2015 CBM Year in Review

Posted: December 24, 2015 in Year in Review
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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As another year draws to a close, we here at Comic Book Media once again recount the best and worst of comic adaptations in film and television. This year, I am joined by Alasdair Stuart and Brian Baer. Big thanks to both of them for indulging me in this (truly, very important) yearly tradition. Alasdair is new to writing for the site, so please give him a big welcome! With that, we’ll get right into the categories. Enjoy!

Best Movie
Colby: Justice League: Gods and Monsters.
Warner Bros.’ DC films rightfully take heat for trying to make their universe too overtly “dark”. I often take that stance as well, so it may seem a little hypocritical fg&mor me to enjoy this film so much. But it seems like Bruce Timm, Sam Liu and the rest of the team behind this movie came to the table with the statement, “You want dark? Oh, we’ll give you dark!” This story re-imagines the Justice League as a group of militant quasi-fascists who have no qualms with destroying armies as long as it’s for the greater good. Wisely, it eschews the traditional League and replaces the big three with proxies in Zod, Man-Bat and Bekka. It makes for a warped, “funhouse-mirror” setting and characterization that lends itself to this dark, twisted “what if?” universe. The final statement of the film is essentially a warning to those who praise DC’s cinematic darkness and to WB itself. Be careful what you wish for, fanboys. Push your Superman too far into the angst-filled shadows and he’ll no longer resemble that which you once loved.

Alasdair: Ant-Man.
On the downside it was yet another “Dude Man Begins” origin story and, with at least one more to sit through in Doctor Strange, they’re getting pretty old. On the plus side it was far, far better than anyone expected, allowed Paul Rudd to play (slightly) against type and Michael Pena’s Luis gave us my favorite MCU character since Phil Coulson. Now there’s a team up I can get behind…
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That being said, Ant-Man’s biggest plus is also its biggest weakness; Hope Van Dyne. Evangeline Lilly didn’t so much knock it out of the park as beat into a bloody park and fire it into the Sun but this really is the last time Marvel can side line their female characters this badly. That “It’s about damn time” in the post-credits sting was a statement of intent. I desperately hope they act on it.

km Brian: Kingsman: The Secret Service
In a year of bombastic superhero action and tight interconnectedness, Kingsman was a sly, witty spy send-up that rewarded a knowledge of the genre, but didn’t require the viewing of other films. It was just a fun action flick, made even better by the shockingly perfect casting of Colin “Mr. Darcy” Firth.

Worst Movie
Colby: Fantastic 4.
We all knew this was coming. No film so singularly displayed a series of terrible decisions than this reboot from Fox. While the cast do their best with what they have, the plot, direction and special effects are all shockingly sub-par at best (laughably appalling at worst). I’ve already said a lot about this movie, so I’ll let Alasdair go into it.

Alasdair: Fantastic 4.
I hate to bag on a movie that was fairly clearly a rolling catastro-storm from quite early on but it’s the least functional comic movie I’ve ever seen. Yes, the 15 of you about to say “Batman and Robin!”, it’s worse than that. Here are three reasons why:

  1. This is a Dirty (Half) Dozen of the best young Hollywood has to offer. Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Toby Kebbell and Miles Teller are five of the best on screen talents of their generation. Especially now someone’s obviously told Teller that PR is a thing that happens after his blisteringly dim comments about the Insurgent movies. Same goes for behind the camera too. Anyone who doesn’t think Josh Trank can direct needs to see Chronicle and he, Simon Kinberg and Jeremy Slater are all solid to good scriptwriters. All of them are capable of greatness. None of them show it here.
  2. There are some genuinely lovely moments here. The young Reed and Ben stuff from the trailers was perfect and surprisingly moving. Likewise the scientific approach to the Negative Zone, right up until when it’s thrown out of the window, is a really smart way to approach these characters. Most heartbreaking though is the straight ahead portrayal of a blended family with the Storms and how that gets lost in the worst piece of movie triage in recent history.
  3. This isn’t a complete film. Seriously. It’s not even close to it. I remember watching this in the theatre, it getting to what seems like the midpoint confrontation that demonstrated the stakes aaaaaand…stopping. Dead. There’s not even a rudimentary three act structure here, rather 1.75 acts with tonal shifts so strong it’ll give you whiplash.

That’s why this version of Fantastic Four isn’t just the worst movie this year, it’s also a tragedy. There was a great movie here and we get tantalizing glimpses of it before its swamped by a Ben Grimm with a bodycount, some of the worst CGI in recent memory and a fundamental sense of despair at the opportunity that was missed. An absolute disaster and one that, if we’re very lucky, no one will ever come close to repeating.
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Brian: Fantastic 4.
What else needs to be said about the cynical, micromanaged cluster-fuck that is Fox’s Fantastic Four? After months of bad press leading up to its release, it somehow managed to be even worse than advertised.

Best TV Show
Colby: Daredevil.
How can Marvel be so good at establishing distinct tones? Of all the movies, television series and one-shots they’ve only had one that’s struggled to find its voice (sorry, Agents of SHILED). So it seems odd that there was any doubt that their universe would find a place for a dark, violent, street-level vigilante, but there was. Again, Marvel knows what they’re doing by hiring the perfect people for the job. This series featured a great cast and direction with some magnificent writing. There’s a one-shot fight that’s fantastic and some remarkable camera-work but my favorite moment of the series is significantly quieter. It’s a flashback of Matt as a child and his mentor, Stick, sharing ice cream and discussing how to utilize his newfound gifts. It’s profound, funny and wonderfully written. If a show with blindingly awesome action can make me love a quiet character-driven conversation, then it’s definitely doing a lot right.

Alasdair: Tie! Jessica Jones & Supergirl.
This is a tie. Which may not be allowed but hey, it’s my first day.

Both shows lead a stupidly strong pack of comic based TV this year. Agent Carter, Daredevil, Agents of SHIELD and The Flash all had fantastic years while Arrow had a lumpen year followed by what’s so far been a really fun one. Just goes to show; in case of emergency, Neal McDonough. Works every time.

But all of them are outstripped by Supergirl and Jessica Jones and, more importantly, what they represent. Together the two shows demonstrate that a diversity of female characters isn’t just possible it’s mandatory.
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You only have to watch both shows to see why. Jessica Jones is both a gloriously confident noir that expands the Marvel Hell’s Kitchen Universe (MHKU is a thing now) and a viciously insightful, unflinching look at the consequences of psychological and physical abuse. It’s one of the very few shows I’ve ever found genuinely hard to watch and the emotional payload of seeing these issues explored is as brutal as it is necessary. Better still there’s never a hint of ‘TONIGHT ON A VERY SPECIAL EPISODE OF…’. This isn’t serial tv patting itself on the back for being a grownup. It’s a 13 episode meditation on how the hardest thing we can do is live and the quiet heroism of refusing to simply survive. If you’ve not seen it, please do.

Supergirl is literally and metaphorically day to Jessica Jones’ night. The issues it deals with are far more overtly superheroic and at times that’s damaged the show, especially its early, more than slightly awful obsession with seeing a fleeting part of Superman.

But eight episodes in, the show is doing three impossible things before the end credits. It’s, like The Flash, a pretty much note perfect TV version of DC’s gentler tendencies. It’s also turning into a genuinely complex, interesting thriller. Most impressively, it’s a show that’s using the superhero genre to talk about the difficulties of being a woman in modern life in a way that’s clever, accessible and often very powerful. The complex relationship Kara has with her sister is fascinating TV drama, as is the frankly incredible work they’re doing with Cat Grant. A character who’s spent decades as a sexbomb bimbo tropesplosion has been reinvented as one of the most complex, interesting mentors in recent TV history.

Alone, the two shows are some of the best TV drama, of any sort, you’ll see this year. Together they’re a beachhead for a long overdue and desperately needed variety in this genre. More power to them both and the women who I desperately hope will follow them.
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Brian: Daredevil.
In another year of terrific comic book TV, Daredevil stood above the strong competition of Arrow by showing a gritty, violent vigilante done even grittier and more violent. The acting and pacing are top-notch, but the visceral fight scenes are what moves DD to the top.

Worst TV Show
Colby: iZombie.
This is the first comic book based show that I gave up on, after muscling through the 1st season. I don’t like admitting that, but I find it unwatchable. I have an issue with over-written, unrealistically-hip dialogue which this show has in spades. The fact that the lead has no personality of her own is also a huge issue. How can I root for someone who is literally a different person every episode? Add to that the fact that it completely changes the core-concept of the comic and I constantly wonder why it’s as popular as it is.

Alasdair: Fear the Walking Dead.
It gave every impression of having no idea what it wanted to do. I covered the show for another site and I’ve rarely seen a better cast, and scriptwriters for that matter, struggling to find where the show was that frantically before.

The idea was great and the cast all turned in excellent work, especially Cliff Curtis and Kim Dickens but as the series progressed they just seemed to start throwing anything that might stick at the wall. Ruben Blades’ character being retconned into a professional torturer was bad. The introduction of Strand, the show’s primary black character, as a check list of pimp tropes was much, much worse. Season 1 finished with a pretty top down reboot. Here’s hoping season 2 does better with it.

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Hell of a show…

Brian: Fear the Walking Dead.
Fear the Walking Dead comes in last for the sin of not living up to its potential. While the main TWD series has become safe and rudderless, its spin-off had the ability to be a fast-paced nightmare world where anyone can die. Instead, it was even slower and more predictable. Strangely enough, the commercial-length FTWD: Flight 462 are a much more interesting take on the concept.

Best Actor
Colby: Paul Bettany as Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Bettany is well established within the MCU, having played the voice of JARVIS since Iron Man way back in the pre-history of the cinematic universe that was 2008. The streamlining of Vision’s origin to incorporate this A.I. component worked so well, I’m surprised the comics haven’t stolen that idea yet (unless they have by the time you read this). But what stands out the most is the child-like naïveté on the character’s surface that hides a being of immense power and limitless knowledge. He wasn’t on screen much, but he made quite an impact on me.
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Alasdair: Vincent D’onofrio as Fisk in Daredevil.
I’m one of the, I suspect few, fans of AffDevil (Or DareFleck) and a big part of that was the late, great Michael Clarke Duncan as one of the definitive versions of Wilson Fisk. D’onofrio’s version was almost completely different and just as definitive. His quiet, focused, poised powerhouse of a man was, at times, both tragic and sympathetic. At others he was a terrifying 300 pound manbaby with limitless rage and near limitless strength. At no point could you take your eyes off him. A staggering turn in a staggering series.

Brian: David Tennent as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones.
Fandom expected a lot from Tennant, still known as everyone’s favorite Doctor, but he played against type well enough to exceed those expectations. His take on Kilgrave, “the Purple Man,” was creepy and nuanced, and he brought the show’s metaphor of white male privilege to life perfectly.

Worst Actor
Colby: Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon in Gotham.
The more I see of Gotham, the more promise it shows and the more it squanders said promise. Ben McKenzie perfectly embodies that. Gordon originated as a conflicted cop in a corrupt town who is forced to do what’s needed to survive. He has since slowly devolved into a one-note brute. I don’t want to put this squarely on McKenzie’s shoulders, because it’s clear that the writers should take some of the burden, but he doesn’t help. He either growls his lines or shouts them while dangling perps out of windows. Isn’t he supposed to be the hero who tried to clean up the city? From where I’m sitting, he’s becoming dirtier than Bullock. Now if HE were the lead, then we’d be onto something.

Alasdair: Samuel L. Jackson as Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
Yes, I know he was doing schtick. Yes, I know the source material was broad as hell. No, at no point whatsoever was he threatening or interesting. Everyone has an off day. This was Jackson’s.

Brian: Tobey Kebbell as Doom in Fantastic 4.
It’s hard to believe this is the same Kebbell who was so impressive in the heart-wrenching Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You”. In FF, like most of the cast, he appeared bored and disconnected from the material. This is bad enough for someone playing the Invisible Woman, for example, but it’s the absolute worst for Doom, the ultimate complex comic book villain.

Best Actress
Colby: Melissa Benoist in Supergirl.
This was easily my hardest category. There were so many strong performances this year that I had real trouble picking the best. But Benoist imbues her character with such vibrancy and life that she comes off as much more than Superman’s cousin. She honors the ideals of the source material while simultaneously delivering that nearly 60 year-old character into the modern age. And then there’s the fact that she is able to perfectly convey the multiple facets of her character’s complex identities and feelings. This show would fall flat with an lead that didn’t fit. With Benoist, it soars.
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Alasdair: Melissa Benoist in Supergirl.
Melissa Benoist has both the biggest, and least obvious, job to do in Supergirl. She’s pulling double duty every episode and it would be incredibly easy for either Supergirl or Kara to play as broad stereotypes.

Neither do, and that’s entirely down to her skill. Look at how she moves and stands in each role, it’s completely different. Kara is constantly panicky and a little hunched, Supergirl moves with the caution of someone who knows what they can do and stands with the confidence of someone who knows they can do it. There’s immense strength and emotional honesty in both roles. Look at her work in ‘Red-Faced’, especially in the closing fight and the fantastic ‘Rocky’ sequence to see just how complicated and nuanced and brave a pair of performances these are.

Brian: Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones.
I was initially skeptical of Ritter’s casting, but she pulled off the character wonderfully. Jones is not “likable” in the traditional Hollywood sense. She’s a complicated figure, struggling with guilt and self-doubt and loathing, and Ritter managed to get these complex emotions out in every scene. Seeing her character triumph in the end (spoilers?) resonates so well because of the care she took in her performance.

Worst Actress
Colby: Jessica Lucas as Tabitha Galavan on Gotham.
This has been a great year for female representation in comic book media. While it’s long overdue, with every success comes the occasional misstep. Jessica Lucas was introduced as Gotham‘s proxy to the Golden Age villain Huntress/Tigress. She was talked-up as being a formidable assassin but has ended up being Catwoman-lite. Lucas portrays any emotion she’s given so broadly (and that’s saying something for this show) that even her mid-season betrayal (which comes out of nowhere) seems telegraphed. I don’t enjoy picking on Gotham, but I wish the show wouldn’t make it so easy.

Alasdair: Sofia Boutella as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
I’m a huge fan of Sofia Boutella’s work and she did the best she could with a role which was basically ‘Stand next to Sam. Kill people’ in Kingsman. It wasn’t enough, at least for me.

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This should be a lot cooler.

Brian: Chloe Bennet as Skye/Daisy Johnson/Quake in Agents of SHIELD.
As the show has turned to become more and more centered on Bennet’s character, the more her inability to raise any kind of interest becomes apparent. 2015 alone has given her a family, a love interest, and a connection to the wider, untapped MCU, but the character still seems flat and dull. Some of this could be due to writing, but compare this to her current co-star Clark Gregg, who became a massive fan favorite after what was essentially a cameo in 2008’s Iron Man.

Best Fight
Colby: Harry Hart vs. an entire church in Kingsman: The Secret Service.
So, Colin Firth murders a bunch of right-wing Christians…I swear this isn’t a joke set-up. Seriously though, this was one of the most kinetic and hyper-stylized fights I’ve ever seen. The movement, violence and choreography were all pitch-perfect. Seeing a 54-year-old British man known for stuffy romantic comedies go completely nuts for a few minutes was well worth the price of admittance.

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Do not mess with Colin Firth.

Alasdair: The fight at Alias Investigations in Jessica Jones.
The locked off corridor fight in Daredevil almost took this. But the Jessica/Trish/Simpson fight in Jessica Jones edges ahead at the last second. It’s a perfect distillation of the three characters, shows just how tough (And how fragile) Jessica is and gives Trish one of her two genuine dare-to-be-great moments in the series. It’s a show painfully short on legitimate triumph but her weighing the situation, taking the combat drug and spitting “WORTH IT” before kicking Simpson’s ass is Trish Walker to a tee. Brilliantly, brutally done.

Brian: The Hallway Scene in Daredevil.
You know the scene I mean. Like all of Daredevil, this long, unbroken take of a slugfest was well-hyped by the first viewers, and like all of Daredevil, it was better than advertised. The unbelievable heart of Matt Murdock, who is barely on his feet at the time, is on full display. While working as a terrific character moment, it is also just a damn cool Oldboy-esque fight scene.

Worst Fight
Colby: People vs. walkers on The Walking Dead.
Action scenes on The Walking Dead always play out one of two ways. Either a walker is ridiculously easy to deal with or the human is somehow overcome with fear/anxiety/a twisted ankle and screams incessantly without actively moving. Every. Single. Damn. Time. I think maybe this series needs to wrap up. I feel like it may have said all its needed to say and done what it wanted to do. Now it’s spinning its wheels. That especially shows any time anyone needs to fight a zombie, which is kind of sad since that’s also where all of its fun should come from.

Alasdair: The finale of Kingsman: The Secret Service.
I had some problems with Kingsman, not the least of which was I saw it at a 4DX screen. Imagine a rollercoaster, a cinema and a ghost train having blackout sex in a dumpster. That’s a 4DX screening. Spend the 15 bucks I saved you on something more fun. Like a dumpster.

Anyway, while Kingsman had a ton of really great performances in it, it also had the really clunky closing fight. I’m as much of a wire work fan as the next guy but that was lumpy work that not even the ludicrous athleticism of Sofia Boutella could save.

Brian: The Thing vs. Mr. Fantastic in Fantastic 4.
Like many scenes, sequences, and plot points in the film, this fight between former best friends is sudden, brief, inexplicable, and rife with continuity errors. The only reason this is ranked above the other fights in Fantastic 4 is that this one in particular begins and ends suddenly enough to be extra jarring and confusing to the audience.

Best Trailer
Colby: Legends of Tomorrow full trailer.
Look, there were a TON of excellent trailers this year. Civil War looks phenomenal and X-Men: Apocalypse recently debuted which looks to be another solid entry by Singer. But there’s something about DC’s CW shows that just really grab me. They are able to aptly capture the magic of reading a comic and all the ridiculousness included. This trailer looked like a 90’s 80-Page Giant come to life. A time traveler recruits modern heroes to fight an immortal madman? I couldn’t be happier for this series.

Alasdair: Avengers: Age of Ultron teaser trailer.
The ‘Got No Strings’ trailers for Age of Ultron had a lovely sense of menace to them that built the movie up nicely.

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“Remember me, squire?”

Brian: Arrow season 4 sneak-peek.
Constantine, baby! This preview gave a good glimpse at the new season and its lighter tone, while still highlighting some terrific fight scenes and new characters like Curtis “Mr. Terrific” Holt. But the main draw was the glimpse of John Constantine, everyone’s favorite “petty dabbler in the dark arts,” fresh off his resurrection from last year’s cancelled NBC series.

Worst Trailer
Colby: Suicide Squad Comic-Con teaser.
First of all, I love the Suicide Squad comics. I’ve been a fan for over a decade. Regardless, I find it kind of odd that DC is building so much of their cinematic universe in a Squad movie (it introduces Joker for, I assume, future appearances). I also find it odd that director David Ayer has been given such free rein in the design of the characters. The trailer has me seriously questioning how this tone is supposed to connect with other movies set in the same universe. I’ve also asked many non-comic fans what they think of the movie and the response is always a variation of, “I have no idea what that’s supposed to be, but I know I don’t like it.”

thing Alasdair: Fantastic 4 trailer.
Because a good two thirds of it was footage that didn’t even make it into the final cut of the movie.


Brian
: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows teaser.
Overcorrecting from the last TMNT film, Michael Bay and company have now loaded a clown cannon full of references to the ’90s cartoons and fired it indiscriminately, like true artists. Bebop and Rocksteady look like bubblegum globs of CGI, and I just can’t wrap my head around the physics of a truck shooting manhole covers. I know the toy did that, but I don’t care. This is a movie.

And that’s it for this year in review! As you can see, the only thing that we unanimously agreed on was how terrible Fantastic 4 was. Other than that, we were pretty all over the place, which is one of the reasons I love having others share their thoughts on this page.
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One last thing, we’ve got an award to give out. The Chris Evans Award for Excellence in Comic Book Media. That’s right, the Golden Evans! This is an annual award given to an individual who has significantly advanced awareness of comic-based film and television. This year, the award goes to…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CHRIS EVANS!

 

Mr. Evans has become a staple of comic book movies. Not only has he starred as Captain America in many films within the MCU but he also played Johnny Storm in two Fantastic Four films. On top of that, he’s had roles in TMNT, The Losers, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Snowpiercer. Truly a CBM resume worth honoring (and naming an award after). Thanks a lot Chris, can’t wait to see Cap 3!
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See you all next year!

 

 

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