At the end of Comic-Con weekend here in Southern California, I hate to admit that I didn't make it down to San Diego for the first time in five years. I was registered and planned to attend Friday at least, but I had to stay in Long Beach on-call for my hospice "day job." Granted, tending to the dying is infinitely more important than movie previews and guys roaming around in 300 attire, but I still hated not being able to be there.
Alas, all was not lost. As my mother taught me when I was a kid: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" So I created my own, individualized Comic-Con weekend, with enough superheroes and genre events to tide me over until Comic-Con 2009:
Watchmen: I had been most excited about going to the Watchmen movie preview at Comic-Con on Friday. The trailer is amazing (and I'll give a special blessing to the first person to respond with the name of the prior comic book-inspired film that the Smashing Pumpkins song used in the trailer comes from). But Friday morning I realized, "I've had the original Watchmen graphic novel on my bookshelf for at least two years and have never read it!"
So on Friday, I started reading it. I haven't finished it yet, but suffice to say I could see within the first ten pages that the kudos heaped upon it since its publication in 1986 are well deserved. Great writing meets great, cinematic art, which will hopefully translate well to the big screen next March. Big, blue, naked Dr. Manhattan (personified by the talented, hot and digitally enhanced Billy Crudup in the film) is enough to get me to buy a ticket!
The Dark Knight: All indications were that it would have a huge opening weekend, so I didn't rush to see the latest Batman adventure. At the risk of upsetting my fellow critics and fans who have been raving about it, I think it's a very good movie but also highly overrated, not to mention overlong. The best movie of the year and/or best comic book movie ever? I think not. It struck me more as a classic-style gangster film than a superhero saga. There is too much talk/philosophizing/ moralizing, and at least three subplots and plot twists too many.
Heath Ledger was very good in a different interpretation of the Joker (especially when one lays it alongside his performance in Brokeback Mountain), but he wasn't necessarily better in the role than Jack Nicholson or even Cesar Romero. I think his untimely death has a lot to do with the adoration his performance is receiving.
The best performance in the movie is actually that of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face. I didn't expect Two-Face to be as significant in this film as he is, and it is really his story rather than the Joker's or even Batman's. I encourage my fellow critics and fans of the film to give the overshadowed Eckhart the accolades he deserves.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army: I knew nothing about Mike Mignola's comic Hellboy when the first film inspired by it was released in 2004. The character intrigued me, the movie engrossed me, and I was eagerly looking forward to the sequel.
As directed and largely designed by Guillermo del Toro, Hellboy II is frequently beautiful to look at but lacks the creepy, apocalyptic spirit of its predecessor. It's more of a fairy tale about elves trying to overthrow the human race, and Hellboy's being the son of Satan doesn't figure into it much. Ron Perlman, however, continues to surprise and amuse as the big red bad boy trying to fit in and do good.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe: Comic-Con wouldn't be complete each year without The X-Files making its presence known, so I caught Mulder and Scully's new movie sequel to the TV series. I hadn't heard much about it in advance and had only read one review (which didn't reveal much), so I really didn't know what to expect.
Wow! Not only is I Want to Believe the best-written movie of the summer so far, treating a number of very serious current topics (including same-sex marriage) in a profoundly mature way, it is also very well-directed by series creator Chris Carter; wonderfully acted by David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and the supporting cast; beautifully photographed by Bill Roe; and brilliantly edited by Richard A. Harris. Oh, and it's as eerie, scary and teasingly romantic as the series' best episodes were.
It didn't do very well at the box office this weekend (even Mamma Mia! grossed more), so please get out there and see it. Be sure to stay through the end credits!
Clearly, one doesn't have to go to San Diego each summer in order to have a Comic-Con experience. But Comic-Con is unique, and I'll look forward to returning there next summer, along with 125,000-plus of the craziest and coolest people on the planet.
UPDATE: Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The X-Files: I Want to Believe and The Dark Knightare now available on DVD from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.