When it came time for me to write my first piece for AiPT!, I could have taken us down a very negative road. After all, Ant-Man, the latest addition to Marvel Studios’ mega-popular cinematic universe, was still fresh in my mind.
I wasn’t the film’s biggest fan.
Don’t get me wrong – it was “fine,” but I felt it could have been so much better. Like the comics they draw their inspiration from, these films, in my opinion, are beginning to become too bogged down with their own continuity and cameos. If Ant-Man was a mid-90s comic book, Wolverine, Gambit, Ghost Rider and the Punisher would have all made appearances instead of the Falcon to make it more appealing. And Yellowjacket, yet another generic businessman-turned-villain?
But here I am being negative about a major motion picture starring Ant-Man. I’m a lifelong comic book fan living in a time when I can go to the cinema and see a film about a man who rides and communicates with ants.
I know this is the internet, but I really have no right to complain.
For all you youngsters who grew up in a time when “superhero” was just as common a film genre as “action” or “comedy,” let’s take a quick trip back in time.
Your cape is nice, but have you considered a suit?
When I was old enough to read comic books, superheroes could be found on Saturday morning cartoons, in video games and in toy aisles – not so much at the movies. Of course, there were a few respectable films that existed before I even existed, such as Superman and Superman II. But as soon as I was born, we got Superman III and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
Still, no matter what video store I visited as a child (primitive humans used to frequent video rental shops with names like “Blockbuster”), I couldn’t help but search the shelves for beat-up VHS boxes featuring costumed actors. And I found them. I’m talking such pitiful pictures as 1989’s The Punisher and 1990’s Captain America.
In my opinion, things began to turn around in 1989 with the release of Tim Burton’s Batman and 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, while the Shredder’s costume looked pretty faithful to the comics, you couldn’t help but notice the majority of onscreen supervillains tended to wear suits. The Joker, Lex Luthor, the Penguin – everyone likes a sharp-dressed man, but where were the more fantastical bad guys? Or more importantly, such colorful heroes as Spider-Man or my personal favorites, the X-Men?
It seemed like comic book heroes were always going to be a tough sell, unless they wouldn’t look out of place on the street or enjoyed wearing black leather. Sure, Spidey’s cool, but wouldn’t you rather watch a movie about Blade?
Apocalypse now? Awesome!
I still remember the first issue of Wizard magazine I ever bought (primitive humans also got comic book news from things called magazines), dated January 1995. This extra-sized issue was loaded with X-Men news and features, including a casting call article in which Wizard shared its dream cast for a fictional movie based on Marvel’s mighty mutants.
Patrick Stewart as Professor X (Dreams do come true.), Jean-Claude Van Damme as Gambit (What? That’s ridiculous! Why not just cast Channing Tat–oh wait.) and Glenn Danzig as Wolverine (Heads-up, Hollywood! We’ve found Hugh Jackman’s replacement!). Looking back, a lot of these casting choices are quite horrible and dated (I’m looking at you, Dolph Lundgren as Colossus.), but boy did I look at this feature a lot. After all, I felt this was as close as I’d ever get to an X-Men movie.
Fast-forward to 2015, and the eighth X-movie is on its way – and it’s about Apocalypse! Yes, his skin is blue for some reason, and he doesn’t have his iconic lips, but…Apocalypse!
Why is this so exciting? Because for too long, comic book fans had to accept the fact that the more fantastical elements of superhero stories—like an ancient mutant in blue body armor—just wouldn’t fly on the big screen. If “X-Men: Apocalypse” was being made in 1995, the Egyptian mutant would probably look like Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa in that live-action Super Mario Bros. movie. And by that, I mean he’d be wearing a suit.
We comic book fans got it. We never stopped to question Wolverine’s bright yellow costume, or that Cyclops wore a pair of yellow underwear over his blue bodysuit, because we were more interested in stuff like their rivalry for Jean Grey’s affection. We had the uncanny power to suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, to get non-comic book fans to accept our culture, it sometimes felt like we needed something like that machine Magneto built in the first X-Men film to turn humans into mutants.
Fortunately, we didn’t need a mutant machine (Because look what it did to Senator Kelly!), we just needed to faithfully adapt those great stories we in the comics community have always cherished.
Avengers, Sentinels and the Vision, oh my!
Just how far have we come since the days when seeing a film based on a comic book meant watching stuff like Mystery Men and Tank Girl? Here are some GIFs that showcase just a few of my favorite moments from modern superhero cinema:
Avengers – Pretty much any shot of two or more Avengers together.
Avengers 2: Age of Ultron – Iron Man, Thor and THE VISION defeating ULTRON! This shot has a red-faced synthezoid in a flowing yellow cape blasting a laser beam from its forehead at maniacal robot. Like, try explaining that to John Q. Public in 1995.
Guardians of the Galaxy – Thanos, a purple alien in golden armor, smiling on his floating space throne. I can’t even.
X-Men: Days of Future Past – Magneto, in all his majestic glory, flying surrounded by Sentinels. Let’s see, a man in a cape – check! Giant purple robots – check! A movie named “Days of Future Past” – check! Jesus Christ.
Spider-Man 3 – Emo Peter Parker dancing. Okay, just kidding.
How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Just be Grateful
Spider-Man 3 is a great example of a modern superhero film that let us down (When you think about Amazing Spider-Man 2 though, 3 is really the lesser of two evils). Still, no matter how hurt we were by the occasional misfire, even we oh so hard to please geeks need to admit these films aren’t all bad.
Paul Giamatti was truly embarrassing in Amazing Spider-Man 2, but some of those Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone scenes were quite charming. X-Men: The Last Stand butchered the Dark Phoenix Saga, but that final battle with Magneto and Pyro launching flaming cars at the X-Men was pretty cool.
Ultimately, not every comic book film will be an instant classic, but we need to take a step back and appreciate how far we’ve come. We’re beyond the days when we worried how a film about that obscure Iron Man character directed by Jon Favreau (The guy from Swingers?) could affect our chances of ever seeing a Thor movie. We are safe. We are so safe we have two different versions of Quicksilver to choose from.
It’s pretty amazing to think that not too long ago, I would have received looks of confusion when mentioning Bucky Barnes or Infinity Stones outside of a comic book shop. Now, casual moviegoers can’t help but get excited when they see the Winter Soldier or the Infinity Gauntlet in a post-credits scene.
Also amazing: after years of sitting on the sidelines while people discussed sports, I’m suddenly the most knowledgeable guy in the room because I can explain which Infinity Stones haven’t been found, or what this upcoming “Inhumans” movie is all about.
So no, I will not spend my first AiPT! article complaining about Ant-Man, and I encourage you not to complain about anything I just said in the comment space below. Instead, share your favorite comic book movie moment of the past few years, or reveal what you’re still dying to see!