version famously failed to do).
Two of Peter’s classmates have a whirlwind romance on a school field trip. Nick Fury is grumpy about his calls going to voicemail. And to Peter’s consternation, Happy and Aunt Mae are flirting. “Spider-Man: Far From Home” flips the cliché of a blockbuster where we marvel at the action sequences and yawn at everything in between. My mind did wander at times during the film, but it was during the bravura special effects – because we live in an age where everything that makes it to theaters has bravura special effects.