15 December 2006

Superheroes on Screen - Retrospective 2006

As the year winds down and following in the tradition of retrospectives past, behold, I bring you the superheroes on screen in 2006.


Twas truly a prolific year for Superheroes on screens both big and small. Though while there were heroes a plenty, none of them was a huge sensation. Is the tide starting to turn for Superheroes being a sure thing? Or will next year see a return to dominance of the genre?

In May, X-Men: The Last Stand, the 3rd and final (yeah right) X-Men film opened huge. The box office quickly cooled off though resulting in a healthy, but far from dominant, $234 million take. This movie was a real let down. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed X3, I would say I liked it at least as much as the original X-Men, but nowhere near as much as X2. Also, X2 built up to a fantastic cliffhanger that was basically abandoned. Jean Grey / The Phoenix was a wasted opportunity, and Brett "the Hitman" Ratner lacked the wavos to actually go through with killing / demutifying any of the characters. When the film closes, Cyclops is dead (good riddance to this pale imitation of the comic book Cyclops) but everything else is safely status quo. Still, I loved seeing the Beast, Kitty Pryde was well done, Angel was shortchanged, and Magneto was as bad as ever. We also got the danger room, but I sorta wish we didn't. Anyhow, thanks to this films success, an X4 focusing on the youngsters is all but a sure thing, its just a matter of when.

After years of failed reboots and scrapped ideas including Superman versus a giant spider, Superman finally returned in June. I really though that this film would rule the summer. I mean, who doesn't know Superman? But, thanks to Pirate-mania, Superman Returns struggled to compete against Pirates 2. A subplot involving a Super-bastard child, and Superman stocking Lois didn't help, nor did another zany Luthor real estate scheme. Who wants to live on a radioactive razor sharp crystal? Superman did gain a boost in box office from IMAX 3D, and the film accomplished a milestone by crossing the $200 million mark (barely), suring up a Super sequel (The Man of Steel) in 2009. This film was a beauty to behold, and fairly good, but I would prefer a Superman involved in less morally questionable activities. I would also like my Superman to throw at least 1 punch next time rather than just lifting things... I get it, he's strong. Its a shame that Bryan Singer left X3 to give us this. Let's Hope his follow-up is more like his vastly improved X2.

Then came July and My Super Ex Girlfriend. Superheroes sell right? "Here is a piece of crap movie, but its got a superhero! Watch it! " But no one did, and the film flopped with only $22 million proving (surprisingly) that audiences still have some taste.

Ah, but filmmakers do not. In August, Zoom which sadly can best be described as a poor man's Sky High, opened and also bombed with a mere $11 million. Why is Tim Allen richer than me?

The Direct-to-Video (DTV) market also saw its share of productions this year. Marvel comics released its first two animated titles under a partnership with Lionsgate. In February, Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (click for review) adapted the first part of the Ultimate Avengers comic, and was followed up in August with the introduction of the Black Panther in Ultimate Avengers 2. Though not perfect, these films were a nice way to bring the Avengers to the small screen and I would love an animated series to continue their story.

Less successful was June's attempt to cash in on the upcoming Superman Returns. Superman: Brainiac Attacks used designs from the Superman: Animated Series, but made the characters idiotic. And in spite of its short length, this film was just so boring. This was a major disappointment.

On the other hand, in September DC comics previewed the very good Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo on the Cartoon Network. Though I would have liked seeing a more direct follow-up to the now canceled series, this was everything the Titans should be. It had some funny gags in Japan, and good action with a creative new foe. Hopefully, more Teen Titans DTVs will follow.

In October, Dark Horse comics brought the first Animated Hellboy film's debut to the Cartoon Network. Hellboy: Sword of Storms is the first of several DTV Hellboy projects. This film showed promise and I expect Hellboy: Blood and Iron to be even better. You can learn more about the upcoming films at gotohellboy.com - I just like that URL.

In November, accompanying the DVD release of Superman Returns was an all new edit of Superman 2 called The Richard Donner Cut. Superman 1 and 2 were being filmed simulataneosly, but when production fell behind schedule, a decision was made to focus on finishing Superman 1. Though 80% of Superman 2 was already filmed, the financers of the project decided to be real cheap SOBs and fired the director, Richard Donner, even after Superman's huge box office success. His replacement, Richard Lester (also director of the campy Superman 3) refilmed almost half the film so that he could be listed as the "director" instead of Donner. Most of the dumbest part of the film including Superman's unexplained new powers (amnesia kiss, super plastic S-Shield, teleportation) were Lesters addition. After years of fan requests, Richard Donner's film footage was brought to light in a new edit of the film. Since the movie was never completeky shot with Donner, the new cut does use some of Lester's footage, but it is used sparingly. This new cut has marvelous scenes explaining why Superman gave up his powers, and how he got them back. These scenes include a touching exchange between Kal-El and papa Jor-El (which was cut so as to not have to pay Marlon Brando). Also, ther is a new ending, new beginning, and new reveal to Lois that Clark is Superman. Its a great film to check out for fans of the original Superman 2. It will leave you pondering over and over, "why did they take that scene out!"

Not wishing to be left out, television was also a hopping venue for the distribution Superhero tales.

Marvel comics certainly has a different philosphy than DC with their heroes. While DC seems stingy with its characters, choosing to do return to the well with Superman and Batman rather than seriously developing other A and B list characters into film (Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Wonder Woman), Marvel seems to think any of their heroes can carry a film (Elektra, Ghost Rider, Ant-Man). And in the case of Blade which started off as a successful franchise that ran its course, Marvel attempted to get a little more milk out of the character with a Blade Series for Spike TV. Blade lasted 3 months and only 12 episodes, but I still wonder if Marvel won't somehow find a way to keep this pony running.

In July, SciFi showed Stan Lee's Lightspeed, an all new creation with incredibly poor production which made Striperella seem like a good idea. Poor Stan, always looking for the next Spider-Man and only coming up with a cheap Flash knock-off.

Luckily, Stan Lee struck gold (or at least silver) with a new reality show Who Wants to be a Superhero? The idea sounded cliché, but the campy humor and pure cheese made the show fresh and enjoyable. I still don't know how Fat Mama became the runner-up, but having the geeky Feedback win made me feel like some day I could be a hero too.

After Aquaman's big boost to thew Smallville ratings, a spinoff seemed certain. But when the WB and UPN merged into the oddly named CW, Aquaman: Mercy Reef's bubble was burst. One of the fruits of this failure was that the lead in Aquaman has joined the cast of Smallville as Green Arrow, easily the best part of Smallville in its sixth season. After huge success on iTunes, rumors of a pickup reemerged, but it seems the series was not meant to be.

2006 also introduces a couple of new animated series. Up first, the Cartoon Network began showing a new Animated Fantastic Four series. The animation was great, but the fight choreography has been pretty lame. Also lame, the series seems to have begun already out of ideas as every chliché plot has either already been used or is on tap for later in the season. Hero and villain swap bodies. Check. Heroes get shrunk. Check. Heroes swap powers. Check. I am just waiting for "Heroes turn into babies." Only a handful of episodes have aired, but things look grim for the Four, which is too bad as a slew up upcoming guest heroes may have improved the show.

DC comics debuted their new show on the Kids WB (on the CW). The Legion of Superheroes features a young Superman in the future fighting side by side with such legionares as Saturn Girl, Bouncing Boy, and Lightning Lad. Notice I said nothing of Superboy. Apparently Superboy is a different copyright that Superman, and DC lost a lawsuit recently which gives the owners of Superboy a bunch of green whenever Superboy is used (maybe I should copyright Batboy). I think its stupid that Superboy and "young" Superman are different from a legal point of view, but anyways, the show is OK so far. It trying to be in the vein of the lighter Teen Titans style, but I haven't been won over yet. The series has promise, and a huge cast of heroes to draw from and also new creative reimaginings of many clasic Superman foes. So, I will keep with it for a while longer.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year was the new NBC drama Heroes. When I first heard of the show, I thought that it was a little late to be cashing in on the Superhero genre, and expected this show to be rubbish. I was very wrong. The show has been able to be engaging and grounded with soe gore and cool characters - some of which even have fairly original powers. The show is a lot like an Unbreakable Tv series, but also has some fun elements. Season 1 has focused on capturing a serial killer named Sylar that steals heroes' brains in order to acquire their abilities, as well as stopping a bomb from going off in New York City. Its been a realy good show thus far, one of my new favorites. As for the heroes, there are Hiro, a geeky Japanes sci-fi fan who can bend the space time continuum, Peter, a male nurse (murse) who can mimic any other heroes powers, Nathan, a sleezy politician that like R Kelly, believes he can fly, Claire an indestructable cheerleader with a knack for getting in nasty accidents, Niki/Jessica a split personality mom with Hulk-like tendancies, DL aka male Shadowcat and Niki's husband, Micah the son of Niki and DL who can fix broken phones, Eden a woman with a mighty power of persuasion, The slient Haitian who has the ability to let everyone know his country of origin without saying a word, he can also erase memories and mute others' powers, Matt a dyslexic cop that can read minds, Isaac who can paint the future... when stoned, and a Mohinder a powerless Indian geneticist. Heroes is surely the crown jewel of 2006 and a must see for anyone reading this column.

Proving more is not necessarily better, 2006 gave us MORE. Still, there were plenty of good projects this year and even a couple of great ones.

Previous Retrospectives


Anonymous said...

"Micah the son of Niki and DL who can fix broken phones"

Good job making Mikah's powers so lame. The kid can do more than just fix phones. He is a technology wiz-kid. Not only can he fix things but he can build things and probably extend/advance teh technology of ordinary devices.

j said...

So lame? Have you ever tried to fix a broken pay phone? Its purt near impossible my friend.

And aside from that all we've really seen him do was take a computer apart. I bet even Doogie Howser could have done that at his age, if he had applied himself to technology instead of medicine. I wouldn't go so far as to call "technology wiz-kid" a "power" per se. Fixing a phone just by touching it, thats a whole 'nother story.

Chip Chief said...

i didnt mean to single out micah. i was sort of making jokes about all of their "leet skills." its just that the phone fix is the only real time that we saw a definitive power being used.

toast said...

2006 was such a good year for superheroes! Here's looking to 2007!

Chip Chief said...

agreed! i have high hopes for spider-man, and heroes. even fantastic four 2 has to be better than the first. also, the DC comics direct to videos should be a nice treat.

j said...

I was at Barnes & Noble today and saw a Marvel Heroes Monopoly game. I didn't look too closely, but thought you'd appreciate knowing.

Chip Chief said...

interesting find j, i was wondering what would take the place of boardwalk as the "prime" property. i also wondered what the properties would be. would they be "spider-man's hideout", or what?

I did a little research, and found that in marvel monopoly you don't stay at properties, i guess you spend the night with the characters themselves for a fee (sign me up for the invisible girl blvd). it is also fully customizable. i guess that mean that you get to assign various heroes to the board wherever you want. thus, using a simple factorial formula, the board is advertised as having "OVER ONE BILLION COMBINATIONS!!!!!"

i dont know if its a horrible idea, but it sure sounds lazy. gone are the days when themed monopolies would rank various properties. i just like knowing that the death star (oddly enough) would be the most expensive place to spend the night in the star wars universe. which marvel hero would have the priciest one night fee?

j said...

Makes sense. There were several different themed "My Monopoly" versions, Marvel Heros being just one of them.