(19/08/08)

These days the big screen is more populated by Superheroes than ever. To celebrate the glory of our caped friends Pocket Essentials has released Superhero Movies, by Liam Burke. Burke’s book captures the spirit of today’s cinematic superheroics through light-hearted analysis and a good dash of trivia thrown in for good measure. From early struggles to recent successes, the book brings together superheroes from all walks of life: DC old-timers rub shoulders with Marvel whippersnappers; comic adaptations sit beside big-screen originals. The book also contains an exclusive interview with legendary comic book writer, Stan Lee who created iconic heroes such as Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Here the author gives us a super overview of this superb film genre.

This summer Indiana Jones cracked his bullwhip on celluloid for the first time in twenty years, and while the original tomb raider managed to herd many toward his new adventure, the one-time box office behemoth looks set to be bested by a new type of hero, the Superhero. Summer 2008 promised to be the season of the superhero movie with comic book adaptations Iron Man and Wanted, franchise re-boot The Incredible Hulk, original hero Hancock and super-sequels Hellboy II: The Golden Army and of course, The Dark Knight all clambering for movie-goers’ attentions. Many feared with so much on screen superheroics that some films would fail to take off at the box-office, or that the glut of cinematic spandex would result in cookie-cutter, hero-of-the-week banality.

However, these concerns were soon allayed with the blockbuster season’s opening salvo Iron Man. The story of weapons-manufacturer Tony Stark, who decides that instead of using his inventions to destroy lives he will use them to save lives (starting with his own), was propelled to the screen and huge success by Robert Downey Jr’s witty turn as the Howard Hughes-a-like Stark. The performance from the indie-movie favourite, should – like Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow – ensure this new Man of Steel enjoys continued box-office success in the inevitable sequels.

Following Iron Man, the four-colour favourites came to the screen with superhuman speed as the ‘Incredible’ was returned to the Hulk for franchise re-starter The Incredible Hulk, which attempted to erase the memory of Ang Lee’s more meditative (read: yawn-worthy) Hulk. The Hulk, which springs from the same Marvel comics as Iron Man (and this effort had a Robert Downey Jr cameo to prove it), has always been a rampaging monster and this film ensured the Hulk smashed both on screen and at the box office. Wanted, the James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie-starring, hit-man hit, deviated from its little-known comic book source yet still managed to prove that superheroes do not need capes to fly on screen or with audiences. Hancock, the Will Smith vehicle that saw the former Fresh Prince start off as a narcissistic, drunken superhero proved that the combination of a super-star playing a super-hero will have audiences queuing around the block, even if the more engaging boozy hero of the film’s earlier moments gives way to a generic clean-cut saviour by the climax. Before Guillermo del Toro begins his trek to Middle Earth to realise The Hobbit, the Pan’s Labyrinthdirector found time to create a sequel to his 2004 cult favourite Hellboy. In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro transplants the motley crew of monsters from the original to a more fantastical world brimming with magic and invention, which bodes well for a filmmaker set to tackle Tolkien.

Yet, trailing a tsunami of expectation generated by the successful original and the untimely-passing of actor Heath Ledger, Batman Begins follow-up The Dark Knight was the superhero movie audiences were all waiting for, and they were not disappointed. Garnering rave reviews, breaking box-office records and even generating talk of Oscar glory, The Dark Knight not only met fan expectations but exceeded them, and in showcasing a mesmeric performance from Heath Ledger as Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker, it also proved a fitting curtain call for the actor’s all-too-brief career.

Although this year has seen superhero movies reach an unprecedented level of success, these masked men have been ascending to greater movie heights since X-Men evolved the genre in 2000. Prior to X-Men, worthwhile superhero movies such as Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were few-and-far between, but when Bryan Singer took Marvel’s mutants at the turn of the millennium, the maturity of his approach and his reverence for the source material saw the film become a hit with fanboys and new-comers alike, sparking today’s superhero movie boom. Since X-Men, a cadre of costumed crime-fighters, bolstered by special effects, have made their way into cinemas, including Spider-Man, The Incredibles, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, V for Vendetta, Hellboy and many more. It seems today, the sky is not the limit for cinema’s superheroes, it is only the beginning. So don your finest cape and fasten your utility belt as you prepare to enter the world of the superhero movie.

Superhero Movies is out now on Pocket Essentials. Please follow the links on the left to buy a copy and support Kamera by doing so.