It’s been a damn good year for comic book media. Perhaps the biggest advances have been in the realm of television. Once the black sheep of the entertainment industry, TV is now the go-to for intricately plotted, nuanced and serialized drama. Add to that the continuing dominance of comic book movies and it’s no surprise that countless properties continue to be optioned and adapted.

As such, frequent collaborator Brian Baer and I have come together to take a look back at the last year of comic book film and television. We have arranged them into our personal best and worst for each category. Enjoy!

Best Movie

The A-Holes

BAER: Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians is a cleverly designed pastiche of beloved popcorn adventure flicks from the 70s and 80s, updated with breathtaking visuals, a dedicated cast, a visionary director, an incredible soundtrack and a wicked sense of humor.

COLBY: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Those who know me, know of my obsessive love for the X-Men franchise. Who would have thought that the 7th film in the series would turn out to be such an intricately constructed and wonderfully realized way to bridge the branching narrative that had been established in past movies? Plus it provides the added bonus of wiping away past problems with the franchise. It was nuanced and beautifully shot and the love for the characters was obvious. And don’t even get me started about that Quicksilver scene…

Worst Movie

BAER: I, Frankenstein
Ugly, humorless, and the worst kind of uninspired. The comic was made to sell the movie, and the movie never should’ve been made.

Yikes.

COLBY: Hercules
While TMNT and Amazing Spider-Man 2 were assuredly awful, I’m going to go with Hercules. This is a testament to the power of directing. It’s based on Hercules: The Thracean War by Steve Moore (the whole “based on” thing will have to be gone into in another article, because that’s an interesting story) and has a really good cast. Dwayne Johnson is a capable action star and the supporting players feature John Hurt and Ian McShane. That said, the movie retains what I call “The Ratner Stink”. It’s soullessly shot and feels overwhelmingly boring. I also find it odd that the film’s title is a bit of a misnomer seeing as how it focuses so much on Hercules’ team of heroic sidekicks. In the end, Spidey 2 is a worse film, but Hercules is a shockingly sad disappointment.

Best TV Series

“Hullo, guv.”

BAER: Constantine
In a year full of strong comic-based TV, none stood out like NBC’s Hellblazer adaptation. It had the most potential to go horribly, horribly wrong, as well. Instead we get an old-fashioned X-Files style chiller with loads of gore, crazy supernatural ideas, and a borderline unlikeable protagonist. It’s like nothing else on TV.

COLBY: Constantine
Can’t I just give a three-way tie to Arrow, Flash and Constantine? Since I must pick one, I’m going with Constantine. There was every reason in the world that this show should have been an artistic failure and faded into obscurity. Luckily, thanks to a spot-on cast and comic-based writing, this show has given Hellblazer fans the adaptation that they deserve. The love for the source material shows through on every level and network limitations are creatively bypassed. The fact that the aforementioned shows were so good isn’t much of a surprise, and since Constantine has surpassed expectation at every turn, it stands out from the pack.

Worst TV Series

BAER: Gotham
Gotham is a gritty cop drama that has been awkwardly expanded to an ensemble piece. Most characters seem uncertain what they’re doing on screen. It has so much going for it, including a great design sensibility, but it’s still a dull and useless appendage to the Dark Knight mythos. If it couldn’t fall back on the ever-bankable Batman name, this would’ve been axed by now.

“CARRLL!!”

COLBY: The Walking Dead
With the comic book TV explosion of late, there’ve been quite a few of exceptional quality. As such, it was hard to select a worst show. So I didn’t go with anything new. My biggest problem with The Walking Dead is that there is no momentum. The characters have fallen into the same plot-traps time and again over the last five years and never seem to learn anything. That leads to the lack of any real hope that I’ve mentioned before. If these characters are doomed to repeat their same mistakes ad infinitum, then why should I keep watching?  I just wish this “character-driven drama” was more focused on growing its characters.

Best Announcement

BAER: Marvel’s film slate
There is so much to be excited for, from the things we expected (Avengers sequels, Civil War) to the things we really, really hoped for (Captain Marvel, Black Panther).

I know, we’re awesome…

COLBY: Marvel’s film slate
There’s really nothing else it could be. Marvel’s been hitting it out of the park since day one and “phase three” of their film series seems to be continuing that trend. With some new storylines and characters getting much-needed appearances, the Marvel brand has never felt fresher.

Worst Announcement

BAER: DC’s film slate
Warner Brothers is putting the horse in front of the cart. Instead of building a franchise block-by-block, the cautious Marvel way, everything is being thrown into production with the blind hope that the films are successful, the actors like their roles, and anyone even wants to watch another Green Lantern film.

“I’ll be back…like it or not.”

COLBY: Sony’s Spider-Man spin-offs
My gut reaction is to go with DC’s desperate attempt at being Marvel. However, I’m going to go with Sony’s announcement that they’ll be making franchises out of c-level Spider-villains, matronly aunts and newly-created heroines. As desperate as DC seemed this year, Sony and their floundering franchise looked even worse. And the recent email hacking scandal has, sadly, proven just how out of their depth they really are.

Best Casting

*French noises*

BAER: Georges St-Pierre as Batroc in Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Of all the happy surprises of Winter Soldier, nothing beats a bad-ass Batroc the Leaper. Casting real-life MMA master St-Pierre was a perfect fit for the hard-hitting, stunt-based style the Russo brothers brought to the Marvel Universe.

COLBY: Tom Cavanagh as Dr. Wells in The Flash
Wells is a tricky role. He has no direct correlation within the comic book (that we know of, at this point anyway) and could have fallen completely flat. Luckily, because of Cavanagh’s interesting mix of warmth and sinister misdirection, the character has become a fan favorite.

Worst Casting

*Jabba laughter*

BAER: Josh Brolin as Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.
Yes, Thanos is clearly set to be a huge character in the broad scope of the Marvel movies, and it’s only fitting he is treated with sufficient gravitas for that. But it’s obvious a real actor, let alone a big, expensive, brand-name actor, isn’t required. Thanos is as CGI as Groot and his voice is twice as modulated. Brolin is unrecognizable. Instead of finding a talented motion capture and/or voice actor, the studio chose to throw money away.

COLBY: James Cromwell as Callaghan in Big Hero 6
**Spoilers**
This is an odd choice since the actor and the movie were both pretty good, actually. My problem is that it was obvious stunt-casting. When he’s first introduced in the movie as Hiro’s mentor (literally, his first scene) I told my girlfriend, “I bet he’s the bad guy”. And sure enough, 70 minutes and a few plot twits later, I was right. Since the misdirection was so obvious and obtuse, this seemingly tiny quibble almost ruined an otherwise fun and good-natured movie for me.

Best Fight

Your move, DC films…

BAER: Flash vs. Arrow from The Flash
God help me, this fight was stunning. The characterizations and superpowers/trick arrows were so perfect, it was a comic book come to life in the purest sense. It brought me right back to the childlike glee I felt during my first viewing of Whedon’s Avengers.

COLBY: X-Men vs. Sentinels from X-Men: Days of Future Past
I’ve spent 20 years waiting to see the X-Men take on these murderous, mutant hunting robots in live action and I do believe it was worth the wait. Among the many, many things that this film did right was to portray the Sentinels as wholly unstoppable. Seeing the future X-Men throw everything they had at them to no avail was simultaneously thrilling and heartbreaking.

Worst Fight

BAER: The 3rd act of Amazing Spider-Man 2
I was willing to put up with a lot of disappointments in this movie, just due to the perfection of Andrew Garfield’s take on Peter Parker, and the ensuing charm of his interactions with Emma Stone. Still, the battle at the power plant (along with the finale with the shoehorned Goblin character) was a bridge too far. It was a cluttered, lackluster sequel and that fight was a garish, patronizing strobe light of CGI nonsense and what is literally the worst music I’ve ever heard.

What am I looking at?

COLBY: TMNT vs. Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Really, just about any fight in this movie could qualify. Everything’s so hyper-kinetic and overly CGI’d that any movement becomes a muddled mass of pixels. The final battle with Shredder is a special mess, however. It contains all of the bleary activity of the earlier fights but contains none of the danger or gravitas of a movie-ending showdown. Shredder is broadly drawn at best and has pretty much no motivation for his evil plan. That coupled with the annoyingly staged fight creates something both boring and jarringly fast-paced. So in the end you forget it’s supposed to be a battle between characters and just see four green blobs moving quickly around another, silver blob.

Best Actor

“Wait, I’m bald in 2014? Ok, let’s
change the future.”

BAER: James McAvoy in X-Men: Days of Future Past
With Bryan Singer back in the director’s seat, DoFP was more than a fun sequel, it was deep and heartfelt. This was best expressed through McAvoy’s performance as the young Charles Xavier, a man who’s had everything taken from him, and who is asked to sacrifice even more. McAvoy makes you feel that pain and helplessness in his powerful performance.

COLBY: Matt Ryan in Constantine
Keanu who? Ryan is so comfortable with the role of John Constantine, it almost makes one forget that the character was adapted (horridly) once before. Sure, he’s a little more likable than the comic version, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The fact that he won over a jaded old fan like me is a testament to his skill as an actor.

Worst Actor

BAER: Bill Nighy in I, Frankenstein
Look, Bill Nighy is a fantastic actor, okay? FANTASTIC. But this was a paycheck film in the worst possible sense. He looked uncomfortable and embarrassed every moment he was on screen.

Why can’t Koenig be
a series regular?

COLBY: B. J. Britt in Agents of SHIELD
I’ve spent the last year wondering how this guy got a reoccurring role in a Marvel series. He always sounds like he’s reading his lines from a cue-card and plays his character ridiculously broadly. It’s annoying to see such amateurish acting make its way onto a big-budget television series.

Best Actress

BAER: Scarlett Johansson in Captain America: The Winter Solider
Johansson has the Black Widow character down perfectly by now – She’s the snarky, supremely confident super-spy. She’s prepared for everything. The events of Winter Soldier, however, rattle her. Johansson digs deeper into the Widow, bringing surprisingly vulnerability and genuine warmth.

“You! Go rent Snowpiercer!”

COLBY: Tilda Swinton in Snowpiercer
Snowpiercer was an underrated gem that made a splash with critics, but didn’t get the wide release it deserved. Swinton plays the hell out of her role as a smarmy, Thatcher-esque elite who helps keep the lower classes of the movie’s future society in their place. She is cowardly, aggravating and wonderfully realized. A great performance in a great movie.

Worst Actress

BAER: Erin Richards as Barbara in Gotham
Of all the characters on Gotham, Richards’ has the least connection to anything happening in the plot. The actress manages to project a confused blankness anytime she’s on screen, like she’s eternally caught off guard. It’s as if, on some metatextual level, even she doesn’t realize what she’s doing there. If that’s being done intentionally, I’ll gladly change this to Best Actress

COLBY: Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney in Gotham
I didn’t mind this character in the pilot, but about halfway through her second appearance on this show I realized that what was a quirky performance ONCE quickly turns into a grating annoyance. The character isn’t written with the most nuance, but a more capable actor could have added something more than manic Nicolas Cage-ian screaming to suggest menace.

Best Cameo or Reference

“See you in 2018!”

BAER: All the “Inhumans” stuff in Agents of SHIELD
There’s a little thrill every time something from the Marvel cinematic universe finds its way into onto the show. This goes double for any comics character or concept that pops up. And now, we’re getting comics stuff introduced into the Marvel cinematic universe through the show? It’s like Agents of SHIELD finally has a reason to exist.

COLBY: The DC References in The Flash
This series follows in Arrow‘s footsteps and fully accepts its comic book roots by making great use of the various corners of the wider DC Universe. Early on, the series featured “Hex’s Gun Shop” as a location and later episodes teased the in-universe films Blue Devil 2 and Nighthawk & Cinnamon. While DC comics themselves seem to be intent on wiping away their long history, it’s nice to see this show embrace it.

Worst Cameo or Reference

Is it still a cameo if they
get their own poster?

BAER: Every time they say “52” on Arrow and Flash.
Yeah, yeah. New 52. We get it. No reason to make it every street name, apartment number, police call sign, and TV station.

COLBY: Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
While I don’t think the movie deserved the critical savaging it received (I thought it was pretty much on par with the original, for better or worse), I hated these cameos. The co-directors play wounded hitmen in a television show that Nancy watches and provide stupidly on-the-nose exposition and foreshadowing. No one has ever accused Frank Miller of being subtle, but damn.

And that’s that for 2014! Agree? Disagree? We don’t care, but feel free to comment below anyway!

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Comments
  1. Craig Bailey says:

    Great article guys! Keep up the good work!

    Like

  2. C_P says:

    Thanks Craig! Great to hear from you!

    Like

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