June 16, 2011

MRQE Rewind: DC Comics' Best Movies

Intergalactic superhero Green Lantern lands onto our screen this Friday, starring Ryan Reynolds as a test pilot charged with protecting planet Earth from super villain Parallax by the mysterious Guardians of the Universe. With the recent release of Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, the spotlight has been on film adaptations of popular superheroes comic book franchises but how do DC Comics fare against popular Marvel Comics characters such as Spider-Man and Iron Man? From big hitters Superman and Batman to the lesser known half-faerie Tristan Thorne from Sci-fi/Fantasy flick Stardust, we take an in-depth look at how protagonists from the DC universe were brought to life on the big screen with often fascinating results. Below we highlight the Top 10, but check out the full list on MRQE.

10. Superman II (1980) -- MRQE Metric: 70

Fewer movies have created more controversy than Superman II. Indeed there are two versions of the film after director Richard Donner was fired from the project following a disagreement with the movie’s producers and was unceremoniously replaced by Richard Lester. The plot follows Superman (Christopher Reeve) as he agrees to sacrifice his powers in order to marry Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). However the arrival of Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) and three Kryptonian criminals, Terence Stamp as General Zod, Sarah Douglas as Ursa, and Jack O’Halloran as Non, complicates the matter further. Surprisingly coherent for combining a patchwork of Donner and Lester’s work, Superman II achieved cult status and was a box office success scoring the highest-grossing opening weekend up to that time and became the 3rd highest grossing film of 1981.

9. Stardust (2007) -- MRQE Metric: 73

Set in the English village of Wall in the 1800s, Stardust follows the adventures of young Tristan Thorne after he makes a promise to his beloved Victoria (Sienna Miller) that he'll retrieve a fallen star by venturing into the magical realm of Stormhold. As Tristan enters the fantastical world by crossing over a magical wall, he soon discovers that the fallen star has taken the form of a beautiful girl, Yvaine (Claire Danes), who begins to glow more brightly as she falls in love with Tristan. An impressive cast features Robert de Niro as the compassionate pirate Captain Shakespeare, Michelle Pfeiffer as an evil witch queen intent on eating Yvaine’s heart, Peter O’Toole as the King of Stormhold, Ricky Gervais as the bumbling Ferdy the Fence, and Ian McKellen as The Narrator.

8. V for Vendetta (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 73

Although only five years old, James McTiegue’s first feature has already reached cult status with the help of its spectacularly choreographed action scenes, slick visual effects, and odd esthetics choices such as sparse sets and an overlie, shadow-free cinematography. Set in a futuristic fascist Great Britain, V for Vendetta tells the story of a mysterious revolutionary known only as "V" (voiced by Hugo Weaving) who uses terrorist tactics to fight against the ruling totalitarian government. When he rescues a young woman, Evey Hammond (Natalie Portman), from a secret police force known as the Fingermen, V finds himself an unlikely ally when Evey eventually becomes his successor. Although Alan Moore publicly separated himself from the film, the Wachowski Brothers' theatrical screenplay adaptation of Moore original’s graphic novel strikes the right balance between political thriller and social commentary while Dario Marianelli's moody soundtrack was nominated for a Best Original Score Oscar.

7. Superman Returns (2006) -- MRQE Metric: 74

Within five days of its opening weekend on June 28, 2006, Superman Returns grossed $84.2 million, setting a new record for Warner Bros. Pictures. Although the audience came pouring, no doubt attracted by Bryan Singer’s glossy direction and a bevy of slick CGI effects, the movie received rather tepid critical reviews overall. The plot follows Superman (Brandon Routh in his breakthrough role) as he returns to Earth from the remnants of planet Krypton, only to find Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) involved with another man and the psychopathic Lex Luthor, a suitably creepy and smarmy Kevin Spacey, planning to build a new continent from Kryptonite. The classic John Williams' original theme is reused liberally and Singer favors a rather slow and meandering pace alongside the welcome addition of gorgeous Art Deco style set designs.

6. Batman (1989) -- MRQE Metric: 74

All together now: “Get the funk up! Go, go, go with a smile! Batdance. Do it. Keep bustin'” Remember Prince’s infectious theme song to Tim Burton’s 1989 flick? Helped by Michael Keaton’s charismatic performance in the lead role and a huge merchandising campaign, Batman grossed a whooping $43.6 million during its opening weekend. Jack Nicholson gives the most intense and believable portrayal of the homicidal Joker yet, while a cool Kim Basinger plays Bruce Wayne’s love interest Vicki Vale, a journalist on a mission to discover the true identity of the mysterious avenger. Tim Burton was the first one, many fans would say, to capture the true essence of the winged crusader on the big screen with his cartoonish yet dark exploration of the primal theme of good versus evil.

5. Road to Perdition (2002) -- MRQE Metric: 78

Now here is a peculiar casting choice: Set in the Great Depression Era of the 1930s, Road to Perdition stars Tom Hanks as Michael Sullivan, a hit man working for the head of a powerful Irish mob John Rooney (Paul Newman in his last major film role). After Sullivan’s twelve years old boy witnesses him murder another man, the father and son go on the run to avoid being killed by hit man Harlen Maguire (Jude Law). The atmospheric visuals lend a strong emotional core to the movie and helps to created a nuanced mixture of straight up adventure and film noir. Sam Mendes favors a stylized and minimal direction style and focuses on the themes of revenge and morality through the eyes of young Michael Sullivan Jr. and the touching father-son relationship.

4. A History of Violence (2005) -- MRQE Metric: 78

When easygoing family man and diner owner Tom Stall kills two robbers in an act of self-defense, he becomes an overnight sensation in his small town of Millbrook, Indiana. However, the ensuing media circus attracts some unwanted attention from the past in the form of Ed Harris’ menacing gangster Carl Fogarty. David Cronenberg's tones down his trademark outbursts of violence and disturbing imagery (but just slightly) in his stylized adaptation of the John Wagner and Vince Locke graphic novel, and instead chooses to propel the story with character interactions and genuine displays of raw emotions. The tension is almost palpable in this unflinching revisiting of the American dream, which closely examines themes of identity and the omnipresence of violence in modern society. The icing on the cake? Maria Bello as Stall’s lawyer wife Edie and a devilishly clever ending plot twist…

3. Batman Begins (2005) -- MRQE Metric: 81

Christopher Nolan decided to approach the Batman franchise from a new perspective by focusing on the reasons and motivations behind multimillionaire Bruce Wayne’s metamorphosis into troubled crime fighter Batman. Nolan favors a slower pace at the beginning of the movie and follows Bruce Wayne as he relocates to Asia and undergoes intense martial art training sessions with mentor Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson in a restrained yet menacing performance), only to later discover Ducard really is super villain Ra's Al Ghoul. Nolan creates a dark and atmospheric Gotham City not dissimilar to that of Tim Burton’s Batman, but decides to skip more cartoonish elements. Sped-up footage of Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow when he injects Batman with a fear toxin makes for eerily frightening sequences, while comic relief is also found with Michael Caine as devoted butler Alfred and his tongue-in-cheek humor.

2. Superman (1978) -- MRQE Metric: 85

As a five-year old child, I was left in awe by the opening credits for "Superman", where a short section featuring a young boy reading from the pages of a comic book is instantly followed by soaring blue 3-D projections of the cast’s names in outer space. From Marlon Brando short appearance as Jor-El, who sends his infant son Kal-el to Earth to save him from Krypton’s imminent explosion, to the touching scene set in the Fortress of Solitude where our troubled superhero (Christopher Reeve) finds solace with the help of memory crystals, Richard Donner hits all the right notes by constructing a narrative appealing to both adults and children alike. Thirty-three years later, Superman stills manages to impress me with its solid dialogue, well-developed characters, a majestic theme music by John Williams, and a great cast that also includes Gene Hackman as the megalomaniac villain Lex Luthor and Margot Kidder as love interest Lois Lane.

1. The Dark Knight (2008) -- MRQE Metric: 89

Heath Ledger won a Posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his haunting portrayal of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s grim and gritty The Dark Knight. As a disturbed criminal mastermind terrorizing the citizens of Gotham City, Ledger proved to be a worthy opponent for Bale’s brooding Batman and also presented us with a sinister new catchphrase: “Why so serious?” Also notable is the brilliant but gruesome make-up sported by Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent in the second half of the movie, where Nolan delves deeply into the fragile psyche of the psychotic former District Attorney. This is Batman at his darkest and most violent, complete with fast, chaotic actions-scenes and dense cinematography and editing, which helped The Dark Knight to gross a record $67,165,092 on its opening day in the domestic box office.


  1. The City Council is examining a request to open a Louis Vuitton Handbags and retail shop at 11502 Middlebelt in the Livonia Crossroads shopping center on the southeast corner of Plymouth and Middlebelt roads.The council heard at a study session on Monday from Taylor Bond, president of Children's Orchard, who wants to open a 7,500-square-foot Louis Vuitton Handbags Sale store at the site of the former Family Buggy restaurant, which was closed several years ago.


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