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The Rocketeer Isn’t the Only Comic Book Movie Worth a Second Look

The Rocketeer Isn’t the Only Comic Book Movie Worth a Second Look” width=”560″/>

Nick Nadel’s Tuesday column examines the increasingly busy intersection between comic books and the movies.

My fellow superhero movie fans, it’s been a pretty great summer. Even without The Dark Knight‘s record breaking success we still had gems like Iron Man to Hellboy 2. How far we’ve come these past few years — a decade ago, the genre was considered all but dead thanks to the likes of Tank Girl , Barb Wire and Batman & Robin . The superhero craze kicked off by Batman took us to some downright scary places during the ’90s, but it also gave us some underrated gems worth revisiting. And with the summer of superhero at a close, now is the time to revisit and hold your own scifi superhero film festival. Here are the ones worth a second look.

The Rocketeer
Considered a box office disappointment at the time of its release, The Rocketeer has gained a steady fan following over the years. The script (by the team behind The Flash
TV series) is both witty and perfectly in keeping with Dave Stevens’
original comics, while director Joe Johnston keeps the pace light and
brisk.(Johnston, a protege of George Lucas, could have taught his old
boss a thing or two on Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.)

And, a note to current blockbuster directors — the running time is a
lean 108 minutes. While Bill Campbell does solid work as rocketman
Cliff Secord, it’s the supporting cast that really shines: Alan Arkin
as the titular hero’s sidekick, Timothy Dalton channeling Errol Flynn
as villainous actor Neville Sinclair, and a young Jennifer Connelly as
both the object of Campbell’s, and every teenage boy’s, fantasies.
(Bonus for TV fans: Lost-philes will get a kick out of Terry O’Quinn’s cameo as Howard Hughes, while The Office‘s Melora Hardin turns up as a sultry lounge singer.)

The Shadow
If nothing else, The Shadow holds the distinction of being the only watchable film director Russell Mulcahy made post- Highlander .
And though its probably the weakest entry on the list (and certainly
the one most rife with Asian stereotypes), it’s also a stylish and fun
genre throwback with one secret weapon: Alec Baldwin. Baldwin brings
his trademark wit and charisma to the Lamont Cranston role, even adding
a dash of dark menace. While no masterpiece, as retro pulp goes, The Shadow is certainly far less ridiculous than Frank Miller’s The Spirit.

the wake of Marvel’s recent success, it’s easy to forget that it all
started with Wesley Snipes’ monosyllabic vampire hunter. Prior to Blade, Marvel’s characters were either mired in development hell or occasionally adapted into schlock-y B-movie debacles. (Captain America with Ned Beatty comes to mind.) Though a huge box office hit, Blade
is still underrated in the Marvel Comics movie pantheon. Both a fun
horror movie and an improvement on its lead character’s source material
(face it, the ’70s incarnation was a dated stereotype), Blade proved that Marvel’s characters could compete with DC’s big guns at the multiplex. While Blade II is the strongest entry in the franchise, the original far surpasses that last one with Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds. 

Dick Tracy
complained Warren Beatty’s take on Chester Gould’s comic strip was all
visual style and stunt casting, with little story. But what visual
design and stunt casting! The four-color world Beatty and his
collaborators (including acclaimed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro)
created has more life than all the digital fireworks in 300 . And what other comic strip movie features both Dustin Hoffman and Dick Van Dyke? Watching Dick Tracy
now, you’ll marvel at the wide range of actors (look for Catherine
O’Hara as Texie Garcia) while humming along to the rapturous Danny
Elfman score and surprisingly catchy songs. While Beatty’s proposed
sequel has been wrapped up in legal drama for years, the film is just
begging to be adapted for the Broadway stage. If Shrek can be a musical, why not this lost Sondheim show? 

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland
With such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Moebius, and Chris Columbus involved, it’s a wonder Nemo
failed to connect at the box office. A cult classic among animation
fans, the film never quite captures Winsor McKay’s meticulous artwork
and features an often too cartoonish story. But it’s still a
beautifully animated work, more reminiscinent of the work of anime
great Hayao Miyazaki than McKay. (Ironically, Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli
worked on an earlier take.) Ignore the insipid songs (and cutesy
squirrel sidekick), and savor in the lush, hand-drawn animation before
Hollywood remakes Nemo as yet another CGI junkfest.  

When not writing, Nick
Nadel is in line at the comic book store alongside the other geeks, er,
fans of speculative fiction. His most prized possession is a 1960s
Batman comic wherein
the Dynamic Duo are trapped inside a fortune cookie factory. He lives
in Brooklyn and updates his aptly named website ( with comedy writing and videos.

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